Q: For some time I have wanted a bike with the Rohloff 14-speed hub.
This seems to make a lot of sense for anything except racing as the gears are enclosed and protected, and maintenance is very much reduced. But... what bike? There doesn't seem a large choice.
Folding would be a bonus, such as the Birdy. What I would like is a road bike, as light as is reasonable (at 73 I don't want to push any more weight than I have to), and okay for bridleways and other not too extreme off-road use.
B R Colbourne, Harby, Leics
A: The choice is larger than it seems. The Rohloff Speedhub has an over-locknuts measurement of 135mm. That's the mountain bike standard and, since touring bikes largely use mountain bike components, the default touring bike standard too. If you don't mind using a chain tensioner, you can even use a frame with vertical dropouts rather than a frame with forward facing/horizontal dropouts or an eccentric bottom bracket.
That doesn't mean that any type of tourer or mountain bike will do the job. Rohloff (the manufacturer) also requires that 'The inner side of the left hand dropout must be flat in a diameter of 40mm around the centre of the axle so that the axle plate can sit firmly and evenly against the dropout.'
However, most custom frame builders ought to be capable of building such a frame for you. Here are just two with excellent reputations: Dave Yates - www.daveyatescycles.co.uk, 01526 343322 and Chas Roberts - www.robertscycles.co.uk, 020 8684 3370. If you want a Rohloff fitting to an existing frame with suitable dropouts, Kinetics is your best bet. See www.kinetics.org.uk, 0141 942 2552.
If you want to get a Rohloff-equipped bike off the peg, then the Birdy Rohloff will do what you want... for £1,950. Any Birdy dealer (list at www.r-m.de) can sell you this. Suspension pivots are susceptible to a little wear over the long term, but we've certainly never heard of the Birdy being susceptible to failure from either dealers or owners.
An alternative folder to the Birdy Rohloff is the Airnimal Joey Explore Elite, which costs £1,495. While it doesn't have suspension, its bigger (24in) wheels will better cope with rough stuff. As it's also fairly light (26lb), this bike might best meet your requirements overall. See www.airnimal.com or phone 01223 52397
to find your nearest dealer.
If it's a full size bike you're after, Cannondale does do a very nice Rohloff tourer but it costs more than £2,000. I'd be tempted to go with either a Fahrrad Manufaktur T400 Rohloff (£1,350) or one of Thorn's many Raven models; either option offers better value for money.
The Fahrrad Manufaktur T400 (imported by Bikefix, www.bikefix.co.uk, 020 7405 1218) is more of an urban bike but would certainly handle bridleways and touring. With Thorn's Raven range you're spoilt for choice. Given your requirements, the Sport Tour (from £1,399) is probably the best of the Ravens - not too slow on road but still able to go off it. I've test-ridden one over a period of several weeks and would happily recommend it. If you wanted extra portability, you could get S&S Couplings fitted before purchase. These enable the bike to be split in half for transport. It's not as convenient as folding, but still useful. For more on the Raven range, see www.thorncycles.co.uk or 01278 441500.
Note that the Rohloff shifter has a 22.2mm internal diameter, so won't fit on most drop handlebars, which are thicker than this. You need an auxiliary'stub' handlebar for the shifter (Thorn can provide) or else a bar-end adaptation from Hubbub Custom Bicycles - see www.hubbub.com/store/products.asp?id=32.