Hubs connect your chain to your wheels and are an essential part of any bicycle, but how much of a difference do they really make for the overall performance? There are two hubs on every bike, and they range in price depending on the brand and the level of performance. You can save a bunch of money going with cheap hubs, but what difference will that make for your bike?
The purpose of this guide is to dispel all the myths surrounding bike hubs and to help you sort through all the salesman talk and find out what you need to know to ride again.
Do bike hubs make a difference? Hubs make a huge difference when it comes to the performance of the bicycle. The hubs create the connection between the wheels and the frame of the bike, meaning that faster hubs make for a faster bike. If the bike’s hubs contain excess debris within the races that hold the ball-bearings, the bike will ride slowly. For a bike to ride with optimal performance, the hubs must be working perfectly.
The hubs are what connects your wheels to your bike frame, so they clearly play a very important part in the operation of the bike. But what do they really do? And how much does the speed and performance of your bike really depend upon the hubs?
What Does A Hub Do On Your Bike?
The hub is the center of the wheel on your bicycle. There is one hub per wheel. Hubs can vary slightly depending on the type of bike you ride, but they typically consist of the same components.
The front hub, as its name suggests, sits at the front of your bike. The front hub is typically much simpler than the rear hub because it does not house a chain, and therefore does not carry power. Your front hub is at the center of the wheel that steers, not the wheel that powers your bike.
Like any bicycle hub, the front hub contains ball-bearings that allow it to spin freely and go as fast as possible with minimal resistance. The ball-bearings are contained within a housing that allows for disassembly and replacement of the ball-bearings. The ball-bearings are accessible either via lock nuts or via cartridge type bearings that fit together in a single unit.
Hubs come with raised lips at either end, called flanges, which are drilled with holes to fasten the spokes. The number of holes on your hubs will dictate the number of spokes and will differ depending on the type of bike you ride.
Front hubs are often fitted with disc-brake mounts so that brakes can be installed. Not all bikes feature brakes on both the front and back of the wheels, but many road bikes are fitted with disc-brake mounts. Front hubs do not do as much work as their rear counterparts because they only handle the steering, but they are an essential component of each and every bicycle.
The rear hub tends to be a more involved piece of technology because they handle the power of the bicycle. On a fixed-gear bike, the power only comes from how hard the cyclist pedals. But on a multi-gear bicycle, the rear hub will also handle the transmission of the bicycle. That is to say, the gearbox that operates the speed and torque is balanced between the cyclist and the wheel.
Geared bikes feature a freewheel that is attached to the rear hub that allows for the changing of speeds. Inside the rear hub is something called a ratchet-and-pawl mechanism. This mechanism is a toothed gear that allows the cyclist to switch between the freewheel when coasting, and to engage the transmission when needed. For this reason, rear hubs are far more complex than their front counterparts.
The number of teeth on the ratchet in your rear hub will determine the type of riding you will be able to do. BMX riders and those who want more torque will often have fewer and larger teeth on their ratchets, while road cyclists will often have more teeth for quicker and more seamless gear-changes.
The rear hub is a crucial element to any bicycle, regardless of whether it’s on a BMX bike or a road-going bike. All the power you generate must go through the rear hub, therefore making it one of the most important elements on your bike. You can’t ride how you want if your rear hub is not working perfectly.
Do Hubs Make Your Bike Go Faster?
Your wheels connect to your bike through the hubs. A faster bike means faster spinning wheels, and therefore faster spinning hubs. Hubs connect to the axles of a bicycle and spin as quickly as the cyclist can pedal — under the right conditions. If the ball-bearings in your hubs are creating excess drag, the wheels will not turn as quickly, and your bike will not move as quickly. In a roundabout sense, then, the right hubs will certainly make your bike go faster. In a more direct sense, the wrong hubs will make your bike slower.
Not every bike is built for speed, of course, but many are built solely for speed. Let’s say you’re riding a road bike. You want to make sure that you are able to put in the minimal amount of effort in order to spin your wheels as quickly as possible. There are several areas on your bicycle where power could be lost:
- The pedal mechanism
- The chain
- The transmission
- And of course, the front and rear hubs.
