Help Me Choose, Part 2: Hubs

Sorry for a really crappy photo, I was in a rush.  Standard house hubs on left, WI-T11 on right.

So what's the difference between our standard house hubs (aka Novatec F482SB-11 rear and A291SB front) and White Industries T11, are the White Industries worth the price difference, and which one is right for you?  Well, as any knucklehead can see, White Industries are pink, house hubs are red, and the house hubs use tape to keep the 10-speed spacer on while White Industries uses a rubber band.  Duh!

More seriously, let's begin with what you can't see.  Inside the rear, White uses some titanium in nice places like the drive ring to increase durability, there are 5 bearings in the WI hub to the 4 in the house hub, although the bearings are all the same size (6902 and 6802).  Bearing quality is comparable - Novatec uses good bearings (EZO, Japanese) in these hubs.  We recently had a weird outlier bad bearing, but one in a couple of thousand in a pretty good hit rate.  The WI rear has the same diameter axle as the house hub, but it's cro-mo steel vs 7075 aluminum alloy in the house hub: a several gram increase in weight for a significant gain in strength and durability. 

On the outside, the house hub uses one steel spline on the cassette body, dubbed the Anti-Bite Guard.  This improves cassette body durability, though not to the degree of the titanium cassette body on the WI hub.  Again, the WI cassette body is slightly heavier, but it doesn't have durability, it has infallibilty. 

The geometry of the rear hubs is functionally similar.  We build them with the same spoke lengths, they build to about 2 or 3 nipple turns (the threaded segment of a spoke is 10mm, the thread pitch is 56tpi - yes, inch - so a 3 turn difference is about the thickness of your thumbnail, and both fall well within what would be considered an ideal length range), and the tension balance winds up being ever so slightly better on the WI hubs, but in any case just around 50%.  The bracing angles are similar.  The WI might have some additional lacing stiffness out there in the decimal places because the flanges are higher, but it's not something I can notice while building. 

We've had four instances where WI has gained some weight on the house hub (additional bearing, ti vs al cassette body, bigger flanges, and cro-mo vs al axle), and although in every case it's a well-considered trade, you don't want to be riding pigs, do you?  WI hubs are more extensively machined to find and remove material that isn't contributing to hub performance. At the end of it all, the WI rear hub winds up about 15g heavier.  Both hubs are shockingly consistent, to the gram, in weight.

For front, the WI hub again has taller flanges, which are slightly wider set.  WI fronts use a 2mm shorter spoke than house fronts, due to the taller flanges and despite their wider set.  They both use 2 bearings, but the WI bearings are bigger.  In an ideal world, smaller bearings spin better.  In an ideal world there is no axial loading, a bicycle front hub is pretty far from an ideal world for a bearing.  The stiffness difference between a WI-based front and a house-based front may be noticeable to an extremely discerning rider, more likely it is bench-measurable but gets lost in the wash of tires, forks, bars, and everything else that's moving on your bike.  Weight difference between the two is, again, 15 grams in favor of the house hubs. 

The WI hubs come in black, red, blue, silver, green, purple, pink, and gold.  House hubs come in black and red. 

We are phasing house hubs out over time.  Why?  Because we have to buy a ton of them at a time, and the lead time is long.  When we get a shipment in, we have hundreds and hundreds of them on hand.  This is a cash drain (lead time and implied inventory turns, plus the cost of goods) and takes away agility in a market that demands it.  On the other hand, we have a few dozen sets of WI hubs at the moment, which will be gone and replaced with successors in short order, as we cycle that inventory as fast as we can build wheels.  When I look at our hub inventory and the money it represents it freaks me out a little that we now keep that much on hand, but it's where we are now and that's a great thing for us.  Colors that we don't keep on hand (we generally have red, black, blue on hand) are a week away, and it's a good setup for us.  We also sell more WI-based builds by an increasing margin.  That said, the house hubs are of equivalent quality (and come off the same line as) well-regarded private-label hubs. 

Which one is right for you?  We feel much better about presenting you with a unique information resource and encouraging you to find the decision that's right for you. 

I like blue hubs and use them. 


