Ahearne Cycles

A Lighter Pinion Bike?

Joseph AhearneComment

A man named Dylan contacted me with questions about a Pinion build. Among other things, he asked about the weight:

"Is there any wild chance that this Pinion build can be made as a lighter-ish bike? Crazy talk?"

A couple of thoughts on this: Pinion offers four levels of gearing: 18 speed, 12 speed, 9 and 6. I’m only going to talk about the 18 speed vs. the 12 here. 

There are two factors involved; gear range and weight. The 12 speed C-line weighs a hair over 4.5 pounds (2100 grams), and has a 600% range from top to bottom. This is wider than most traditional 10 speed triple drive trains. The 18 speed weighs just under 6 lbs. (2700 grams) and has a 636% gear range, which means it doesn’t have a lot more range than the 12 speed, but with smaller jumps between gears.  For the weight, there’s about a 1.5 pound difference between 12 and 18 speed. The question is, how much does this matter?

12 Speed Pinion

I ride the 18 speed , and one thing I’ve noticed is that for my general around-town needs, there really are too many gears, and they’re too narrowly spaced. I often find myself skipping gears, shifting through 2 and 3 at a time. But, this is commuting, where I’ve got a lot of stops and starts, ups and downs, cars, stoplights, other cyclists, etc. Which is different from a multi-day tour. On tour I appreciate the gear options of the 18 speed because I can find the exact right gear for whatever situation I'm in. Gradual inclines, wind factor, weight, how tired my legs might be; it doesn’t matter, there’s always a gear. But would the 12 speed work for me? Fewer options, bigger gaps? It might, I’m adaptable, so long as I have a low enough gear to still pull big hills with all my stuff, then I’m guessing I’d probably be just fine. 

My other thought on this is, my bike is first and foremost a touring bike. Yes, I may take day trips into the hills around Portland, but I need this bike to be stable and sure when carrying weight for multi-day trips. Tent, sleeping bag and pad, stove and food and water, rain gear and appropriate clothes. A book. Camera. And I don’t always buy the absolute lightest gear. Just because it’s feather weight doesn’t mean it’s the best for me. Everyone has their own ideas on comfort vs. what they want to push around, which, you’ve got to figure that out for yourself. What I’m saying is, when touring, weight isn’t the first issue, and so I’m not going to worry about the difference between 4.5 lbs compared to 6 lbs in the gearbox. That doesn’t matter to me at all. 

Touring or Commuting?

This leads me to the next obvious question for anyone thinking about what kind of bike they want. I believe you have to look honestly at what sort of riding you intend to do. Do you want to go on light tours, maybe 2 or 3 day trips, possibly staying at hotels along the way? Do you want to do long day rides on a lighter bike carrying minimal gear? In these cases, I’d say yes, go for the 12 speed and let me build you a bike with lighter tubing. But if you want this bike to serve you well on longer tours, then the bike has to be built for that. If you compromise, you end up with a bike that doesn’t work optimally under certain conditions. In this case, the weight of the gearbox doesn’t matter as much as what it offers in range and gear choice. 

The short answer to the question about weight, then: Yes, a lighter bike can be built with a Pinion system. But this question bounces right back at you: How are you going to use the bike? Think about that, and let’s talk some more.

Loaded On Low Trail

Joseph AhearneComment

A few weeks ago a customer, named Gustav, contacted me who’d taken his new bike on tour. He picked up the bike at our workshop, a new Page Street Outback with a Pinion gearbox, and very shortly after was taking off on a three-day tour through the Cascade Mountains and to the coast. There was really not much time for him to get accustomed to his bike before he left. 

 Pinion Gearbox with Gates Carbon Drive, S&S Couplers

Pinion Gearbox with Gates Carbon Drive, S&S Couplers

When a bike is brand new I always recommend a person ride it for a while before going out on any sort of multi-day ride loaded down with gear, just to get the bike dialed in and the bugs worked out. Short tours are fine, over-night trips or a weekend get-away. But I don’t think it’s wise to commit yourself to too much. Maybe go on some day rides, so you can pay attention to how your body and the bike work together. Bring along some basic tools since you may need to adjust the saddle fore or aft, or to adjust your stem, your pedal cleats, any number of things. You’ll always be able to do micro-adjustments while on tour, but if possible you don’t want to be surprised by anything major while out on a bigger ride. 

