SEVEN DAY CYCLIST
CYCLING, BUT NOT USUALLY RACING
LATEST UPDATE: MAY 30th
Shimano Alfine UR700 Hub Dynamo
The Shimano Alfine UR700 Hub Dynamo tips the scales at 612g, including skewer so might be a bit portly for sportier audax/winter trainers but is a solid choice for touring, commuting and general riding thanks to good power output, competitive pricing, and solid build quality.
Pros: Reliable output, especially at low speed, centre lock disc brake, nicely finished, competitively priced.
Cons: Heavier than some, ball, rather than cartridge bearings.
As I’d expect from big S, this is competitive and broadly on par with, but not streets ahead of others at this price point. The machined aluminium alloy shell comes in a choice of black, or silver and in 32, or 36 spoke drillings, which should cater for most tastes, and is well finished. I was surprised to learn that the higher end Ultegra DH3N72 shells are painted AND anodised. They are both 6V3W in terms of output, so not ideal for smaller wheels but bang on for 26, 650b, 700c etc.
Chrome plated axles turn on traditional ball, rather than cartridge bearings, which came as a surprise. The former accounts for some additional heft, compared to models like Shutter Precision SD8 and its PD8 cousin , which are aluminium alloy. Shimano cites efficiency as 53% at 15kmh, lower than that of the Shutter Precision SD8 but on par with the Shimano DH 3N70, which I’ve run for over a decade.
In common with the SD8, the Alfine uses contact, rather than the contact and labyrinth seals, which is less belt and braces. However, should be very reliable in the everyday sense and provided you dodge river crossings and of course, the jet wash.
I wasn’t surprised by the centre lock disc brake either, since these have several advantages over the six bolt and admittedly, the odd disadvantage, too. On the plus side, there are no little screws to strip, seize, or loose to an inaccessible part of the garage. Simply pop off the rubber boot and slip the rotor in situ. Torque down using a cassette lockring tool and you’re away. However, should you need to switch a rotor mid tour, it’s a lot less convenient than whipping out the 4mm Allen, or T25 key common to most multi-tools these days.
Completing the package is a nicely finished quick release skewer, which has a nice feel. However, as I’m always saying, we’d probably go for a locking type, to deter opportunist theft on a commuter, or working bike. I also apply a quick shot of Jokker 440, or slither of Vaseline on the contacts as a precaution.
Given the price point, I was keen to see how the Alfine compared with the SP SD8, so Ursula, my rough stuff tourer was the obvious host. As before, I wanted the option of disc, or cantilever braking, so went for another Ryde Andra 40 hoop, with machined sidewalls. Regular readers will know I am going to switch to a disc setup up front, which has taken a few twists and turns, fork-wise. For the meantime, I am running Ursula’s original fork, with Shimano CX50 cantilevers, while I put some cables and bar tape through its paces.
Resistance was marginally higher in the palpable sense than the SD8 and SL9 hubs at lower speeds, beyond 13mph or so and though still more apparent than the SL9, it was broadly on par with the PD8. No issues on longer rides-say 50 miles plus either, so a realistic choice for touring- I should point out I’ve tended to run the K-Lite Bike Packer Pro V2 during the day too. While these and the hub could never be considered intrusive, switching the lamp off does offer some small gains. Indeed, on comparable climbs, there’s also less of a dip in output, when you’re grinding along at 9mph, which is welcome - especially when you’re hauling stuff and out of the saddle efforts aren’t ideal, dare I say dignified. Either way, 13mph (which brings on the K-Lite family’s full power) isn’t taxing for most folks, most of the time.
Delivering 6v 3W, I wasn’t surprised to discover the overall output is very consistent in all contexts. Winching up the climbs, there’s been minimal loss of output and along the flatter sections, maintaining the full 1300 lumens proved reassuringly easy- even off road (although in those contexts, 17-20mph is as much as I’d want to navigate winding singletrack by - unless I’d paired it with a helmet lamp, like the Sigma Buster HL 2000. Otherwise, less challenging dirt roads permitted 20-25, or at least, when my legs had the reserves.
Much the same story with the K-lIte Bikepacker Ultra but, back on asphalt the Ultra-Low drag is best appreciated with a lightweight, low drag hub, such as the Shutter Precision SL9. Given the season, the Alfine and I have been exposed to plenty of wet, wintry stuff. We’ve tackled waterlogged lanes, boggy bridleways all without missing a beat. The K-Lite systems are particularly well sealed at the connectors, so I’ve been happy giving the hub’s a quick shot of Jokker 440. Running a more traditional lamp, I’d be inclined to add a lick of Vaseline instead.
As with the Shutter Precision Units I’ve tested, a two-year warrantee inspires confidence. Seals and overall build seem very robust, and I’d be lying if I said I’d noticed any difference between the Alfine’s balls and other model’s cartridge units. The ability to replace the non-drive side bearings (£7.50 for replacements) without having to return it to the factory is another boon. However, should the drive side pack up, their UK importer recommends replacing the whole hub.
If endurance, hell 'n’ high water mixed terrain touring was your thing, I’d go higher - a model with belt 'n’ braces labyrinth and contact seals and an even better finish. Otherwise, for every day, road-biased riding, there are no obvious weaknesses. Just keep it clean, inspect the connector and seals for any potential problems, swerve jet washes and river crossings it should lead a long and rewarding life. I have run a Shimano Ultegra for over ten years, through flooded roads, snow, ice, boggy stuff and no call to touch, let alone grumbling bearings.
£119.99 is competitive but at full rrp, there are a few that could give the Alfine a run for your hard-earned. Four years down the line and I remain a big fan of the Shutter Precision PD8 with its shapely golf ball shell, choice of colours and cartridge bearings. It also saves a few grams. However, the six-bolt disc mount and no skewer might not be universally popular, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Similarly, its SD8 cousin has a definite weight advantage, which has benefits for Audax, light tourers and training bikes. Contexts where a little dip in output at slower speeds may be a wearable trade-off.
Depends on your needs and priorities. Bottom line, as a benchmark for commuting and general riding, there is much to recommend Shimano’s Alfine. A well-balanced package it delivers in most respects. No loss of output at slow speeds, nice and smooth without rider sapping resistance. However, riders of Audax and other, sportier builds may find lighter models, such as Shutter Precision’s SD8 a better bet.
Verdict: 3.75/5 Solid choice for commuting and general riding but there are lighter options for bikes on calorie-controlled diets.
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PUBLISHED MARCH 2022
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