The chain slips off. The bike rolls to a stop. Quiet (or loud) cursing is followed by dark stains on fingers. But, hopefully not trousers. We've been there, you may have - most cyclists have. Derailleur gears are great but sometimes these flimsy, finicky beasts can cause even the most experienced cyclist angst.

There are alternatives, however, and we've written an overview of them in a recent article. Enviolo and Pinion systems are gaining popularity, but the most common alternative to a derailleur system is the hub gear. This article aims to answer the question: why should I buy a hub gear bike?

What is a hub gear?

An epicyclic or planetary gearing system, commonly known as a hub gear (or internal gear hub - sometimes referred to as an IGH) is the most popular alternative to a derailleur gearing system. Housed in a bicycle's rear wheel, a cable or electrically operated shifter changes gear, making it harder or easier to pedal.

Marin Presidio with Gates Belt Drive
A Marin Presidio with hub gear and Gates Belt Drive.

What are the benefits of a hub-geared bike?

You'll see plenty of hub-geared bikes online and in our stores and as an urban and electric bike specialist, we think they're a great option for riding in town, but why? We can think of seven reasons...

  1. Reliability when riding - Alternative gearing systems are usually sealed units. That way, water, mud or salt can't inflict damage like it would to a derailleur. As such it's no surprise to see hub gears on bicycles that have been designed to be ridden frequently - think urban commuter bikes to get to work or to get around every day.
  2. Longer time between maintenance - It's comforting to know when a bike is there when you need it, not stuck in a workshop being fixed or with gears working incorrectly. It's a well-known fact that hub-geared bikes require less maintenance than those with a derailleur. Shimano quote a maintenance interval of 5000km for their Alfine 11 hub for example.
  3. Compatibility with belt drives - Hub gears and Gates Carbon Belt Drive is a match made in cycling heaven. Belt drives are cleaner, quieter and last longer than a traditional bike chain. For more on this subject, read An Absolute Belter or 7 of the best bikes with Gates Carbon Belt Drive.
  4. Shifting gear when stationary - Come to a stop in town in the wrong gear and getting going again can be a pain - derailleur gears can't be shifted to an easier gear unless you're moving. This isn't the case with hub-geared bikes - shift to your chosen gear and spin away.
  5. No flimsy derailleur to worry about - Derailleurs are precious little beasts. Hanging by a thread, they're easily knocked, bashed and broken, especially in the event of an accident. Hub gears are enclosed, safely tucked away in the rear wheel.
  6. The chain can be enclosed - In a non-derailleur system, the chain isn't moving in a horizontal plane and can therefore be enclosed with a chainguard, protecting it from the elements and the rider from an embarrassing (and tough to shift!) oily chain stain.
  7. A strong rear wheel - Rear bicycle wheels which run a derailleur have an offset spoke pattern. That's a fancy term for saying that spokes on one side of the wheel are laced at different angles to the other. This is to enable enough space for a cassette. Wheels with hub gears have spokes all at the same angle and with shorter spokes due to the larger hub, they're known for being strong and robust. Another attribute that's welcome when bumping up and down curbs in town on daily basis. That strength is useful when supporting heavy loads on a rear pannier rack too.
Cube Electric Cargo Bike With Hub Gear
Hub gears are seen on a wide variety of bikes. Here its put to use on a Cube Electric Cargo Bike.

Hub gears - An FAQ

How many gears do hub gear bikes have?

It depends. The most popular systems have either 3, 5, 7, 8 or 11 gears. Some derailleur geared bikes have up to 27 gears so with a hub gear bike you might struggle to find a gear suitable for the terrain you are riding.

How do I change gear on a hub gear bike?

Nothing to worry about here - a simple trigger shifter, like Shimano's Alfine, is easy to get to grips with. These kinds of shifters are usually mounted on flat handlebars within easy reach as you ride along.

Do hub gear bikes cost more?

