Ahearne Cycles


What’s the deal with the Pinion?

Touring, Thoughts, NewsJoseph Ahearne11 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. 

Pinion Outback Touring Bike

Touring, Thoughts, NewsJoseph Ahearne14 Comments
Page Street Cycles

Page Street Cycles

It’s not too often that I get excited about a new bike component, and usually when I do my excitement is pretty mild. Like, I was glad to see Brooks come out with a non-leather saddle, the Cambium, which has turned out to be comfortable, nice to look at, and is weather proof. 

Brooks Saddle, Schmidt tail light

Brooks Saddle, Schmidt tail light

Honjo H-95 alloy fenders

Honjo H-95 alloy fenders

I got excited when Paul Components released the Klamper disc brake caliper, and it has proven to be far and away the best mechanical disc brake on the market.

And a few years back when I discovering that Honjo makes the H-95 fender, a super wide and flat fender for big tire bikes, I just had to use them on certain projects. 

Pinion 18 speed gearbox

Pinion 18 speed gearbox

All these things and a few others were good innovations, improved iterations on things that already exist. But there are only a few times in my career as a cyclist and bike builder that I can remember when something new really changed things, in regards to components. I think the Pinion gearbox may be one of those things. 

Most of the bikes I build are touring and commuting bikes, so when I think of component innovation I think mostly about how could something work better and last longer. How can a component make a rider’s life easier and better when she’s riding every day, for hundreds and thousands of miles?

 When I first heard about the Pinion gearbox it immediately grabbed my attention. And the more I researched into it, the more interested I became. 

What is a Pinion? 

It’s a gearbox that mounts in the bottom bracket area of a bicycle. This may be an inexact analogy, but think of an automobile transmission. The gears are contained inside a housing or “box,” and so should require very little maintenance. On their website Pinion recommends draining and refilling the gearbox with fresh oil annually, or every 10,000 km (about 6200 mi). Couple this with the Gates Carbon Drive, the belt of which will last up to 20 or even 30,000 miles, and you've now got a bike that should run smooth and trouble-free, at least as far as the drive train is concerned, for a very long time. 

Time to pack up and go

The 18 speed gearbox weighs just over 5 pounds (about 2.25 kilos), which is a bit heavier than a Rohloff internally geared hub, its closest relative in bicycle drive trains. But the great thing about the Pinion is that the gearbox mounts under the rider, basically in the center of the bike. Because the load is centered there shouldn’t be the added sensation of weight as when it’s carried further out. This is the same reason frame bags work well to carry gear, because it’s locked in the front triangle of the bike, and is under the rider, so the weight can’t “swing” while a rider’s momentum shifts side to side with each pedal stroke. 

Another great thing about the Pinion gearbox is the exceptionally wide gear range. Pinion offers three versions: 8, 12, and 18 speeds. The 18 speed has a 636% range from high to low. Compare this to a typical ten speed with a triple front, which has about a 575% range. It's a huge spread of gearing, and the increments between gears are relatively small. But for the moment these are just numbers. It's the ride that will really tell what the gearbox is all about. I chose the 18 speed for this bike because I wanted to get a sense of how wide the range actually is. 

AI Industries is Page Street Cycles

Ok, then, this is the Pinion. 

So then, what is this bike? 

Page Street Cycles Pinion Outback Touring Bike

It’s a Page Street. 

And it’s the latest variation on a bike we fondly call the “Outback.” The Outback is kind of generic name for an off-road touring bike. You can call it a bike camping bike, or bike packing bike, or anything else you want. We call it an Outback Bike. It’s meant to run fat tires (in this case 650b or 27.5" X 2.8" tires) and carry gear so you can head off and away from paved roads onto gravel and single track, ATV trails, old rail beds, beaches, whatever — anywhere at all that cars can’t or usually won’t go. 

Old Guy and the other Old Guy

And for those of you not familiar with what Page Street Cycles is all about, please check out the new website. In a nutshell, Page Street is an excuse for Christopher of Igleheart Custom Frames & Forks (nice new website, Christopher!) and myself — Joseph — of Ahearne Cycles, to collaborate and make awesome bikes. 

Christopher and I share a shop, we share a lot of tools, we bounce ideas off each other, we make each other laugh, we feed each other’s cats when one of us leaves town, sometimes we share lunch. We have similar ideas and values when it comes to bikes and cycling, so we thought, why not work together sometimes? We both love salmon and we both build bikes, and whatever we build together is going to be a fun project. I don’t know exactly how — you can ask your local Hindu religious figure — but that fun gets translated into each bike’s ride quality. It’s like they’re good vibe bikes. Maybe that should be our tag line. 

