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Hubs part 3

Part 3 wraps up the general overview of various hub features and how they work. Hopefully this section gives you all the info you need to be an informed consumer of hubs. 

There are two things I should have discussed at more detail in the previous section on hubs being the anchor point for the spokes, so I'll add them here and then add them there.

1. Flange geometry dictates build stiffness of all wheels, and determines spoke tension ratios of dished wheels (all rears, and disc fronts). In rim brake front wheels, generally speaking more flange spread is better for stiffness. The flange spread creates the base of the triangle, and triangles with wider bases are more stable. In rear wheels, flange spread becomes more problematic. It increases build stiffness, but it decreases tension ratio - the drive side flange can't go farther outboard, so increasing flange spread means moving just the non-drive side outboard. That means the non-drive spokes have less tension. Insufficient non-drive spoke tension creates problems. Same is true of disc front wheels. This is why we like the offset rims in the FSW3 Disc so much - insufficient off-side tension hasn't been an issue in our builds, but we think the equalized tensions in the offset disc builds are helpful in particular for disc wheels, which generally see more stress than rim brake wheels. 2:1 and similar uneven lacings present a few issues that prevent us from being fans. For one, unless you have a specifically optimized hub, they just improve spoke tension balance and do nothing (sometimes negative, even) for build stiffness. For two, they leave a very long unsupported span between non-drive spokes, which can screw with the ability to really nail tension even-ness on the non-drive side. For three, availability of parts to do it correctly is thin.

2. Bearing spread. Subject to a few small caveats, the farther outboard you shove the bearings, the better. This leaves less unsupported axle length cantilevered past the bearings. There are some caveats that we'll get into with each hub in the next parts. 

And now onto Episode 3...

The Transmission

  1. Industry Nine, White Industries, and Novatec hubs use more common pawl/ratchet drive systems. For road, WI and I9 use 3 pawls, while Novatec uses 4. White Industries disc hubs use a 48 point ratchet ring, while I9 doubles the pawl count to 6 on their mountain hubs. This is a reliable and proven system that generally works very well, lasts very long, and is easy to fix if something goes awry.
  2. Chris King hubs use a ring drive system. A spring within the hub pushes a spiral clutch out against a mated surface on the cassette body when you are pedaling, and allows the spiral clutch to push in and allow the hub to spin independently of the cassette body (creating the famous “angry bees” noise) when you coast. This system is more complicated, offers increased ultimate strength, and of course creates a compelling noise.
  3. Engagement speed is a topic that gets a lot of press lately. The more points of engagement that you have, the more quickly your pedaling turns into watts applied to turning the wheel. The tradeoff is that engagement creates more friction when coasting. One way or another, it’s not a huge difference. Because the balance of benefits tips more toward higher engagement being better for mountain biking, mountain bike-oriented hubs have more points of engagement than road equivalents (72 versus 45 for Chris King, 120 versus 60 for I9, and 48 versus 24 for WI – Novatec has the same in both). You will notice a benefit in points of engagement more when you are accelerating from slow speed, or particularly when you are ratcheting your cranks to clear obstacles on the trail. For road, where you are coasting either because you are going through a corner to fast to pedal through it, or because you are going downhill fast enough that pedaling doesn’t make sense, points of engagement generally means bupkus. Except that high engagement hubs can be super annoyingly loud – I love my I9 mountain bike hubs, but on the road that noise would turn good people bad.


Transmitting Brake Force from the Brakes to the Tires

  1. Six bolt rotors use – wait for it – six small bolts to hold the rotor onto the hub. This works on any kind of hub and is an open standard, so anyone can make a 6 bolt hub or rotor or lockring without paying any royalty to anyone. Rotors are readily available and can be reasonably inexpensive. photo stolen from White Industries
  2. Center lock rotors use a splined interface, sort of like how you put the cassette onto the cassette body, to mount the rotor to the hub. This is a Shimano-patented invention and, as such, they get a small royalty on every part sold on the standard. For our money, center lock offers a better fit between rotor and hub, and the rotors somehow seem to arrive and stay more true. They’re also a cleaner look. So we prefer them. It’s also easy to use an adapter to put a six bolt disc onto a center lock hub.
  3. Getting your rotors on various hubs perfectly aligned can be a small challenge. 1-3/8” ID x .001" thick shims work PERFECTLY to bump a centerlock rotor outboard in .25mm increments, while 6 bolt shim kits are available at bike shops. Set your brake calipers to the hub/rotor combo that sits farthest outboard, and then shim the others out to that spec.   