Help Me Choose, Part 1: 34s or 52s

Throughout our time doing this, we've tried to respond as well as possible, as quickly as possible, to customer inquiries.  For me, as with a lot of what we do, it's significantly borne out of frustrations I had as a consumer.  Now we are challenged more often by requests to make subjective judgements about our products and their use.  The three we get a lot of these days are 1) help me choose between 52s and 34s 2) help me choose between stock hubs and White Industries hubs and 3) what tire width do you recommend with Rails?

Jay does take a nice picture, doesn't he?

First, rim depth.  When we launched the 34 project, it was in large part a response to customer demand - "when are you guys going to do a shallower Rail?"  As riders, Mike and I were both more than satisfied with 52s, I'd enjoyed racing them and had some great results that I honestly thought (and still do) had a ton to do with the confidence that the Rail footprint gives.  Their objectively verified speed in the wind tunnel certainly seems to bear out on the road; the simply feel fast.  And, despite their depth, I've always found them to be super manageable no matter what the wind is doing. That last bit comes with the caveat that I spent the better part of three decades obsessed by learning and being able to predict how wind acts. Although I can definitively tell you that 52s behave better in wind than our old 38s, I'm probably better suited to dealing with wind than the average bear.  I'm also not light - 164 at last check.

People get obsessed with weight.  34 rims generally come in 60g lighter per rim than 52s (440 vs 500).  This puts a stock-hubbed build of 34s right around the vaunted 1400g mark.  I don't pay that much attention to weight, other than trying quite hard to not be fat when I go to stage races in Vermont, but 34s do seem to have some advantage in a moment of inertia kind of way.  I've never found 52s to be sluggish in getting up to speed, but 34s really don't mind getting out of bed.  There's the whole "any energy that you put into accelerating a wheel is returned to you in conservation of energy" argument, a balloon which for practical purposes I will pop with one pin: brakes.  Any time you have to externally slow your wheels, which may be a tap of the brakes or sitting up or sliding out of the slipstream momentarily, you chuck that one right out the window.  I'm not saying that conservation of energy isn't valid, but I am saying that it seems you pretty often don't get four quarters back for the dollar you spent accelerating.  

52s, on the other hand, feel fast.  They're a broadsword to the 34's dagger.  There's a route I ride a lot now, which is fairly straight with lots of small rollers, going north to south along my favorite body of water in the world (the Sakonnet River).  Upwind on the way south, bleeding for it, and blasting home with a tailwind, mostly you feel like you're trying to keep up with the bike (which made me appreciate how freaking hard Tour of Qatar must actually be).  52s work so well on that it's just crazy. 

I don't think I can sum it up better than by stating that 52s feel very fast, 34s feel very quick.  If you are concerned about handling them in breeze, 34s are invisible to crosswinds, and if you are reticent about being that guy (or girl) who's always rocking the deep wheels, go 34. 




If A Standard Build Falls In The Forest...

Rereading today's title makes me think maybe today's post should be about mountain biking.  Alas, it isn't, with my local trails still buried under snow and all sorts of craziness (I know, I know, fat bike, blah blah blah), but it isn't.  Being a meditative sort (brief pause for those who know me to clean up the soup they've spit onto their computer screens), I'm inspired by Zen koans.  In this case, the koan is: if a "standard" wheel has everything you want in a custom wheel, do you need a custom wheel?

I'm speaking primarliy of aluminum-rimmed wheels in this case, where our standard build is pretty darn close to the answer that generally becomes consensus on page 3 or the typical "what wheels are best for me" forum thread: wide rims (in our case Kinlin XC279), CX Rays, and White Industries T-11 hubs.

