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Good hubs don't have to cost a lot of money

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

John Neugent

Bill and Carol McGann's book The Story of the Giro d'Italia, A Year-by-Year History of the Tour of Italy, Vol 2: 1971 - 2011 is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions. To get your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

John Neugent writes:

For most of the 50 years I have spent in the bike industry, hubs were the most important component of a set of wheels. With good reason. All of the high end hubs were very expensive and they still are.

But a funny thing happened about the same time I started working in a bike shop. American hub makers started using cartridge bearings.

The hubs were still expensive but the bearings were incredibly smooth. With virtually every hub, if you spun the wheel you could barely feel any roughness. With regular hubs, even the best ones, you would almost always feel some roughness.

Phil Wood hubs with cartridge bearings. Photo courtesey South Salem CycleWorks.

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All of the top end hubs used a cup and cone bearing with loose balls. If they got too rough you replaced either the cup or cone or balls. These could be very hard to find, expensive, and hard to install – at least the cup was.

Campagnolo Record cup & cone hubs from the 1970s. Photo courtesy South Salem CycleWorks

Hubs are basically a shell with a bearing on either end. The cassette body is also a shell with two bearings with pawls added to engage the hub. So there are 6 bearings in a set of hubs, with some exceptions of course. The weight of the hub is largely due to the size of the bearings. Larger bearings are more durable but heavier than smaller bearings.


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You can buy a good quality cartridge bearing on Amazon for $3-4 so you know that a hub maker will most likely pay $2 or less for one. Since millons of these are made for virtually all motors and anything that rotates, the scale of the manufacturing is enormous.

A sealed cartridge bearing.

Likewise the quality is extremely high. If you have a part that rotates at 20,000 RPM it has to be smooth. Not only that, but typically they are dual sealed and injected with grease and it is not uncommon to have one last for 10,000 miles before it even needs lubrication.


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Until recently the press kits for cartridge bearings were hard to find and expensive. Now you can buy them on Amazon for around $40. So now you can find rear hubs that weigh under 250 grams and front hubs that are under 100 grams and can be maintained virtually forever at a very reasonable cost.

Using this information it’s easy to see that you can now get hubs with very small bearings with the intention of switching the bearings out every few years. But to my knowledge no one has done that yet and at the rate they are currently changing braking and gearing specifications it may be futile.

John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.