Pros and Cons » Internal Gear Hub vs. Derailleur

Even though derailleurs and internal gear hubs were invented around the same time dimensions, derailleurs gained popularity and remained the standard gear option for decades. Recently, internal gear hubs have been technologically modified which continues to challenge the derailleur system. Both systems are becoming equally good in some areas while continuing to struggle in other aspects.

Derailleurs offer a significantly greater gear range for the price, are lighter, less expensive, and simpler to repair. Internal gear hubs are weatherproof and don’t need routine maintenance, but when they do, the cost of repair is high. Both are difficult to transform into the other. 

While derailleur and internal gear hub both continue the battle to dominate the bicycle market nowadays, which one should you opt for? That’s a hard decision to make. 

To guide you in your decision, I have weighed the pros and cons of internal gear hubs and derailleurs.

What Is an Internal Gear Hub?

The internal hub gear is a system that is used to change a bicycle’s gear ratio. It’s also known as hub gear. The gears and lubricants are sealed inside the hub gear’s shell or unit. 

An internal gear hub’s mechanism usually revolves around a stationary axle that contains three spring-loaded and wedge-shaped metal paws. These paws extend the axle when shifting gear.

Internal gear hubs are equipped with planetary or epicyclic gears housed within the rear hub that makes the gearing ratio available.

What Is a Derailleur?

The derailleur is a shifting system that is open without any hub. It consists of multiple sprockets called cassettes which are mounted to the rear wheel and a chain that connects these two components. 

The shifters on the bike’s handlebars are used to operate the gear cables that control the position of both the front and rear derailleurs. 

The derailleur working mechanism is quite simple, when a rider activates the lever by pedaling the transition in the shifter cable, tension makes the chain shift diagonally, therefore, derailing the chain in various sprockets. 

» Read my blog post: Howto Remove the Crank from a Bicycle

Difference Between Internal Gear Hub and Derailleur

One main difference between a derailleur and an internal gear hub is that the internal gear hub’s components are concealed in a hub while a derailleur is openly attached to the bike. 

Both these systems have various differences which are listed below: 

Internal Gear HubDerailleur
It is expensive.A derailleur is quite affordable.
The internal gear hub doesn’t need frequent maintenance.It needs frequent maintenance.
It is hard to repair or adjust.A derailleur is easy to repair or adjust.
This one doesn’t accelerate fast.This accelerates quite fast.
It is heavyweight.It is quite lightweight.
Can shift gears when the bike is stationary.Cannot shift gear when the bike is stationary.
This has a limited gear range.This one has a large gear range.
It is concealed in a hub, so it is not exposed to air or dirt.It is not concealed and is hence, exposed to dirt, air, and grime.

Internal Gear Hub vs Derailleur

Both these shifting systems are well suited for different bicycles depending on their different advantages. This means that neither is better than the other because both systems have their fair share of pros and cons.

Derailleur gears are ideal for riders who focus more on affordability as well as performance. They are lightweight as well as more mechanically efficient; however, they require more maintenance. 

Whereas, internal gear hubs are more suited for individuals who don’t want to spend time on maintenance or repairs. Riders can easily shift gears without pedaling, which makes them ideal for urban riding. 

What are the Pros of Internal Gear Hubs?

Maintenance

All the maintenance internal gear hubs need is that the chain remains at the right tension and even that doesn’t specifically count as maintenance. 

Internal gear hubs require less maintenance, other than the usual oil change every 500 km.

Unlike derailleurs, which need frequent maintenance, internal gear hubs don’t cause the riders to worry about their constant maintenance. This is majorly why a lot of bike riders switch towards internal gear hubs.

» You can also read my post: How Much is a New Bike Tire — (Cost of Replacing Tires)

Chains are Durable

The chain of the internal gear hub stays on the same gears at all times. The chain doesn’t move from its place and continues to run in a straight line. 

This makes the chain last much longer and prevents it from wear and tear. One can get as much as 20,000 km out of just one chain without replacing it. 

