What is an Alfine or Nexus Hub?

Alfine 11 Speed Cutaway Illustration

Much like the Rohloff Speedhub, the Shimano Alfine 11 is an internally geared hub (referred to as IGH for short) that eliminates the use of derailleurs on your bike. Made by Shimano as an evolution of their Nexus and Alfine 8 speed hubs, the new Alfine 11 offers the rider something a little more serious for hilly conditions. Like the Rohloff, all the gears are contained inside the hub so you don't need to worry about your chain jamming or bending your derailleurs. The idea is to cut down substantially on adjustments and maintenance. If properly maintained (adding oil once in a while) the internal gears of these types of hubs rarely wear out. You can also shift without pedaling, making that start from a red light that much easier!

With the introduction of the 11 speed Alfine, Shimano has gotten closer to the hub offered by Rohloff, but still has a ways to go for the serious touring cyclist.

History Lesson
Shimano has a long history of making internally geared hubs, going all the way back to 1957 with the introduction of the "333" 3 speed hub. Poor design earned the "333" hub a reputation as unreliable, however. Shimano continued to refine their internally geared hub designs over the last five decades, eventually reversing the stigma of 'poor quality'. The Alfine 8 and 11 speed hub design is their current, and so far most accepted entry into the higher end IGH market.

"Do I want Alfine?"
In the last few years we've built a number of bikes with Shimano Alfine hubs and we get a lot of questions about them. The bikes we've built with Alfine 11 have had good responses from the customers who bought them. Easy to use, great for simplicity, and lower maintenance than the traditional derailleur set up.

I heard one customer equate it to switching from manaul transmission to automatic. You no longer need to think about how you're shifting, you just go up and down with no gear overlap or worries about too large a change.

The information below is to help you understand the different options available and to help you decide if an Alfine is right for you.

Features of the different gear options
Alfine/Nexus 8 Alfine 11 Rohloff Speedhub Derailleur Set ups
Cost $ $$$ $$$$$ $ ~ $$$$$
Maintenance Minimal Minimal Minimal Consistent
Gear Range 307% 409% 526% Unlimited
Gear Ladder Uneven
22.3%, 16%, 14%
17.5%, 22.3%, 16%, 13.9%
30% jump
then 17% ~ 18% per change
Flexible; depends on
cassette and chainrings
Weight** Unverified
1680 grams
1900 grams
1913 grams
1200 to 2000
Quick Release No No Yes! Yes! or No
Durability Durable Too early to tell Nearly Invincible Durable
Maintenance Low Maintenance Low Maintenance Low Maintenance High Maintenance
Tandem History Sport/Fun tandems No Yes, all styles Yes, all styles
Noise Some rumble after break in period Some rumble after break in period Rumble in some gears None when adjusted properly
Tire Clearance Up to 1.9" slicks Up to 1.9" slicks Any tire works Any tire works
Belt Drive Compatible Mostly Mostly Yes No
*Shimano initially advertised an even 13% full range for the 11-sp, but the final product did not turn out that way

**Weight depends greatly on other factors than just the hub weight.
Just keep in mind that any IGH bike will be substantially heavier than comparably priced derailleur equipped bikes.

The Alfine 11 Speed Hub Wrap-up

If you really want an IGH bike or tandem for bopping around town, but you don't want to go full out and buy the Rohloff, the Alfine may be a good option. The Alfine is still more expensive than the traditional derailleur set-up. Because of the uneven gear ladder, and the really big jump between 1st and 2nd gear, the Alfine is probably not the best choice for the serious bicycle tourist. Also, the absence of a quick release makes the Alfine hub inconvenient if you have to fix a flat tire on the road. The Alfine is more suited for a bike designed for sport riding, or running errands around the city. That's the type of bike that we generally sell with an Alfine hub.