A Hub For All Seasons

I’ve been thinking about wheels a lot lately. A number of themes have been buzzing, like flies, around my head. One product I saw at Interbike, as I was walking toward the lone good coffee purveyor on the show’s final day is just one more theme – one more buzzing fly – adding to my confusion but, I hope, my eventual enlightenment. First, let’s talk about the product, then let’s talk about its application.

It’s the Phoenix hub system, a brand new product, perhaps not yet even available for purchase. It’s a set of inners that disconnects from the hub shell, sort of like Star Trek saucer separation. A pair of (identical) lock rings, one atop the other, keeps it altogether. What does this mean?

The purpose is to grant additional utility and flexibility to a hub-and-wheel system. You’d have wheels built around the hub shell, and depending on what you want to do with the inners – the cassette system and attached cassette – you bolt the inners into the wheel you want to use. You might say that, hey, that’s already available to me. I already have several cassettes that are portable to whatever wheel I want to use. You might have wheels that have various end caps that allow you to change the wheels from standard quick release to thru axle, from 135mm to 142mm, and so forth. I think most of the newer wheels coming out now have this: the capacity to act as either thru axles or standard QRs.

Yes, that’s true. One thing I think I might not be able to do, however, is to swap a wheel back and forth between disc and rim brake bikes. You can do that with this hub system. I’ve got to think about whether any rear disc brake wheels I have could be retrofitted to use with rim brake bikes. This Phoenix hub system is Centerlock-based (Shimano’s disc brake standard) and I can’t imagine how it would work other than as a Centerlock wheel.

This is simply a rear hub system. (I wish this sort of functionality existed in front wheels, so that I could move my wheels from disc to rim brake bikes.)

I like the idea of a hub this modular. I think it’s mostly the capacity to allow wheels to be used as both disc and rim brake bikes that I like, as well as the capacity to easily change the cassette body from Shimano to Campagnolo. Just, HED also has for years had the capacity to easily change between these two component maker cassette body standards. So, there’s nothing too awfully new here in the utility, just, it’s pretty cool to imagine how easily I might use various wheels among my bikes without having to change cassettes.

You might argue that this is silly. That, how often is this necessary? Would I want to use my road race rim brake rear wheel in my disc brake gravel bike? Actually, yes. I think I might. When I talk to wheel makers these days, here is what they’re saying to me: About half the aero wheel makers are moving to bead widths of 20mm or 21mm. They are making all their models tubeless-capable except for older legacy models. They are all capable of being ridden in gravel, on paves, that is, the tri wheels are just as robust as the gravel wheels. And, of course, they are moving to thru axle and disc brake as all the bikes are moving in this direction.

So, how will my tri bike wheels and my gravel wheels differ, 5 years from now? I don’t know, but a lot less than they differ from each other now. What will change is the gearing, that is, if I use my triathlon wheel in a gravel race, I’ll probably need to change the cassette, or move from inners with ceramic to standard bearings.

When I started thinking about this hub on my way back from the Interbike show and I realized how under-coffeed I was when I looked at this product. Were the spoke holes properly chamfered? This hub takes a standard elbow-style spoke, and I should’ve looked closer, because a lot of hub makers new to this market don’t understand the stress on the hub head or elbow if those holes are not properly chamfered.

Is this hub a forging? If not, will it be? As with crankarms and derailleur parallelograms (and much else) aluminum forgings are better than hub shells machined out of a billet in products subject to repeated stresses over time. It’s not the shell, per se, but the spoke hole area. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know about your product until it’s been under a fair number of users for a fair period of time.

I have unanswered questions about the product, which is not cheap ($750 for the whole system which includes 2 shells, so, $375 per rear hub – kind of – and $150 for all additional shells). I also don’t fully appreciate (I’m sure) the utility, and in time I’m going to rue the fact that my wheels are not built with these hubs (“dang, if this wheel o’ mine had a Phoenix hub then I could…”). I like the idea of this hub. As it percolates over time I’ll see how often I wish I had one.

Read more about this hub system. I'm beyond certain I'd write differently about this hub if I knew all I should know about it. Perhaps Lynn (who stars in the video above) might add to what I write in the Facebook comments below and might answer some of your questions.