Internal gear hub drivetrains, with their rugged design and low maintenance compared to derailleur systems, are a reliable option for an e-bike setup. Kindernay’s two offerings, the XIV 14-speed and VII 7-speed gear hubs, additionally offer smooth hydraulic shifting and a removable hub shell that allows easily swapping wheel bodies. Neil installed the Kindernay XIV hub on his Orbea Rise e-MTB to see how it performs.
Neil opted to run the 14-speed XIV hub on the e-bike for the widest range of gears, meaning there would be a gear to get up any climb or pedal down any descent out on the trail. Kindernay offers two shifter options for either of their hubs: the Onesie is mounted on the right side of the handlebars and has two thumb-operated levers, much like a standard trigger-style shifter, while the Twosie consists of a single thumb-operated shifter on both the right and left side of the handlebar. The user can decide which lever controls which shifting direction based on how the hydraulic hoses are attached. By default, the right Twosie shifter or the lower Onesie lever shifts to an easier gear and the left Twosie shifter or upper Onesie lever shifts to a harder gear. Having had some previous exposure to the Twosie shifters, Neil decided to run the Onesie shifter on this build to see how they work.
With most modern mountain bikes running a single rear derailleur shift cable through the frame, the Kindernay system requires running two shift hoses to the rear wheel. In some cases, the cable routing on the frame is flexible enough or large enough to run 2 lines where normally there is one. Most often, however, some compromise is required (such as ziptie-ing the hoses externally to the frame) or making some modifications to the frame. The Orbea Rise did not have room to directly run the two shift hoses where the derailleur cable normally runs, so Neil opted to make some modifications to keep the setup looking clean. These modifications included opening up some holes with a file and making a slot in the underside of the chainstay. He also wanted to use a Pinion chain tensioner mounted to the motor instead of the derailleur hanger, so he designed and 3D printed a mounting bracket for the tensioner. So far the 3DP mount is working as intended, but this will be machined out of aluminum in the future.
Once out on the trail, Neil was able to put some serious miles on the system and test how the XIV might benefit an e-bike’s ride characteristics. On the shifting side of things, the Onesie lever had a nice feel and the rider can click through three gears at a time with the lower, longer lever, and two gears with the upper, shorter lever. The lever throw per gear change is definitely more noticeable than a derailleur shifter but the hydraulic system feels very smooth. This longer lever throw is similar to using the Cinq or Gebla Rohbox systems on Pinion gearboxes or Rohloff hubs.
Using lever shifters more like mainstream derailleur shifters has pros and cons compared to the twist shifters normally found on high performance internal gearing systems. On the practical side, lever shifters are compatible with all mainstream grip options while twist shifters require a shorter grip on the shifter side. Lever shifters also allow the rider to push hard when trying to shift under load no matter whether their hand is wet or dry. Doing this with a twist shifter is often possible, but requires a tight squeeze on the shifter grip and a strong rotation of the wrist, which can be challenging with sweaty, slippery hands. So far, lever shifters seem like a clear winner; however, they shift much slower than twist shifters, especially when changing multiple gears. With twist shifters, you get nearly instant engagement of the shifting mechanism in the gear hub/gearbox and you can easily shift to any gear in the system by varying the angle or wrist rotation. With lever shifters, there is a ratchet that needs to close before the shifting mechanism is engaged, which causes a slight delay in shift speed. When you need to shift more than one or two gears at a time (for instance transitioning into a steep climb following a descent), lever shifters require multiple pushes which is slower than the single wrist motion of a twist shifter. Also, when changing shifting direction, there is some backlash in the ratchet system that typically reduces the number of gears that can be shifted in a single lever push by 1.
Compared to the aftermarket lever shifters available for Rohloff and Pinion, the Kindernay shifters are in a different class, with much better lever shape and thumb feel and much smoother and robust shifting.
One thing to note - with the stacked lever design of the Onesie, the reach to the lower lever feels far, even for a rider with larger hands. The lower lever sits about 10mm lower from the handlebar than the lower lever of a derailleur shifter and with loaded shifts requiring a strong thumb push, it can feel a bit awkward to push the lower lever at times. The Twosie system is much better in this regard because both shift levers sit close to the handlebar, but the left side Twosie shifter doesn’t play well with most dropper post levers (though the RockShox Reverb plunger shifter works very well and there are multiple cable-operated levers available that are designed to work with a left side shifter).
As with most things, there are trade offs to consider. It is interesting that Rohloff and Pinion only offer twist shifting (though there are aftermarket lever shifters available) and Kindernay only offers lever shifters but they offer two versions. All of these shifting options can work and will appeal differently to different riders. Humans are also highly adaptive and will quickly get used to whatever system they are using. For Neil, the Twosie shifters are the preferred option with Kindernay. If there were a choice between twist and lever shifting, he would probably choose twist, having used it for so long and being used to rapid, on demand shifting.