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Innovative hub to make U.S. debut at bike show

Posted by on April 9th, 2010 at 8:41 am

NuVinci N360

At this weekend’s Bicycle Show coming to the Oregon Convention Center, San Diego-based Fallbrook Technologies will celebrate the U.S. premiere of their new NuVinci N360 hub.

I wouldn’t typically write about a product launch party, but this isn’t any ordinary product. The N360 hub could be the Next Big Thing in drivetrains for all types of bicycles (and vehicles beyond bikes for that matter).

It uses something called a Continuously Variable Planetary Transmission, which means it shifts without any indexed “steps” or external derailleurs. Imagine an internal hub with infinitely variable “gears” that shift smoothly and effortlessly (it has a 50% shorter “throw,” which means less wrist shifting).

For a much clearer explanation, watch a video demonstration below:

When a previous version of the N360 was released in 2007 (the N170), it won design awards, but initial excitement from builders and consumers waned because of its size, price, weight, and lack of adaptability to various frame configurations. Fallbrook has addressed all of those concerns (and more) and the result is some seriously positive buzz in the bike industry.

I asked local bike builder (and BikePortland business manager) Jonathan “J.R.” Reed for some insight on why this is such a big deal. He’s built up one of his Quixote Bicycles with the new hub (it will be on display in the NuVinci booth at the show) and says, “What all this means is another excellent option for a low maintenance, easy shifting bike.”

Stop by booth number 700 at the show this weekend to learn more and try the N360 out for yourself.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I am very confused as to how it can be “infinitely variable”. That seems impossible and is not the wording they use. Still it does seem to be an upgrade from say a Rohloff.

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  • Robert April 9, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Was the NuVinci used in that sex robot shown in the list of videos?
    (the list come up after finishing NuVinci video)

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  • todd April 9, 2010 at 9:38 am

    a rohloff still has a wider range (527% or somesuch vs. 360%), but at the cost, this still looks great. i’ve been running a first-generation nuvinci for a while now, and this revision seems to address most of my beefs pretty well.

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  • q'Ztal April 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

    It is “infintely” variable because there are no traditional gears. The ball moves at any point between the 2 plates. There is a finite gear range but an infinte amount of possible gear ratios in that range.
    What I want to know, as I’ll be working and can’t be there, HYPE FEST 2.0 or is there actually a product improvement?

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

    q’Tal, that is where I got confused. If it is within a set range, how can that be infinite? Yes the number would be much larger then I would like to contemplate, but one would still think there was a large finite set of ratios given that is contained within a fixed range.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 10:23 am

    ok, q’Tal, I had my coffee and thought it over. Yes you are correct in that aspect of infinite possibility of gear ratios. Still I got confused with the the infinite possibilities being applied to something like gears which are typically discontinuous numbers. I think we can both agree that for all practical riding purposes, there is not an infinite number of gears one will be choosing from when using this new product. That is what came to my mind when I read “[i]magine an internal hub with infinitely variable “gears”‘.

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  • Val April 9, 2010 at 10:25 am

    q’Ztal: I have installed one of the new hubs, and yes, it is a definite improvement. It is smaller and lighter (not really a big deal to me personally, but a burning concern to most of the industry). It also places the shift mechanism totally within the dropouts, which makes it much less obtrusive and vulnerable. It uses a standard Shimano style splined cog, instead of a thread on freewheel, which allows a much wider range of cog choices, and is much easier to replace. It is also much easier to shift under load; all in all, an excellent job of revising what was already an innovative, unique and useful hub.

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  • Quentin April 9, 2010 at 10:48 am

    A Shimano Nexus hub weighs 3.4 lbs, a Rohloff weighs 3.8 lbs. The N360 seems like a great idea, but 5.4 lbs is still pretty heavy. I just can’t imagine this hub being very popular with anybody but the cruiser-riding retiree crowd.

