Classified's hub lets you double your gears and shift while coasting.
Classified pitches greater range, more efficiency, and improved durability as reasons to switch to its new internal hub gear system.
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Classified Powershift need to know
- Two-speed internal hub system gives you double the gears
- 530% range, wider than both Shimano and SRAM
- Wireless shifter operates in 150 milliseconds
- Changes gear under loads of up to 1000 watts
Most riders over a certain age learned to ride on a hub geared bike. It was likely their first experience with changing gears – or not, as was frequently the case. I had one on my Raleigh Grifter. It was made by Sturmey Archer and it had three speeds – red, blue and yellow – accessed by a twist grip shifter that let you imagine you were controlling a throttle.
Hub gears make the world go round
Millions of bikes still use a derivative of that system, including most of the world’s hire bikes, but when it comes to mountain bikes, the derailleur is still king. There have been attempts to apply the simplicity and durability of the hub gear to a mountain bike, including Shimano’s Nexus, Rolhoff’s 14-speed hub and even SRAM’s HammerSchmidt crank, but none have managed to break into the mainstream.
With its Powershift hub, Belgian company Classified is hoping that a new angle and the latest tech will win over consumers. Albeit well heeled ones, considering the hub, cassette and shifter costs over €1,500 – comparable with SRAM’s latest direct mount Eagle AXS.
The road to Classified’s MTB offering
It has already secured investment from a string of top road pros, and launched gravel and road versions to positive reviews from the press. But mountain bikes will be a tougher nut to crack, given that the system’s greatest asset – its ability to effectively double gear range – has less of an impact off-road as it does on-road. And if that sounds counterintuitive, consider this; mountain bikers universally accept the single-ring drivetrain. On the road, brands have dabbled with them, but for most riders, the jumps are simply too big with a wide-range cassette.
Classified lets roadies have their cake and eat it, with a wide-range for climbing and descending, and close ratios to give the perfect cadence.
So what are the potential benefits for mountain bikers? A wider range is the most obvious. 530% for the Powershift hub with a 11-40t cassette trumps SRAM’s 520% and Shimano’s 510%, although not by much. This set-up gives 16 unique gears with an average step of 10.5%, compared to 16% with an Eagle 10-52t cassette. Additional benefits come from the fact you can spend more time in the middle of the block, rather than the extremes, which improves the chain line, efficiency and durability.
The two hub gears are a 1:1 ratio and a 0.7 reducer. That’s a pretty big jump – 46% according to Classified – so changing the hub gear is like shifting four gears across the cassette, which is useful on rolling trails where the pitch continually changes direction.
Theoretically you could also run a medium cage rear derailleur, such as a gravel bike mech, which would increase ground clearance and potentially reduce the chances of a nerfed mech.
Classified’s Powershift MTB hub is different from its road sibling, built to cope with higher load values and peak torque. There are also different bearings and a different freewheel.
Battle of the planets
Inside the Classified hub is a planetary gear system. In that respect it’s just like its forebear, the Sturmey Archer. However, the Classified hub design solves some of the problems that have plagued most planetary systems over the years, namely extra drag and poor shifting under load. The Classified hub can deal with full power shifts under load, up to a claimed 1000 watts, and friction losses are only a claimed 0.2% in the reducer gear. The more efficient chainline makes some of that back.
All the additional cogs are housed in an oversized hub, which necessitates the use of Classified’s own cassette. The hub is offered in both 28 hole straight pull and 32 hole J-bend configurations, either ready to lace to a rim, or as a complete wheel with Classified’s 30mm carbon rim.
Shifting with the cleverly engineered wireless Ringshifter takes only 150 milliseconds, and you can change the hub gear even when coasting.
How it rides
It’s fair to say Classified has significantly moved the hub game on, not only from my early Sturmey-Archer-equipped Grifter, but pretty much every planetary-based system I’ve ridden since.
The most impressive aspects of the drivetrain are the speed of the shift and the performance under load, but it’s also impressively drag-free in the reducer gear.
150 milliseconds feels instantaneous from the saddle, and while the loud ‘katang’ that emanates from the hub when shifting under maximum torque is not for the fainthearted, the gear change would always go through.
Familiarising with the Ringshifter is a quick process, and the rotating design has a high-quality action that feels very precisely engineered. It doesn’t take up much room on the bars, but being mounted between the grip and the brake lever does mean it’s possible to brush against accidentally – I shifted a couple of times without wanting to. It’s also necessary to unwrap your thumb from the bars to use the Ringshifter; not ideal on bumpy sections.
Where it works really well is on rolling trails where you’re climbing up a short rise one second, then dropping into a dip the next. Here you can use the hub shifter, instead of the derailleur, to make a big gear change and keep your cadence consistent. Because the extra friction in the reducer gear is imperceptible, I had no qualms about using it regularly – something that was not the case with other systems I’ve tried in the past.
There are downsides, though. The Classified cassette doesn’t shift anywhere near as well as Shimano or SRAM, particularly compared to the latest Eagle AXS. On the test bike I rode, the chain would also derail off the larger sprockets when pedalling back between corners on a descent. It’s possible this was just an adjustment issue.
There’s additional unsprung weight too, although this is so small as to be insignificant – certainly I couldn’t feel it hampering the action of the test bike.
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Classified has done a good job then, particularly of the hub internals and the wireless shifter, but the cassette needs work. Given the price, and the subtle benefits over a simple 1x system, I’m also unsure who will buy it. Classified has hinted that the technology might be utilised in different ways in the future, and that I find exciting. Let’s watch this space.