Hubs Part 2

Hubs Part Deux The Axis on Which the Wheel Spins

The big things here are axles, bearings, and bearing bores.

  1. The critical thing in this whole topic is that the bearings remain parallel (faced) to each other, and concentric with each other. Any deviation from that will reduce bearing life. Both begin with proper construction of the hub shell, and its bearing bores (the seating pockets for the bearings). If these are off to begin with, things are relatively hopeless. Everything in the world has a tolerance, but you want that tolerance to be small as possible. The shells of all of the hubs that we use are forged and then machined, which is the way you want things made. The forging creates the general shape and makes the material as strong as it can be, then machining cleans everything up and takes it to a tight tolerance. The bearing bores also need to be very round, as if they are out of round, then the bearing will either have a pinch point which will wear the balls and score the races, or the bearing will be able to move which takes it out of face and concentricity. You might not immediately notice a hub with bad characteristics here, but it would become apparent over time.
  2. Stress transmitted through the spokes can actually deform a hub shell. Some builders and brands use really high spoke tensions, which place unwanted strain on the hub shell. Some very lightweight hubs have the absolute bare minimum material to manage spoke stress (and they also usually use tiny small bearings, which are more easily stressed). This is why we aren’t raving enthusiasts of very lightweight hub designs. There are good ones, but they cost a lot of money and generally require more maintenance.
  3. Axles can be made from aluminum or steel. Steel is heavier but ultimately stronger, stiff and more durable. And flex in the axle will mean the bearings disorient relative to one another. Stiffer is better, but again comes at the expensive of weight. Axles are replaceable items, which you are unlikely to ever have to do, but if you ride your bike like you’re in a Martin Ashton video, you might eventually bend an axle. Despite the added weight, we think steel axles are a plus in the White Industries column.
  4. Bearings can either be cartridge bearings, or loose ball bearings. Shimano and Campagnolo hubs are the prominent loose ball bearings. Proponents say that loose ball bearings are longer lasting and easier to service. Personally, I think replacing a cartridge bearing as (rarely) needed is about a 5’ operation and super easy and inexpensive. All of the hubs we sell are cartridge bearing type hubs, and come with quality bearings. Quality, in bearing-ese, means that they are precise and made of hard, corrosion resistant material. All of the hubs we use have very good bearings, with Kings in particular being of legendary quality. We generally believe that ceramic bearings are a waste, as any benefits they offer (tolerance to being run dry, decreased friction at very high rpm, minor weight savings) are small and you have to spend a lot of money to get those benefits. Bargain ceramic bearings are typically not even as good as high quality steel bearings. Nonetheless, if you feel like you absolutely must have ceramics, they are easy to source and install for any of the hubs we use.
  5. Bearing sealing gets more important if you ride in crappy conditions often. White Industries hubs are slightly more exposed than the others. Kings have the most protective seals. The tradeoff is bearing drag versus durability. Our take is that the bearing drag penalty is minimal, as is the difficulty of maintaining a less-well protected bearing. So it's really not that huge a deal all around.White Industries pre-load adjuster setup
  6. Bearing pre-load adjustment is standard on White Industries and King hubs. This allows you to more precisely eliminate lateral play in the hub, using the minimum side pressure against the bearings. Both are relatively easy to use, though you do have to be aware of it. Industry Nine and Novatec hubs have no bearing adjustment. For most people, this is actually a benefit – though this may not be as optimal as a near-perfectly adjusted pre-load system, they require zero thought and work very very well. I think 

Hubs Part 1

It often seems like we can spend all day every day explaining various aspects of different products. We are more or less tolerant of this to a fault, since we want people to be armed with the best info they can have before making a big purchase decision. BUT... it's also smart for us to document all that stuff so that it's always available for people when they want it, and it's more efficient for us. An investment, for sure, since this is taking me forever to write, but worth it. Anyhow, I'll divide them up into manageable chunks and post them as blogs before we put them in permanent spots on the site. Here's Part 1. 

We offer a broad range of hub choices, partially because there are substantive differences between different hubs, and partially because hubs are a great way to individualize a set of wheels.