Can Shift When Static

Internal gear hubs can allow the riders to shift even when they are not pedaling and the bike is not moving.

This is a huge deal for bike riders since it helps them ride in traffic where they have to continuously make stops. This also makes climbing uphill easy. 

Multiple Gears At Once

With internal gear hubs, a rider can shift multiple gears at once. In a derailleur bike, doing this can drop the chain. 

Strong Rear Wheel

With Internal gear hubs, the rear wheel is stronger because all spokes are symmetrically spaced at the same angle on both sides of the wheel. Plus, the hub is larger which makes the spokes shorter and the wheel stronger.

With a strong rear wheel, one can easily carry heavy weights without having to worry about broken spokes. This gives an advantage to people who want to go touring with their bags on the bike rack. 

Good For Touring

Internal gear hub bikes are ideal for touring. Several expedition bicycle tourists opt for a bicycle with internal gear hubs because they require less maintenance and have strong wheels.

A cyclist can easily tour around without having to worry about the maintenance and repair of their bikes.

Compatible With Belt Drives

One big advantage that internal gear hubs provide the riders with is that they are compatible with belt drives. Belt drives are a popular choice for bike riders for their durable, lightweight, and quiet nature. 

Internal gear hubs are long-lasting and riders can get as much as 30,000 km out of a belt drive before replacing it.

Plus, they don’t require lubricants as chains do.

» Read more about this in my post: How-to: (Remove the Crank from a Bicycle) — Step-by-Step 

Technologically Advanced

Internal gear hubs are more technically advanced because they have been designed after a lot of engineering and precision. 

A rider can significantly notice the quality engineering while they are pedaling. People who are tech-savvy and want to own the most technologically advanced bicycle can definitely opt for this.

Moreover, they continue to be modified with time. 

What are the Cons of Internal Gear Hubs?

Expensive

Internal gear hubs are expensive and people who are under budget cannot afford them.

Quality internal gears can cost as much as $1600. 

Less Efficient

Internal gears are less efficient than derailleurs. They continue to lose efficiency when the power produced by pedaling passes from gear to gear.

This also applies to derailleur but the loss is slightly less as compared to internal gear hubs. 

Less Gear Range

A gear range is a difference between the highest gear and the lowest gear.

The internal gear hub also has a lesser gear range, the largest is about 14 speeds of around 5265, and the lowest gear range is 3-8 speeds of around 200%-400%. This also depends upon the brand or company.

With a low gear range, one may not be able to climb steep hills or achieve maximum speed.

Moreover, the internal gear hubs have fewer gears which means it has larger jumps between gears. This is why several riders can’t find the ideal speed for their desired terrain. 

Heavy and Slow

Internal gear hubs are heavier in weight because of the added gears and complexity. The weight goes into the wheels which eventually slows down the acceleration. 

Because of their low efficiency, heavyweight, and slow acceleration, bikes with internal gear hubs are slower and one can’t go as fast as one might want to.

Plus, it requires energy to maintain speed. This is why professional bike racers don’t prefer bikes with internal gear hubs. 

Can’t Shift Gear With a Heavy Load

With internal gear hubs, shifting gears under a lot of heavy loads is not possible. To shift, the rider must reduce the power slightly. Shifting under load can eventually damage the gears. 

Hard to Repair

Internal gear hubs are complex and not many people or even bike mechanics can repair them. If one wants their internal gear hubs repaired they have to ship them back to their manufacturers. 

What are the Pros of Derailleurs? 

Easy to Repair

Unlike the complex internal gear hubs, derailleurs are quite simple and easy to repair. One can easily fix them at home with some basic bicycle tools. Plus, any bike mechanic knows how to adjust or repair them. 

This benefits the riders who are touring because they can fix them anywhere by just using a toolkit. 

Efficient

Derailleurs are significantly more efficient as compared to internal gear hubs. However, this efficiency can be lost due to bad maintenance of the bike. 

Affordable

Derailleurs are pretty affordable and are available at the cheapest prices. A person under a strict budget can buy one for a couple of hundred dollars.

