Sometimes we'll have a conversation with another rider and they'll make a comment that goes something like "I thought people just bought (insert hub brand here) hubs for the color." That comment usually comes on the heels of our explanation of some intricacy of the internals or manufacturing process that a particular brand uses to make their hubs. In light of that, we thought it might be helpful if we put out a little breakdown of what makes each brand of hub unique and why you might chose one over another based on your riding style, bike type, and personal preferences.
Some of the things that hold true for all of these brands are that they are made in the USA by people who care about making a great product. Each company has its own approach to that ideal, and that's one of the things that we like so much about being able to offer many different options because while one may not satisfy all of the needs of a given rider, chances are that another one will!
To keep things as simple as possible, we'll just go through some highlights for each brand (in alphabetical order) to give you a feel for what we think really stands out from each of these brands.
Chris King hubs are unique in a variety of ways, and put their focus on long-term durability and serviceability, but of course, there's more to it than that. Chris King's highlights can be broken down into a few areas:
- Ring Drive drive system: Chris King uses a drive system unlike just about any other on the market (though it bears similarities to systems like DT Swiss's Star Ratchet system). The Ring Drive system uses two drive rings–one of which is sping-loaded from the inside of the hub, and the other one of which is fixed. The spring-loaded inner ring interfaces with the helical splines on the driveshell, and is pulled into the fixed drive ring by those same helical splines when you pedal. The ISO hubs use a 92 tooth drive ring, for very fast engagement (extremely fast compared to others until recently when companies like Industry Nine and Onyx began offering hubs with nearly instantaneous engagement), as well as huge torque capacity because of the full-ring engagement which eliminates the point-loads that come with a pawl-based freehub design. Chris King's R45 hubs use smaller drive rings with fewer teeth (45 teeth) for lower drag, but the design is essentially the same. Because of the materials that the company uses, and the stringent tolerances that are maintained throughout, Chris King's hubs can last a lifetime given reasonably regular maintenance. This is something that is hard to say about most hubs, as most will at least require replacement of pawls or freehub bodies over time. The downside of the design is that it can skip if it never gets maintained and the helical spline gets dirty and sticky with old grease mixed with grime. This, however, is easy to avoid with basic driveshell maintenance. The only other real disadvantage of this system is that many hub/driveshell combinations are not easily swappable without replacing the axle at the same time. Many will consider this a small price to pay for the dependability and function that truly gets better with age.
- Bearings: Chris King makes their own bearings in house, and those bearings are made to be serviced and last for a very long time. This is a difference that sets Chris King apart from just about every other hub manufacturer today, and it's hard to overstate how good these bearings are. Riders who have used these hubs can attest to the fact that their 10 year old hub is even smoother and faster rolling than it was when it was new, which is really saying something in a world where most hubs need to have the cartridge bearings replaced every year or so in many riding conditions. The bearings are simple to service, as you can see in our how to video, and come with a lifetime warranty just in case.
- Sustainable manufacture: Chris King is a B Corporation, has an extensive coolant-recycling system that also helps heat and cool the building in which each part gets made, and is committed to recycling all of the waste products in their most refined form thereby reducing the energy required to return them to useful high-end raw material again. If you haven't read it, check out our factory visit to learn more about the impressive facilities that produce these hubs. It's hard to fault any of the companies we stock for their manufacturing practices, but Chris King has made sustainability a cornerstone of their production for most of their existence, so it's worth noting.
- Finish: yeah, well even though it's not all about color, it's ok if it's partly about color, right? It's hard to understate the quality of Chris King's finishes. The company has been known for offering a wide range of color choices for decades, and has weathered the vicissitudes of cycling trends from anodized craziness and blacked-out simplicity with a range of stunning colors and finishes.