Your power goes from your pedals to your chain to your rear hub, but that doesn’t mean your front hub might not be introducing excess drag into the equation. A bicycle is a machine, and every piece must be properly oiled for it to work perfectly.
As for the rear hub, this is where most would think that all the speed is gained or lost. This is actually not true! The hubs are crucial for the transfer of speed and power between the wheels and the bicycle, but the amount of drag that can be exerted on the bike is minimal in the long run. That isn’t to say that having a great set of hubs isn’t crucial for having a quick and reliable bicycle, but it does mean that the hubs don’t lose as much power as one might think.
The amount of drag that the hubs will create is minimal in the grand scheme of things. Take the example of a road bike once again. Between all the different areas in which a road bike can gain or lose power, the ball-bearings in the hubs are actually quite low down on the list. Furthermore, you will almost always be able to tell when your hubs are dragging you down by simply turning the bike over and spinning the wheels. If they move freely with minimal drag, your speed problem is likely coming from elsewhere on your bike.
One factor often not even considered with bicycle hubs is the weight. Most would think that how quickly a hub will allow the wheels to spin is the only factor in how fast they can go. Not true! The right hubs can save your road bike valuable weight — especially in a long-distance ride.
Types of Bike Hubs
There are several different types of hubs that are often determined by the type of bike you own. However, there are many other factors to consider and it is not uncommon to pair a different type of bike with a different type of hub.
The most common types of bike hubs are:
- MTB hubs are for mountain bikes. MTB hubs are typically made out of lightweight aluminum. On higher end models, MTB hubs are often made out of carbon fiber in order to offer the lightest weight coupled with the strongest material. MTB bikes are typically put through the ringer and must account for a great deal of force exerted on them.
- For higher performance MTB hubs, the freewheel will often be made out of stainless steel in order to ensure maximum durability. This durability is especially needed with jumping bikes, given the need to accommodate hard landings. MTB hubs are perfect for cyclists who need extra durability.
- Road hubs will often come with fewer spoke holes than their MTB and BMX counterparts. These hubs will often feature room for 24 spokes, as opposed to 32 or 36. As with every component on a road bike, weight counts! Even several grams could make a huge difference when you’re on the 50th mile of your ride.
- Like some MTB bikes, road hubs will sometimes feature a mount for disc brakes on the front hub. This allows for two brakes to be placed on the bike — one at the front and one at the back. Road hubs are perfect for cyclists who need as light a ride as possible, and who require fewer spokes for their wheels.
- BMX hubs typically come in three different types depending on the type of riding done by the cyclist.
- Cassette hubs offer minimal weight because of their simple construction. These types of hubs can feature sprockets as few as 8 teeth in their construction. This offers incredible weight-saving for BMX riders, and also allows for superior torque control.
- Freewheel hubs function similarly to normal hubs offered on a wide range of vehicles. Because the freewheel is housed externally, as opposed to the internal wheel in a cassette hub, there is a need for more teeth on the sprocket, and therefore more weight.
- Freecoaster hubs use an internal clutch system that enables the bicycle to roll backwards without the need to pedal backwards or change gears.
- BMX hubs typically come in three different types depending on the type of riding done by the cyclist.
What Are the Best Hubs?
DT Swiss DT350 – The DT350 comes in rear as well as front hubs. This is by no means the cheapest rear hub on the market, but it is easily the best. This product is manufactured in Switzerland, and the quality control could not be better.
The DT350 weighs in at 3.52 ounces, so it won’t weigh you down on any trail, no matter how long of a ride you’re planning! Front hubs are also available, but the DT350 is a specialty made rear hub for delivering incredible power to your wheels. This will be the best rear hub you ever own.
White Industries T11 – These hubs come in either front or rear, or in a set of both. Not only are they available in a range of sizes and colors, they are incredibly lightweight and reliable. Your bike will look fantastic and it will ride even better.
