The Belgian brand has produced a seismic shift in shifting.
Words James Spender
Hands up who hates front derailleurs? I do. And hands up who can explain planetary gears?
I can’t. I’ve looked it up, and it has something to do with planet gears revolving around a sun gear turning inside a thing. It’s the basis of Classified’s Powershift system, and I’ve tried imagining it happening every time I click the Powershift’s little satellite button with my left hand, which changes my theoretical front gear from 1:1 to 1:0.686. The message is communicated via Bluetooth; the transmitter is integrated into a special bar plug à la the previous generation of Di2; the receiver is integrated into a rear thru-axle lever, which acts like solenoid to actuate a shift inside the hub’s planetary gears. I don’t really get that either.
But what I do know is I’m totally convinced that this is a better system than a traditional front derailleur.
The immensity of it all
It sounds ridiculously obvious to say but the best part of the Classified Powershift system is its shifting. Unlike a traditional front derailleur, Powershift can be shifted under load. Really quite immense loads.
‘It’s made to shift under load up to 1,000 watts,’ says Classified’s Jef Van Herck. ‘And it does so instantly, in 0.15 seconds. And you don’t need to wait for your chain to catch.’
To put that in perspective: Shimano claims its latest Dura-Ace Di2 front derailleur shifts in 0.19 seconds, but that’s the time it takes the derailleur to move, not the gear to engage. The Powershift hub engages the next gear near-instantaneously.
In fact, shifting is so quick I often thought I’d dropped the chain shifting from ‘big’ to ‘small’. One click and my legs would spin with sudden excessive ease, a sensation I’ve only felt from unshipping a chain. Try as I might, on climbs, in sprints, I just couldn’t get the system to do anything other than shift perfectly every time.
If there is a flaw to the shift it’s that there is a slightly crunchier sound from ‘small’ to ‘big’ under load, but barely, and nothing like the gravel-under-boots crunch that comes from a traditional front derailleur if shifted carelessly. Be as careless as you like, Classified won’t mind.
However, we have other concerns, remember? What about weight?
Here is where it gets complicated, because Classified claims its rear hub weighs 495g, which is double the heft of lighter hubs on the market, and then there’s also the thru-axle and bar-plug brains/button to account for. Yet this isn’t the full story, because Classified also negates a whole front derailleur and swaps
a 2x chainset for a potentially lighter 1x.
‘A Classified bike with a 1x Shimano GRX Di2 drivetrain weighs the same as a bike with a traditional 2×11 GRX Di2 groupset,’ says Van Herck, and I think the point stands, sort of.
That’s because there’s only so light a set of Classified wheels can ever be, since Classified only sells Powershift laced onto its own rims, such that this tubeless wheelset, for example – 50mm deep, 27mm wide (19mm internal) – weighs 1,415g plus the hub.
In a similar way you’re also tied to Classified cassettes (due to the inner shape that mates with the hub), but the differences in weight are in fact in Classified’s favour in most instances – an 11-28t 12-speed cassette weighs a claimed 175g, which is 18g lighter than a Dura-Ace equivalent. It’s also very pleasingly made from a single piece of machined steel.
Still, all of this is mere grams that I’d happily suck up for the – and I can’t stress this enough – vastly superior shifting. Oh, and it’s probably marginally more aero too. But…
Despite the shifting, Classified won’t suit everyone. The shift ratio is basically the same as a 2x setup, that is, a Classified system with 50t chainring and 11-34 cassette elicits a near-identical gear range and jumps as a 50/34t and 11-28 cassette, and you can change the front chainring, with Classified saying you can go as low as 40t.
But as with any new gear system there will be riders who will take umbrage with Classified’s gearing choice and lack of ability to change it that much. Me, I found it absolutely fine, but then I also have no issue with 1x drivetrains and 12-speed (others do, generally citing the jumps as being too big or the largest gear too small).
The biggest sticking point for me, though, is the wheels. In theory you can fit Classified to any bike with thru-axles, and you can even wire the shifting to be controlled by a traditional left electronic lever. But if it’s going to take off, the hub either needs to be sold aftermarket or it needs to appear laced to other rims.
Partly that’s about providing choice, but also because at over $4,000 (approximately, after conversion to AUD) the wheelset makes Classified an extremely expensive upgrade, and I can imagine the kind of riders with deep enough pockets will demand fancier rims. So too any professionals.
But there is hope. Tom Boonen is an investor in Classified, and he explained that ‘we are looking at partnerships with Mavic and Zipp soon’. Tom was quite a decent cyclist in his day too, I hear. I’d trust him.
Powershift is distributed in Australia by FE Sports. For further information, see Classified on the FE Sports website.