- Overall serviceability: while we addressed this in parts above, it's worth putting the overall picture out as well because the fact that these hubs not only are very well-sealed, but are also designed to be serviced periodically means that they are an ideal choice for harsh environments. If you live in a very wet or very dry area, you'll get better results by servicing your driveshell every few months, and your bearings every six or so, but the fact that you can do that, and can replace seals if one gets torn, means that you can ensure that your hubs will keep rolling smoothly for the long haul.
Check out Chris King hubs here.
Industry Nine became known initially for their huge, angular hubs that had a high-tech sound and used large, aluminum spokes. While some of these traits remain, the company has come a very long way from the lackluster durability of its first freehub design, and now offers a unique blend of light-weight, mind-bendingly fast engagement, easy service, and beautiful colors. The key highlights of Industry Nine's hubs are as follows:
- Hydra freehub system: Chris King's twin drive rings are one solution to spreading drive loads out while offering quick engagement, but Industry Nine's Hydra mechanism takes a different tack. Rather than giving up on a pawl-based system, Industry Nine just looked at how the loads worked in a hub, and designed a system that exploits traditional weaknesses and turns them into strengths. A perfect example of this is the way in which Industry Nine's Hydra system uses the inherent flex in the axle, to ensure perfect pawl engagement. By using 6 pawls that continuously phase with a 115 tooth drive ring, the hub never risks having just one pawl engaged at full torque–which would create a huge point-load and stress the freehub over time–but instead harnesses the flex of the hub components to engage first one, then two, three, and sometimes even four pawls at a time (more as you pedal harder). This ensures not only that you have a ridiculous 690 points of engagement (that's a point every 0.52º!), but it does so while maintaining durability. The system is easy to service, and because all hydra driver bodies (like the company's Torch driver parts as well) are interchangeable, it's very easy to swap from one type to another.
- Easily interchangeable endcaps: Like the widely interchangeable driver bodies mentioned above, the tool-free endcaps make servicing Industry Nine Hydra hubs very easy for the home mechanic (Torch hubs are also easy to service, but the endcaps are slightly more difficult to remove). While many of us don't find ourselves swapping axle types very often on one hub, there are instances such as moving from a Rock Shox torque cap-compatible endcap, to a standard 15mm thru-axle style, that do come up, and when you have a hub that offers both types of endcaps, why not run the one that's ideal?
- Aluminum Spokes: Industry Nine's unmistakable direct thread, straight pull aluminum spokes have been turning heads since they came out, but these aren't just about looks and have proven themselves in over a decade of use. The company makes the spokes in house, and because they use a standard square spoke wrench interface, they don't require any special tools to work on. They also open up color-customization options that just aren't available with other hub manufacturers. And if you don't want aluminum spokes, you can always get a classic hub and use traditional J-bend spokes!
- In-house anodizing: Anodizing is always difficult, but the folks at Industry nine got tired of not getting exactly what they wanted from outsourced anodizing, so they brought the entire process in-house. After doing so, they were able to manage the process with the same level of precision that they bring to all of their other processes, and the result is a wide range of consistent and beautiful colors. This not only allows them to ensure that they get the colors they want with more consistency, but it also allows them to control the production schedule to keep their whole production process streamlined.
- Hubs to fit pretty much every standard (except for fixed gear). Whether you want a rim brake hub to fit your 130x10mm quick release-equipped road bike, a fatbike hub, or a boost single speed hub, Industry Nine has an option for you. And because of the swappable endcaps mentioned above, you can even get less common standards like 141x10mm boost quick release. If you haven't been able to find a hub in the configuration you've been after, Industry Nine is well worth a look because chances are that they have what you're after!
Check out Industry Nine hubs here!
