Future transmission: Is this the shape of gearing to come?

Classified’s revolutionary hub could make the front derailleur obsolete

Wandering the halls at the recent Rouleur Live show, we found one of the most intriguing products we’ve seen in recent years. Sitting on Classified’s unassuming stand was a conventional-looking hub, but one that’s capable of wirelessly replicating the work of a front derailleur.

Without adding extra weight, servicing, or drag, the firm’s Powershift hub can achieve the same result as shunting a chain between chainrings. Only it does so quicker and more reliably. Cutting components, simplifying drivetrains, and allowing for almost instant infallible shifting even under load, it’s genuinely revolutionary.

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To do this, the Powershift hub uses an electronically actuated two-speed gear that replicates the difference between the chainrings on a standard twin crankset. This means that you can remove your smaller chainring and shifter, resulting in a more straightforward and aerodynamic setup. In its first mode, the hub offers a direct 1x1 ratio, giving you the exact ratio as created by the combination of chainring and sprocket. In its second mode, it reduces this by a factor of 0.7.

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With the direct ratio being 100% efficient, Classified claim swapping into the easier of the two gears will see you lose less than 1% of whatever power you’re putting out. Given that this is less than the efficiency lost to friction when you wrap your chain around a smaller diameter chainring, we can’t see many complaining.

Internal intrigue

Working with a specially machined cassette, the conventional-looking Powershift hub allows you to use its 11 or 12 sprockets in the usual manner. How exactly the hub’s internals work, Classified is keeping appropriately schtum about. However, there are plenty of salient facts in the public domain. First, the hub itself doesn’t ever require charging. Instead, a smart thru-axle receives the wireless signal from the shifter and triggers the hub to shift using contactless energy transfer. This axle can be topped up via micro USB and should be good for 10,000 shifts before needing to be recharged.

On the bars, you have either the option to connect the system to a Shimano Di2 shifter or use the firm’s satellite trigger. Having played with the hub both on and off the bike, it would seem that Classified’s claims of comparable drag to a conventional design are justified. At the same time, the whole system weighs an almost exactly equivalent amount to the components it replaces.

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While the bearings will need servicing much as they would on any other high-end hub, Classified also claims the gearing element itself doesn’t require maintenance and should last indefinitely. While the exact mechanism is a mystery, the design would appear to be based on a planetary system, an arrangement common in many applications, including across the automotive industry.

A new take

In some ways, it’s actually quite an old technology for cycling, just one that’s been given a very new gloss. This means that, unlike the tin can that contains a Shimano Nexus or Sturmey Archer system, Classified’s lightweight mechanism is instead included in the diminutive space provided by the firm’s unique hollow cassettes. Machined from a single steel block, they’re specific to the system and come in 11 and 12-speed versions spanning road and gravel-friendly ranges.

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So how does it work on the bike? Once selected, the shift itself is completed using the rotation of the wheel rather than any motor. Allowing for shifting under extreme loads, this is achieved in a near-instant 150 milliseconds. Having tried it, the effect is genuinely startling, to the extent I had to overcome my fear of smashing something delicate into the stem the first few times I tried it. With my admittedly underdeveloped legs, I could seamlessly shift while sprinting at full pelt. Classified says it should be reliable up to around 1,000 watts.

Pricing and compatibility

In development for seven years, the hubs themselves are designed and created in Belgium, with Tom Boonen being an early investor. Since it launched in 2020, Classified has partnered with Ridley and Rose bikes and now features on their high-end machines. The system is also available aftermarket and is compatible with any bike using the 142mm thru-axle and flat-mount brake standards. Currently, the firm offers prebuilt wheelsets using carbon rims and the Powershift hub for €2,399. Not cheap, but not that much dearer than the most expensive wheelsets. Cleverly, the system can be rapidly transferred between wheels, allowing the firm to offer its wheelsets without the system for €1,299.

Is a bike with a Powershift hub and a rear derailleur the configuration of the future? Will this be the solution that kills the desire to cram ever more and larger sprockets on our cassettes? Admittedly we’ve only had a quick spin, but it seems like it could be.

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