Last week the rear derailleur broke during my bikepacking tour from Lucerne to Brühl to attend the JavaLand conference, I had already written about it. I built my gravel bike almost two years ago to the day and this is already the second broken rear derailleur in two years. So slowly I lose confidence in my shifting. But what were my reasons for selecting a Rotor drivetrain, what problems I had and above all, what happens next?
Two years ago, when I built my new gravel bike, I had to choose a groupset, of course. Everyone probably knows Shimano, so they were first on my list. In the gravel sector, however, SRAM in particular is very strong, my second entry. Campagnolo also came to my mind, but at the time they had nothing for Gravel in the offer, the EKAR group was released later. During my further research I came across Rotor. I didn’t know this manufacturer before, but the presentation of the groupset in the podcast of Enjoy Your Bike made me curious.
I was born and raised in Schleswig-Holstein, which many people call “the flat land”. The name says it all: Mountains? No way! The country is so flat that when you look out of the window in the morning, you can already see who’s coming to visit in the evening. However, I’ve been living in Switzerland for a good 14 years. Do you notice anything? Exactly: mountains. So I need a bike that I can use to get up the mountains. Because you can’t get far here without mountains. And that’s a bit of a problem for me: I’m a heavyweight. So I need a good gear reduction to be able to master the climbs. Now, if it’s not uphill but level or even downhill, I want to be able to pedal reasonably as well. So I need a shift group with as wide a range as possible (that’s the difference between the smallest and largest sprocket) distributed over as many gears as possible, so that the differences between the individual gears are not so high. And to complicate things further, it has to be a single derailleur group, so only one chainring at the front (you can’t mount a front derailleur on my Open WI.DE. frame).
This is where Rotor comes in. They were the first to offer a 520% range. The smallest sprocket had 10 teeth, the largest a full 52! Shimano offered up to 46 teeth distributed over a maximum of 11 gears. SRAM went already up to 50 teeth distributed on 12 gears. Rotor not only had the nose in front with 52 teeth, but also distributed these to 13 gears. So Rotor offered me the widest range with still comparatively small gear jumps and the 52-tooth lifeline for steep climbs had really done it to me. So the decision was quickly made: I dared to choose a shifting group from a relatively unknown manufacturer. After all, it comes from Europe, from Spain. So also something that I think is worth supporting. After all, more regional than Japan and USA, moreover, small companies are often more sympathetic to me.
But not only the technical data stand out, but also the technical implementation. All three major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo) offer mechanical shifting. Everyone is probably familiar with this: the shift levers are connected to the actual shifting with a shift cable made of wire. The two largest manufacturers (Shimano and SRAM) have additional electronic shifting in the offer. There are electronic switches on the handlebars as well as electric servomotors on the actual shifting. Of course, power is needed here, so there’s also a battery that needs to be charged regularly. With Shimano, everything is wired (this has now changed at least in part) and with SRAM, the transmission of signals works by radio. Electronic shifting works by pressing a button without much effort (I shift a lot, so I notice it at the end of the day) and they also shift very accurately. I have a Shimano Di2 on my commuter bike and am very happy with it. Mechanical shifting, on the other hand, has the great advantage of not having to be charged. But the wire elongates over time and the shifting must be readjusted from time to time to always allow a clean and accurate shifting.
The rotor shifting works mechanically. Not with a wire, but with a fluid. It is a hydraulic shifting, roughly comparable to the operation of a brake. By the hydraulics very smoothly, by the renunciation of the wire no readjustment and because it does not work electrically, no battery must be charged. So ideal for my intended use: bikepacking! I do not have to carry a charger and look for power on the road. I don’t have to readjust anything. Perfect. Bought!
Built up in March 2020, I had the first big problem with my shifting on my first big bikepacking trip in the summer of 2020. On the morning of the sixth day, the rear derailleur jumped into the cassette and blocked my rear wheel. Fortunately, it was going uphill, so I was not very fast and could avoid a fall. A small screw on a small bar in the rear derailleur broke off. This also bent the derailleur hanger. I had a replacement derailleur hanger with me, but the replacement derailleur had to be sent first. I interrupted my trip and went home, where the bike mechanic of my confidence helped me absolutely exemplary. Nevertheless, I lost a total of one week of my four weeks of vacation (and had additional unplanned travel stress).
Last year (2021) I also had problems during my bikepacking tour in the summer. Gear changes were no longer clean and smooth. Under load, the chain began to jump. The cassette was worn. Much sooner than I was used to from my Shimano. The XTR cassette of my Shimano shifting holds on average a good three times as long! And of course I maintain the sprocket and chain regularly and also check the chain for elongation. On the road, I unfortunately got no replacement for my cassette and it was getting worse day by day. At least I could still manage to reach my destination in Berlin by pedaling with less power: Driving like on raw eggs. Annoying, but doable and fortunately easy to fix after my return. However, with CHF 480.- (about EUR 470.-) just for the cassette plus work, also an expensive fun. I would not like to have that every year, at least not after only so few kilometers!
Now, in spring 2022, it should go again on bikepacking tour. The first day went great, the shifting did what it should. After many small day trips in the fall and winter I had also already regained confidence and no longer thought of problems with my shifting. But on the second day after only a few kilometers came the next fatal problem. The shifting jumped to the smallest sprocket (the heaviest gear) while I was in a climb. The gears could not be changed anymore. Luckily I was still within Switzerland and it was a workday, so I dragged myself to the nearest train station and took the train to my bike mechanic. Again. We were able to isolate the problem fairly quickly: The index bar was defective. The gears no longer engaged and so the rear derailleur jumped to a stop. So my bikepacking adventure was over on the morning of the second of nine days (four and a half days each to a conference near Cologne and a few days later back again). Again with the shifting as the reason. With my Shimano XTR Di2 I drove just under 20,000 kilometers without the slightest problem!
Honestly, I have lost confidence in the Rotor shifting group. Therefore, I have decided to remove it completely and switch to another shifting group from another manufacturer. This will certainly be expensive as I will have to buy a lot of new parts. However, I am fed up with shifting problems and interrupted or broken trips. Next year I plan a tour with more than 7,000 km across America. Extrapolated I must expect there with three complete failures of the rotor shifting group. No, I don’t want that!
Whether it is now a Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo, I do not know yet. After my return from the JavaLand I will consult with my bike mechanic together. The market has changed lot in the last two years, since I had to make this decision the last time. Hopefully I have this time a happier hand and in the future less or no more problems with my shifting group. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!