Onyx Racing Products
Onyx has made a name for itself by producing a hub that uses a sprag clutch in place of any of the more traditional tooth-based freehub systems. The result is a line of hubs that are silent and have instant engagement. With the introduction of their Vesper and MFU (Modular Freehub Unit), the company has found ways to shed weight and simplify driver swaps without loosing the traits that have made these hubs stand out. With that, let's look at some of the things that set Onyx Racing Products' hubs apart:
- Sprag Clutch freehub system: the sprag clutch that Onyx uses to allow the hub to coast sets it apart from pretty much any other hub on the market because it is completely silent, very low-drag, and has instantaneous engagement. While we love the sound of a high-quality freehub, there really is something very special about being able to coast along without all of that noise. For many riders, the switch to an Onyx hub opens up a whole new experience of riding simply because of how much more quiet your bike becomes. Some riders notice a small amount of wind-up as the clutch engages fully, which can feel slightly mushy compared to a pawl-driven hub like the I9 Hydra, but for many, this is actually a positive trait because it makes the hubs feel less harsh. The difference is small, but it's there, and if you have a preference in the feeling of your hub, this might be something to consider. Onyx offers two sprag clutch mechanisms: one in the classic hubs, which uses two full clutches for maximum torque handling and is recommended for heavy applications like tandems and e-bikes, and a newer one which uses 1.5 clutches to save some weight. This latter version is available in the Vesper hubs. If there's a downside to the system that Onyx uses, it's that it is a on the heavier side–especially when compared with the lightest hubs–but for many, its durability and silent action are well worth the extra weight.
- Massive color range plus colors of the month: Onyx takes color options to a whole new level by offering both anodized and powdercoated finishes, as well as anodized axle ends to give you more options than any other brand. Not only do you get a wide range of colors, but you'll see textured, and metal-flake finishes as well.
- BMX hubs: Onyx started out focused on the BMX racing market, where their low-drag hubs that could handle massive torque made great sense, and true to its roots, the company still offers a range of BMX racing hubs that are still offer real benefits over tooth-driven hubs.
- Free Custom laser-etching on classic hubs: If you want your onyx hubs to have your custom graphic on them, you can get it! There are, of course some limitations to this, but it's a level of customization that few companies offer at all.
- Anti-notch inserts on HG drivers: this is a detail that anyone who has fought to get an HG-type cassette off of an aluminum freehub body will appreciate. The steel inserts add almost no weight, but keep multi-piece cassettes from digging in to the freehub body, which not only extends the life of the freehub body, but makes removing the cassette much easier.
- Ceramic bearings standard on Classic hubs, and available as an upgrade on Vespers: in keeping with the focus on low-drag, Onyx specs hybrid ceramic bearings stock on their classic hubs and offers them as an upgrade on Vesper hubs.
Check out Onyx Racing Products' hubs here.
Paul Component has made some hubs with freehubs built-in, but ended up deciding that single speed-specific hubs for use with thread-on freehweels were more in line with their design ethos. Because of this, the range of options from this company is smaller, but their features make them a solid option if you're looking for a simple, durable, and still light-weight singlespeed hub. Overall, every feature of Paul hubs seems to stem from the refinements that always have as their goals simplicity, durability, and function. For example:
- Interchangeable, lightweight, one-piece 7075 alloy axle on WORD hubs: of all hubs, single speed hubs are probably the most likely to end up getting used on different bikes at different times, and Paul's simple one-piece axle system makes swapping axles really easy. It also gives you the option of thru-axle, quick-release, or bolt-on mounting types.
- User-adjustable sealed cartridge bearings: while Paul still uses cartridge bearings that are designed to be replaced eventually, they are large, fit in bearings bores that have extremely tight tolerances, and are adjustable to allow you to get more life out of them than you would normally expect.
- Light-weight without being delicate: much like Chris King, Paul Component puts a lot of focus on making parts that will last a very long time, and while the two companies take different approaches to that end, the result in both cases is a line of parts that is willing to add a bit of weight for a lot of extra durability, but only if it really does add to the longevity of the product.
Check out Paul Component hubs here.
