Which hubs are for me? Part 1

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Having given a general overview of hubs and how they work, and some of the general differences between the ones we use, it's time to go into more specifics on each one. We start with the November by Novatec rim brake hubs, as used in our standard FSW3 wheel sets, and available as an option in custom builds. As Kai Ryssdal says every night on NPR Marketplace, "but first, let's do the numbers..."

To quickly explain each of the parameters, left and right flange distances are how far each flange is from the lateral centerline of the hub. Non-dished wheels (road fronts, track wheels) will have the same flange distance left and right. Dished wheels have unequal flange distances. Rears will have a greater left offset owing to the space needed for the cassette, while disc fronts have a greater right distance because of the need for space for the rotor on the left side. 

Symmetrical flange distances on a rim brake front hubLeft flange on a dished rear hub is farther from center than the rightThis flange situation is why the spokes on a rim brake front have equal tensions on both sides, and why a rear wheel's drive side spokes are tighter than the non-drive side. In order to equalize the tensions in a rear wheel, the hub design can move the left flange inboard to decrease the differential, but this comes with a detriment to overall wheel stability. 

Flange spread is the primary determinant of how laterally stiff a wheel will build on any given hub. Simply add the two flange distances together to get flange spread. In general, the more the better. However, that needs to be balanced with tension differential as described above. Flange diameter is also part of the flange spread/stability equation. Taller flanges effectively increase flange spread, since both larger flange spread and bigger diameter flanges will flatten the angle at which spokes go from the hub to the rim. The point here is that triangles with wide bases are more stable than triangles with relatively narrower bases.

Bearing spread isn't something you find in most (any?) hub spec sheets, but it's an important criteria. Getting the bearings as far outboard as possible is a benefit to stability, as less of the axle is cantilevered outboard of the flange. 

In the dimensions we give, flange distance, spread, and diameter are given to center (center of the flange in distance and spread, center of the spoke hole in diameter). This is the general convention for measuring these. Bearing spreads are given outside to outside. These are kind of a pain in the butt to measure, and since there is no general convention for measuring these, we've just left them that way. 

So, what about these hubs, then?

Front Hub

The front hub is lightweight, with decent flange and bearing spread. Of the road fronts we'll review, it has the lowest flange spread and flange diameter figures. While it's a fantastic front hub for a ton of situations, it is not the right hub for bigger riders looking to get the most out of a low spoke count front wheel. Because of the smaller flange diameter, we don't love it in 28h and we won't build them in 32h - the distance betweeen spoke holes gets really small in high spoke counts, which weakens the flange in a situation where by definition you want to have very strong flanges. 

The bearings we spec for these are great, the equal of any other bearings on offer with the likely exception of Kings. King makes their own bearings, and they are pretty special. It's easy to find similar hubs but with really crap bearings, which lowers the price. The bearings are a standard 699 size and if you feel that your life is incomplete without ceramic bearings, they are easy to source and install (we think your life is either complete or incomplete regardless of ceramic bearings, though).

Durability, as with many front hubs, is excellent. What maintenance there is to do is accomplished with 2 5mm and one 6mm hex wrenches. Insert a 5 into each end cap and counter rotate them, which will spin one cap off. Put the 6 into that end, counter rotate again, and both caps are off, exposing the bearings. Drying wet bearings, repacking dry bearings, and replacing worn bearings is very easy. 

Rear Hub

The rear hub, like the front, is a simple utilitarian and effective design. It's light without making sacrifices to do it, and it has one superb innovation. 

Flange geometry is decent but not quite as good as the boutique hubs we do. Stability is quite good, tension ratios are very slightly lower on these than others. In practice, this hasn't presented any issues, although we do tend to recommend other hubs for bigger riders wanting to press lower spoke counts - you can get more stiffness out of "all else equal" builds with the other hubs we use. Bearing spread is also quite good. The rear axle is aluminum, as are all the other rim brake hubs we do except for White Industries T11.

The cassette body is a great feature of the rear hub. The Anti Bite Guard uses on steel spline on an otherwise all aluminum cassette body, which markedly reduces cassette body wear at the expense of almost no weight. Chewed up cassette bodies can cause shifting problems, as cogs get out of alignment, and at the very least make it a real pain in the butt to change cassettes.

The drive mechanism is driven by four pawls, with 27 engagment points. Not the fastest engagement on the market, but still quite good and absolutely completely adequate for any road riding application. 

Nothing fancy, just reliable and good

Maintenance, as with the front, is super simple. You subsitute a 10mm hex for the 6mm that you use in the front, and all else is the same. 

Both front and rear hub sheels are forged and then machined, as all of our hubs are. This is the way to do it. We have received zero known issues of hub sheel failure in 6 years of using these hubs, and have had an overall outstanding customer satisfaction rate with them.

WHO ARE THEY FOR?

As a prelude to conclusion, it's worth noting that exceptionally close cousins of these hubs are used in PLENTY of $1000+ factory builds. The ABG cassette body makes it pretty obvious to a casual glance, but there are other things that are easy for the trained eye to spot. Novatec is likely the biggest OEM hub maker out there, they have a bunch of products at different price points, and these are among their best hubs.

For the vast majority of cyclists out there, these are a fantastic choice. They aren't the lightest or the anything-est, but they perform wonderfully and allow us to sell the FSW3 at a price somewhere generally between 30% and 50% less than equivalent wheels on the market. They do well in all conditions as an every-day-use hub, they let you get everything possible out of our wheels in terms of speed, and they are as "set it and forget it" as it is possible to be. The only liability they have is use by really big riders, as mentioned above. 

They may not be the fanciest hubs in the display case, and come in any color you like as long as you like black, but objectively these are hubs with which most people will have a fantastic ownership experience. 


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  • Ed on

    When you mention bigger riders, what would you say is the weight limit for these hubs?

  • Chris K on

    Very useful and honest review of the Novatec hubs. Hard enough to get good technical insights but the honesty is even harder to come by. Thanks.

  • Ed on

    Dave- I like your approach and your honesty. You are clearly looking out for the customer's best experience rather than just trying to move product.

  • Mike on

    Never had any issues with any of of the 5 sets of these I've had on wheels in the last couple of years, easily have 5k miles on my current set (and I should probably have some routine service done to them at some point…).

  • dave on

    We think the ownership experience is going to start to decline somewhere north of 230 or so, which is a big part of why we put 225 as the weight limit on the 24/28 FSW3 build with these. By ownership experience declining we mean that maintenance needs will go up and longevity will decline. We try to put a little more thought into these things than the standard "what can we tell people that they can 'get away with?'" bike industry babble.



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