An Equal Opportunity Offender


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fuck the Cool Factor!

I'm gonna go ahead and say what none of you want to hear.

You know all those blingy parts you recently purchased, all those fancy colored due dads that were supposed to be so much better than last year's model, all those Chris Bling and American Crassic lightweight parts. Those are all shit. You might as well throw them away. You might as well recycle them.

Yes. I get it. There is a cool factor involved in every purchase. Having the latest and the so called greatest is a way of life and if it motivates you to ride, I'm cool with that. I'm just sick of all the bull shit marketing that goes into those fancy parts that everyone is drooling over. Fuck the cool factor!

This is how it all breaks down. The safety bicycle came out a couple of hundred years ago, or so, and not much has changed since. You have two hubs, a bottom bracket bearing, a crank, a chain, some cogs, a steering bearing, a frame and a few other miserable parts that aren't worth mentioning. If you came across one of the original safety bicycles, or a penny farthing for that matter, you would notice that all this hyped up bull shit is almost identical to what came out a hundred years ago. All of our fancy manufacturing practices have done what? Provided you with a better selection of colors.

Let's explore the world of fancy colored hubs.

First up, American Classic or should I say, American see how small we can make the bearings Classic. Yup small bearings are lighter (there is less mass) but they sure as shit don't last very long. Show me an American Classic wheel that has been ridden and I will show you one that needs new bearings. Do you know what SL stands for? If you were going to say Super Light, you're wrong. SL means Sacrificed Longevity.

Second, Chris King. Sure King makes a stellar headset. They are simple, easy to maintain and literally will out last your frame. Hubs? In my opinion, not so much. Their hubs make a specific angry bee buzzing noise that has become synonymous with high-end, but past that... Oh, I forgot they come in colors. 3-6 month maintenance cycle, that seems a bit short to me. CNC machined hub shell, nothing fancy there. Build 'em up to proper spoke tension and the bearings develop play. Don't get me started on the over complicated ring drive thingy. I've been playing around with the new racing R45's or whatever, still haven't felt a smooth bearing.

Third, Hope hubs. Again a company that makes a stellar product, brakes. Unfortunately, they missed the boat on their hubs. CNC machined aluminum shell, cartridge bearings, and a freehub. Doesn't sound all that special to me. Case in point, pulled a new one out of a box today and indexed bearings. Just what I was looking for.

Are you seeing a pattern?

Now that I have ragged on a couple of "cool" companies, let's explore the technology. Almost all hubs today are built with a CNC machined Aluminum shell. Inside that shell, there are an array of cartridge bearings and then there is the freehub. What did I leave out? Oh yea, seals. Some have extra seals. And of course, those amazing cartridge bearings also have seals, right?

CNC machined Aluminum shells are run of the mill. If you had the CAD drawing you could take it to your local machine shop and they could make the shell for you. No problem. Aluminum is light. It is also soft. Pressing bearings in and out of that shell repeatedly can cause some problems. Do you want to switch rims and maybe lacing patterns? Machined Aluminum flanges are soft. Remove the spokes and you will see where the spoke tension has dug into the flange leaving an impression or groove where the spoke pulled out toward the hub. Try lacing a new pattern and you now have two grooves pulling away from the flange.

Cartridge bearings are so run of the mill these days that you could shit in one hand and hope for cartridge bearings in the other and it would be a toss up for the hand that filled up first. Granted King makes their bearings in house and that is cool. Props for them. (I didn't hate on their headsets, don't forget that) Almost every other hub has bearings that you could walk down to the corner bearing store and buy all the bearings in the hub for about $30. Depending on how many bearings they chose to use.

Seals. All those bearings we have been discussing come with a seal. Again Kings are special and the exception. That one seal on each side of the bearing does the job of keeping out all the shit and keeping in all the grease. Do they work? Sure, to a certain extent but they also cause drag. Something every hub should have.

OK, I'm done hating.

What to look for in a hub.

As I mentioned aluminum is light but it is also soft. If you forge that aluminum it becomes harder and stiffer. Forging is a lost art that I wish would come back and take over everything. So look for forged aluminum (editors note: not sure why I capitalized aluminum up there, but am not here).

Cartridge bearings have there place but if you want a smooth rolling hub look for free ball. Yup, I said it. Free ball hubs will always roll better than a sealed cartridge bearing hub. It's physics folks, not much I can do there. Just think of Tom Petty, Freeeee Ballinnnnn.

Seals are good. You definitely want to keep the shit out and the grease in. Labyrinth seals are preferred. The harder it is to get to the bearings for you, the harder it is for the shit to get in.

So if you have researched hubs, you know I am pointing you toward certain companies. Anyone wanna guess?

Shimano hubs are by far the least expensive and best hubs on the market. Shimano are the master of forged aluminum and free ball bearings. Purchase a set of Deores or 105 hubs, adjust them, maintain them and ride them and they will last forever. Buy Dura Ace or XTR, aye, there be some bearing love for ya. For you techs out there, think about how hard it is to get to the bearings in either of those hubs. Do you think water is going to find its way in? I am yet to see a Dura Ace or XTR hub that has contaminates in the grease.

Looking for a little more bling, Campagnolo has been treading water in the same pond as Shimano for quite some time. Avoid the Fulcrum crap, but true Campy hubs are hard to beat. Unless you use a stick and I still think they would win.

Do you want hubs that you can buy and forget about? Phil Wood. They may weigh as much as an anchor but they will last forever. The bearings that Phil makes are outstanding. I know of hubs that have gone 30,000 miles without problems. The owner swapped the bearings (yes they are cartridge) and has continued on his merry way. These hubs will not wear out, break or give you any problems.

Are any of these three brands on your lust list? They should be. Forget cool. Forget fancy color ways and bull shit marketing. Fuck the cool factor and buy some shit that will last.

I think that is all I have to say tonight.


  1. Does Shimano come in bright blue?....;)

  2. Yup, but only if you have a can of spray paint.

  3. Very enlightening, as I was thinking of building up SS wheels w/ King hubs to match the rest of my bike (orange frame w/ green accents). Looking at the Phil Wood wobsite, they come in green too. Hooray!

  4. Shimano bearings and seals are pretty awesome, and forged aluminum is definitely the best. BUT I have stripped out a recent XTR freehub, and another friend stripped an XT freehub. Those things are pricey (XTR at least, and NOT compatible with other level freehubs) and not rebuildable. There's your planned obsolescence.

    I'm happy with DT-Swiss so far. Yes, cartridge bearings, but forged shells, totally rebuildable and that teutonic engineering makes me tingle all over. I have stripped the star ratchets on one 340 hub, but it was my fault for running them with old, dry, dirt grease.

  5. I'll have you know my chrome bars make me at least 15% faster. This may or may not be due to hauling a lighter wallet around. In all seriousness though, doesn't the slower engagement of those hubs bother you at all for technical riding? Like dropper posts, faster engaging hubs have become an expensive crutch for me.

    1. Brian, I love my dropper posts. I even have one on my hardtail. As for faster engagement, I never found them to give a performance enhancement. I ran I9's for a couple of years and like the engagement, hated the bearings and the drag. I like to hop around and being able to rock the pedals back and forth is a big deal for me. Fast engagement always leaves me with a crank in a position I don't want it.