The November guide to wheel buying Part 2: Rims and hubs

In part 1, we defined the tires and their impact on rim choice. From there, the rest is just a decision tree of how the choices you've made will inform the rest of the choices you make. Since there was so much emphasis and explanation on how the tires and rims work together yesterday, we're going to spend only minimal time on rims today and focus mostly on hubs. 

Except in really unusual cases, rim and hub choices don't affect each other all that much. What would be an unusual case? SON dynamo disc hubs laced into offset rims will have slightly higher drive side tension than disc side tension. We're going to build one such wheel soon, so it's not a first order concern, but in a perfect world you'd build them into non-offset rims. Track hubs and offset rims don't match well, but we've never run across the situation (at least that I remember) of needing to work around that. 

Some hubs only come in limited drilling. Boutique hubs like some of the Carbon-Ti or ExtraLite or Tune stuff is like that, and in those cases where a somewhat bigger rider wants to use one of those hubs, we'll recommend a deeper or stouter rim in order to get the most out of that, and then probably a thicker spoke as well (more on them later). And then you've got a lot of hubs, Shimano and Campagnolo leading the way, where they limit you to higher spoke counts. Some rims just don't come in appropriate drillings for them, and if there is a rim to suit then we won't be shy about going all the way light on spokes because you've got more of them than you need anyhow. 

Everyone likes to sweat either the rim or hub choice really really hard, and get that perfect. Fewer people choose to sweat both as much, as the first decision takes a toll and then the next decision is "I just don't want to be wrong." With as many rims as there are, we feel lately that people have wrestled with the rim decision super hard and then ease off at the hub decision. But there are PLENTY of people who want to start the whole decision with a hub, and that's great. Again, the hub choice won't dictate your rim choice very much, but it's nice to "make the problem smaller" by identifying the hub choice. 

We've written a ton about hubs in general and hubs in specific. The wonderful part about digital booklets is that you get to link to previously written stuff instead of writing it all over again, or cutting and pasting 6000 words. We haven't completely reviewed each model of hub from every manufacturer, but their attributes are strongly linked between models. For example, what we've written about the Industry Nine Torch road hub is applicable to the corresponding disc hub: engagement is the same, geometry will have similar relative engineering if not the same absolute values, material choices will be the same, bearings will be the same types, bearing pre-load adjustment schemes (or lack thereof) will be similar, etc. So there's masses of good stuff there in the archives.

In our last miniseries, we beat hub strength and wheel strength to death. Sometimes hub choice is really simple. A lot of people just plain like DT Swiss hubs, they've heard they're great or they've had a pair that worked well, and that's that. Don't mess with success. Lots of people want a specific color, and within the range of hubs we use, that's a fine way to go as that's not going to lead you into a dead end. It will restrict your choice set a bit, but no dead ends. Some people like quiet hubs, some people like louder hubs. Most people like minimal maintenance, and good news for all of you because there aren't any hubs we sell that have rigorous maintenance requirements. But some people do like to fiddle with their hubs a bit, and there's a hierarchy to that. 

A lot of people want the lightest hub possible, and a lot of people seek out the strongest hub or the best hub for larger cyclists. As is so often the case, I'm sorry to disappoint the weight weenies but 30 or 50g of hub weight isn't going to be squat of a difference. Sure, there are hubs that are 150g heavier than a functionally similar-ish hub (for example, a low end Shimano road hub), and that gets to be a bit of weight. But the low end Shimano road hub is going to have liabilities that are far more profound than the excess weight; the weight is a proxy for the general low-end-ness of the hub. There are a bunch of hubs out there that really chase light weight, and they're cool and some people (particularly Germans, for some reason) really respond to that, but generally you start to pay a lot more for the marginal gram saved and it gets hard for us to justify. 

So whatever your kink is, we've tried to set up something of a walled garden, where we feel like we've focused on a range of hubs that are all going to do the job that our customers have wanted done, and within that box there are corners that emphasize different attributes, even if that attribute is "matches the orange bits on my bike." And that's as legitimate an attribute as any other once you've narrowed the choice set down to "good hubs."

Hub choice, to most people, probably seems harder than it should be. The "simplest" parameters - noise level, color, ease of maintenance, etc - are wonderful simply because they narrow us down and we're not splitting 20 hairs with you. We're only splitting 4 of them. It's great. 

That's it for hubs. Next we'll get into spokes and lacing. 


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  • Dave on

    Awesome, Mike. Happy to hear it.

  • Mike T on

    I’ve been enjoying nerding out on all this daily info! I bought 3 sets of wheels (2-650b and 1-700c) from you about 2 years ago for my “gravel” bike and they have all been great and true. I moved one of the 650b sets to a monstercross and they are taking a beating. When picking the wheels I went with your recommendations and you have done me right!


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