The end to my quest to test ride a Rohloff (from the review i posted on my website):
I went and rode the Rohloff-equipped Americano at Co-Motion today. I've read so many reviews on the Rohloff, both pro and con, that the only way to spin them into meaningful truth for me was to get on one and try it out. I only spent about 40 minutes on the bike, not under touring load, and on relative flats. I did try and approximate load conditions by riding with a heavy grip on the dual disc brakes in order to test for myself the impact to shifting under (simulated) load conditions. For comparison, i normally ride either a 1x9 Ultegra/XT CX bike (Salsa La Cruz), or a 24-speed 3x8 MTB (Schwinn Mesa); i often trail 70-100lbs in a Chariot trailer behind both bikes.
My scattered thoughts on the Rohloff:
In a word: amazing. The 13% ratio between gears really does mean perfect cadence. The twist shifter is stiff, but less stiff than a twist-actuated derailleur set up; in relation to that, it twisted very smoothly. Twist resistance was enough to make changing from gears 14-1 while applying force to the peddles---something which i would never or rarely do while riding anyway---more difficult than doing the same thing at a full stop (at full stop changing gears is very fluid). Even so, the 14 gear change under load is still better than attempting the same on a derailleur front+rear simultaneous change; which i have (kind of) done on my MTB, but only from the rough Rohloff gear equivalent of 4 to 1. In all cases, shifting the Rohloff under load is far far better than any attempt to shift a front derailleur from larger chainring to smaller chainring under the same load.
Up shifts from 7 to 8 were a non-issue; in almost any situation this change would not be a high-pressure shift, since shifting here at regular cadence (60-90rpm) means you're going roughly 9-12mph (had to guess since i had no cyclometer on the test bike, but i could feel the wind in my hair and the road moved swifter beneath me). Down shifts from 8 to 7 were also a non-issue, <em>unless</em> you try to make it one, like i did: keeping the hub in 9th gear, i slowed to a crawl, applied both brakes to keep it at a crawl, and then stood and mashed the pedals while changing the gear to anything 7 or less. the Rohloff did not like this very much, in the sense that the shifter was very difficult to twist between 8 to 7, and i was forced to let up on the pedals very quickly (a quarter revolution at most) before it finally clicked down to 7. After that it was easy to downshift again, although you could hear it make a very tiny 'click' noise if you didn't let up under load when downshifting; another very quick pedal release (maybe 1/10th of a rotation) solved this. Two important things to remember: 1) this never occurred during upshifts; and 2) while changing gears from 8 to 7 was difficult, this same situation under a regular derailleur would produce the same, if not worse results. I've been there when i had to downshift while under heavy load, and my derailleur bikes choke, consistently. But because they only cost half as much, at most, i am more forgiving. Nonetheless, in pure riding terms, the Rohloff wins here.
As for general riding performance/pleasure, and other intangibles, i cruised as nicely or nicer on the Rohloff than my Ultegra/XT-equiped 1x9. The even perfect is, well, perfect. When coasting in gears 1-7, you can hear the hub whirring (but not while pedaling; or maybe you can if you go really slow and you aren't breathing too heavily, but i can't verify that), but it's still quieter than an equivalent angry-bee Chris King. Coasting in gears 8-14 makes less noice than my current XT rear hub, and a lot less noise than a Chris King.
With regard to (vaguely measured) friction, the rear wheel spins down a little faster than a perfect chainline derailleur set-up (tested by picking up the rear triangle and spinning the wheel in the direction of normal drive). A single-speed would probably beat both types of bikes. However, the assumed friction is pretty minor; maybe at the same speed-to-stop my XT hub would take 15 seconds, while the Rohloff stopped in 11 seconds; in short, i didn't notice it while riding, and i can't imagine it will impact performance against other more prominent issues such as wind drag from the rider's body or panniers. Never mind that i frequently out-coast road bike hubs with my XTs on club rides (and yes, i weigh less and we start at roughly the same speed at the top of the hill); it just makes me think that this speed-to-stop test is purely meaningless.
With regard to weight, standing starts on the bike were fast, and any difference in speed was a result of the Co-motion's heavier frame. Real difference would be fractional in stop sign sprints; i've lost more time trying to clip into my pedal. I've also out-sprinted racing bikes with my commuter, which makes me point out once again that it's about the thighs, and not the gear. In terms of "feel," there was no discernible difference from the heavier hub; if anything, i was less prone to standing-sprint rear-wheel spinouts. Shifting in the sprint (the test bike had Titec H-bars) was no problem; in fact, the Rohloff up-shifts faster than my Ultegra brifter... really.
My bottom line? It's absolutely amazing. First gear could easily tow my 100# load up our local 9-10° hills; 14th gear is way more gear-inches than i currently have on my 1x9 (42x11), and without the obnoxious threat of losing my chain. The lack of a front twin/triple-chainring, common on most bikes is perfect, since shifting these under load is pure hell, and there is no issue with a moving chainline or a chainring dropped chain.