Proprietary part 3: hubs

As mentioned before, we're trying to post a lot of blogs in the coming days/weeks/boy do I hope it's not months to give people something to read and keep the cycling jones fed. Since we have not the ability, nor the violin, nor the balcony to masterfully play violin concertos from the balcony to entertain you, we do what we can this way. No offense if your mailbox is full and you want us on mute. This one is also pretty long. 

Put simply, hubs have become a big pain in the butt. When we started, there were rim brake hubs. They all had quick release, they were all 100mm front and 130 rear, and they were either Shimano 10 speed HG or Campagnolo drive. Front hubs had 20, 24, 28, 03 32 holes, and rear hubs has 24, 28, and 32. Mountain bikes were the complicated ones because you had either QR or 15mm thru axle front, and then Specialized (I think?) came up with 12x142. Chris King had colors, White Industries had black and silver, and the house Novatec hubs we used were black. 

Today, we sell more or less any hub that's on the market but the very active ones are White, Industry 9, Aivee, DT Swiss, Onyx, King, and Hope. DT Swiss does black, Aivee does limited colors that we limit a bit more, and the rest have rainbows. There are road disc, road rim brake, and mountain bike hubs. There are QR, 12mm, and 15mm front axles, with 15x110 and Lefty as well for mountain bike. Rears have QRx130, QRx135, 12x142, and 12x148. Discs can have 6 bolt or centerlock. Drive types are Shimano HG10 (really only mtb hubs now), HG11 (ie regular Shimano/SRAM), Campagnolo, XD/XDR, MicroSpline, and Campagnolo. Then you add the spoke hole options. It would easily be possible to keep 1000 hubs in stock and still not have the one you want on hand. Like, easily. 

The range of hub quality is broad, too. Variables include geometry, manufacturing tolerances, materials spec, and bearing spec, and though that sounds like only a few things it would take many many pages to suss out all of the differences that those impart. We've done some of that here (just keep going to "older post" once you start).

All of this does a few things. For one, it gives you a bad case of analysis paralysis. We don't envy the deliberations that a lot of people put themselves through, and it does get quite hard (and honestly time consuming) for us to make firm recommendations to people. It makes it all too easy to screw up a spec - it's happened a few times that people ordered Boost front hubs and needed 15x100, and vice versa. People email us "I noticed that I ordered x axles but I need y axles." And just plain walking people through figuring out what drive type they need gets tough. We have no chance at keeping hubs in stock, because it doesn't make sense. Despite what people might think, there's no specific hub configuration that's clearly "the most popular." You couldn't even narrow it down to 6 or 10.

With the Select series (in disc, too), the idea was to spec builds with components that are always basically three or fewer days from ordered to in hand. 

When you do OEM hubs, you need to order a truckload of them in order to get to pricing that allows you to price builds with them in line with their actual and perceived value and also make money. Tons of places do this, though whether or not the builds are priced in line with value is up for debate. Remember that with proprietary comes an ability to charge more, so you get a whole whole lot of places that hide the origins of their Bitex or Novatec hubs (which often aren't bad hubs) behind laser etching and "our proprietary this or that" and charge as though they're putting some world beater hubs out there. 

One thing that Mike and I notice (and he gets credit for articulating this into an actual useful point) is that with all of the roughly 40 different rims we offer as fairly standard builds, people first focus really hard on the rim. They want to get the rim as close to exactly right as possible, and spend time and thought and emails on that. And then, having done that, one of two things happens - either they already know which hub they want to use, or they go through "great deliberation, round two." Which can easily break strong people. Buying new wheels is supposed to be fun, right?

So our thought is to select (because we're neither going to go through making our own hub nor insult your intelligence in opaquely rebranding another hub) a hub that works as the default hub for people who don't want to go through "great deliberation, round two." This will be for disc only at this point. And we're probably headed for a November-spec Aivee MP4 for this hub, if we can make the details work with them. The White hubs were great, but I don't know if we ever said this explicitly they cost us to the penny what a set of black T11/CLDs did. That margin loss was excruciating when it came without the "vending machine" operations benefit we've talked about a lot. And we needed to buy them in somewhat painful quantities. MP4s make an awful lot of sense for this application, at a great balance of all the relevant features that we like. And to kill the suspense, if we do it, they won't be black (nor will they be orange, red, or blue).

I don't know if that clears that whole topic completely but I'm done with writing and have to get to building wheels.

Stay safe and don't go house crazy. 


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  • Ron Cormier on

    Hello, I can understand what is written about hubs and much of it is just not accurate. The best hubs are only going to give you so much performance. Now that being said some expensive hubs can last much longer than lower priced models., but again the performance is only minimally better. Aesthetics is one of the reasons some hubs cost way too much. How a hub looks has nothing to do with the performance. Hubs designed for disc- brakes for mountain bikes is fine, but not needed for road bikes. People that have NO problems paying high prices for expensive bicycle components think that because the prices are very high those components are far superior than the moderately priced ones that perform extremely well. That is really BS and the market has proven over many decades that this is true. That is how marketing has always worked since the industrial revolution and today it is more so than years ago. Take a Normandy hub from France made years ago and see how well it performs. Extremely well at that. So try to tell it like it is. Every hub has Performance limits and yes some of the more expensive hubs if maintained properly can last many more years than lesser expensive ones, but really don’t perform any better than some very good hubs that are reasonably priced. Even the Fancy names found on the expensive hubs does not impress me at all. Phil Wood is charging customers partly for the name, although I have to admit they make better hubs than other hubs that cost way more. You are welcome. Ron C.

  • Dave on

    Kelly – Great news, expected nothing less.

    Peter – Thanks. We sometimes feel like our role is to be the “good angel” on people’s shoulders.

    Cathereine – Thank you! What a nice thing to say, and good question. To clarify, no we don’t sell WI hubs at cost. What I meant is that the Nimbus Ti hubs cost us the exact same as their WI equivalents. We thought that with the pricing and quality that people would just be like “no brainer, where’s the ‘buy now’ button?” It didn’t work out quite like that. We were also very aggressive in rim buying, in order to lower our cost for them. That was the only place where we were saving any money on the bill of material. The rest of the low price came from us just taking lower margins in return for greater efficiencies that never fully panned out. You could say that we sold the components at cost and made money on labor, or you could say that we gave the labor for free in return for most of the margin on the components. Unfortunately what you couldn’t say was that we were making enough money for it to be a sustainable and enjoyable business.

  • Cathereine on

    About the only good thing to come from our COVID isolation is the huge increase in great content from you two. Love it.

    Are you saying that you’ve had to sell the white industries hubs (my personal choice) at cost to make them a viable option? Wasn’t quite sure about this.

    As a side note, all these blog postings have got me hankering for a new build. I’ve gotta keep myself in check…. but I’m not great at that especially with all the sales going on and the crappy Stans on my city bike. No offense to Stans’; I just am sick of tubless hassles.

  • Peter Johns on

    Let’s not overthink this. Like most of you I appreciate the fancy gear on my bike. Having broken lots of gear, I realized a long time ago, these decisions are best left to experts. They can provide you the reasons and the specs so you have cocktail party convo pieces. Leave these decisions to experts like Dave. I want to ride my bike and I depend on my bike professional to make equipment decisions that keep me on the road. Leave this decision to Dave and his team, they are the experts.

  • Kelly S on

    absolutely love the MP4 hubs on my cafe racers. I beat on them, and they’re still true and running smooth as ever!


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