The first Alfine 11 speed Bullitt Cargobike?

I have just upgraded my Bullitt Cargobike from an 8 speed Alfine hub gear to an 11 speed.

The reasons are long complicated and include a fair bit of incompetence on my part. So I’ll skip those.

I have built the wheel myself using a Mavic rim (XM 719 but make sure you get the one for 36 spokes) and very fancy triple butted DT Swiss  spokes (RHS 18 x 248mm & LHS 18 x 250mm).  Hoping that will prove strong enough. Very pleased to have built my first wheel. Thnks to Sheldon brown for the guide.

I am now running a Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tyre on the back (wow lots of deep tread, only just fits. It does reduce the clearance for the stand so that on rough ground one leg of the stand might not always be firmly planted on the ground). A standard Schwalbe Marathon on the front (they don’t make the Plus Tour in a 20″ size).

Installing all the bits for the 11 speed was straightforward. The hardest bit was rethreading the shortened cable to go through the rubber gaiter.

Anyway, I have been for my first ride. Just under 8 miles in total as I went to support Jane who was playing a St Patrick’s gig with Eileen’s Little Big Band at Birstall. Everything worked perfectly. The smaller steps between the gears are lovely as is the ability to change down more than one gear at a time. The bigger range is going to be good although I am going to look at a slightly smaller chainring thanh the 38 tooth I am using at the moment so that I gain a bit lower 1st gear (better  not tell Shimano though).

A wet night ride through the twisty and unlit Watermead Park does remind me just how awesome a Bullitt with Schmidt Dynamo and Schmidt EDelux light are. Drier, more secure and easier than any other bike.

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  1. Well done! If your pulpit smile is broader, we shall know why.
    Just a tad jealous. Murray

  2. Nice work Dave, can I ask where you got the Alfine 11 from? My Nexus 7 geared commuter bike is rapidly becoming an all out tourer, so am looking to upgrade to the Alfine 11 at some point in the future.

  3. Chris,

    With their discounts Wiggle were the best value I could find for the Alfine 11 + shifter + fitting kit.

    If you want to buy the wheel ready built then they won’t be as useful.

    What will you do for braking? I guess you have roller brakes at the moment? Does your frame have mountings for a disk?

  4. I will probably end up buying a complete wheel, some of the German online retailers seem to offer some very good deals on complete Alfine wheels. The frame is of a late 80s vintage so I’ll be looking to keep the current rim brake set up. What chainwheel/cog combination are you running on the 11?

    • I am using 38/20 at the moment but planning to move to 36/20 (remember this is a cargobike and I want to be able to climb hills when loaded. Top end is much less important to me.

      • How are you going to fit a 36t chainring on your cranks. I’ve been thinking about this recently and realised I’ll have to change the cranks as the the Alfine BCD won’t accept a chainring smaller than the one supplied with the Bullitt.

        Both kids in the bike is getting heavy a year on as they both grow so fast! Needing lower gears definitely but not sure how to get them. As far as I know the supplied sprocket is the largest you can get for the Alfine 8 speed hub and the supplied chainring is the smallest you can get for the cranks.

        Might be looking at swapping out the cranks for a compact 110bcd chainset and just using the 34t chainring.I’ll miss having the chainring guard that the alfine has though.

        • Adam,

          I switched to a different chainset when I tried the Hebie Chainglider.

          So I have a “Shimano Saint FCM810 Hollowtech II Single Crank Arms” with 165mm cranks.

          It comes with a bottom bracket that is exactly compatible with what you have (so essentially you get a spare). It is beautifully stiff and with 4 arms and a 104 PCD there are matching chainrings down to a 34 tooth chainring. I am currently using a 36 tooth ring with bash guard and it works beautifully. Just get the BB spacing right. If I remember correctly it needs extra spacers compared to the Alfine but they are included). If I lived in a very hilly area maybe the 34T would be good but I suspect balance in 1st gear will be challenging as it will be able to cope with speeds below 2mph 🙂

          I am planning to use the old BB and Alfine cranks on my fixie once I get the right chainring so nothing has gone to waste.