Yes and no. Take the BMC Alpenchallenge ONE and BMC Alpenchallenge TWO. The two bikes are essentially the same, at the same price, one with hub gears and one with a derailleur. The price can rise when other accessories and components more suited to hub gears are added to the bike - things like mudguards, chainguards and other bits and bobs.

Can I change a puncture on a hub gear bike?

Bikes with a hub gear in the rear wheel can be problematic to remove in the event of a puncture. This is because a spanner is required to remove the wheel and the chain or belt has to be re-tensioned when the wheel is reinstalled. A pair of tyres with puncture protection or a tubeless tyre system can negate this worry.

Can I service a hub gear?

There's no getting around it hub gears are complex. We'd recommend that one of our workshops tackle any servicing requirements. Remember that the time between servicing can be extremely long - much, much longer than a derailleur geared bike.

Best hub gear bikes 2022

There are a variety of hub-geared bikes available, but here are five of the best - five bikes you can find online at velorution.com.

Pelago Brooklyn Urban Bike

Pelago's Brooklyn is a quintessential city runabout. The riding position is comfortable as is the Brooks saddle. The bike is available with either 3 or 7-speed hub gearing. The simple 3-speed option is more than enough for most flat UK cities - the 7-speed hillier towns or those looking to carry cargo or children when riding.

Pelago Brooklyn
A traditional bike in every sense of the word. The Brooks B17 saddle tops off any bike nicely.

Pelago Brooklyn Urban Bike. RRP: £845

Schindelhauer Gustav Urban Bike

German brand Schindelhauer is synonymous with gates belt drive bikes and hub gears. The Gustav is one of our favourites - simple, classy and practical. It's a bike we'd love to have in our shed. There are a few things that we like in particular, namely the mudguards, the dynamo-powered lights, the integrated front rack and, of course, the 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub gearing.

Schindelhauer Gustav
Schinelhauer's Gustav is available in this 'Deep-Sea Blue' colour as well as a 'Mineral Grey'

Schindelhauer Gustav Urban Bike. RRP: £1,795

Kalkhoff Image 1.B Move Electric Bike

Moving into the sphere of electric bikes now and something from another German manufacturer, Kalkhoff. The Image 1.B Move is a step-through electric bike - a bike which is easy to hop and off. The bike runs a Bosch electric system and an 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear. With a suspension fork, seatpost and wide tyres the bike should be butter smooth even on the roughest town tarmac. We spent some time explaining Kalkhoff electric bikes in more detail.

Kalkhoff Image 1.B Move
There's no doubting this bike is a step-through variety. It should be easy for almost everyone to hop aboard.

Kalkhoff Image 1.B Move Electric Bike. RRP: £2,399

Gazelle Grenoble C7+ HMB Electric Bike

Similar to the Kalkhoff in some ways, Gazelle's Grenoble C7+ HMB is another bike to make our list. The 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear teamed with a Bosch Active Line Plus motor (an upgrade on the motor in the Kalkhoff above) makes all rides enjoyable. Thanks to the hub gear, the bike's chain is completely enclosed - no splattered skirts or blemished house hallways here thank you.

Gazelle Grenoble c7+ HMB
Note the complete chainguard, mudguards and rear wheel guard on this Gazelle. All with the aim of protecting the rider from road spray, muck and grime.

Gazelle Crenoble C7+ HMB Electric Bike. RRP: £2,669

Moustache Samedi 28.3 Electric Bike

The Moustache Samedi 28.3 is the last bike in our collection. Running a 5-speed hub gear, the Samedi keeps things simple. Emblematic Moustache handlebars, a small travel front suspension fork and seatpost will help you deal with the roughest of city roads. Every Moustache bike includes a 5-year frame and fork warranty.

Moustache Samedi 28.3
We like the colour-matched mudguards on the Moustache. They're made from metal rather than plastic too, making them robust.

Moustache Samedi 28.3 Electric Bike. RRP: £3,099

Do you want to buy a hub-geared bike or electric bike online? Look out for our 'Hub Gears' icon in the product description or each bike's specification table.