The transmission buzz may be all about 10-speed for 2010, but Shimano is going one better with a perhaps surprising component. The 2011 Alfine internal gear hub (yes, it’s barely February and we’re looking at 2011 parts…) will go to 11, up from the current model’s eight. Gear hub fans will of course know that German manufacturer Rohloff’s Speedhub hub has 14 speeds, but it does that by being effectively a seven-speed with a two-speed transfer box on the end. The new Alfine hub doesn’t do that, so you don’t get detectable extra drag in the lower gears.
Alfine still won’t be able to match Rohloff for actual range, though. The existing eight-speed Alfine has a gear range of 306%, a Speedhub offers 526% and the new 11-speed Alfine will come between the two at 409%. To put that into context, eight-speed Alfine is roughly equivalent to an 11-34 cassette, while the 2011 unit would be 11-45. Obviously you can tweak the chainring and sprocket sizes to move that range into useful ratios. Given that we’ve always found the current Alfine to offer enough range for 90% of riding, the new one should be more than ample.
Usefully, the gaps between gears are slightly closer than the current hub too, which will be welcome – the gaps on the eight-speed weren’t a deal-breaker, but they took some getting used to if you were familiar with close-ratio derailleur setups.
2011 Alfine will also benefit from a redesigned shifter. Unlike the current unit, the new Rapidfire Plus shifter will operate in the same direction as a conventional derailleur setup, as well as offering Multi Release for multiple shifts with one lever stroke and Two-Way Release so you can operate the trigger with finger or thumb as you see fit.
Prices are yet to be confirmed, but the new Alfine hub won’t be far off the price of the old one. Or, to put it another way, a lot cheaper than a Rohloff. The Shimano Alfine SG-S700 hub will be available in September.