After a weekend of riding, Gustav sent me a message telling me about how the bike performed. This is what he wrote:

I’m back from the bike camping trip.  Overall it all went very well.  We did modify our last day of riding to avoid riding back over the coastal range in near 100 degree weather.  Instead we opted to spend the last night further down on the coast at Cape Lookout State park and then we biked back to Tillamook and took the bus back to the Portland area.

The most unfortunate aspect of the tour is that I didn’t fully figure out how to best load the bike with my stuff until the last day.  For the first three days I had the smaller ‘front’ panniers in the front the larger and heavier ‘back’ panniers in the back.  The result was that I often had a shimmy in the front that I was convinced was caused by the exact placement of my front panniers.  After experimenting forward and backward on the bars and even putting the front panniers high on the rack, I concluded that wherever I put the front panniers it made little difference as far as the shimmy.  On the last day by friend, Wayne Johnson, mentioned that my bike, because it has a low-trail geometry, would probably be better off with less weight in the back and more in the front.  Then I remembered what you said about using back panniers in the front and just a large saddle bag in the back, a setup that Wayne actually used on his bike even though it is not low-trail.  Swapping the front and back panniers and putting the smaller lighter ‘front’ panniers on the back rack and ‘back’ panniers front made all the difference in the world.  Much more stable and more fun to ride.  Now I’m kind of kicking myself for not figuring it out earlier.

Gustav’s experience got me to thinking about how we interface with our bicycles.

 Heavy in the back, light in the front: Maybe not so good for low-trail bikes

Heavy in the back, light in the front: Maybe not so good for low-trail bikes

A purpose-built bike will perform optimally under certain conditions, and based on the design and intended function you may find that your ideas about how a bike should perform may differ from how the bike wants to be ridden. 

Gustav went the long way around learning what best suited his low-trail bike, how to load it so it would ride most comfortably, stably, and “intuitively.” Not all bikes, not even low-trail bikes, will handle the same. A bike’s trail is just one of many variables that work in concert. Trail is one of the weirder and more elusive forces to talk about, but it’s very real. Other more obvious variables include tubing material (steel vs. carbon vs. ti etc.), tube diameter and wall thickness, wheel and tire size, tire pressure, rider weight distribution, and so on. 

As a frame builder I work with an individual to design a bike that will function optimally when used how it was intended. But remember, I’m aiming for a target, and there is a lot of interpretation involved, as well as a lot of subjective experience. Especially in regards to touring bikes, I don’t know what you’re going to carry, how much weight, and if you’re going to try carrying a camp chair and a charcoal grill, or just a Sterno canister and a spork. 



It is up to you, the owner of the bike, to pack it and take it out, ride it and listen to it. In my opinion, that’s part of the joy of a getting a new bike, is figuring out what it can do, and how it responds to different loads and on differing terrains. The more you ride, and especially tour, the more refined your ideas will become, both for what you want out of your bike, what gear you carry, and how you carry it.  Experiment, listen, adjust, enjoy. Repeat. 

Gretchen's Mixte Pinion

Joseph Ahearne2 Comments

Designed and built with Many Tubes

Many hours of work went into this one, and a lot of planning. The design of the frame and racks came free-form, after the initial goals for the bike were set. Pinion, Gates Carbon Drive, disc brakes, of course generator and lights, fenders, the ability to carry a little or a lot of stuff.

This bike is going to live in Colorado, where the Columbine is the official state flower (check out the fork detail). The bike will likely see use on gravel paths, and so the wide tires were a requirement. Or, in winter change the tires to something knobby for snowy conditions.

There's a full set of custom bags made by Black Star Bags, and a steering lock to keep the front wheel from flopping when the front is loaded. 

Wenge base wood

The racks have Wenge as a hardwood base. The build was complex, but the hope is that the very low maintenance required for the Pinion and belt drive will make it very simple for Gretchen for years to come. 