          Total cost of the change is just under £250

          • I’ve swapped over my cranks as a trial to see how low I want the gearing. Having to use a 36t at the moment as I’m borrowing a second hand chainring rather than buy a new 34t for the trial. I’m using a triple chainset just using the middle ring but the chain line is out. It’s 49mm now and as far as I’m aware it should be 42mm to line up with the hub. Does the Saint give you the 42mm chain line. Trying to work out if I can go for the Saint cranks as it’s quite an investment. Good idea using the Alfine cranks elsewhere though. Makes it more economical.

            Also do you know if the 11 speed hub gives you lower gearing by comparison to the 8 speed? Or does it just give you more increments in the same range?

            I’ve worked out that using the bike for the school run and shopping has saved us at least £650 on fuel and bus tickets in the last year and that’s a very conservative estimate not including loads of other uses, work, travel and leisure trips with the kids! Trying to keep that as a saving though instead of spend it on components. If I don’t gear down a bit though I’m not sure I can cope with getting the (ever growing) kids 2 miles up the hill to school each morning for much longer!

          • Adam,

            a) The Saint seems to line up perfectly, not had any issues. It does come with plastic spacers for the bottom bracket so you have a few options to play with to get the alignment right.

            b) I have just found and ordered a Surly 48 tooth chainring for my Alfine so I can fit it to the fixie 🙂

            c) The 11 speed hub has the same bottom gear, a higher top gear and closer spacing.

            Seems to me there are 2 options for lower gearing (and possibly the cost is not that different).

            i) do what I have done and go for the 11 speed with a new Saint chainset and smaller chainring. I am happy with this choice for me. But it is pushing a bit past the stated limits for the 11 speed hub and in an ideal world I would still go lower – especially if in a hilly area.

            ii) leave the existing hub gear and replace the chainset with a Schlumpf Mountain Drive, possibly with a chainring larger than the default. This will give you a huge overall range (much wider than an 11 speed) with a very very low 1st gear (you might find that you never use low Schlumpf and 1st gear as it is too low). The 8 speed does not seem to have the same limits on gears as the 11 speed, I suspect that this option would overload the 11 speed (although I don’t know why the 11 speed is apparently more fragile than the 8 speed). The complication is fitting the mountain drive which really requires the bottom bracket to have a chamfer added for grip. We have used a mountain drive on a recumbent and it has been very reliable.

          • What are the limitations on the 11 speed hub? Is there a problem if the gearing goes too low?

          • Adam,

            I think the “recommended minimum” ratio between chainring and sprocket for an 11 speed is 1.9:1 (I don’t think there was a limit for the 8 speed). With the 20T sprocket that would be a 38T chainring. Looking around many seem to be running an lot smaller than that (either by fitting a larger Nexus sprocket as they go up to 23T or a smaller chainring).

            So far I am happy with 36T and rarely use 1st gear. But I haven’t tackled much in the way of big hills, especially with heavy loads.

          • I’ve found out that I “should be able to” use a Nexus sprocket on the Alfine 8 speed hub, so I’ve ordered a 22t to go with the original Alfine 39t chainset (that I will put back on as the current trial triple with a middle 36t chainring setup is a messy solution) So I’ll be running 39 : 22, which should be similar to the 36: 20 that seems ok for me at the moment. If the kids grow any more (very likely) then I may try out the largest possible Nexus sprocket which is a 23t. I’ve got a feeling the 22t in lowest gear is going to be spinny enough to be a challenge on balance and momentum anyway.

            Quite pleased that I might have a solution that just costs the price of a sprocket and new (longer) chain as I really can’t afford the Saint cranks right now, and there don’t seem to be any other options that give correct chainline and small chainring capability.

            I’ll let you know if the sprocket fits.