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  • aljee April 9, 2010 at 11:31 am

    with an 11sp alfine (oil-bath type lubrication, like the rohloff) around the corner, this hub is going to have some stiff competition. especially given the fact that the range of 360% is only slightly better than the current 8sp alfine/nexus 308%, and the 11sp alfine will be 409%.
    BUT the continuous range is a really cool detail. that’s one of the bigger gripes about the 8sp alfine – the jumps between gears are pretty big.
    being heavier than the rohloff isn’t going to help it at all either, but it’s exciting to see the IGH technology progress anyhow.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I take back my earlier comment. Without the infinite gears, I like the Rohloff better.

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  • Stig10 April 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I don’t care how good the gears are. I’m not dragging that boat anchor up any hills in Portland @ 5+lbs.

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  • GlowBoy April 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    The Rohloff is a great hub, but it costs $1400.

    The NuVinci runs about $400, which puts it within reach of a lot more people. Of course the 11-speed Alfine will probably be no more than that, but the NuVinci will still appeal to those who don’t like the Alfine’s uneven gear steps.

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  • Opus the Poet April 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    The original NuVinci was way overbuilt, one company was using one as the transmission for a golfcart-like device with a gas motor pushing nearly 2 HP through the thing and they didn’t break or wear out any faster than the same miles as a bike drive. What is the new one like in that regard?

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  • El Biciclero April 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    “…there is not an infinite number of gears one will be choosing from when using this new product.”

    Not countably infinite, but infinite nonetheless. It is the same infinity that exists (as fractions or decimals) between 0 and 1 (or any two numbers). There are bounds on each end, but there are an infinite number of positions between. Still, “Continuous” is probably a more descriptive term to distinguish this shifting mechanism from those with discrete gears.

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  • Jim Lee April 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Is there a freewheel? If there is you lose a gob of torque in whatever drive ratio you choose.

    Look at Archibald Sharp (1896), pages 28-29, to understand why. It is all about gyrators and hodographs, not wizards of marketing who have given us 30 speed shifters that no one needs.

    Has anyone since Sharp bothered to figure out the dynamics of a bicycle drive train and its prime mover?

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  • aljee April 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    a good analogy of ‘continuous’ v. ‘indexed’ might be a home stereo’s volume knob v. oh, let’s say a car stereo’s push button volume. to me there is a huge difference between the two – i can always get the home stereo at a perfect volume, but sometimes feel i would like to be in between steps on a car stereo.
    now in the case of the alfine, imagine that if you push the volume up 1, your volume goes WAY up, but if this hub is what it claims, you can dial in your perfect volume. that’s a pretty big deal to me, but is it worth the weight penalty? that’s a personal decision. to me, not so much.

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  • Paul April 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Awesome. My city bike already weighs over 40lbs, and with groceries probably around 60. A couple extra pounds wouldn’t make me blink. Looks cool!

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  • q'Ztal April 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Opus #13: i’d like to see some independent verification of that 2HP through the bikre version story. I’m fairly certain Fallbrook Tech made at least one, if not two, beefier higher power band units similar to the bike hub. I checked out the gear range with the Sheldon Brown Gear Calulator and was worried that the range would not be low enough to deal with the high RMPs that I prefer when going up something steep. I’m not afraid of a few pounds but am not interested in what would likely be 20+ pounds. I’d love this in a completely sealed drivetrain, shaftdrive?, but I’ll take what I can get.
    El Biciclero #14: thank you for jumping on the number theory for me:) I was about to but then I remembered that this isn’t the XKCD forum. Sadve me the geek out.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    El Biciclero – if you follow Jonathan’s Fallbrook link they say this is ““Gear-Free” Shifting.” So there are no gears period let alone an infinite amount of them.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I believe what we are all talking about is in Fallbrook’s words the

    “N360 offers an “infinite” number of ratios
    within its 360% range. Finding the perfect
    ratio is easy and spontaneous.”

    There is not a continuous series of gears.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    so I guess if Jonathan just replaced “gears” with gear that would make more sense.

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  • El Biciclero April 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    “El Biciclero – if you follow Jonathan’s Fallbrook link they say this is ““Gear-Free” Shifting.” So there are no gears period let alone an infinite amount of them.”

    OK. I interpreted your use of the word “gear” to mean “drive ratio”. If you were talking about actual gears as mechanical parts, then you’re right–not even the best nanotechnology could stuff an infinite number of them inside there.

