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Which Hubs To Use For Bike Touring


Deore LX hubs If you’re going on a long bike tour through less developed parts of the world, you naturally want the parts on your bike to last as long as possible.

With so many choices on the market, however, it can be hard to find the parts that are right for you. Occasionally we receive emails asking for our advice and experience with parts over long distances.

The latest question we received focused on which hubs to use for an extended bike tour through Africa (if you don’t want to read the whole post, the hubs on our current bikes are Shimano Deore LX and they also seem to be the preferred hub among most tourers at the moment):

A friend and I are planning a cycle trip through Africa, to some pretty remote places. I’m using Stephen Lord’s Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook and the experience of me and my mates to makes calls on components for our bikes. The one thing I can’t settle on is which hubs to use. The mountain bike guys in our community say Hope or Chris King hubs are the way to go but they are significantly more expensive than Deore XTs or SLX or even XTR. I’ve never had hub problems, but I have some mates who’ve said their Shimano Hubs were a bit troublesome after events like the Cape Epic race. For an 8 month, 10,000km tour, what would you recommend? -Alex

As with all technical emails, we began our reply with a disclaimer. Still, for what it’s worth, here’s our experience with hubs:

“First things first: we are not mechanical experts. We’re just two people who like to bike tour and pick up tips along the way to share. We’re happy to give our experience but if you’re looking for the mechanic’s expert opinion, we’re not it.

We used Shimano’s Deore XT hubs on our world tour and had no major problems. Our maintenance was limited to:

1. After 15,000km – Cleaning and regreasing the bearings. This is actually a fairly easy job, if you have the correct tools to do it.

Cleaning and regreasing our hubs2. After 30,000km – Replacing the bearings in the hubs, as part of a wider bike overhaul. We had this done in Bangkok.

3. After 40,000km – Replacing Andrew’s hub but only because one of his wheels failed in Idaho and we had to replace it with a pre-built wheel, so Andrew received a new hub by default. Friedel’s hub ran flawlessly until the end of the tour (48,000km in total).

The bikes then went into storage, until we recently rebuilt them with standard Shimano kit (this time, Deore LX hubs). For us, so far, we’ve found Shimano hubs to be good value and reliable.

As for your trip, it’s true that there’s a good chance your hub won’t be running quite as smoothly after 10,000km as it did at the start. That said, when you go on such a long, challenging tour, you tend to become accustomed to your bike not running perfectly smoothly (or at least we did). We doubt that any slight added roughness will really bother you.

If you want a little extra reassurance, invest in some cone spanners and an emergency tool like the NBT2 so that you can take your hubs apart on the road. Ask a bike-savvy friend to show you how to take the hubs apart. It’s really not that hard to pull them apart, regrease and clean everything, and put them back together.”

This is only our opinion, so what’s your experience with hubs? Would you advise Alex to go for more expensive models? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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32 Responses to “Which Hubs To Use For Bike Touring”

  1. Hi,

    From my experience now, keep away from XT (Shimano).

    This year and last I did 2 small tours (on my blog), the rear hub was causing problems by the second trip. Had it sent back to Spa Cycles who forwarded onto the UK importer, Madisons. Repaired and returned. Spa says the problem now with the new XT’s is the hub is aluminium and not steel, ideal for your lightweight MTB but not man enough for your heavyweight tourer. I have also heard the same problems on other forums, CTC etc.. Their advise, stick with LX, steel and bombproof.

    So am ordering now LX hubs, Rigidia/Sputniks rims (as before)for my next adventures.

    Hope this helps.

    Nigel

  2. Spot on Advice! Phil Wood hubs are also a good choice though they are a bit expensive.

    Just be sure you know how to adjust the hubs and know what it feels like when a hub gets a little loose. What usually gets people in trouble is their hubs get a little loose without them realizing it and they ruin their bearings or races by riding on loose hubs.

    Another benefit is you can easily find loose bearings in Africa to replace the ones in a shimano hub but finding the sealed bearing common in Chris King Hubs would be much more difficult.

    Long distance touring in far away places is a unique activity. Best to take advice from people who have done it, rather that just any experienced rider. Andrew and Friedel know their stuff!

  3. Vicky says:

    We recently did quite a bit of research into hubs (having had difficulties with Hope hubs) and decided to go for Shimano LX on Rigida Sputnik rims built by a highly-recommended wheelbuilder. Here are two blogposts relating to this quest!

    http://www.woollypigs.com/2011/08/is-there-hope-for-my-hub/
    http://www.woollypigs.com/2011/10/new-rear-wheel/

  4. friedel says:

    Interesting to hear about the problems with the newer XT models, especially since XT should – in theory – according to Shimano’s parts hierarchy be better than LX. We obviously got some good ones for our world tour, but they may well have changed the manufacturing process since then. Incidentally, when we rebuilt our bikes they ended up with LX hubs – a twist of good luck for us (as opposed to the result of serious research on hubs).

