Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Cinq5 Shift:R versus Gebla Rohbox. A long term review.

It shouldn't be this hard. Really. You may recall my mention of my new bike some time ago. I had the frame custom made around my existing Rohloff hub purchased new in 1999. Since I'm a nerd, I keep detailed records of my cycling activities and I could calculate how far I've ridden it in the intervening 17 years. I could but I can't be bothered at the moment. Shifting a Rohloff on a bike with drop handlebars is not an easy problem to solve if you don't like grip shifters. This page details a myriad of ways to achieve it but the majority are the most awful and non ergonomic cludge ups I could imagine. The Rohloff was originally intended for mountain bike racing but the actual market where it excels appears to be loaded touring and expedition bikes. I think I'm unusual in that I still use mine on a mountain bike, albeit a slightly different one. I'm a roadie, always have been. There I've said it in public. With my long term back injury, I simply can't do anything too technical off road. Not because I'm technically unable but because I can't afford to come off. Where I live we have lots and lots of gravel roads and forestry tracks. Not always open year round due to fire risk but there are always really good off road rides to do. The off road stuff is actually better than the road riding with far more interesting routes and much bigger climbs. This is the reason for the new bike, it's my go anywhere bike. And since I ride the road a lot, I wanted a similar position to my road bike(s) but tweaked a little to handle off road.

Cinq5 Shift:R cable box shortly before I killed it.

You may recall that I was an early adopter of the Cinq5 Shift:R shifters for the Rohloff. I installed them and mentioned at the time that the jury was out on them. I really wanted to like them but I had reservations. In summary:

Good

  • Ability to shift one or two gears at a time
  • Lightweight
  • Beautifully made.
Bad

  • Tricky to setup so that you could both up shift and down shift 2 gears at a time
  • Fragile
  • Shifting from the center of the bars meant that you needed to be seated to shift. Not always the case off road.
  • The tiny ratchets often slipped and failed to engage and change gear.
  • Doesn't like being fully submerged. On my bike the cable box hangs down low and I often ride through fords and rivers that cover the box. This made the slippage worse until I could clean out the box when I got home. Towards the end, I often finished rides being unable to shift any gears.
  • The shift levers require high force to change gear. This despite my best efforts using high quality cable and sensible routing. I always grind cable ends square. I have a slightly dodgy left wrist that makes it harder to change gear on that side.
  • I used the 31.8mm diameter levers. To mount these required a handlebar with a wide central section of this diameter. My 'bars are 46cm Salsa Cowbells and even with these I wasn't able to mount both levers at the same angle as the cable outers would foul each other where they exited the levers. Not a big deal, but things like that irk me.
  • The design uses the inner cable the wrong way round, the nipple is at the cable box, which means that you can't use an alternative lever without modification.

Eventually one of the tiny pawls inside the cable box simply broke (the up shift pawl) and stranded me in a high gear. Fortunately, I wasn't too far from home and I could get back easily. As a recent convert to Strava, I can say with a high degree of accuracy that the Cinq5 system only lasted 1406 km. That's pretty poor. Since the levers were new, I contacted the dealer and eventually received a replacement cable box after a 2 month wait. The levers were unmarked and in as new condition.

Cinq5 Shift:R cable box shortly after I killed it.

In the meantime, I investigated alternatives since the bike had become my favourite and I'd miss riding it. The Gebla Rohbox looked like a valid alternative, so I ordered one from SJS cycles to try out. I've used SJS sporadically over the years to buy various, otherwise hard to get, parts. The Rohbox turned up 4 days after ordering (!) not bad when you consider that I live in the middle of nowhere and that it's about as far as you can get from Somerset before you start going back again.

The Rohbox was on the bike later that same day.

In summary:

Good

  • Very simple mechanism made from robust parts
  • Uses the inner cables the right way round. ie the nipple at the lever. This means you can use pretty much any pair of levers to change gear.
  • The maker isn't a faceless organisation but is a bike maker from Germany called Georg. I'm an early adopter of his design and my unit shipped with springs that enabled it to shift two gears at a time. These didn't work well and Georg contacted me and sent out replacement springs and two new shift cables at his cost. These transformed the feel of the unit and the single gear change now has a nice feel to it. Georg is a really good guy and is happy to stand behind his product.
  • When used with ergo levers or similar, the handlebars are very clean.
  • Very easy to set up.
  • Although not sealed, the simple, robust construction is impervious to frequent river dunkings. I opened the box after having completed the same mileage on the Rohbox as on the Cinq5 system before it broke. There appears to be zero wear on the component parts.
  • I'm tending to change gear more often with the controls at my fingertips.
Bad

  • Can only shift one gear at a time. 
  • Relatively heavy compared to the Cinq5 cable box. If heavy means robust then I'm not complaining too loudly.
  • Larger than either the Cinq5 or the original Rohloff cable box.