In comparison to internal gear hubs, even the lowest priced one costs more than derailleurs. 

More Gears

Unlike internal gear hubs, derailleurs have more gears with 27-30 speeds. This gives an advantage to the riders since more gears have less space to jump between each speed.

They can easily find their ideal speed according to their desired terrain. 

High Gear Range 

With more gears, derailleurs also offer more gear range. Riders can easily travel on steep uphill terrains with more gear range. 

Easy to Find Spare Parts

Spare parts for derailleurs are easy to find because they are easily available at every bike shop. Tourists find it convenient to buy replacement parts for derailleurs if they suddenly need replacement and simply get back on the road anywhere in the world. 

» I have also written this post, about: (Average Cost): How Much Is a Bike Tune-Up? – Bicycle

Lightweight and Fast 

Derailleurs are lighter in weight, which also helps put less load on the wheel thus making the bike as lightweight as possible.

Due to this, they’re easier to accelerate faster with less energy. This also makes them fast and helps them cover more distance in less time and effort. It makes derailleur ideal for races. 

More Wheel Options 

Unlike internal gear hubs, derailleurs give riders the advantage of switching out wheels. Riders who like to keep two sets of wheels for different terrains on tours can easily switch them.  

What are the Cons of Derailleurs?

Need Constant Maintenance

Derailleurs usually need more maintenance to keep the drivetrain efficient. A rider has to thoroughly clean, degrease and lube the gears and chains to make them run smoothly every couple of miles. 

Moreover, the shifter cables and derailleurs need to be adjusted frequently as well.

Not Reliable

Derailleurs aren’t very reliable since their system is out in the open and more likely to bump against something.

As the system is exposed, the chain can easily wear from dirt, water, or grime. Rear derailleurs are more likely to get damaged since they are close to the ground. 

Chains Don’t Last 

With derailleurs, the chain flexes each time you shift gear as the chains constantly jump around from gear to gear. This can put stress on the chain, making it wear and eventually fail.

With derailleurs, riders have to replace the chains more often. 

Can’t Shift While Stationary

Riders can’t shift when the bike is stationary, this causes a big hassle when they stop at a traffic signal with high gear and can’t pedal again since they didn’t downshift the gear before stopping. 

This makes derailleur sometimes annoying to ride in a city when you constantly have to make stops and go. 

Can’t Shift Through Multiple Gears 

Riders can’t shift through multiple gears at once, they have to shift one gear at a time with derailleurs. If they attempt to shift multiple gears the chain ends up falling. 

Weaker Wheel

Derailleur system bikes have big spokes which make the space between them unsymmetrical. Therefore, the wheel is structurally weaker and more likely to break under stress. 

However, to counter this, riders use a wheel with more spokes such as 36 spokes wheels instead of 32 spokes. This can add enough strength to the wheel to not break under heavy loads or stress. 

Not Compatible With Belt Drives

Unlike internal gear hubs, derailleurs are not compatible with belt drives. If riders want a belt drive then they have to switch to internal gear hubs. 

Extra Careful

Since derailleurs are near the ground, they’re more likely to bump into obstacles such as trees, rocks, or stumps.

They can easily go out of adjustment and cause a hassle so riders need to be extra careful when riding a derailleur bike. 

» This could also be something for you: 700c Vs. 26 Inch Bicycle Wheels

Conclusion

After a thorough rundown of both systems’ pros and cons, I hope the confusion about which system would suit your bike has cleared up. Internal gear hub systems are reliable, but they lack efficient performance. Whereas derailleurs are prone to constant damage but they deliver excellent performance.

Overall, internal gear hubs remain the top choice for riders with a high budget and a love for touring. Riders can even escape the hassle of frequent maintenance with internal gear hubs.

Derailleurs are mostly preferred by professional racers and people who want to buy a budget-friendly shifting system for their bikes.

Derailleurs have also made a special place in cycling enthusiasts’ hearts for decades due to their simple technology and user-friendly repair system. 

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