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Home » Cycling » Adjustable Hub Bicycle Wheels – Loose is Fast

Adjustable Hub Bicycle Wheels – Loose is Fast

February 2016
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Most newer wheels are pretty simple.  You’ve got sealed bearings, the whole wheel is preassembled and ready to roll.  You slap them on your bike and go, simple as that.  Some wheels, however, are adjustable.  The old cone and cap wheels are a good example but some of the newer wheels come with sealed bearings and are adjustable as well.  I have a set of these on my Trek, they originally came on my Venge.  I hate them.  Hate is a powerful word.  I hate them.

Now, if you’re the type of cyclist who barely takes the time to properly clean and lube your chain, this post is going to make your eyes glaze over, but it’s important nonetheless, so please try and stay with me – it may save you some consternation down the road.

I am a ridiculously finicky cyclist.  I pay good money for my stuff so I expect it to work…  That’s not unreasonable, right?

Well, there’s some wiggle room there.  In the old days of the quick release adjustable hubs, if you tightened the hub enough that it didn’t have play in it, when you set the quick release, the bearings would have too much pressure on them and that would affect the ability of the wheel to spin freely.

The set that came with my Venge, now on the Trek…

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The Venge, the day I bought it

…the wheels are an odd mix of old and new.  The wheels have enclosed cartridge bearings (new) but adjustable hubs (old).  When I brought the bike home the rear hub was too loose, the axle had too much play, so every time I hit a bump the wheel would give an odd clunk sound…  There is nothing more annoying to me than dropping as much as I did for that bike, only to have a wheel that clunked when I hit a bump.  I will be honest here, I probably should have been able to live with it like that… especially after I took it to the shop and the owner explained that to tighten the hub up too much could have a bad affect on the ease with which the wheel rolled.

I couldn’t live with it.  It drove me up a wall. There had to be a way to take that slop our of the wheel and still have it roll right.

I soon broomed those wheels for a new set that I paid $370 for and worked much better.  No clunking and they were much faster.  The Venge’s original wheels were then allocated to my Cannondale until I blew out the brake surface on the original set of wheels that came with my Trek (they were 16 years old when the sidewall gave out and I put 10,000 miles on them myself – they had to have well over 20,000 miles on them, probably a lot more, pretty good for a set of OEM wheels).

Well, I actually ride my Trek quite a bit, so when I had to dust the Venge’s original wheels off and use them, I took the rear wheel in to see if I could get the play tightened up a little bit.  After several adjustments, Justin (one of the better mechanics who races mountain bikes) handed me the wheel and said the hub was as tight as he could get it without it being too tight to ride on…

Fast forward to three weeks ago when I got dropped on a ride I should have easily been able to finish.  I’ve been out on four or five rides on that bike and I’m struggling on distances that I should be able to laugh at (35-38 miles).  Not only that, holding a 19 mph average is what’s doing me in – again, this should be easy, especially with a decent draft.

Loose is fast.

I took the wheel to the shop Friday and had some slop put back into the hub to free up the wheel a little bit.  I’d rather have a little clunk than have to deal with struggling on easy rides. This is one of those cases where I should have listened to the owner of the local shop and saved myself the trouble. Loose really is fast(er).

There was, however, a plus side to having the rear wheel too tight…  I’ve worked a lot harder this winter than last. By the time spring really gets here, I should be ready to tear it up… Better, I’ll be on the Venge which is four pounds lighter and has faster wheels.

This morning was my first test with the newly slop-laden wheel and it was much betterfaster. The clunk was back, of course, but only on the really gnarly bumps. With just three of us, in heavy winds we averaged 18-1/2 over 35 miles and I had enough left in the tank to ride with Mike halfway to his house, an additional two miles. No cramping and I spent a lot more time up front. Loose is fast.

Woohoo! 😉

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2 Comments

  1. bribikes says:

    Wow, I never even thought about this. I guess I thought there was a fixed point for play on a wheel and the goal was to get it as close to that ideal as possible and that was all there was to it. Mind blown.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Nope, and that’s why I wrote the post… I’ve known this for quite a while, I just didn’t have a good way to work it into a post. Too cool that it could add something to your lexicon.

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