These are some of the lightest weight hubs on the market, weighing in at just 3.24 ounces for the front hub. That’s incredibly light. They are made out of ultra lightweight aluminum, with a titanium flywheel for increased durability and lightness. You cannot possibly find a better made road hub than the T11. These hubs are highly recommended!
Odyssey Clutch V2 – This is quite possibly the highest performing and most durable BMX rear hub on the market. There are scores of videos online showcasing what these things can do. If you’re a BMX’er, you want the Odyssey Clutch V2. It’s that great!
This is one of the beefier products on the market, weighing in at 22 ounces for the rear hub. But you won’t notice the weight, you will only notice the performance and the durability! The product comes with an optional hub guard that is fully removable, on the off chance you find yourself wanting to reduce the weight. But to put it simply, the Odyssey performs perfectly as-is!
Servicing Your Hubs
To determine whether or not you need to clean your hubs, first turn your bike upside down, with the seat and handlebars balancing the weight on the ground. Spin your front wheel — if there is excessive resistance it’s time to give your hubs a service.
Cup and Cone Hubs
Start by collecting your tools and supplies. To service your cup and cone, or press-fitted hubs, you will need:
- Cone wrenches (usually 15mm and 17mm)
- A magnetic hex screwdriver
- Bike cassette removal tool with chainwhip
- Adjustable wrench
- Paper towels
First, we need to remove the cassette from the freehub body. Start by using a cone wrench to hold the cone in place, then use another wrench to unscrew the nut. You can then remove the lock nut and spacer(s) by hand — paying attention to the order in which they are assembled. Repeat the same steps to unscrew the other side of the cone, then separate the two ends to expose your ball-bearings.
Using a magnetic screwdriver, remove the ball-bearings from the race in which they are contained.
Clean your ball-bearings with degreaser and a paper towel. Be sure to remove any traces of grease and gunk. Examine your bearings and other components carefully to make sure that they are not in need of replacement. There is no point cleaning bearings that are simply too worn out to be used.
Replace your ball-bearings and reattach the two halves of the hub. Make sure that hub is able to spin properly — add any necessary grease in order to accomplish this end, then re-tighten the hub the same way that you loosened it up.
Refit the hub to the axle of the bike and test it out! The wheels should spin much more easily now that you’ve eliminated any resistance and re-oiled your machine.
Cartridge Bearing Hubs
The necessary tools are:
- Cone wrenches (13mm, 14mm, 15mm, 16mm)
- Open-ended 15mm wrench
- 5mm allen keys
- Solid rear axle
- Nylon Mallet
- Small screwdriver
- Bearing grease
Remove the end of your hub with an allen key. This might take some elbow-grease as the halves are often tightly stuck together.
Make sure to pay attention to the order of the spacers and O-rings that are contained within the halves for reassembly.
Getting the ball-bearings out of your hub will take some more elbow-grease. A nylon mallet is recommended for this task as a rubber mallet will likely not generate enough force for the task.
Clean the entire hub with degreaser and paper towels until it is completely free from grease and grime. You will then need to inspect the hub and flanges to determine whether or not any significant corrosion has occurred.
Spread a coating of grease on the outside and the inside of the:
Refit the bearings into the hub race, then refit the halves of the hub. Make sure that the hub is able to spin freely before tightening.
You are now ready to refit the hub to the axel and press-fit the halves back together with a mallet. Make sure that the pieces are properly aligned as you can easily create ridges in the metal that will prevent a proper seal in the future.
There are many different ways to increase the overall performance of your bike, but upgrading your hubs is a great place to start. Your hubs are where your wheels meet your bike, so it’s harder to think of a better place to begin your upgrades than with the hubs.
Even if you cannot afford to pay for a new set of hubs, taking a look at the ball-bearings is a surefire way to begin your journey towards the fastest and most reliable ride that you can get.
In many ways, a bicycle is the ultimate machine. It takes the power from a cyclist pedaling and transforms it into something much more. This power comes from you and transfers to the wheels. What’s at the center of your wheels? Your hubs! They are immeasurably important for the success of your ride and the functioning of your machine. Hubs make all the difference!