First off, Soma Fabrications is importing some amazing Suzue hubs from Japan. These are cassette hubs with HIGH flanges and the totally cool styling from Suzue’s original freewheel and track hubs familiar to those of us who were into bikes in the 80s. Amazingly cool….although super expensive.
For those who have been subjected to my “future bike” rant at some point, you will recall my firm belief in the future dominance of internal gearing – both on mtn (less controversial) AND on road (more controversial) bikes. Internal gearing has many advantages (no “wasted” gear ratios through redundancy or impossible chainlines, cleanliness, no need to change chains and use super expensive ones, quick shifting independent of pedaling, and general adaptability to system integration of the bicycle). I think that real ticket will be for internal gearing that is electronically actuated – allowing for placement of “shifters” anywhere/everywhere needed on the bars (a la the original Mavic Zap system).
The internal gearing options got much better with Shimano’s release of the Alfine 8 speed internal hub. The Alfine internals were apparently beefed up significantly over the original Nexus system, and another gear was added. It even appears that Shimano made a running change to the model (going from 500 to 501 in the model number) that further improved shifting quality. Most important, the Alfine 8 is disc compatible (I believe it takes Shimano Centerloc rotors), making it hip to the modern mtn bike. Internal gearing really has the potential to revolutionize full-suspension mtb design because it eliminates (with front internal gearing – like the hammerschmidt system) differential suspension performance based on chain positioning.
One drawback to trying Alfine on road has been the lack of shift actuation options. Alfine at least brought with it a high quality trigger shifter, so flat bar performance was fine. Jtek is making a bar-end style (what we used to call “bar-con” shifters back in the day) Alfine shifter as well for drop bars, but this was about the only mainstream option.
I have just seen on the Soma Fabrications site, however, that a real brifter style option now exists for Alfine. From what you can see on their site, this appears to be based on the body of the Dura-Ace 7800 knockoff shifters badged by, amongst others, Nashbar. They have probably just started with that and then modified the cable pull to fit the Alfine shift indents (this is why electronic actuation is such an obvious advantage). Soma has these listed for some totally insane price….but that can’t last long. There is likely one factory in Taiwan or the PRC stamping these things out and selling them to all these distributors/marketers.
Good stuff, all of it!
PS — Come to think of it, I should put my “future bike” outline up on the blog soon anyway. This way it will be saved for posterity and future “visionary” cred.