Initially, I set up a hybrid system using the Cinq5 levers and the Rohbox. This set up worked pretty well but still had the issues with poor ergonomics for gear changes when standing and due to my left wrist issue. I used the bike like this for a few months until I found a set of second generation Campagnolo Record Ergolevers with aluminium levers. They were only made for a couple of years in the late 90s and are much sought after. I'm pretty much allergic to carbon fibre on my bikes, I can't really explain why either, just one of those things. I've rebuilt lots of Ergolevers over the years so I know my way around them pretty well and have a draw full of spare parts. I knew that I could use the levers pretty much as is and they would work but could be better if I modified them internally. I wanted to remove everything on the thumb, downshift side of each lever. I also wanted to lock the up shift lever firmly to the cable pull. The up shift lever has a pawl that locks into a ratchet depending on which of the gears you are in, it requires a few degrees of motion before it engages and I wanted to remove this motion to improve cable pull and the feel of the gear shift. The part I made simply replaces the front ratchet and is shaped very carefully to lock the lever to the pivot. With the thumb shifter mechanism completely removed, I simply needed to make a distance spacer and use a shorter bolt.
The modifications shaved a fair bit of weight from the units.

I'd already decided to ditch the auxiliary brake levers. I seldom used them and with the
Cinq5 gear shifters going at the same time it meant my bars would become much cleaner. 

The Cinq5 system used standard gear cable with the wires running length ways. Since the Rohloff does all its indexing in the hub this is unnecessary and I decided to try using brake cable outer as it is more flexible and may lessen the force required on the cable. I can feel a slight sponginess in the system as the cable compresses but combined with the longer shift levers on the Ergolevers, the force required to change gear is reduced. I can also change gear with my hands either on the hoods or in the drops. Finally, I can now change gear when out of the saddle...

This is the best gear change I've had yet on the bike, It's not perfect and it still has some shortcomings that at present I can live with.

  • I do miss the ability to shift multiple gears at once that the grip shifter afforded. Terrain can change quickly off road and I need to be vigilant. If I pause pedalling pressure momentarily, I can rapidly shift multiple gears by pumping the ergo lever, this works well.
  • I miss the ability to see which gear I'm in. In practical terms this means that the 7/8 8/7 change can occasionally catch me out again even after owning the hub for 17 years. It also means that I can try for a lower or higher gear and discover that I'm already in it.
  • The force required to change gear varies across the range, not all gears require the same input from the shifter. In certain gears, I can't recall which ones, this means that it is occasionally possible to shift two gears instead of the single shift that you wanted. I need to stress that this is an unusual occurrence though.
  • Errr, that's it.

I have no connection to either Cinq5 or Gebla and I paid full retail prices for both units with my own money. I have since sold the brand new, warranty replacement unit from Cinq5. It was a nice try, but simply not up to the kind of riding I like to do.


In other news, I've finally started work on my 1906 Royal Enfield that I broke the last time I rode it. The handlebars are the first part to get my attention, More later.

13 comments:

  1. Bob, boringest blog update ever, apart from the sentence at the end about the Royal Enfield. Can you do some interesting updates on that soon? Thanks.

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    1. Is that you Mum?

      Royal Enfield updates coming...

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  2. Great report, thanks for sharing. NOT BORING! I'm considering what the heck to do, deciding between the two shifting systems, also for single track use. I got an old Rohloff that I'm building a bike up around, but can't stand grip shifters, and to be honest don't like trigger shifters much either. I'm actually a thumb shifter fanatic. I'm not at all sure about using road bars, which I'm very comfortable on as I do also road ride. But the bike will be used almost entirely in the New Mexico Rockies, and I feel that I definitely need flat bars for the technical descending I do there.

    Anyway, a nice guy I recently met here in Berlin, trained as a mechanical engineer but working as a bike deliveryman and deep into bike stuff, said the Gebla beats Cinq5 all day long, for basically all the reasons you gave. He said Cinq5's gearbox is way too over designed and not robust enough, the opposite of the Gebla's elegant simplicity.

