External gearing has been a mainstay of mountain bikes since their inception. Cable driven derailleur systems are simple, easy to fix and reliable, but are they the best? A very vocal sector of mountain bikers support another type of drivetrain – the gearbox.
Gearboxes keep the mechanisms safe from the elements and move weight from the rear wheel to the centre of the bike, making for a theoretically more stable ride. It hasn’t caught on yet but there are a number of companies that have played with internal gearing. Here are four of the best:
The Daddy of gearbox bikes, the Zerode G.5 has years of development, race wins and an awful lot of hype behind it. We tested the Kiwi bike back in 2013 and had a total blast. Sure, it’s heavy and not the best pedaller but that’s not what this bike is about, when it turned steep and gnarly this bike came alive.
With three years of development and a New Zealand National Championships title under its belt since then, the Zerode is the bike most likely to bring about the gearbox revolution.
France’s foray into the gearbox downhill bike comes in the form of the Cavalerie Falcon, but it also offers a 180mm freeride bike (Squirrel) and a 160mm enduro bike (Anakin) with internal gearing.
There’s an a la carte style build kit to pick at your leisure but the heart of this bike is the gearbox that reduces the unsprung weight. It’s named the Falcon because Cavalerie reckons it makes it feel like you are flying.
Nicolai Ion 20 Effi
If it’s something a bit out of the ordinary, you can guarantee that Nicolai will have its name in the hat – gearboxes are no exception. The Nicolai Ion 20 Effi runs (unsurprisingly) with an Effigear gearbox that can take up to ten cogs.
This particular bike was taken to a World Cup top 20 by Benoit Coulanges in 2015 and, although you can’t buy this bike presently, we’ve seen spy shots that suggest an updated version is on the way soon.
Honda RN-01 G-Cross
The original and certainly the most famous gearbox bike, the Honda G-Cross team surprised us all when they bundled themselves into World Cup racing in 2004 with current World Cup Champion Greg Minnaar on board. Their bike was a radical, chrome, gearbox powered machine and if you weren’t paying attention when the news broke you certainly were when they won the first race of the season in Fort William.
It was seen as a Concorde moment when the team disbanded as a big name and a lot of R&D left the sport. Legend has it all the bikes were melted down after the team dissolved so the technology couldn’t be stolen, but rumour has it a certain former team member managed to keep one.