Pining over the Pinion Drivetrain System – Adam Sklar May 22, 2018

Words by Adam Sklar, photos from Sklar Bikes, diagrams from Pinion

The Pinion Gearboxes have been around for a long while now but their popularity in Europe is just now starting to break its way into the US bike scene. Last Fall Sklar Bikes started receiving orders for frames built with the mounting system for these gearboxes and as someone who had eyed them for years, with only a little riding experience, I was pretty excited. Being that Sklar builds all custom bikes, it feels great to offer something that is really special and harder to get. These frames have mostly seen use as commuters, “bikepacking bikes” and everyday trail bikes for customers who are maybe less maintenance-inclined or just intrigued by this neat system. So far all of those customers have been psyched on their bikes and I am happy to build with Pinion, though there are certainly pluses and minuses that come with it. At the end of the day, it is pretty easy to overthink a bike, but of course, overthinking bikes is my job and so what follows are my thoughts on Pinion from the perspective of someone who builds bike frames for a living and also spends a whole lot of time riding them.

Starting off with the things that I like about Pinion:

Range – The first time I hopped on a 12-speed pinion bike I was pleasantly surprised by the range of 12-speed The 12-speed gearbox boasts 100% more range than an Eagle cassette and it feels like it too. This part is really impressive.
Simplicity – if you are like me, derailleur cages get smashed, sticks get tossed into cages. None of that to happen with Pinion and that is pretty cool. No derailleur dangling off the back is nice aesthetically, though I wouldn’t choose the gearbox if vanity was number one.
Setup and Maintenance – getting these gearboxes setup is surprisingly easy and pain-free, which I was relieved to find out after some headbanging experiences with Rohloff and the like in the past.

There are though, a number of things that I’m not 100% excited about with Pinion:

Weight – While the Pinion system is still drastically better than an internal hub because of its’ placement on the bike, at the end of the day it is still heavy. I’ll be the first to tell you that weight is one of the least important characteristics of a bike, but any time it is concentrated in one place, it is going to change the way a bike rides. Is it bad? I’m not sure, but definitely different.

Chainstay length – A number of builders are using their own mounting brackets for Pinion gearboxes and if Pinion continues to be a popular option I am going to have to go that route too. Pinion’s cast steel bracket is nice, but due to its design a frame can only be built with realllllly long chainstays. I am talking a minimum of 460mm on a 29er – that is long. To spend so much time and effort designing a drivetrain system and entirely overlook something as important as how the bike will handle is crazy and frustrating to me. A lot of folks are using these for touring bikes where long chainstays are fine, but to put a gearbox to use on a bike that will see everyday offroad use is really tricky.

Gripshift – word on the street is that a thumb shifter option is on the way, but for now gripshift is the only option. Gripshift is not for me.

Cost – not the most approachable at around $2,000 for the gearbox, shifter and crankset.

So will you see a gearbox on my next bike? Ahhhhhh, maybe… I am still up in the air to be honest. As the spring rush slows down and I have some more time on my hands I reckon I will sit down at the computer and CAD up my own mounting system, at which point I suppose I’ll have to give it a shot.

Have you had first-hand experience with Pinion? Let us know what you think!

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  • Matthew J

    Pinion markets the C-Line as a lighter weight urban option. Provided the adventure tourer is willing to go with a narrower gear ratio, seems it may be viable.

  • Chris van der Kaap

    Check out the system Tout Terrain uses fir belt/chain adjustment. It’s pretty neat and shortens the chainstay length considerably. Their new Outback model is a good example of it being used in an off-road bikepacking situation

  • stateofnonreturn

    Honestly after getting used to Pinion’s grip shifter on my fully, I don’t know if I’d wanna go back to trigger. I really like that I am able shift through many gears at once and make riding super fun. I wear gloves to avoid slipping but other than that I love it.

    • Dillon Osleger

      Sram already offers grip shift for non-pinion, standard drivetrains. Not sure if grip shift can be considered a pro for pinion since it is simply a limitation of options.

  • I haven’t been super impressed with the Pinion bikes I’ve ridden, but get a lot of questions about them. The only real world benefit I can see vs. a Rohloff is moving the weight off the rear wheel and onto the frame. You’re really commited to the Pinion once you have a custom frame made for one, there’s no backup for derailleurs if you don’t like it. They are also heavier and more expensive. The first thing I noticed when I rode a Pinion bike was the considerable amount of slop in the pedaling engagement, but I don’t really hear anybody discussing this. It seems like there is almost a quarter turn of the pedals before anything happens. You’re also still relying on a conventional freehub body or freewheel in the back, so it doesn’t seem like the ideal expedition setup in my eyes. You’re also commited to proprietary crank arms. I’m a fan of the Rohloff drivetrain, but it’s not perfect by any means. It’s still heavy and expensive and a bit clunky, but at least you can put on a conventional derailleur wheel or singlespeed wheel if you want to. I’ll be interested to see how the Pinion develops as a system, they are still pretty early days for them. I’m sure it will only get better, and the huge gear range is pretty amazing.

  • James R

    I had a custom hardtail frame built up around a Pinion C.12 last fall. The pinion has some pros and cons. Most of the key points have already been mentioned. Here are some additional comments. The grip shift is nice for changing a lot of gears almost instantly. I like the function of the grip shift. The way it feels under my hand I don’t care for. Being able to run a belt is awesome. So smooth and quiet even on chunky downhills. Not having to worry about chain lube is also nice. The slop in the pedal engagement is a huge pain. Especially in technical rocky climbs that require ratcheting to avoid pedal strikes. The cable routing/installation is also tricky and annoying, but once you get it setup it shouldn’t require any work. I also don’t like how people ask me if it is an ebike. In its current state the Pinion not for everyone, but it does have some unique advantages over a derailleur system. Obviously there are things that could be better about the gearbox, but I think it is headed in the right direction.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cd7c5f6427e2f5a43f4d9a7374bc7a0ff311dbeaa5f0dcf36819c15162886e58.jpg

    • Ryan

      “I also don’t like how people ask me if it is an ebike.”

      I think this every time I see one and wondered if riders get grief from others assuming it was powered.

  • Jake Riehle

    Love the idea, I’ve been riding a rohloff on my MTB for 7000 miles, but it would be nicer to have all that weight at the BB rather than the rear hub.

  • Big Jänet Romance

    this is a cool bike randy!

  • Dr J

    Haven’t tried one but from online videos I figured it’s also quite loud, which would be a con for me.

    Gripshift is actually a very decent winter riding option. You can easily use it in thick (fingerless) mittens, something that makes trigger shifter less appealing.

  • Harry

    I’ll bide my time for the Pinion C-tukt model then.

  • lyle driver

    My biggest gripe about the Pinion is the inability to downshift under ANY load at all. It takes a lot of planning. That combined with the cumulative engagement issue of the dual ratchets, makes technical climbing manouvres pretty annoying.
    The cable routing out of the grip shift is pretty susceptible to damage as well, some Vbrake noodles should be installed to re-aim the cables inward.
    I also found that in the gears over driving the output shaft felt quite draggy, (ie past the 0.95 gear #7 on the C1.12) getting worse as the ratio got further from 1:1. Similarly, the underdriven gears feel spongey with gear lash, the lower you go.
    I really wanted to like it, but after spending time on it, I’m not a fan.
    Honestly, the ONLY Plus, is moving the unsprung mass from the rear wheel to under your feet.

  • California Travis

    I rode it on a full squish through Chico rock gardens. Reminded me a lot of riding a Rholhoff off road, having to reprogram my brain to apply and not apply pedaling pressure very differently when shifting. I agree with Lyle, there are times when you have to pause to shift that can leave you hanging, so you have to plan your shifts differently. I’m not usually a fan of grip shifters, but I actually like being able to twist through a ton of gears at once when at a dead stop with this system.