  5. Len DeMoss says:

    Paul, I had always felt that the Phil Wood hubs were spot on best hubs available; that is until TdA this year when my son rode with them and the pawls failed on his rear wheel about 2/3 way through the tour and the hub was destroyed. I have had XT hubs now on my Surly LHT for 5 years and the only thing done has been to have the bearings lubed. I’ve done 4 annual tours through SE Asia (of about 4000K each trip) and 4 tours in the US on these hubs. Can’t speak highly enough of them and would buy XT hubs again.

  6. Robertjan says:

    Friedel,
    On the forums of “de Wereldfietser” bike guru Marten Gerritsen said early in 2010 that the XT-hubs are alu nowadays. Meaning that in hubs it’s not the preferred choice anymore.
    Other XT-parts still are better than LX, depending on the value for money one seeks for.
    Robertjan

    • friedel says:

      Well, there you are. That’s what I get for not reading the Wereldfietser forums, and improving my Dutch at the same time :)

      It also explains why Marten suggested LX hubs when we built our wheels with him.

      • Len DeMoss says:

        I stand by the XT hubs. I’ve got about 15,000 miles
        on my XT hubs with nothing but new lubing of
        bearings. And that includes some really dusty, rough
        and heavy touring.

      • friedel says:

        I think it may depend when you bought the hubs… older models are perhaps more robust than the latest ones? Just the impression I’m getting.

      • Robertjan says:

        Exactly. I have XT’s too in my offroad touring bike, but they’re from 2003…

  7. When I say ‘keep away from XT (Shimano)’ I am only talking about XT as a hub for heavyweight touring. I use an XT ‘Shadow’ rear dérailleur and XT shifters, so not against XT!

    As explained to me by Spa Cycles http://www.spacycles.co.uk/products.php?plid=m2b17s200p0&tbv=SPA_CYCLES_PARTS_&_ACCESSORIES_Wheels_-_Handbuilt_Wheelsets_%2826%29 They are a dedicated touring bike outlet.

    The newer XT hubs are aluminium, so to get the same strength as a steel but less weight you need a fatter axle. With this brings less room for bearings! The bearings are then smaller, this is the problem. LX been steel and a smaller diameter axle then you have a larger bearing/s. If this is wrong I stand corrected! It was my bearings that were failing previously.

    Spa now will recommend LX hubs over XT hubs for heavyweight touring.

    Nigel

    • Stephen Lord says:

      I was curious about this, I was surprised (naive me)Shimano would change something that was good for something that didn’t last as long. Then I realised, these hubs are made for mountain bikers, not tourers, and mountain bikers buy a lot more stuff than we do and are happy to replace it more often. If you google ‘Shimano Techdocs’ you can download the PDF showing exploded diagrams for all their hubs. The SLX is traditional cup and cone and uses 11 1/4″bearings each side. The xt hub I looked at uses 13 3/16″ bearings and on the non-drive side, they’re in a retaining clip, one more thing to break and worry you won’t find a replacement for. Nigel’s spot-on and it’s good to know that Spa is looking out for tourers rather than just recommending MTB stuff. Hope hubs are great, but what’s standard over here may not be standard out there in East Jeezus…

  8. stijn says:

    I agree that LX’s are a good all-round choice. But if you can afford them, I wouldn’t completly discard sealed bearing hubs. Hope pro 2 hubs, for example, use widely available industry standard size bearing and they are roadside replaceble, check out the video below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sKcq9ChVEE

  9. Trevor says:

    If you are looking for a good hub at a lower price than Phil Wood, I suggest having a look at the DT-Swiss 370 series. Solid, smooth running and Shimano cassette compatible. Officially they are only for 32 spokes but if you ask nicely they will deliver in 36 holes too.

    • Len DeMoss says:

      For the Africa TdA trip this year, I rode WTB wheels on
      my Spot 29er with WTB hubs. Those hubs by far with the
      fastest and best hubs of any bikes on that trip. My son
      had Phil Wood and they failed and others had problems
      with DT Swiss. No one could keep up with me on downhills
      with those WTB hubs.

  10. Doug W. says:

    I and many of my other mountain biking friends would recommend avoiding Chris King hubs. Aside from the fact that they require special tools to service, my rear wheel had to be sent back to CK on two occasions due to problems with the freewheel. Others I know have had the same experience. I never had any issues with the front hub.

    Another issue is the trademark CK “can of bees” sound the hubs make while coasting. It can get annoying on really long descents.

    • stijn says:

      Same here, Chris King front hub had split part (little rings which sit flush against the dropouts) twice, as these were press fitted, had to go back to the factory twice as well. I was never given an explanation, so could happen again anytime..

  11. michal plech says:

    I am professionally bike mechanic working in a busy shop. I also tour a lot and I use HOPE PRO2 and PRO3 (PRO3 is the road version without disc mount) they not as expensive as DT Swiss or Chris King but the quality of them is outstanding!! easy to service, strong and bombproof! the big thing that makes them better then shimano is that they run cartridge bearings. even when the bearings died you can ride without ruining your hub. my PRO3 did about 30 000 km for last 1,5 year I didn’t do much to it. just lube the free hub body before I went cycling across Italy and France

  12. Jerry Roskilly says:

    Surprised no one mentioned any of the dynamo hubs. Just got the Son 28. I have not read about any problems with them.