The full run of photos can be seen on my flickr page


Bicycle Times Article

Joseph AhearneComment

Check out the story on Jrdn Freelove, a local Portland legend in the making. This guy has crossed the US on a bicycle seven times now, and counting. He's an interesting person. And, if you're interested in bicycle touring, you might just learn something from Jrdn's adventures.

Another cool thing is, I wrote it!

The full story is in Bicycle Times. 

What’s the deal with the Pinion?

Touring, Thoughts, NewsJoseph Ahearne9 Comments

People keep asking me what’s up with the Pinion gearbox, and what do I think.

 Pinion 18 Speed Gearbox

Pinion 18 Speed Gearbox

People keep asking me what’s up with the Pinion gearbox. 

What do I think? 

Everyone who’s seen it is interested, and it’s pretty obvious why. It directly responds to some of the drawbacks of traditional bicycle drive trains. The main issue with traditional bikes is, external drive trains are fragile. 

That’s the biggest thing.


 Gearbox and Gates Carbon Drive

Gearbox and Gates Carbon Drive

Derailleurs stick out the side of the bike, they get bumped, knocked, or in the case of mountain bikes, something worse, and that’s it. They’re out of alignment and no longer working optimally, or not at all. And then?

That's it, your ride is over. 

So let’s say you’re one of those people who have a Subaru chasing you everywhere you go, your other bike carried on top. You're one of the lucky ones because you still get to ride. 

The rest of us, though, we’d have to call mom or catch the bus or god forbid walk. 

 Shitting the bed

Shitting the bed

And what happens when we’re out on tour in some remote village, or near no village at all, and your rear derailleur shits the bed?

You get the picture. 

So what do I think? I’ve built a couple of Pinion bikes now and have ridden one for a month or so, and I’m still forming my opinion, but there are a couple of things I can say. 

First, I’m still intrigued. 

I haven’t taken the bike on tour yet, and the most I’ve ridden it on any one ride is no more than about 20 miles. I had some issues with the light wiring and generator — nothing to do with the gearbox — which I think I’ve got worked out now. I’ve been dialing in the little things, getting the fit just so, etc. The season for touring is coming, and that’s going to be the real test.

As I write this there are over a hundred riders doing the Baja Divide route, 1700 miles of off road riding on the Baja Penninsula, which makes me oh so envious. But I couldn’t make it down there for this one.

Anyway, here's my take so far on the Pinion bike:

What I like most is how quiet the bike is. And I mean quiet! The combination of belt drive and internal gearing is almost totally silent. The rear hub is the White Industries XMR thru-axle, and while coasting I can barely hear anything. Over rough roads or tearing through gravel nothing rattles or clanks. I love that. And having the weight of the gearbox centered below me means I don’t really feel it at all. Or notice it. 

 "Plus" Tires for Off Road Touring

"Plus" Tires for Off Road Touring

There are only two functional drawbacks I could mention at this point, neither of which are all that big a deal.

One is, there’s gap in the pedaling. There is a freewheel in the gearbox, and the hub freewheels, so that the two together can cause a gap between coasting and pedaling. It’s not big, but it's more than I'm used to and I have noticed it a couple of times. 

It makes me think one of the newer clutch-drive hubs might be a good option for a Pinion bike because the engagement is almost instantaneous. These hubs are silent and smooth because they have no pawls, but they’re a little heavier and kind of expensive. The other thing might be a fixed rear cog, but then you lose the option of thru-axle and the wider rear spacing. 

The other criticism I have is the twist shifter. I’m just not a huge fan of them. They were cool when they first came out, and I had one on a mountain bike for years in the 90’s, but after going back to trigger shifters, Paul “Thumbies,” and on drop bars the Retroshift by Grevenalle, I’ve never looked back.

For drop bars Co Motion Cycles makes a really nice twist shifter for the Pinion, based on the same design they use for the Rohloff. It’s big, easy to use, very smooth, and fits up near the stem clamp on an oversized (31.8 mm) handlebar. It looks and feels like something precision-made for a high-end camera. As far as I know, if you want to use a drop bar, you don’t have many options besides the Co Motion shifter. There's a company making a handlebar that splits in the middle so you can fit the smaller diameter twist shifter up top, but that sounds like a lot of engineering to adapt a handlebar to a shifter that just ought to be redesigned. 

