NuVinci N360 Review

20 11 2010


Tom's rig...

Note: This isn’t my review.  Tom posted it to’s IGH Forum and I reposted it here with his permission since I figured some folks would be interested to hear what he has to say about this hub.

DISCLAIMER: I am not by any means an expert rider and I have not tried every piece of equipment out there or ridden every type of trail. The premise of this review is to provide observations of the real-world performance of the NuVinci N360 hub with as much detail as possible. It is not meant to be an endorsement or advertisement, just data for people to draw from, with a few of my personal opinions along with it. Yes, the hub is heavy. No, it’s not for everyone. Just don’t give me crap because I write way, way too much or have stupid opinions.

BACKGROUND: I’m 6’3″, 215 lbs and like to break things. My singletrack bike is a large Surly Karate Monkey with a Fisher Rig build kit and a Fox F29 80mm fork. It’s been set up mostly as single speed, but also ridden with a 1×9 setup for a while. As a SS it weighed in at just under 30 lbs. I built up the N360 hub to a Stan’s ZTR Flow rim with a way-fatter-than-2.35 Bontrager FR3 tire. The whole setup brought the complete bike weight up to 33.6 lbs. There really isn’t a single part of this bike chosen for weight reduction or speed, more for comfort and durability.

WHEEL BUILD: A friend at my LBS helped me string up the wheel. I’ll spare the details except for one anecdote: every time my friend lifted it out of the truing stand he kept thinking it was stuck, only to realize that it’s just way heavier than an average cassette hub. Listen to the NuVinci recommendations and lace 2x at most (for 36h), because the diameter of the flange is so large it will be even stronger than a 3x Alfine, in fact because you end up with shorter spokes it’s a lot like a 26″ wheel laced 3x-4x on a standard hub. Otherwise, it builds up really easily. I noticed that the wheel has a significant amount of extra drag on the truing stand compared to a basic freewheel hub, but it is not really noticeable on the bike and that resistance drops as the hub goes through it’s “break-in.”

BIKE SET-UP: Installing on the bike is straight-forward. Make sure the yellow marking on the hub are lined up, put the shifter mechanism in full overdrive, and line up the slots. There are manufacturer recommendations for the length of cable that needs to be showing out the end of the housing when the ends are installed (this is a two-cable set-up) with simple instructions that will get you in the ball park…follow those directions. Once everything is routed and (likely zip-tied) in place, shift the hub to full overdrive and check for cable slack, then do the same for full underdrive. Cable slack WILL screw up the shifter (more on that below).

TEST RIDE: After installation and cable tensioning, a quick trip around the parking lot is a good idea to make sure the shifter is working properly and you’re getting the full range of motion. I had some slack in both cables at first, which will cause the grip shifter to click and make noise and not behave properly. After adjusting the stops at the end of the cables, then tightening up the barrel adjusters on the shifter, all the clicks went away and everything works flawlessly. I recommend checking for cable slack after the first several rides, especially if you get any noise from the shifter, that will likely solve any problems.

FIRST RIDE: I took a loop that would involve about 10 miles of speed road riding, with about 2.5 miles of flowy singletrack in the middle at Lake Crabtree. Nothing crazy, just wanted to see how the gear range felt, and how it felt on the road and on the trail. Mine is set up with a 32T front ring and 18T cog, making for a total range equivalent to 32:36 up to 32:10. On downhills I could spin out the top gear, but never needed to go any faster than I was going, then on the trails I ride regularly there aren’t any climbs that I need a lower gear for. This is all the range I need for what I ride, but you can figure out if that’s enough range for you.

RIDE IMPRESSIONS: I’ll say this first: after letting about 10 other people tool around on my bike and play with it, the first two words without fail they use to describe it are “weird” and “smooth.” It’s very appropriate. First, shifting is as you would expect (except that twisting forward shifts to a lower gear), you twist and it shifts. There is no grinding, crunching, or clicking…you’re pedaling cadence just changes, making for a surreal feel over even the other IGHs. There is zero noise, no jerking forces on your legs, no missed shifts, no out-of-gear or ghost shifting sensation…it just shifts, is always in gear and works. My friend commented, “it’s weird riding with you and being able to hear you shift gears.”

The added resistance of the hub is barely noticeable, but it is there. The added weight is only majorly obvious when you pick the bike up (remember, that’s from my perspective, I’m not a weight weenie). During the first couple rides, the only odd feeling I noticed was when the bike was in full underdrive (32:36) and I was mashing up hill, I could “feel” the fluid in the hub. It wasn’t a grinding, more of a swishing feeling that has since faded, as I suspect it is some break-in related symptom (note: there is no malfunction or slippage in this condition, just and odd feeling at first). I did put markings on the tire and test for slippage by checking rotation ratio under no load by just rotating the cranks freely with the bike in a stand, then did the same with extreme torque, mashing scenario. RESULT: there is zero slippage in this hub. You may perceive something as slipping, but I assure you that is not the case. Inefficiency via drag, sure, but you will not make it slip.