    As a bonus he said it shouldn't be too hard to mod a pair of old thumb shifters interface with it, basically replacing their innards with a spring so that they would pull the cable and then just bounce back to the rest position. I'd be interested to hear whatever thoughts you might have regarding that, for sure. I've already started to search out precision engineer/fabricator (Feinmechaniker) to help me with that, actually not too too hard here in Berlin, where I live most of the year, when I'm not visiting my family in Santa Fe.

    That said, I don't know if the ergonomics of thumb shifters would really make so much sense together with the Rohloff, truth be told. Primarily because of the issue of not being able to shift up or down more than a single gear at a time, and also because most of them don't have that much length, and therefore not that much lever arm, so the shifts might be too strenuous. Any thoughts on those issues?

    Still, because I ride a super old school setup with a flat bar+bar ends in a when I climb (much the same position one has on the hoods when riding a drop bar), thumbies are great for me, or at least the best compromise when using moving chain transmission system.

    I'm an ergonomy geek, particularly with my trail bike, but really want to make a Rohloff bike that can do the job for me, so I feel really at loggerheads. Maybe some kind of bull bars with road brifters + extra levers on the flat section for technical descending?!

    Thanks again for the great comparison, and it would be fantastic to hear what you think.

    PS nice work setting your bike up with 2nd gen Ergopowers, I'm a big fan of those as well!

    Kindly,

    Oliver

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    1. Hi Oliver,

      thanks for the feedback. The return springs in the Rohbox are *very* strong so I suspect that you wouldn't need to make any modifications to the thumb shifters to get them to work. As long as the shifters are set up with no friction pre-load and you use high quality lined cables with no tight bends, you should be OK. I would just try it first before spending time and money modifying levers that may not need it. I use brake cable outer as it bends easier than gear cable outer and although it gives a slightly mushy feel, it has less friction. I have one tight bend at the bottom bracket that I can't get away from. My only concern, as you also mention, is that thumb shifters may not be quite long enough and will require high force to shift. I would just try it and see for yourself.

      Good luck.

      Bob

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  3. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your speedy answer, and apologies for taking a little while to write back. I had to think about the idea I had for a little while, and also make a few sketches and primitive mock ups. In doing so it occurred to me that thumb shifters would actually be not such a great idea from an ergonomics standpoint, especially because of the need to pump the levers in order to shift up or down multiple gears at (approximately) the same time. If I weron the bar ends then this would be really awkward, and if I were down on the flats then I'd be much better with trigger shifters, ay. So trigger shifters it is I think, which will effectively mean I'll need to change hand position more and for longer, but I expect that's something which I can get used to pretty easily. It seems like a classic case of not being able to have your cake (Rohloff) and eat it too (shift gears the way you really want to).

    So, the upside of coming to this conclusion is that I don't need to make a science experiment out of my handlebars! I wrote to Cinq5 and they can actually sell me the levers as stand alones, which I think would be better for me than using modified SRAM shifters, as the Gebla was intended function with. It's mostly an aesthetic thing, because I find the SRAM X series trigger shifters to be pretty hideous looking. And the Cinq5's would still be doing that which they were designed to, albeit via a different gearbox. The Cinq5's shifters go for 69€ each, by the way.

    So, now I'm wondering if you have any more thoughts or reflections regarding this setup, even though you moved on from it to what you really wanted with the modified Ergopowers. I take it that this combo basically worked just fine, and that the nipple change around was pretty straightforward. But if there's anything else that you think I should know then I'm all ears.

    Greetings from Berlin,

    Oliver

    PS I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of your Rohloff bike, which I'm guessing is elsewhere to be found on your blog... I've been so crazy busy with work lately that I haven't had a chance to explore it more, but I'll do so soon!

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    1. Hi Oliver,

      that's good news that you can get just the levers, they're beautifully made and very light. Using them with the Rohbox and you'll be in the curious position of not needing a nipple on either end of the cable. Both systems clamp the cable at either end, the Rohbox uses a grub screw and the Cinq5 shifters use a larger machine screw, this means it will be super easy to set up. Install the cables starting at the Rohbox and work your way back up to the levers. This setup worked really well for me and if it wasn't for my wrist injury and wanting to shift whilst standing, I would have lived with it quite happily. Make sure you get the right diameter levers for your bars.

      It also occurs to me that if you like thumb shifters so much, you could possibly use the Cinq5 shifters on *top* of the handlebars. Use the right side on the top left and vice versa. Just a thought.

      Let me know how you get on.