Page Street Cycles

Page Street Cycles

Page Street Cycles

The Good Vibe Bikes

Basically, Page Street Cycles is our team name. It’s what we call bikes that we both have a hand in making. Christopher and I will each continue making bikes under our own names, but now we’ve got this other thing, too. In the end, it’s all just a party. 

Ok so, this latest bike is an example of what we can do. Here below is a summary of the features included. I did my homework on this one, and came up with much of the design. Igleheart and I built it together. 

Paragon Machine Works "Toggle Drop" is the bomb!

Bedsides Christopher, I’ve got a lot of people to thank for helping make such a rad machine, including Rolf Prima for the amazing Alsea wheelset, and Paragon MachineWorks for the Toggle Drops that make this whole bike work just right; Paul Components and the folks at Pinion who put up with all my questions. Marc at Gates Carbon Drive for technical support, supplying belt wheels and belt, and for caring for the bike in Las Vegas. Also, Ogando at Velogical and Jens who made the battery buffer (hidden in the steerer) and USB stem cap, the so-called Forumslader; Dave at Black Star Bags for the fabulous custom seat bag (we'll be offering these bags in the future). I also want to thank Dan at Co Motion Cycles for the shifter and the good advice on shift boss placement. And last but not least, I have to thank Kai Yao for all the awesome photos. My hope was to design something that could go everywhere and do everything. Nothing less. Whether we succeeded in building it or not remains to be seen. So far, it’s looking pretty good.

Forumslader USB Stem Cap

Which brings up one last point, and is the biggest question I now have: 

How is this bike going to feel?

You know what I’m saying? I mean, there’s something beyond the simple functioning of a bike that makes it pleasurable to ride. 

I like the sound of a chain and cog interface when everything is running smooth. 

I like the crisp feeling of indexed shifting on a traditional external drive train. I know derailleur systems really well, and have ridden a whole lot of miles on various bikes and configurations of derailleur/chain/cogs, and have done so with great success. I know that I can trust a good-ol’ 9 speed chain-and-derailleur system, and I know how to work on it. 

Front Rack Upper Deck, Light & Roll Cage

Front Rack Upper Deck, Light & Roll Cage

I also understand its limitations: Chains will rust, especially around salt water; If your derailleur gets hit in a crash or by a stick or whatever it can kill it; Cables stretch, chains too; cogs wear out, and so on. For the most part, though, traditional drive trains are pretty solid and durable. 

There are a lot of unknowns here. 

So how’s it going to feel with a carbon belt and no chain, no derailleur, everything contained, no need to think much at all about drive train maintenance? I like the idea of it, for sure. Especially for long trips, and remote riding. But am I going to like the way it feels? This is going to take some time to learn, and is an assessment I’ll write about in a future post. 

Feelings aside, though, if you think about the bike as a tool meant to perform a certain kind of work as efficiently and effectively as possible, then all of this sounds pretty good. 

I do have to admit, my hopes are high. 

An Ahearne Original -- Functional Spork Head Badge

Pump Peg Support Bearings -- Borrowed From An Original Engineering Design by JP Weigle

World Touring Bike

TouringJoseph Ahearne2 Comments

This bike is very custom, and is ready for anything. The list of features includes: 26" wheels, Rohloff 14 speed internally geared rear hub, Gates Carbon belt drive, Paul "Klamper" disc brakes, Supernova lights powered by a Schmidt front generator hub, internal wiring throughout. On top of the stem is the Supernova "Plug" which is a USB port to charge small devices from the power of the front hub. The bike has S&S couplers so it can be broken down for easier transport on airplanes etc. The racks are custom, steel, made in house. The fenders have very nice and understated striping, and the offset color of the racks is a quiet nod to the custom aesthetic. Keefer's bike is ready to hit the road for the long haul. 

There are a lot more detailed photos on flickr, including some photos of the process if you're interested. 


Headed Out

Touring, TravelJoseph AhearneComment
off road touring

I'll be out of the shop from Friday 29 May through 7 June on a bike tour. We're headed down to Klamath Falls to ride back up through central Oregon on the Outback route. It'll be interesting seeing how it's different this year from last. I'll post images during and after the ride. 

We're headed out a week after the official ride, so hopefully all the people who have already gone left us some water to drink, and didn't clean out the little stores of food. 