          • Adam,

            That is good news. Will be very interested in knowing how well it works 🙂

          • Looking back on this nearly another year on…. The 22t Nexus sprocket has worked well enough. I’ve been suffering on the hills for a few months now though. So we’re finally looking at some electric assist. Never wanted to do it but it’s that or lose our freedom on the Bullitt. The kids are so heavy now I think I’m actually damaging myself going two miles uphill with them each day. Also feeling increasingly unsafe having no accelerating power pulling away at lights etc and doing about 5mph uphill with cars revving behind.

            So it’s another new era again!

            I have worked out our savings again though form using the Bullitt and in two years it’s paid for itself and saved us about £140 on top of what it cost too compared to other options such as bus etc. Again, that’s also a conservative estimate of how much we’ve used it, not counting leisure journeys with the kids. Plus it’s still the most flexible and convenient way to get about for us and we have something to show for the cost (we still own the bike) vs the other options which would have cost but leave us with nothing to show for it at the end.

          • My thought would be that a motor in the front hub would be easiest retro fit. Seen it effectively used on a Pino with a non pedalling adult on the front.

          • Front wheel electric assist is a lot less efficient, due to being smaller and having less traction. We’re going to try the Bionx (High Torque version) as that seems to be recommended by people using cargo bikes and is what Hans is happy with on the Bullitts that they sell already equipped.

          • Adam,

            I like the Bionx but it will mean a whole new transmission and derailleur instead of hub gears. However, I think it is probably the best I have seen on the market. The battery also fits neatly on a Bullitt.

            I was thinking of cheaper and simpler options and if looking for power assist when the Bullitt is loaded with kids I assume there would be enough weight on the front wheel for traction.

          • The thing I like about the Bionx is that it just amplifies your efforts that it senses from pedals (actually via the pull on the axle) so it’s still a bike rather than being throttle driven and more like a scooter / motorbike. i still want to be riding a bike, but need something to make it feel more like just a heavy bike and take the strain of the kids off my knees.

            I was warned to stay away from anything cheap as they can be a false economy, like most things. It’s a big investment but I already know from buying the bike that the investment is worth it long term.

            I will miss the hub gear though. I really like the 8 speed hub, if only for being able to shift when stopped at lights etc. I really don’t want a derailleur on a cargo bike, but that’s what is needed, so hopefully it will work ok.

          • Adam,

            Will be very interested to hear how you find the Bionx, they seem very popular on Bullitts in the US.

  5. It isn’t daft when you go by bike « 42 Bikes - pingback on March 20, 2012 at 7:25 am
  6. and to me! I’m running 38/19 with the Nexus 8 and would still like a lower “granny” gear for laden touring, but this at the the expense of the already low top gear. I can see that the Alfine 11 can provide a workaround to this problem if you go beyond 2:1 but it would seem to be pushing it a bit to get down to a low gear of 20″. It’s hub gear blasphemy I know, but I’m almost tempted to fit a chain tensioner, double chainset and dérailleur! or maybe re-mortgage the house and go for a Rohloff;)

    • Chris,

      Another solution is to couple an Alfine 8 with a Schlumpf bottom bracket 2 gear mountain drive. This way you could get an amazing gear range without needing a chain tensioner. From all I read the Alfine 8 does not have restrictions on the bottom gear.

      With this setup I’ll have a low of 24.6 inches. Using the Shimano Saint Chainset I can go to even smaller chainrings if I want. So far though I have already managed some pretty steep hills when loaded for touring (eg up to Lincoln Cathedral on the National Cycle Network) so I am hoping the extra few % will make enough difference to not need to go down any more.

      Obviously time will tell on the longevity of the Alfine 11. My current thinking though is that more important at the very lowest gears is going to be chain tugs to stop me moving the axle forward,

  7. Yet more Bullitt Cargobike maintenance « 42 Bikes - pingback on May 6, 2012 at 8:26 am
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