This specific feature is one of the reasons I wanted to be an early adopter. It really is never out of gear, no jerking or sharp forces during shifting, you just pedal along so no matter what when you step on the pedal, you know what to expect. Already my knees feel better riding on this than they did on the 1×9. Of course, this is personal preference, so I’ll leave it at that.

So far, this bike has ridden like a SS. No drivetrain or chain tensioning issues, I can just spray it down after a ride if I want, no maintenance. I wail on wheels, not because I’m so skilled, but because I’m big and lack finesse. The point is, you’ll break something else before you ever break anything in this hub. The next test is to go outside the NuVinci recommended gearing range and put a 22T cog on the back and start piling on the torque on the steepest climbs I can find (they say it should be at least 1.8:1 chainwheel/cog ratio as a very generic guideline). From my testing so far I am fairly confident in saying the hub is plenty stout for any type of riding you would do.

SHIFTER: I’m putting a whole separate section for the shifter because in many ways it’s the most used and most critical part of this whole set up. If not set up properly as discussed earlier and cable slack is not eliminated from both cables, then you will have shifter issues. For argument’s sake, let’s say anyone that has this hub will know how to turn a barrel adjuster and it will be set up properly. What I was interested in was how it shifted in different riding conditions. The gear indicator with the little cartoon dude on the hill is pretty awesome if you’re goofy like me (I almost never look at it while actually riding anyways).

First, you can shift at a dead stop. This can be handy for obvious reasons and it’s very light pressure to shift, however if you are completely stopped then it will only shift through about half of its range before you’re met with a ton of resistance. NOTE: do not wrench on it to try to get it to shift the rest of the way through, you will just stretch the cables. If you just rotate the rear wheel at all (i.e.- start moving) then you can just as easily shift through the rest of the range. Not a performance issue, just something to be aware of. Where I find the shift-anytime feature most useful is when descending, knowing I’m about to hit a steep climb and I need to be a lower gear to maintain my momentum. I can be standing up, focusing on the descent, just twist the shifter a quarter turn, and when I start pedaling I’m already in that gear, period. Once I got used to doing this and how far to turn the shifter for an approximate gear change, it became super easy and comfortable (and it can bail you out of sloppy riding with immediate shift response).

Normal riding and shifting is extremely easy. There really isn’t a better word for it than “smooth.” It just works, try one and you’ll get it, instantly. Now, what people are more concerned about is shifting under load. The best way I can describe it is that there is a limit to how quickly you can shift under a really high load. If you’re loading the pedals to the maximum you will be met with a ton of shifter resistance, so you don’t want to be really cranking on the pedals and the shifter at the same time, but it will work. If you let off for even just the top/bottom of your pedal stroke for just a fraction of a second, the shifter will loosen up and change gears easily. I found that it’s easy to shift while climbing, particularly if shifting to a lower gear, but you do have to use more force on the shifter to get it to obey you. That will likely be another personal preference thing, because for me I’d trade a little extra wrist force for continuous, uninterrupted power transfer/gear change, instead having the crank slip a 1/8 turn while shifting or the sudden change jerking on my legs (again, this is a personal preference).

OVERALL OPINION: Yes, that says opinion, because this is how I feel about this hub:

If you have a chance to ride one, DO IT.

Chances are you won’t love it. It’s not meant for everyone, but it is totally cool. The majority of riders, particularly trail riders, aren’t even going to be able to get past the additional 3-4 lbs of weight. Obviously, it’s aimed at recreational riding, not performance/racing and as my riding buddy says, “you’d have to be nuts to think I’m adding weight to my race bike.” Granted, but that’s not the point of this hub from a mountain/trail bike perspective.

I love this hub because it’s: (A) easy to use (2) unbelievably predictable, (d) 100% reliable, and 4) I’m a big dude. I am the opposite of a weight weenie and am not a racer, so my bike is outfitted to be bullet-proof and fun, while allowing me to get a workout. Adding 2% to my total rider + bike weight? Not a problem to me. What I always hated was the way that derailers shift, the effect it has on your legs and pedal stroke, and the risk of damage to cages, chain slap, ghost shifting, adjustment and maintenance, etc. If you don’t have a problem with derailers and prefer race-ready components, you likely will not be a huge fan of this hub. If you hate derailers, you’ll probably fall in love with it instantly. Either way, it’s completely fun and totally different from any other gear system out there.

Hopefully the length of this post hasn’t deterred people from bothering, I tend to ramble, I just figured that someone out there might actually appreciate knowing some of this stuff if they can’t actually test one for themselves. If you’re in the Raleigh, NC area I tend to ride at Lake Crabtree during lunch whenever I can, I’m always happy to talk about bikes and let you check it out. Pictures of my bike are attached below.