Phil Wood is best known for its freewheel and fixed gear hubs that are simple, built to last, polished to a deep mirror finish, and which roll on Phil Wood's custom made cartridge bearings that set the standard by which other sealed cartridge bearings are measured. These days though, the company offers hubs for fixed cogs and freewheels as well as cassette hubs that are available with either HG, Campagnolo, or XDR freehub bodies. The focus of these hubs is still on durability over weight concerns, but now with the Pro versions of many hubs, you can have both the beauty and toughness of a Phil Wood hub. Below you'll find some highlights of these hubs:
- Classic high-flange hubs that just seem to radiate an aura of solidity, Phil Wood's track hubs are among the best, and really are in a league of their own when it comes to looks. While generally heavier than some of the other options, they roll on some of the best bearings in the business, and will deliver a very long service life.
- Finish quality that may have more in common with jewelry than bike parts. From the incredible polish down to the tiny details, Phil Wood's simple aesthetic belies the level of detail that is present in every part that the company makes.
- The simple, user-serviceable freehub mechanism is very solid, and requires some break in, but is built to last and engage reliably.
Check out Phil Wood hubs here.
White Industries has been cranking out great hubs for what seems like ages. From their unique ENO single speed hubs that allow you to turn a bike with vertical dropouts into a singlespeed, to their superb line of cassette hubs that keep weight low, and have some of the lowest freehub-drag available. Below are a few of the standout features of these hubs:
- Easy service with only a few basic tools: any hub benefits from periodic freehub maintenance, and White Industries makes doing so very easy, as shown in this video.
- Titanium freehub bodies: when dealing with the issue to gouging from multi-piece cassettes, there are a few different ways a company can choose to respond: 1. do nothing (this is what most companies do, and to be fair, proper tightening of your cassette will ease the problem, though it won't eliminate it); 2. use inserts like those that Onyx racing products uses; 3. use a harder material for the freehub body. That last option is the one that White Industries chose, but rather than going with a heavy material like steel, they chose titanium. Titanium freehub bodies mean that not only will you not have to worry about gouged splines on your HG freehub body, but the pawl pockets that are constantly subjected to wear and tear from normal drive and coasting forces will last much longer than their aluminum counterparts. This is definitely one of those areas that won't get seen much, but having it will extend the useful life of the hub and its parts immensely, and it's just one of the reasons we're big fans of White Industries hubs.
- Swappable axles and freehubs. If you have a somewhat recent White Industries hub, you can easily swap axles and freehubs with just a 2mm allen wrench (assuming your cassette and brake rotor are already removed). All hubs use the same drivers, so you don't have to worry about compatibility, which just makes life easier. The company offers a complete range of driver options so whether you have need a campy, microspline, HG11, or XDR driver, you'll be set!
- Extremely low drag: we mentioned it above, but it bears repeating that the freehub and bearing drag on White Industries hubs is very, very low. Usually if this is the case, it's the result of minimal sealing, but while the seals on White Industries hubs are fairly simple, we really haven't had issues with water and dirt ingress in most conditions, so they seem to be very effective in spite of that low drag.
- Wide range of finishes including raw polished aluminum: not only does White Industries offer a wide range of beautiful anodized colors, they also offer their parts in polished silver, which for those who are all about the custom bike, offers the rare opportunity of allowing you to seek out your own custom anodizing or other finishing (of course you'll have to remove all other parts of the hub, and will be running the risk of it not being done well, but still the option is there😉).
- Available in a very wide range of sizes and configurations: from fixed gear to freewheel driven eccentric single speed, to centerlock super-boost disc hubs, chances are, there's a White Industries hub that will get you the configuration you're after.
Check out White Industries hubs here, and check out our shop tour here.
So what do you think? With so many options, choosing the right one will often come down to one standout feature that just works better for you and your riding style, and we hope that through this little breakdown, you'll have a better idea of what you've got to work with. We're proud to carry each of these brands and we feel that they each have something special to offer. Really, once you understand some of the finer points of each, each brand's hubs begin to look much more widely differentiated and we hope that once that is seen, you'll be able to make a choice about which is best for you more easily.
As always, if you have questions, contact us. 😉