All hubs perform several basic functions:

1. They provide an attachment point between your wheels and your bike

2. They are the anchor point for the spokes

3. They provide the axis on which the wheel spins

4. Rear hubs house a significant amount of the bike’s transmission

5. Disc brake hubs transmit stopping force from the brakes to the tires.

Different hubs perform these different functions differently, which we’ll briefly explore. Then we’ll explain the pros and cons of each type of hub that we offer in order to help you make the best choice for yourself. 

The Attachment Point

You’d think this would be simple but, you know, bikes – so it isn’t. Here goes…

  1. Quick release: Fork dropouts are 100mm apart, rear dropouts are either 130mm (rim brakes, usually) or 135mm (disc brakes) apart. The front dropouts are nominally 9mm diameter, while rears are 10. Advantages of this system are convenience, simplicity, and history – it’s been around a long time, so a lot of wheels are made to fit. Disadvantages are reliance on quick releases, which some people find difficult to master and some of which are poorly designed, and ultimately less security than thru-axle systems.
  2. 15x100 thru. Popular in cross country mountain bikes. A 15mm thru axle secures the wheel to the fork. The fork has holes instead of dropouts, and the hub ends butt directly against the fork. A very secure system, the use of the thru axle also provides additional torsion resistance to the fork. The specific thru axle that you’ll use is dependent on your fork.
  3. 12x100 thru. Functionally the same as 15x100 thru, this standard came about when it was decided that 15mm thru was “overbuilt” for cross, gravel, and road bikes.
  4. 12x142 thru. Rear axle standard for disc road, disc cross, and disc gravel bikes. Still popular on mountain bikes, for which it was originally developed. Provides a stiffer, more secure connection between hub and bike. The functional (and overall) width of a 12x142 hub is exactly the same as a quick release rear hub, so the wheel’s inherent stiffness is the same from one standard to the other.
  5. 110mm Boost. A wider front thru axle becoming popular for longer-travel mountain bikes. Slightly increases wheel stability thanks to wider flange spacing. 
  6. 12x148 Boost. A wider rear thru axle becoming popular for longer-travel mountain bikes. Slightly increases wheel stability thanks to wider flange spacing. 
  7. Lefty. Specific attachment for Cannondale Lefty (one legged) forks.
  8. Fat bike hubs – there are several fat bike width standards that are their own kettle of fish. 

It's pretty easy to switch hubs to suit different formats

The Anchor Point for the Spokes

The main variants here are hubs for j-bend versus hubs for straight pull spokes. While there are arguments that straight pull spokes resist fatigue better as the potential fatigue point of the spoke’s j-bend is removed, straight pull hubs generally have worse spoke geometry as the flanges are much thicker than on j-bend hubs. This moves half of the drive side spokes inboard, which is a negative. For this, and for the pervasive availability of replacement j-bend spokes, we much prefer j-bend hubs and use them exclusively except in very special circumstances.

Okay so that wraps it up for Part 1 since this chapter is already way too long. 


A unifying theory of wheels

Simple, right? 

Today's theme is curves. Appropriate, because this review of Curve Wheels - and more particularly, the comment section following the review - provides much of the impetus. A word of warning: this blog contains graphs, subjective opinions, and sober refutations of false-differentiation-marketing-induced-mania. All of these have proven to provoke angry responses in blogs past. 

Wheel prices are rising. It's become easier to spend $3000 than it is to spend $2000 on a set of Enves, and Zipp's $2000 Firecrest pricepoint has to be taken in context of their $3000 and $4000 Firestrike and NSW pricepoints. The previously more value-oriented brands which had been more or less our price peers are closer to $2000 for carbon clinchers, and even Far Sports (yes, it's Far Sports) has $1600 carbon clinchers. As part of realigning our wheel categories to make things easier for buyers, we combed through a fairly exhaustive volume of sales outlets to confirm that our internally-proposed sell prices made sense relative to market, and prices are creeping up in alloy as well. Our prices have been stable relative to market. 

Okay, so to the promised curves. Here's the first:

This curve expresses our belief that there the law of diminishing returns in wheels. The red zone shows that there is a range of benefit (or performance) which we feel is appropriate to our customer base. This range is toward the high side of the benefit scale, as our customers are after a high level wheel experience. Conversely, it's toward the shallow side of the cost axis - our wheels are expensive enough that when I explain our business to non-cyclists I meet, they usually think it's nuts that people spend that much on bicycle wheels. But within the world of cycling, there are a heck of a lot more wheels that cost 3, 4, 5, or more times what ours do than it is to find a set of wheels for half of our median price. We like being at the inflection point. Some of our wheels have a sex appeal factor that adds cost more quickly than it adds objective benefit. Life's short, your time on the bike is limited, and hey I like pink hubs they cost a little more and I'm gonna use them. If anything, this curve is overly optimistic on performance increases as we go out to the right, but I just drew a curve on a simple program so this curve really expresses my limitations as a graphic artist as much as it does an accurate portrayal of the situation. 

