Hope, Chris King, Royce, Hadley, White, the list of aftermarket hub manufacturers is almost endless. You can find fans of most of them if you look hard enough. And generally with good reason: a lot of the boutique hubs are very well made and have good backup service. For this you pay a decent sum: here in the UK a set of Hopes will run you near on £200, a pair of Royce, closer to £350, and for Kings, about £500. Not for the budget conscious!
But what happens before aftermarket? When you buy a bike in the first place? Especially for the sub £1000 bikes, which makes up the vast bulk of the bike market.
It'll come with some hubs. They might even be quite good hubs. They'll invariably have the word "Shimano" written on them - or the name of the bike manufacturer. Everyone knows Shimano. That leaves the in house branded items.
Chances are, if you've bought a Giant, or Specialized, or Trek, that the hubs have been made in Taiwan, like the rest of the bike. The companies Joytech, Formula, Chosen, and a few others, knock out these components in huge volumes, often to be rebranded and sold on. Not just by the big bike companies, but by the smaller guys as well, for instance in the UK take a look at Superstar Components who are quite open about only sourcing their gear from mass manufacturers and rebranding it (without adding an expensive advertising service). A lot of companies who simply want to complete their existing component range will source bits from these guys - compare DT Swiss (who make rims, spokes and hubs) with Specialized (who get rims from DT Swiss and hubs from Formula and spokes from who-knows-where).
Back To The Source
Which brings us in a round about kind of way to the subject of this post, Novatec. That's the retail brand of Joytech (www.joy-tech.com.tw) and how they sell their more "up market" hubs. They're not that widely known in the UK but are recommended by a few custom wheelbuilders (Harry Rowland, DCR) and sold direct from Bikester. And when looking for a Shimano alternative to go on my road bike, I decided to give the Novatecs a go. I went through one of the Ebay dealers as they had the model I was looking for listed (135mm MTB spacing, rim brake). The snapply titled F741 & F742 (manufacturers info: http://www.novatecwheels.com/novatec/english/p_racing.php?c1=3&c2=16)
So, £120 including delivery; what did that buy me?
|F741 & F742|
|F741 & F742|
6061 shell and 7075 everything else (ie axles). According to wikipedia, 7075 has "a strength comparable to many steels". That should be strong enough. Sealed bearings all round, 2 front and 4 rear. 3 pawl freehub, which is quiet, and has a decent amount of engagement points (24). Nicely made by the looks of them, the machining can't be faulted. My 105 cassette fits perfectly with no slop. Now, I don't know if I'll keep that one on there - the aluminium freehub would likely last longer with a cassette that has an alu spider on the big gears. These hubs are also made with a freehub with a steel insert ("Anti Bite Guard") - if you want it, the ebay merchants can probably get it in... eventually. The freehubs can be bought separately, too.
They spin freely with very little drag. Everything fits. They're finished nicely.
I can't say anything about longeivety of the bearings - yet. Ask me again in a year or two. However, I have ridden on a wheelset with Formula road hubs for a few years and they're still on their original bearings, and still being used regularly. The bearings used here are 6802 & 6902 on the rear - standard stuff - and that means the main axle is a reasonably beefy 15mm diameter. Annoyingly I can't see the bearing type for the front on Novatec's site, but I would guess (going by their other front hubs) it will have a 9mm axle.
Edit: bearings are all (Japanese) made by IKO - so they should be pretty good. The front hub uses type 609 which does indeed fit a 9mm axle.
That's about it so far. Safe to say, at this point, I'm quite impressed - they look like great value for money.
I'm not smitten by the aluminium freehub, but there are a gazillion other hubs sold with alloy freehubs. And I could, if I'd wanted, sourced these (somehow) with the ABG freehub that has a steel insert. As it is, that's always an option later.
So it remains to be seen how they hold up when riding. But all the initial signs are good, the axle is nice and chunky, the bearings are a decent size and its all sealed up quite nicely against the UK's typically climate problems.