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  • Memo April 9, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    …after all this it really isn’t a big deal, but it obviously confused the heck out of me – especially when I tried to comprehend how that worked in relation to other products I know more about like the Rohloff. Since the link actually references those types of products, it confused me even more. So I had to work much more to get the information than I typically do. For the record though I interpret a gear like they do in this link since I have been around a lot of mechanical engineering/design and such. http://www.toolingu.com/definition-560240-25457-gear.html

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  • Gort April 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Pencils down please. Go ride one and get back to us with a report. I want to see what it can handle in torque for utility applications.

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  • pedalstrikeforceagentdown April 9, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Any second now El Biciclero may start quoting Cantor.

    Watch out!

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  • Dan Liu April 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Interesting that they are going for such a broad range of applications: they’re not trying to sell just a bicycle hub, but an entirely new kind of transmission, good everything from bikes to tractors. In other words, they’re selling optimal power efficiency, which, while important for bikes and bicyclists, is far more useful for making wind turbines or gas/diesel engines more efficient.

    Using bikes as engineering demonstration isn’t new of course. I remember when NAHBS came to Portland, someone was showing off a mountain bike made of an open carbon fiber lattice. The rep said they were starting with a bicycle, which is a relatively lightweight (or low-speed/light-torque) application, but hoping that their patented lattice idea and construction could be used in large-scale architectural settings. It’s awesome that there’s a new player in the rarified world of internally “geared” bicycle hubs — though Fallbrook would really hit the jackpot if Nissan or General Electric bought the company or licensed the patent.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm


    I just rode this hub. It’s the real deal. Nuvinci will definitely make some noise with this thing. And torque is not an issue. I think people (especially us Americans) are too caught up with weight.

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  • Antload April 9, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Hard cranking with the original caused a lot of energy-absorbing flex. That was a deal-breaker for me. I’m surprised this isn’t talked about more. I wonder how the new one compares.

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  • Toby April 9, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Do we know if it’s compatible with other types of shifters, especially bar-ends and/or STI for us drop-bars riders?

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  • J.R. April 9, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Toby (29), the shifter mechanism is an integral proprietary part of the package and currently comes in standard MTB handlebar diameter. It is a dual cable setup (underdrive/overdrive) similar in that way to the Rohloff. The shorter throw on the N360 twistshift is a really nice improvement over the earlier version. I wish there were enough of the new shifters available that I could use one on my demo bike but I’ll try to be patient. Having just ridden it home, I can also say that the hub does well shifting under load although I don’t have enough experience with it to compare the flex noted in comment 28.
    I think Dan (26) is right on and I am pleased that they chose the bicycle hub application and Portland for the US debut.
    Disclosure: Fallbrook provided me with a demo wheel/shifter for this bike…and unfortunately, they’ll need it back.

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  • todd April 10, 2010 at 8:06 am

    jr, please try locking up your rear brake and stomping on a pedal. with the old version you can push from about 2 to 3 o’clock. there was a strain relief inside the hub, meaning you felt like you were pedaling into a spring. mushy sensation. new?

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    • J.R. April 10, 2010 at 9:05 am

      Thanks for the tip! In extensive driveway testing, (cough) I didn’t discern any of that flex. I’ll give it some more severe leverage on the way to the Convention Center and encourage anyone curious to try out any of the demo models at the Bike Show and come to their own conclusions.

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  • Will Cortez www.Crossniacs.com April 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    This hub is the real deal as Maus explains. I had the chance to ride the old hub back in March in the Bethany area north of Sunset Hwy: http://crossniacs.com/uncategorized/nuvinci-demo-ride/

    +At any rate, the new hub addresses issues of feedback/resistance under torque (non-existent).

    +The gear range is infinitely-adjustable (take it from a math major) thanks to the concept of orbiting steel balls & a revolutionary Valvoline fluid which as a lubricant & friction agent so there is never any metal-on-metal contact.

    +Jonathan is right about Americans being so hung up on weight. How many of us are really shouldering a bike on a daily basis? Where does NuVinci claim this was a “race-oriented” product?

