German brand Pinion - best known for bottom bracket enclosed bike gears - have used this year's Eurobike to announce a combined 'gearbox' and mid-drive in one unit and it's called the MGU. What's more, whilst other firms like Valeo and Revonte have had similar products for a while but failed to make a big impact, Pinion say the MGU system (MGU being an acronym of Motor Gearbox Unit) will be used by nine premium quality e-bike brands - Rotwild, Simplon, Bulls, Kettler, Flyer, Tout Terrain, Pegasus, Zemo and i:SY on some of their 2024 models.
Prior to the launch of the MGU, Pinion have concentrated on bottom bracket enclosed gearing only, which was often found on e-bikes alongside high quality hub motor systems like Neodrives. This gearing only system, say Pinion, has been, "Proven for more than a decade and used by over 100 bicycle manufacturers" ... so "the technology is reliable, durable and needs extremely low maintenance."
As Pinion themselves point out, "Until now (the drivetrain of an e-bike) has consisted of two separate systems - pedal gears and a motor, which usually come from different manufacturers and yet somehow have to work together. The consequences are bad shifting performance, high wear, followed by high maintenance with enormous costs."
Whilst this may be exaggerating the downsides of the widely used mid-drive plus rear wheel gearing (derailleur or hub) setup, the Pinion does look revolutionary insofar as it completely does away with any kind of separate gearing system that you would normally find between the pedal cranks and the rear wheel.
By effectively placing the bike gears within the mid-motor housing, the MGU system promises plenty of advantages; extremely low maintenance (one oil change every 6,000 miles or so), total protection from knocks, better weight distribution (especially as against heavy hub gear systems such as the Rohloff), the option to use a belt drive with multi-gearing, electronic shifting and less wear on the chain or belt itself.
The gearing element also promises other advantages, primarily a huge gear range making it an ideal system for load haulers, steep hill climbers and speed pedelecs. There are 9 and 12 gear options, fittingly named E1.9 and E1.12 plus a 'speed' variant for speed pedelecs with relative gear ranges of 568% and 600%. Even the widest ranging 1x12 derailleur setups hover in the 510-520% range and one of the widest ranging hub gears, the Rohloff E-14, claims 526% range.
Pinion say the MGU is an "all-in-one package of comparable size and weight to current mid-mounted motors with separate gear shifting" but at around 4kg for the unit, they certainly don't seem to be aimed at the lightweight e-bike market.
The motor element itself has impressive stats on paper, claiming 600W of peak power (though they are legally rated as e-bike motors at 250W continuous output). The speed pedelec variant has a peak power rating of 800W. Add in the claimed 85Nm of effective torque at the cranks and you have something that - on paper at least - should give similar power output to a top end Bosch mid-drive. However, Pinion tantalisingly add, "However, due to the integrated gearbox, the output shaft values are not directly comparable with those of ordinary mid-motors. In the first four gears, the MGU delivers up to 160Nm of torque to the rear wheel."
Furthermore, the software of the system comes in two distinct base tunes – ‘Comfort’ for efficient and harmonic commuting as well as reliable long-distance touring and ‘Performance’ for super-agile off-road riding.
Whole system approach
Such is the complexity of the system, Pinion have opted for a 'whole system approach' meaning e-bike manufacturers will buy all the electric assist elements of the MGU system from Pinion. The complexity is demonstrated by the push-button electric shifting; to time the shifts, the MGU system uses integrated torque and position sensors to ensure the motor always knows where the cranks are positioned and a shift is achieved with minimum force going through the gearing.
Components other than the motor/gearbox unit, including batteries, remotes, displays and an app. were provided by a subsidiary of Swiss e-bike brand FLYER known as FIT. This resulted in a choice of 480, 720, or 960Wh batteries as well as a permanently integrated 700Wh option plus a 468Wh range extender. This means a humongous potential max battery capacity of almost 1.5kWh.
What kind of e-bikes would the Pinion MGU suit?
Whilst you might think that low maintenance city/commuting and heavier off-road capable SUV-type models would be the natural choice for the Pinion MGU drive and gearing system it's interesting to see a good smattering of full-on e-MTBs in the mix of those early adopter brands.
Perhaps a more obviously natural fit for the MGU is Tout Terrain's out and out off-road tourer, the Pamir+ and the new buzzword category of e-bike SUVs get a mention in the form of Flyer's Goroc TR:X E-SUV.
If the system proves a success in the long term and the price isn't premium then Kettler's town bike the Pinniato HT Comfort could actually be more representative of Pinion's future customers for the system. However, the Pinniato's €6,299 price tag may suggest, initially at least, price may be a barrier.
Of course, despite all the impressive sounding technology going on here, ultimately not only price but performance will determine the MGU's success in the real world.