About one year ago, Sharon, my stoker/sweetheart and I began searching for a new tandem, not to replace the one we currently had, but a good travel tandem that could be more easily transported on trips where the bicycle needs to be shipped or flown to the location. I had already decided on a Co-motion and assumed that I would just need to look to see what touring options they had and order the one in the price range we wanted. Then I got a look at the “Equator.
The Equator is Co-motion’s touring model that includes a Rohloff rear hub. This makes it possible to have a timing belt, but also a drive belt instead of the usual chains. One of the requirements for our new travel bike was couplers so the bike could be disassembled to fit inside suit cases that could be checked in as baggage if flying to the location where we would be riding. With chains, disassembling and reassembling the bike would inevitably be a messy job. After working for years in a bike shop, one look at the Equator made me think about whether handling dirty bike chains was how I wanted to spend my vacations. After some careful consideration, the bike was ordered. What follows is my impression of the bike after one year of riding.
My first impressions of the bike was that there was a lot attention paid to the workmanship. The welds on the steel frame looked really clean and the paint job was perfect. To allow for both front and rear belt adjustments, the Equator comes with two Eccentric bottom brackets. The adjustment on the stoker’s bottom bracket has an effect on where the captain’s bottom bracket adjusts to. With both belts properly adjusted, bot eccentric cups sit almost exactly halfway through the adjustment range, which I think shows good attention to detail. Since receiving the bike, I have checked a few other Co-motion tandems to see if they just got lucky on our bike, but the few I looked at with belt drive adjusted at halfway through the range of adjustment.
Some bike man
ufacturers choose to adjust the belt with an adjustable dropout mechanism that allows the rear wheel to slide backwards to take up the extra slack. After riding the Equator for a year, I understand why Co-motion went with the eccentric design, especially on a tandem. With the adjustable rear dropout design, you have the weight of two riders pulling the wheel forward on the mechanism. With the eccentric design, the stoker’s eccentric is being pulled both forward and backward at the same time. This design is less likely to slip and also has a nice clean look. I think the Gates belts do stretch just a little bit when they are new, accounting for one belt adjustment over the entire year.
The Equator comes with TRP Spyre disc brakes, which are now my favorite brake to use on a tandem. Shortly after purchasing the Equator, I purchased another Spyre brake caliper to use on our other bike. They tend to squeal less than Avid BB7’s and since both pads move, they are a little less likely to have disc rub after a long (disc warping) descent.
The real interesting piece of this bike though is the rear hub. To say an entire freewheel has been crammed into the rear hub is an understatement. The front derailleur is jammed in there too as well as all the indexing. You really begin to understand this when you take a look at the shifter, with a total of only 4 parts. My first impression on seeing Co-motion’s shifter was “Why did they send an expensive camera part with my bike?”
The German made Rohloff hub takes absolutely all the weird quirks your derailleur shifting bike has and gets rid of them. It then replaces them with an entirely different set of shifting peculiarities. The first few days out climbing on the bike were a bit frustrating due to one of them. Under high pedaling pressure, the shifter is more difficult to move. Unlike a derailleur system, it does not shift and then make a bunch of clattering noise. Instead, it just doesn’t move at all. Once you get accustomed to this, you learn to ease off enough for the shift to occur and shifting ends up being overall smoother than a derailleur system. Not sure how much to ease off? You can completely stop pedaling for just a second while shifting for guaranteed success. The real tricky gear change though is between eight and seven due to the design of the hub. The internals are really a seven speed coupled with a two speed to pick the high and low range. Try to imagine a standard derailleur system. Now imagine that somehow there is no gear overlap. All the big ring gears are above the small ring gears.
When you shift the Rohloff from 8 to 7, it has to do two separate things. It needs to shift to the lower range and it needs to shift to the highest gear in the lower range. It was not possible to guarantee that both happened at the same time, so Rohloff opted for the shift to the highest of the seven gear range (think freewheel) to occur before the shift to the lower range (think small ring). Under ideal shifting, this happens really fast, but under pressure, sometimes only half the shift occurs. This puts you in the highest gear on the bike when you were expecting to get one gear lower. On a tandem, this also results in your stoker asking, “Why did you do that??” With a little practice, this is easily avoidable. This is the one shift that I’m most likely to use the quick pause technique to guarantee a clean shift.