    +The new hub uses fewer parts to control the steel balls’ orbits than the old and thus is “sleeker” and smaller.

    +The gearing can be so low that the “utility bike” crowd is going to be amazed!

    +You get a 100% sealed drivetrain, no cable stretch, minimal to no chain or ring wear and can be fitted to non-singlespeed frames.

    I see this as the ultimate development for Portlanders to really build their do-it-all bike they can take to Sunriver, commute to work (rain or shine), do Cycle Oregon (and STP!) and so on!

    Stop by their booth at Pedal Nation & hopefully you’ll get a chance to sneak a peek at a particular Ellsworth mtb with NuVinci & belt drive 🙂

    Crossniacs – Pac NW AllStarz

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  • Zaphod April 10, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    As a comparison, I’m calculating 1.9 pounds for an Ultegra level road rear hub, cassette & rear Derailleur. Surely a different purpose but a basis for comparison.

    I’d say the hub is well suited for cargo bikes.

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  • chasingbackon April 11, 2010 at 8:47 am

    I have extensively used both nexus 7 and 8 and they are fantastic. Not sure about the uneven gears steps people are talking about. Agree with the stiff competition post with alfine 11 coming and weight questions. That said, this hub is a very cool addition to the the IGH market. Interested to try one and hope it does very well. Congrats to the developers

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  • Vance Longwell April 11, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I’d be interested to see what distinguishes this from the MULTITUDES of other differentials like it. Kabota, for instance, has been using a design similar to this for seven decades. Additionally, just about every snomobile utilizes similar. Plus too the out-rigger on ANY I/O marine-drive since the ’40s.

    I’d say ‘catch-up’ more than innovation, or patent theft, one of the two. Centrifugal differentials have been around for a frickin’ century folks.

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  • n8m April 12, 2010 at 12:36 am

    very cool. i hate screwing with derailleurs. $400 is prohibitive though.

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  • GlowBoy April 12, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    chasingbackon (#35), I am a big fan of the Alfine/Nexus hubs myself (I’m very impressed with my wife’s 8speed Bianchi Milano). I personally don’t mind the uneven gear steps of the Shimano hubs because I ride a 3speed and have grown accustomed to 35% steps, but they are a common criticism:

    7 to 8: 14%
    6 to 7: 16%
    5 to 6: 22%
    4 to 5: 18%
    3 to 4: 14%
    2 to 3: 16%
    1 to 2: 22%

    The 22% jump from 1st to 2nd gear is just fine — you expect low gear to be a bailout with a big jump down from 2nd. I think it’s the 22% jump right in the middle of the range — from 5th to 6th — that bugs people.

    Hang on … just checked on the ratios of the new 11speed hub. Looks like all the steps are 13%-14% except for 1st to 2nd gear which is 29% (again, nothing wrong with that). Looks just about perfect. Nevermind my earlier comment about uneven gear steps with respect to the 11speed Alfine.

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  • Manabu April 15, 2010 at 7:13 am

    @Vance Longwell: The way they put it up is very inovative. I dare for you to find other cvt that looks like the one in the youtube video. And more importantly: no other CVT could be sized down for bycicle, nor be reasonably efficient with low torques.

    And I don’t understand the patent theft talk, and then right after the 100 years thing. Patents are limited for 15~20 years, and some people let them expire earlier. Besides, the original idea is from Leonardo da Vinci (thus the transmission name).

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  • q`Tzal April 21, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    After attempting to drop my tax return on this hub I heard from Clever Cycles, who heard from Nuvinci, that “Price would be $399 and it would become available in July.”

    Not available until July

    Is this normal? I mean do the manufacturers normally put out product teasers like this? Spring would be a good time to have this product release to milk sales from those impulse buyers.
    I’m just going to have to take my tax return fueled consumer frenzy and buy other bicycle components.

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  • IGH Guy April 22, 2010 at 9:01 am

    q’Tzal: Companies have been doing product teasers for years. Think of the auto show and all of the cars that are coming out either later in the year or the following year. I think in this case, it was more about getting people exposed to the new product (because it is sooo much better than the old one)and getting them excited for when it becomes available. I guess that is the point of a “teaser”….

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