      Good luck

      Bob

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  4. Hi Bob,

    wow, great idea with reversing the shifters. Of course! I'll try that when I get them and see how it feels, how the mount's sweep works out when it's upside down, backwards, and being used in a way it wasn't intended to be. Funky, but if it works it could really be a coup.

    I think it's really cool to explore this stuff in this way, because not only am I able to pick your brain and figure this out, but hopefully others will be privy to these musings. It seems that this might be the most elegant Rohloff solution for mtb bars, given the grossness of SRAM's trigger shifters, the kludgeiness of needing modify them (however effectively; I understand the Gebla guy used to work for SRAM on the design team for their shifters), and regardless of whether the thumby setup even works. We'll see, and I'll keep you posted when I get further. That might take a few months, due to the cost of all this fun. It's all kind of a hack, given the fact that Cinq5 doesn't list the levers as a stand alone item and in no way encourages or condones their use without their precious little box. I assume someone else has this setup, but you're the first person I've heard of doing it, and again I should say thanks for that :-)

    I only wish the Rohbox could shift more than one gear at a time. Or could it potentially move 2 with the stronger spring inside, if I understand your original text correctly? Shifting 3 with one action would be fantastic, hopefully that's something Gebla could one day make happen.

    One last concern I have is with how close the Cinq5 levers can be squeezed together. I like my bars pretty narrow for flats, around 46cm wide I'd say, and of course there are the bar ends squeezing things in as well. Do you think I'll have an issue like you did with the cable housings getting too crammed up with bars at this width?

    Last, I checked out this blog some more and can't find additional pics of the red ride anywhere. Do you have a link to some photos of it that one could look at? Looks really sweet, steel I assume.

    Kind greetings,

    Oliver

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    1. Hi Oliver,
      the original springs for the Rohbox weren't stronger, they were a lightly different shape. The feel of the gear shift with these wasn't good, it was very stiff and whilst you could shift 2 gears at once, it wasn't easy to just shift one and not two reliably. The new springs are *much* better.

      My bike has Salsa Cowbell handlebars, these have a relatively wide central bulge but even with this, I couldn't install the Cinq5 levers to not foul each other. In the end I just had to live with them at different angles, it always irritated me.

      The original page for the red bike is at:
      http://geared-facile.blogspot.co.nz/2015/08/new-bike-2.html
      It's made of oversize Columbus XCr stainless steel, the ride is lovely but I've broken the frame twice now. No fault of the steel itself but more the fault of the builder. It's fillet brazed and one of the seat stay joins failed about 6 months ago for no reason. Then just last week the non drive side seat stay to drop out joint failed. I suspect this is because of the huge torque reaction you get from climbing hard in low gears with a Rohloff. I'm not sure what to do yet.

      Cheers

      Bob

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  5. Thank you very much for this informative review! I'm looking at this for a newbuild randonneur/touring bike using my old Rohloff. Fingers crossed that it won't turn into some sort of unworkable Frankenbike given that I am considering a Thorn frame, Rohbox from Cyclemonkey and who knows what bike mechanic in Singapore. Ugh!

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  6. Great review - thanks! I'm currently using the Co-Motion twist shifter, which is OK but it takes up a lot of space on the bar. When I'm on the tops my hand is rubbing against it which is not ideal, and I also can't find space to mount a KlickFix adapter. So, I think it's down to trying a wider bar (although I put 44cm Cowbells on this bike since the 46's on my last bike felt too wide) or the Rohbox.

    It's good to hear that it seems to be a solid product that works well, since there aren't many reviews. I'm just not sure I can live without knowing what gear I'm in, or being limited to shifting one gear at a time, and it's hard to justify spending $500 as an experiment. I've also never used brifters before (prior "road" bikes mostly had barcons).

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  7. So - now a bit more time has gone by - how is the rhobox holding up?

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    1. Hello, yes all is well. I was recently in contact with Georg who makes the Rohbox and he sent me a new gear wheel and spring set. This allows you to change one or two gears per change. the feel is greatly improved over the original double gear change. I realise that I need to post an update. I'll get on to it soon...

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    2. excellent - I look forward to hearing it - I am on the verge of making some changes to my setup - which will be a drop bar) and am dithering between SRAM/Rohbox or Giles Berthoud grip shift. I had a drop bar setup before, but had the shifter on a separate mount, that got in the way of my knee, which I didn't like. I can't quite make up my mind if I will miss being able to change 'loads of gears all in one go' with the grip shift, or will really like not having to move my hands from the hoods to change one or two.

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