This inverted bell curve shows our concept of cost versus compromise. Simply put, you have to spend a certain amount on your wheels to make sure you're not getting junk. We like to be at the very low end of the compromise range, since it's possible to get there without going that far out the cost axis (and again, I threw this curve together on a rudimentary drawing program to make a visual point, so it isn't exactly to scale). But the surprise comes on the right hand side of the curve - compromise goes back up as cost increases. Part of that is that cost IS a compromise - if two things perform precisely the same but one costs more, the extra price of the one is a compromise. But we're also talking about things like needing to worry about your carbon brake track, and wet weather braking, and "what if this isn't covered by warranty," and "I hope the guy who pushed the envelope on these remembered to lick the envelope!" and a bunch of other things along those lines. 

We make a concerted effort to be in a specific spot on these curves, and between the FSW and all of our custom builds, we think we nail that. 


FSW3 - A classic, reborn

There aren't that many venues where something born 6 years ago could be reborn as a classic, but bike wheels sure is one of them. Then, the carbon craze had barely yet begun, 23mm tires were "wide," HED was about the only company effectively talking about using wider internal rim widths (and "only" 18mm at that), a handful of races had small gravel sections, there simply was no tubeless road, 120psi was a thing, and disc brakes were solely for mountain bikes. Heck, we didn't even have Garmins yet. And November had just launched with the FSW as a centerpiece product. With a 27mm deep and 19mm (external) wide rim, and your choice of the latest in 10 speed hubs (11 if you were on Shimano), the original FSW was a perfect fit for racers and general performance/enthusiast riders. 


Screeching into the present tense, rims are wider than ever, disc wheels no longer mean "time trial bike wheels" but "disc brake wheels," everyone's on 11 speed, front derailleurs are on the endangered list, 23mm tires are so 6 years ago, electronic shifting is all the rage... and still no Jetsons flying cars. Dissapointment. 

A few updates, another gear...

BUT, the FSW is back! Still the best value in everything you really want for your paved to "not-quite-singletrack-yet, really" riding, they're strong, stiff, wide, light, fast, pretty, and tubeless ready. Based, as the original FSW was, on Kinlin rims, Sapim spokes, and Novatec hubs, they're the same handbuilt value they were then, only we're six years better at doing this. 1515g for 20/24 in rim brake, and 1675g for 24/28 in disc brake. 


The rim specs are similar for both rim and disc builds. 31mm deep, 24mm wide (19 inside), and tubeless ready (though of course easy to use with tubes if that's your thing). The disc rims are offset in order to equalize spoke tension between one side of the wheel and the other. And they're finished in a lust inducing satin sandblast finish.

The hubs use the very effective Anti-Bite Guard to keep cassette body chewing to a minimum, use upgraded Japanese made (EZO) bearings, and the disc hubs are available in all appropriate axle formats.For those of you wishing to upgrade to the ever lovely and popular White Industries T11 or CLD hubs, that's also an option. All hubs are 11 speed compatible, and Shimano/SRAM drive hubs include spacers for use with 8/9/10 speed.

The spokes are black (always a primary concern for a lot of people) Sapim CX Rays, with the very slightly heavier gauge CX Sprint on the disc side of the disc front, and the drive side of both rears. Nipples are black Wheelsmith brass, the best nipples we've ever found. Lacing is 24/28 2x everywhere for disc, and your choice of 20/24 or 24/8 radial front and 2x/2x rear. Appropriate rider weight max for disc is 215. For 20/24 it's 185, and for 24/28 it's 220 (as always, those are just guidelines based on one important factor). 

Tubeless tape is included and installed, and skewers are included in rim brake builds. 


Who you callin' offset?FSW3 and FSW3 Disc wheelsets are now available and shipping. Pricing starts at $575 for November by Novatec rim brake builds, $735 for WI rim brake builds. Disc builds start at $595 with November by Novatec hubs, $780 for WI CLD builds. 

And yes, the whole wide wide world of everything else is still available as custom builds, at our always customer-friendly pricing.