Classified Powershift Hub: first ride review
Could a two-speed hub solve the issues of both 1x and 2x drivetrains?
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Classified’s Powershift Hub offers a great improvement over a 2x system, able to shift so much faster and under much greater loads than is possible with a set of chainrings. In terms of weight and drivetrain efficiency, there isn’t a detectable penalty – in certain configurations, the system can even work out as better in these areas. The high price does make the hub hard to recommend as an upgrade – for €2,399, you could buy a whole lot of accessories, some really fancy wheels or even a brand new bike. But if money were no object and if given the choice, I would choose the Powershift Hub over a traditional 2x setup.
Super-fast gear change
Will shift under heavy load
Can treat it like a 1x drivetrain
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Classified’s Powershift rear hub is a pretty innovative attempt at solving the drawbacks which come from 1x and 2x drivetrains (opens in new tab) – hopefully providing a setup which is the best of both worlds.
Its design earnt the brand a Eurobike Gold Award at this year's show in Frankfurt, after being evaluated by an independent panel of expert judges.
Shifting chainrings is quite slow, can’t be done under power, and requires a certain amount of consideration of the chainline (opens in new tab). But with a typical 1x system (opens in new tab), you’re either going to have to sacrifice gearing range or be stuck with large jumps between the gears – neither of which are ideal.
How it works
To mimic the gearing range a pair of chainrings can provide, the rear hub is internally geared and can switch between two speeds.
The first is direct drive, which functions just like an ordinary hub. If you put the bike in a 52x13 gear combination and turn the pedals one full rotation, the rear wheel will turn 4 times.
If you change into the hub’s easy gear, that will step the gearing down by about the same amount as if you had changed into the little ring on a standard 2x bike.
To flesh things out a little further: if the chain was still in that 52x13 combination – but with the hub in the easy gear – the wheel would only turn 2.8 times if you spun the cranks one full rotation. Which is pretty much the same as what would happen if you were in a 36x13 gear on an ordinary 2x bike.
The shift at the hub is made electronically. On the bike we had on test, there was a little sprint shifter on the left drop which communicated with Classified’s “Smart Thru Axle” to make the shift.
The Thru Axle is micro USB rechargeable, but Classified claims it can perform more than 10,000 shifts on a single charge – so it isn’t something you need to top up regularly.
Alternatively, if you have a bike with Shimano Di2 (opens in new tab), it can be connected up so that the STI lever buttons control the hub, making for a much more integrated setup.
The hub design has required some quite specific rim requirements, and so it’s only compatible with Classified’s own rims – you can’t buy the hub separately and lace it to ones of your own choosing. There are three depths available: 30, 35 and 50mm, all made from carbon and with the shallowest rated for off-road use.
The fact that to get set up with the Powershift system you’ll be needing to purchase a performance carbon wheelset – as well as the hub and wireless shifting parts – is the reason why the cost is as high as it is.
It’ll set you €2,399 for everything you need to make the conversion – assuming your bike is already 1x – if it isn’t, you’ll need to factor in the cost of a new chainring and potentially a new chain and derailleur.
Alternatively, there are fully built bikes available from Ridley, Jaegher, Isaac, Pilot Cycles and Rose, although Rose is sadly no longer shipping to the UK since Brexit.
What are the benefits supposed to be?
So that’s how it works, but let’s now take a deeper look into some of the finer details of exactly what improvements Classified’s Powershift hub is supposed to have over a conventional derailleur system.
In addition to the main benefits of much faster shifting, taking just 0.15 seconds, and the ability to shift under extreme loads – up to 1,000 watts – Classified also claims that the Powershift hub allows for a more efficient chainline.
The positioning of a 1x chainring means that the chain can’t be subject to the same extreme angles as are possible with a 2x system meaning you can use more of the cassette without worry about causing so much stress on the chain.
To split hairs a little, with a 2x drivetrain, it is possible to keep a straighter chainline than with a 1x setup – when you are in the hardest or easiest gears, the cassette sprockets are much more in line with the chainrings than they would be with just a single chainring. For the gears around the middle of the range – so long as you make sure to shift rings – the chainline can be kept pretty straight there as well.
However, it is fair to say that there is more scope for getting it more drastically wrong with a 2x – if you end up in the big ring and largest cassette sprocket, the chain is going to be under more stress than being in the largest sprocket on a 1x system.
The claimed weight of Classified's Powershift hub is 495g, which is about 228g more than standard DT Swiss 350 rear hub. However, the cassette is super lightweight, being essentially hollowed out, and there’s no inner chainring, front derailleur, cables or shifting internals to consider – which all add up.
So in all, Classified claims that the total weight of the a bike equipped with the Powershift system will be pretty much equal to that of a bike with a tradition 2x electronic groupset – even potentially being lighter.
All that taken into consideration, I can see how those other factors would mitigate the weight of the hub – and why, on balance, Classified would prefer not to shout about the weight of the hub unit itself, as that wouldn’t be a true reflection of the whole system.
But whether the Powershift system works out lighter or heavier, it’s close enough that the margin isn’t a significant concern. Our test bike came in at 8.15kg without pedals and although it had a carbon frame and rims, there weren’t any obvious weight saving tricks – the saddle still had padding and there weren’t any Schmolke or other ultralightweight components.
It’s been known for a while that a single chainring is more aerodynamic than a double with a front derailleur. For flat time trials, seeing a 1x setup (opens in new tab) isn’t what you’d call a rarity. As such, Classified claims that an additional benefit of the Powershift hub is improved aerodynamics while not sacrificing gearing range.