    • friedel says:

      Agreed that the SON hubs seem to get universally good reviews. We each have one ourselves. I expect people were thinking more of traditional hubs when they answered the question… even if you get a SON hub on the front, you still need something for the back :-)

  13. friedel says:

    Neither Rohloff or SON fit the budget category, unfortunately – especially if you’re already concerned about the price of Chris King or Hope hubs!

    • Robertjan says:

      Heinz Stücke has show that even a simple 3-speed hub is enough to bring you allover the world.
      Leaves for the front hub: a Shimano like the DH-3N72 or -3N80 are good hubs too. Though not enough for everybody, surely enough for many cyclists.
      Robertjan

  14. David says:

    Shimano makes superb hubs. You can spend a lot more money yet get a lot less quality. If they only had grease ports they would be perfect. For touring, LX (or XT) would be just fine. And I hate this “best” vs. 2nd or 3rd tier thing. Use whatever is APPROPRIATE! For racing XTR may be best; for commuting or touring, SLX or LX may be best. Choices are not always most appropriate when based on cost.

  15. Trevor says:

    If you are spending good money on your hubs, it’s probably worth giving some attention to the bottom bracket and headset bearings too. On a typical touring bike they have an extremely hard life. Install decent gear and it’s one less thing to worry about on the trip…

  16. Hope Pro3 bearings are non-standard. You can ONLY get them special order form british distributors (wiggle, chainreactioncycles) and they aren’t cheap. But the replacement cartridges don’t weigh a lot. So just bring along some spares cartridges if you go with these bearings.

    Thorn highly recommended Hope Pro3 hubs for the front wheel on the Nomad with Rohloff rear hub, so that’s what I went with. I like the idea of cartridge bearings, though not non-standard cartrdiges. Then again, hopefully cartridge replacement is going to be an infrequent affair, assuming these hubs and their cartridges really are as good as Thorn says.

    I’m also planning to carry spare cartridge bearings for my headset (FSA Orbit XL II). I’m not sure if these are standard cartridge bearings or a custom size, but I figure I might as well get the manufacturer version so as to avoid problems down the road.

    I think the trade-off for using cartridge bearings is a good one. Proper bearing adjustment with loose bearings is tricker than knocking in a cartridge. An incompetent mechanic could easily make a mess of things. If you do the job yourself (I’m assuming, of course, you’re not an incompetent mechanic yourself :), then the cone wrenches add weight. Supposedly, you have to service loose bearings more often than quality cartridges. Still, I can see the appeal of doing things the older cup-and-cone way: more standard, cheaper.

  17. Lance says:

    White Industries make a great line of hubs for touring all the way up to 48 spoke. Excellent quality, less cost than Phil Wood, Chris King. We run them on our Tandem.
    I use the older 9 speed xtr hubs on my Surly Travelers cheque and have never had an issue. Maintain your equipment on a regular basis and it should serve you well. The older 9 sp XT was bombproof along with Deore. I also run the old XT square taper bottom bracket with the loose ball bearings. Easy to maintain and very reliable

  18. I just finished riding around the world on my Shimano Deore LX hubs. I overhauled both front and rear when I got back in The States, and though they were dirty, the surfaces were smooth and they spin like crazy. Good hubs are not likely to give you any trouble.

  19. Dale says:

    I’m having to replace, because I can’t find any cones that fit, a rear xt m-760 that’s got about 10,000 miles on it. I think I had the guy at my lbs service the hubs at around 6,000 but can’t remember. Now I’m looking at getting the xt 756 or 785. May stay away from 785 though.

  20. Simon Groves says:

    I use a Hope Pro 2 rear hub, uses common sized industrial cartridge bearings and can be rebuilt though the free hub is loud, but I like it and I’m used to it as I have them on my mountain bikes.

    I like the convertible axles. I use the 135x10mm bolt-up that uses 2 large allen key bolts (6mm tool) to fasten the hub to the drop outs. Handy for my trailer mount.

    My bike had Shimano M529 hubs. Turned out the spoke length was 1mm difference between the hb529 and the pro 2 for my rims so I just swapped the hub as I have been building wheels for a while now.

    Haven’t decided on a front hub yet, either a Hope Pro 2/Evo or Supernova/Son dynamo with B&M E-Werk for charging usb devices (phone/Garmin 800) and my Hope 7.4v battery packs for my lights R1/R4 and District+

  21. Claus says:

    I built a wheel with a Deore XT hub (FH-M 756) last winter and I’m satisfied, but when I tried to find spare cones for this hub I was disappointed; Shimano still sells FH-M 756 rear XT hub, but it’s impossible to buy spare parts! Does anybody know if I can use cones and seals from any other hub or should I buy a spare hub to get the spare parts I’ll need in the future?

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