Have you ever come screaming down a hill only to hit a stop sign followed by a steep incline? The Rohloff really shines here, once you train yourself to shift at a complete stop. This is also a pleasant surprise on a downhill where you would like to shift into a higher gear but don’t necessarily want to pedal while doing it. You can jump over several gears rather quickly as well and it seems to do this somehow with less effort than shifting just one gear.
The gear range on the Rohloff is excellent. It’s fairly close to a derailleur bike with an 11-34t cassette and a triple crank. Although there are only 14 speeds, they are evenly spaced. There are no overlapping gears. Two options are available with the belt drive on the Co-motion. You can either have a low gear equivalent to a 34 with a 24 tooth granny gear or you can opt for 34 with a 26 tooth granny gear. The highest gear ends up being lower than what usually comes on a tandem with derailleurs, but this is better for a touring bike. It’s not going to be fun pushing this bike up a steep hill without at least having the 26-34 option, especially with a rack and panniers installed.
If you search through online reviews of the Rohloff hub, you are likely to come across several commenting about how noisy the hub is in some gears. I have not found this to be entirely true, however I understand now, after a year, why some people are bothered by the noises the hub makes. The lower gear range is noisiest when new, and the upper gear range is absolutely silent, even when the hub is new. In shifting from gear 8 to 7 you go from absolutely silent to about as loud as a derailleur system gets. As you shift lower than 7, the gears get a little quieter, but that jump from complete silence to gear noise makes you perceive it as being louder than a derailleur when it probably isn’t. Powering up a steep hill, there’s a slight gear whine noise like you would get in a car transmission, however, this does not bother me.
At about one years worth of use, I did the recommended rear hub overhaul. This consists of injecting cleaning oil into the hub, spinning it a bit while shifting between certain gears, and then draining the mixture of old oil and cleaning oil from the hub. The kit comes with a syringe to inject and drain the cleaning oil and then finally inject a pre-measured amount of the new oil into the hub. Before performing the maintenance I had noticed more hub noise and a bit more oil “weeping” than when the hub was new. I was now hearing noises while in the upper gear range as well and these new sounds were not a regular even gear noise like experienced when climbing. After the maintenance, the hub was a little quieter, however not as quiet as it originally was. I ended up sending the rear wheel to Cyclemonkey just to be sure something wasn’t seriously wrong with the wheel and received the wheel back in about a week performing as it originally did when new. Some seals had to be replaced to fix the oil leakage problem, however the extra oil leakage could also have been caused by not fully draining the old oil from the hub. I got some good advice on how to do this properly. The directions that come with the oil change kit did not have this recommendation.
The oil change kit recommends you leave the hub sitting with the drain hole down for about a half hour after using the cleaning oil to let the oil settle at the bottom of the hub before using the syringe to drain it. The mechanic at Cyclemonkey recommended letting the hub sit overnight and then trying to get even more of the oil out. You want to get as much of the cleaning oil out as possible.
I’m not particularly thrilled that there seems to be only one shop on the entire west coast that knows how to do extensive maintenance on this hub, but other than that, the hub seems really reliable. The shifting does not rely on springs and if you break a derailleur cable, the hub can be shifted with a wrench. Not ideal, but certainly better than what I’ve seen done to limp a derailleur bike back in after a cable failure.
Given the intended use of the bike, there was no way to put together a super light tandem racer, so we didn’t even try. The frame is steel, it has couplers, and the hub is probably a little heavier than derailleurs. The bike weighs in at 44 pounds, at least 12 pounds heavier than our other tandem, yet it has become our favorite bike to ride due to the quietness of the drivetrain. It also doesn’t hurt to ride a heavier bike on your training rides just to switch to a lighter one when the important events come up.
The drop bar shifter is not ideal for out of the saddle shifting. Rohloff is clearly not the way to go for a light weight racing road bike, but for a sturdy tourer there are several advantages to the system. The mountain bike shifter position is more accessible, however some mountain riders do not like how more weight gets shifted to the rear of the bike. I find it a little unfortunate that this style hub can not perform well enough for road racing as it would put an end to bent and broken derailleur hangers.
I recently purchased a spare hanger for my other tandem and it’s ridiculous how many different styles of real derailleur hangers there are. How does it go? “Every time a bell rings, some annoying schmuck designs a new rear derailleur hanger.” Although the Rohloff/Gates drivetrain does add a some new challenges to smooth operation, they are more than compensated for by the issues that are removed for some use cases. I have been completely satisfied with our new packable tourer. ?
Categorised in: Bike
This post was written by Tom