Now, we haven’t taken the bike to a wind tunnel ourselves, so aren’t a in a position to challenge or corroborate it. But given that the hub isn’t much larger than a standard one and that the aerodynamic benefits of 1x are so well established, we’re happy to take Classified's word for it on this one.
The benefits of switching to 1x for riding off-road are pretty well established at this point. Of course, there’s the shifting simplicity of being able to sweep straight through the cassette sequencilly.
But there’s also the fact that bikes designed specifically for 1x remove some of the compromises that you get when trying to pair a front derailleur with fat tyres, namely, lengthened chainstays.
That said, there are some equally well established disadvantages to 1x, which include the range and large jumps between gears. Those issues are most keenly felt with 1x11 groupsets, but there are still some limitations with SRAM’s new XPLR 1x12 (opens in new tab) and Campagnolo’s 1x13 Ekar groupset – which, considering the price of the Powershift system, is what it should be compared against.
Starting with the jumps between gears, on SRAM’s XPLR’s 10–44t cassette, you only get one single tooth jump – which compares with five on the 9–42 Ekar cassette and four on Powershift’s 11–34t cassette in both the 11- and 12-speed versions.
When it comes to gearing range, Ekar and XLPR both have a lowest possible combination of 38x44. When paired with a 700x44c rear tyre, this gives a bottom gear of 24.1 gear inches.
One setup of the Powershift hub is to use the Easton EA90 crankset, which is available with chainrings as small as 38t. This, combined with the 11–34t cassette and a 700x44c rear tyre would give you a smallest gear of 21.3 gear inches, with the second smallest working out at 24.1 gear inches – so literally a whole extra gear.
To put those inches in context, 23 inches just about does it as a bottom gear for a gravel bike laden with luggage.
What's the ride like?
Front derailleurs have improved massively over the years but they’re still not exactly great. The speed of the shift and the fact you have to back off the power so much is why you’ll so often see pros riding up mountains with their chains completely crossed – although the chainline would be more efficient in the little ring, on balance it’s reasoned making the shift just isn’t worth it.
The Powershift hub really feels like a much better system. Changing gear was essentially instantaneous and I could do that while pressing on the pedals far harder than I ever would while trying to shift the rear derailleur – let alone the front.
To drill in a little, when sprinting all-out and trying to shift into the “virtual inner ring”, I could detect a slight feeling of hesitancy, as if something were just needing to release inside the hub. Sprinting and shifting into the harder gear, on the other hand, was completely seamless, irrespective of how hard I was pushing – which was pretty incredible.
Just to underline, although I did get that slight hesitancy when sprinting and shifting into the easier gear, I’d never even try and shift a derailleur while pedaling like that. The fact it even made the shift was impressive in itself. When still pedalling moderately hard, the shift into the smaller gear became as smooth as the shift into the harder one.
I still had that liberating feeling of not having to worry about switching rings and the chainline at all, as you get with a 1x setup. But when it came to properly steep hills, I still had those bailout gears on tap and with the shift being so quick and smooth, it was never a trouble accessing them.
For the riding around me, the setup was pretty perfect. Although there are a few keenly steep hills, for most of my rides the ones I meet are short and shallow enough just to blast up in the big ring.
But even so, I wouldn’t be inclined to switch to 1x as I do still need the little ring for getting round on recovery rides – and there are those few monstrously steep hills. The Powershift hub really did provide the best of both worlds
As with all internally geared hubs, there are some mechanical losses when you’re not in the direct drive gear. But Classified has put a lot of work into minimising these losses and claims that the hub is between 99 and 99.5 per cent efficient – which is highly impressive. It’s small enough that when pedalling in the "virtual little ring", I couldn’t tell the difference or detect any drag.
Is it worth it?
When it comes to shifting performance, I found that Classified’s Powershift hub far outclasses a 2x system. However, there are a few things holding it back from being an obvious purchase.
Firstly, there is the price. At €2,399, the Powershift system is a considerable investment. Yes, the shifting is better than with a front derailleur, but there are other things your that amount of money could be spent on which would improve your ride more significantly.
You could get a fancy set of wheels, a brand new bike, or a whole host of accessories. When it comes to drivetrain upgrades, hydraulic Shimano 105 with 2x11 gearing can be had for less than €800. To upgrade to the Rival level of SRAM’s XPLR groupset, buying the brake levers and calipers, crankset and chainring, rear derailleur, cassette and chain will set you back €1,001 at full RRP.
The Powershift system might be better than either of those options, but it’s not so much better that if I was spending my own money I would choose it over either of them.
But although the hub is only sold as part of a wheelset, you at least aren't confined to only using Classified's own rims. If you've already invested in a set of wheels you really like the characteristics of – and if the spoke count is the same – you could have the Powershift hub laced to those instead.
Classified is a relatively young company and that the main criticisms only centre around the price is really quite impressive. Hopefully over time that will come down, whether that's by the inclusion of an alloy wheelset or a hub only option.
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After winning the 2019 National Single-Speed Cross-Country Mountain Biking Championships and claiming the plushie unicorn (true story), Stefan swapped the flat-bars for drop-bars and has never looked back.
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But his favourite rides are multiday bikepacking trips, with all the huge amount of cycling tech and long days spent exploring new roads and trails - as well as histories and cultures. Most recently, he’s spent two weeks riding from Budapest into the mountains of Slovakia.
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