By Jay Stilwell
Ever since I first rode a three-speed Sturmey-Archer, I have had a fascination with internally-geared hubs. So when I happened upon an opportunity to ride the NuVinci N360 continuous variable planetary (CVP) hub, I was all over it.
First invented in 2007 by San Diego’s Fallbrook Technologies, the original NuVinci hub (N170) was bulky and heavy. They since have developed more innovative designs, culminating with the N360. This model is 30% lighter than the original version, weighing in at 2,450 grams, and is 17% smaller in diameter than the N170. Offering both 32- and 36-spoke configurations, it is perfect for utility, commuting, or for electric bikes.
What makes this hub unique is that there aren’t any gears, per se, rather it uses continuously variable transmission (CVT) technology, a combination of large ball bearings, angle input and output components, and fluid for minimizing friction. Inside the hub, the rotating balls are tilted when actuated from the handlebar-mounted shifter, which changes the amount of contact the bearings have with the input and output discs, resulting in a seamless “sweep” through the ratio of “gears” available. This combination creates a unique riding experience when compared to traditional internal counterparts. Since there aren’t any set gears, micro-adjustments are possible, giving cyclists the ability to fine-tune their ride — simply turn the shifter forward for easier pedaling up hills and rotate back for going faster on the flats and downhill. A colorful indicator window is part of the shifter system and indicates what position the hub is in.
The feel of the system could be somewhat compared to a dimmer switch vs. a regular light switch. A regular light switch has either an on/ off or maybe a 5 stage setting, but they are all hard points. Now think of a dimmer switch / dial that you can set to wherever you want. Perfect and total control. That’s the feeling you experience when using the continuous variable planetary hub – no clunk, no in between gear, no bad shifting.
Climbing wasn’t as much of a struggle for me on the Jamis Commuter 4 I tested the N360 with, since adjusting the ratio under chain torque was seamless and the level of resistance could be tweaked in small increments, not limiting me to a specific gear. It did take a few tries to get used to. Thanks to the shifter’s cable design, removal of the rear wheel is easy and without a return spring found on rear derailleurs, reattaching the cable is a snap.
It would be nice to have a full range of resistance ratios when stopped since there is a limited range unless the hub is moving. This requires anticipating the correct position before coming to a stop — basically downshifting to make sure it’s in the correct spot when taking off again, just like you would on a regular bike. After adjusting to its differences, the transition from riding my normal setup wasn’t difficult to make.
Since there isn’t a way to self-maintain the hub, all servicing requires returning the N360 to Fallbrook Technologies. That said, reports from a NuVinci users online forum have riders posting that they have put more than 7,000 miles on theirs without encountering any problems.
Overall my experience with the N360 was good and I appreciated the shifting improvements over other internal geared hubs I’ve tried. I would recommend it to riders who are looking to upgrade or for those looking to have a no fuss, all conditions-ready hub that is both quiet and efficient. Others should consider the NuVinci when looking to rid the derailleurs from their bike.
MSRP: $399. For more information visit fallbrooktech.com/cycling.