Oregon Outback Bike Tour

Touring, Travel, ThoughtsJoseph Ahearne1 Comment

Oregon Outback GPS Map

The final tally for the ride was 450 miles, give or take. Klamath Falls (Oregon-California border) to the Deschutes Recreation Area (Oregon-Washington border), and then down the Historic Columbia River highway to return to Portland.

There were seven of us riding together, which on a bike ride over several days can feel a little like herding cats. But all of us got along really well — no fist fights broke out — and, thankfully, we had no major bike mechanical problems, nobody crashed, all and all we made it through smiling, even if exhausted, sore, dirty and overheated.

Kristina: Tough as Nails

Kristina did partially tear her achilles tendon during the ride, and now, after having gone to the doctor, she’s wearing “the boot.” She’s tougher than I am, I think, because she was clearly in some serious pain while riding, but we were so far out into the middle of nowhere, that, as she said, “What choice did I have but to ride?”

Seven in Shaniko


The route was definitely remote. I don’t think we saw a car for the first three days. Lots of cows, hawks, some deer and elk, many different kinds of rodents, several snakes and lizards, a million types of birds, all kinds of carcasses in varying poses and levels of decay. The trails and gravel roads were relatively smooth, but over hours in a day the vibration was tiring. My sore ass and sore hands. I lowered my tire pressure, which helped, but I didn’t go too low because with the but with the weight on my bike I didn't go too low for fear of getting a pinch flat.

Campfire Dinner

I don’t even know what to say about the ride in general except that it was pretty awesome. Pretty and awesome. I saw parts of Oregon that I’ve never seen, and from a perspective in which I could smell it, feel it, taste it, my body had to push over it. The sky was so massive dynamic. The nights were cold, the days mostly hot. The wind was intense. It was an adventure, and every day presented a new challenge; big gravel climbs, stream crossings, unbroken heat, water scarcity, threatening storms, physical & mental exhaustion, new aches & pains, the existentialism that comes with being in big empty places. It’s interesting watching the internal dialogue that goes on while pedaling on a long, hard ride, and how the tone of optimism or negativity of what’s streaming through your head is directly linked to how your physical body feels in any given moment. When you’re tired, hungry, or in any sort of discomfort or pain, the volume of the negativity may turn up. Or, if you’re well rested, well fed, cruising with a tail wind, the voices in your head may sing with joy. You can’t listen to either voice too closely because as sure as the road rolls under you the voice will pass away and some new thread of thought will arise. Letting it go (pedal-pedal-pedal), and letting it go again. This is the meditation of cycling, watching your breathing, your body taking over where your mind leaves off.

Barn & Sky

This ride was challenging, for sure, but I felt like the route was well chosen, the maps were close enough to accurate that we didn’t have much trouble finding our way. We stopped at a few intersections, consulted each other about which route was the “right” route. There was no back-tracking, except for the time when Jrdn took us up the massive hill that he wanted to climb, the one that came to a dead end. But that was all in fun, and we’re still thanking him for that.

Jrdn's favorite climb led past this sign

Climb out of the Columbia River Valley

Donnie of Velodirt really did his homework when putting together this ride. The days where water was scarce were well noted on the cue sheet, and as a group we made sure to come prepared with plenty of water carrying capacity, and filtration systems. Whenever we came across a stream and knew that it might be our only source for some miles to come, we loaded up. And for food, each of us carried enough to feed ourselves for several days, and resupplied when the opportunity presented itself. We didn’t pack light. We had tools and patches and spare tubes, extra fasteners, first aid and gorilla tape, bug repellant and some whiskey. We didn’t have to use a lot of the extra things we brought, but what we did need we were glad we had.  I don’t think this was a very good bike tour for someone with no experience — not a good learning trip because the stakes were too high, and there was not really any good way to bail out of you lacked something crucial. But, if prepared, and prepared to rough it, there’s no better way to tour than away from traffic.

As for the four Ahearne bikes on this trip, there were no complaints. We were all grateful for the fat, knobby 650b tires, for the inherent flex of steel to help take up the road shock, and the carrying capabilities these bikes offer. The handling on fast gravel descents was confident and sure, at least as much as fast gravel descents allow. They climbed well, and took the abuse of being fully loaded over days of bumps, dirt, pumice sand and stream crossings. There were no mechanical issues, and each person said they were really pleased with the overall ride of their bike. Better yet, this bike has been officially named. From here on out it’s going to be called the Outback. The off road touring bike. I’ll talk more about the bike soon. 

The Outback Machines