Q: I have been riding a Marin Muirwood for two years now for a 13-mile (hilly) round trip commute, yearly Sustrans Challenge rides and 30 to 50-mile weekend rides.
I like the steel frame and prefer 26in wheels, but the lure of a hub geared bike is becoming hard to resist. I like the look of the Cannondale Bad Boy Nexus and Nexus Headshok (I worry about the range of gears) but think the Thorn Raven Tour might be a better bike, but I don't like its looks. What are the pros and cons of these two models? I am 45 and would be best described as built for comfort not speed.
Ian Roberts, Newcastle
A: I'm with you there. I think hub geared bikes are the way forward, particularly for commuting and touring. As you say, one of the main differences between the two systems is that the Shimano Nexus 8 has a more limited gear range; about 300 per cent (spread over eight gears) compared to the Rohloff's 525 per cent (spread over 14 - largest gear is 5.25 times bigger than the smallest). So although both bikes can be set up with the same low gear for your hilly commute, you'll lose out substantially at the top end with the Nexus - which could be an issue if you like to ride fast down hills!
There's also a big difference in quality. Rohloff's Speedhub is famed for its durability - I've been running mine for three years without a problem - and its efficiency (a claimed 96-98 per cent) which means a lot less drag than you might expect. Mind you, at the price (£625 upwards) you'd hope it would be pretty special. The Nexus 8 shifts lightly but in our experience can be prone to slipping, and there's more friction outside the direct drive gear. Because of this, we feel it's best suited to commuting rather than longer club runs or touring.
While Thorns are not the trendiest of bikes, their current selection of plain colours is a big improvement over previous models.
Personally, I find their steep riser comfort bars ungainly - if you want to funk it up a bit, try adding some of the carbon upgrades or one of On-One's quirky but comfortable Fleegle bars (£30).
When it comes to style, Cannondale certainly hit the nail on the head - the ninja-black Bad Boys continue to spawn a host of pretenders and inevitably ooze cool, though you'll have to sacrifice rack, mudguard and pump mounts for it. Bear in mind, too, that you state a preference for steel and the Bad Boy is aluminium - not that it should cause you any problems, as Cannondaleve a superb reputation when it comes to the quality of their frames.
There's little between them in price. Cannondale's 2007 model is the Bad Boy 8 Ultra (£1,150), which comes with fast rolling 700x28c disc wheels teamed with Avid Juicy 3 disc brakes for great all-weather stopping. Being discs, you can swap them out for 26in wheels if roughstuff riding beckons, while the Headshok, complete with lockout, offers extra comfort. But if you plan to get a lot of use out of your bike, we think investing in a Rohloff drivetrain should save you money in the long run as it's unlikely you'll ever need to replace it. Work into the equation the wide range of set-up options (crank lengths, rim choices, stems...) plus the cost of the hub alone, and the Tour is actually great value at £1,199; the Rohloff version of the Bad Boy, albeit with Headshok and Avid Juicy discs, costs £2,200. That said, as versatile as it is there's no denying that the Tour's a heavy bike primarily built for load hauling. You might like to check out its cousin, the lighter, tighter Raven Sport (£1,399) with its desirable Reynolds 853 tubing, which would give you a helping hand on your 30-50 mile unladen rides. Check out the 'Stealth'finish, which is very understated.