Of course there are other good rim options out there in the market.  Wide rims have become the defacto standard for what people want to ride, their advantages having been touted ad nauseum.  Some prefer one or another rim for its purported finish/stiffness/weight/reputation or whatever else, but to a large degree we're talking about rims that are VERY similar to one another here.  There is of course always the aerodynamics discussion, with various self-appointed experts opining on which one is most aero, but until someone actually tests them against one another, that whole line of discussion goes nowhere, because as an old boss of mine used to say, "you're operating entirely in a fact-free zone, there." (said old boss's brother often reads this blog, now that I think about it)

Spokes are another kettle of fish, with CX Rays coming out as top of the pile nearly universally.  We took the unique step of testing CX Rays versus their unbladed kin in the wind tunnel, and found a small but sometimes meaningful difference.  Is that difference meaningful in contect of a 24/28 or 28/32 set of wheels with relatively shallow rims?  Almost definitely not, but most people want them because in this realm they're getting a special set of wheels and they don't want to regret not having gotten them.  They look really cool, and they're probably as close to a universal "best" as you get in these discussions, so the majority of people want them.  The gripe against them is that they're expensive, which they assuredly are, but by making them standard we're able to become a better cost supplier of them, easing that pain. 

Hubs hubs hubs hubs hubs hubs hubs.  Pick 100 people and they'll have 40 different favorite hubs.  25 of the 100 people will pick WI T-11 hubs, and the 75 that don't will probably add "but if you're not concerned about a couple of extra grams, then WI T-11s are probably the best bang for the buck."  Their titanium cassette bodies will outlive you, they have an excellent bearing array that uses an extra bearing to most hubs, they have outstanding machining to increase precision throughout and to reduce unnecessary weight, which then allows them to use a steel axle which notably increases stiffness and durability.  Since modifying their initial 11 speed geopmetry in response to a bunch of their customers (myself definitely included) saying "really, guys?  You can do better," they've got about as good aof a geometry as 11 sped allows.  They are, quite simple, awesome.  And now they're available in black, silver, blue, red, pink, purple, and green.  We've sold every color, and they all look cool. 

Last thing to mention I guess is aluminum nipples.  We use them.  They thread more smoothly than brass, especially when you use black nipples.  The anodizing maintains thread integrity better than the black oxide coating on brass.  That turns out to be a big thing, since a primary goal in our builds is that the nipples should suffer zero degradation during the build.  We paint each spoke's threads with an anti-seize compound to ensure that the spoke and nipple don't get too attached to each other should you ever need to true the wheel, and we correctly size our spokes so that the nipples get full support (most broken aluminum nipples break because the spokes are too short).  Sapim's anodizing provides excellent corrosion resistance, so that even if you ride in a place like I do (it's a calamity of ocean air and road salt - note the ice, and note salt water's general unwillingness to freeze, so imagine what the roads are like - that would kill aluminum nipples if they were to be killed), the nipples will outlive the rims in your wheel. 

All of this comes at withing a few pennies of the retail cost of the parts involved, so in essence the build is free.  So if all of this sounds pretty close to exactly the custom build you're looking for, think about the sound of one hand clapping...


Gratuitous Color Friday

Pink looks nice.  Note that this hub is for Campagnolo, hence no spacer.  You can use this on 9, 10, and 11 speed Campagnolo.

The classic red hub.  This is for Shimano/SRAM - note the spacer.  This hub can be used for S/S 8, 9, and 10 with the spacer, and 11 speed without it.  The rubber band is just to keep the spacer on during handling and shipment - always remove it. 

We include spacers with every 11 speed S/S hub we sell.  If you have a Shimano cassette that comes with a spacer, consider that spacer to be a part of the cassette no matter which hub you are using.  Always use it. 



Running 10 Speed on 11 Speed Hubs

We get a (to me) surprising number of emails questioning whether you can use an 11 speed hub with a 10 speed drivetrain.  The answer is yes, I've done it every time I've used my road bike for about a year now.  Let me illustrate with a picture I stole from the internet:


The keen-eyed observer will note a thin (1.8mm thick, to be exact) spacer ring on the inboard end of this cassette body.  If you are using this 11 speed hub with a 10 speed drivetrain, keep that spacer on when you install your cassette.  No re-dishing of the wheel is necessary.  No adjustment of the rear derailleur beyond what you might expect when going from hub to hub (i.e. may be a click or three on the barrel adjuster) is necessary. 

If you are using an 11 speed drivetrain with this hub, simply remove the washer before you install your cassette. 

As G-Love said, yeah, it's that easy