 Pinion Twist Shifter

Pinion Twist Shifter

The compatible twist shifter sold by Pinion only fits a mountain bar. And their shifter doesn’t come close to the quality that the gearbox itself has, which seems odd to me. Why make such a beautiful, functional gear system and sell it with a cheap looking plastic shifter? Maybe I’m just nit-picking here. The shifter works just fine, it does exactly what it’s supposed to, which is turn and run through the gears. But to me it just doesn’t seem to match the ingenuity of the gearbox. I think they’re waiting for, or maybe even depending on aftermarket designers to come up with a better shifter. 

Which is exactly what Co Motion did. 

Anyway, so there’s a twist shifter. And I’m keeping an open mind about it, and I’m getting used to it. I understand that the gear range on the Pinion 18 speed is so large, and consequently the amount of cable that has to be moved is a lot, like about 12 inches in each direction. I can’t envision another mechanical option that would be much better. 

What I’d really like to see is an electric shifter with a little servo motor that does the job. But, if someone out there is working on an electric shifter for the Pinion, please make it so we can patch the battery into dynamo hubs to keep a trickle charge on it. We make power while I ride, so why not use it to keep an electric shifter running indefinitely. 

 Custom Made Bicycles Rule

Custom Made Bicycles Rule

The only other potential down-side to the Pinion system that I can comment on here has nothing to do with function. It’s the expense of it. That, if anything, is what will deter people. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the system presents an exceptional alternative to traditional external drive-trains. But the 18 speed gearbox, shifter and crank set costs right around $2000, and that doesn’t include the bike that you have to have built specifically to hold it. 

There are a couple of bike companies in Europe offering stock bikes that include the Pinion system, and they are beginning very slowly to make it into the US. But the cost of these imported bikes is not all that far off what you’ll pay for a custom built bike, so the question becomes, why wouldn’t you go the full mile? If you look at these imported bikes, they appear to be very pragmatic. But at this price point, aren’t we allowed to talk about aesthetics? 

 Stainless Steel Logo

Stainless Steel Logo

I guess, I’m writing this, so I can talk about whatever I want to. I don’t like to talk shit on anyone, but really, these bikes just ain’t that cool. Great, they hold the Pinion system. I’m sure they ride fine and carry weight and are stable and handle just like they ought to. But to my mind one of the joys of bicycle design is where function and aesthetics meet, and in my (probably less than) humble opinion these bikes just haven’t quite arrived. This could very well be a cultural difference of opinion. In any case, that's all it is, is my opinion. I like my bikes to have that certain sense of elegance and "coolness" that I aspire to with each build.

 Gearbox Mounting Plate

Gearbox Mounting Plate

The last thing I’m going to say at this point about the Pinion system is that I believe it is potentially the best new development in the world of touring bikes. Expensive, maybe, but call it an investment. It has almost no required maintenance and is mostly impervious to any sort of damage during normal use. The only question at this point is its longevity. It feels solid, and I don’t doubt it’s going to last for a lot of years, for tens if not a hundred or more thousand miles. But this remains to be seen.

Alright, now. Here are some photos of the most recent Pinion bike to come out of my shop. It’s a commuter/ light touring bike for Ray. For a more complete photo run, please go over to the Ahearne Cycles Flickr page.

This bike has got the works, and I think I’m most excited about how the racks came out. Especially the rear rack, it's like an old style car. Someone asked if the rear rack can actually hold weight, and my answer is oh, yes, as much as you want. It is tied into the stays at 4 points, and into the fender at 3 points, and the way the rack and fender work together makes it surprisingly strong. 

For those of you interested, I am currently taking orders for Pinion bikes to be built by summer, 2017. That’s for both Ahearne frames, and collaborative bikes made by Igleheart & myself, under the name Page Street Cycles

Keep an eye out for photos of the next bike on the list, which is a ladies mitxe with the Pinion gearbox. It’s going to be something special. 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy.