One of the central parts of a conventional bicycle wheel. Hubs are flanged metal tubes, somewhat similar in shape to spools of thread. Hubs contains bearings and an axle, and they are connected to the rims via spokes. The rear hub holds the freewheel or cassette.
The bearings in your hubs are wear items. This is discussed more in the bearing article, but cup and cone hubs require annual service. The cones may eventually wear out and can be replaced. Cartridge bearings usually do not require service, but they will eventually wear out. A competent bike store or a consumer with the right tools can pull them and replace them. The freehub body can often be obtained from the hub manufacturer as a replacement if it wears out. If the hub is OEM equipment on a complete bicycle, the bike store should be able to search for replacements in their inventory.
Good hubs can outlast a rim. Currently, many consumers buy complete wheels, but you can also buy separate hubs and ask someone to build you a wheel, or have a hub from a damaged wheel taken out and reused. If you damage or wear out a rim, consider if rebuilding on the same hub is more cost-effective than buying a whole new wheel.
For consumers, some key features are:
- Spacing and axle type
If you are getting a new wheel, you will need to make sure that these features match your current bike. Quick release road and MTB hubs had 130 and 135mm over-locknut diameter respectively. On thru axle hubs, road hubs wheels use a consistent spacing and mostly use 12mm diameter thru axles front and rear. MTB hubs likely use 15mm diameter thru axles, but you need to consider if the bike uses Boost spacing (148mm in the rear) or not (142mm, same as disc road bikes).
You need to match the rear hub's freehub body to your drivetrain. Shimano road hubs have mainly used the Hyperglide system, but the 12s Dura Ace hubs are transitioning to a different spline system (name not yet determined), and they use the Microspline system for MTBs. SRAM has shifted to the XD and XDR driver systems. Campagnolo has maintained its own freehub spline pattern, with an additional variant (called N3W) to accommodate the small cogs on its Ekar gravel groupset. Alternatively, you may have a freewheel hub, and you would thread a freewheel onto the hub.
If you switch drivetrains, replacement freehub bodies are usually available from the hub manufacturer.
- Disc or rim brake
Hubs designed for disc brakes will have their flanges spaced so as to accommodate the rotor, and they will have a mounting system. As to the latter, the two rotor mount standards are 6-bolt (mostly used on MTBs) and centerlock (used on drop bar bikes). Rim brake hubs cannot be used in disc brake systems, as there is nowhere to mount the rotor.
- Other features
- Internally geared hubs contain all the gears inside the hub. They don't have freewheels, but they do have an external cog to attach a chain or belt drive. These typically have higher drivetrain friction than (properly maintained) derailleur-based systems, but they are much more resistant to contamination. They may use belt drives or chains for the transmission.
- Track/fixed-gear hubs may have narrower spacing than other hubs. They will not have a cassette body, and they will accept a thread-on cog on one side of the hub.
- Flip-flop hubs have a cog is mounted on either side of the wheel. According to legend, Tullio Campagnolo was inspired to develop the quick release skewer when he tried to flip a flip-flop hub secured by wingnuts in cold weather. This may not be strictly true, but Campagnolo was one of the first to put a high-quality quick release skewer into serial production.
- Both front and rear hubs can accommodate electric motors. Users should be aware that they will change the bike's weight distribution and thus its handling. The batteries are mounted elsewhere on the bike. The crankset is an alternative area for mounting a motor (i.e. a mid drive e-bike).