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Choosing the right hub can be one of the most important decisions in one's life, well at least for us mountain bikers. This is one upgrade that I firmly believe can drastically improve a bike's performance and durability if chosen wisely. In this guide, I am going to focus on a few higher-end hub models that would be considered upgrades on just about any mountain bike sold.
Whether you are replacing your OEM hub or building a completely fresh wheelset, we have a few main points that we stress when educating riders on what hub to select. I always start by discussing the budget as this can dictate what models we want to explore, but at the end of the day, I only have about 4 models that I come back to as a recommendation. These options are models from Hope, Industry Nine, and DT Swiss. Each brand has different strengths in this category so let's dive in.
I will kick this off with the DT Swiss options. DT offers a wide range of wheels and hubs and their star ratchet design hubs are some of the best in the business. I specifically state star ratchet their as they do have some lower lever models that run a 3-pawl system. While those are not bad hubs by any means, I would group them with the lower level OEM hubs that you are probably looking to replace. That puts us firmly into the DT Swiss 350 and above range when looking at models. The 350 and 240 are the bread and butter from DT and sport many of the same features. The main difference here? The 240 shaves off an additional 30 grams in weight with some additional machining.
The magic that is the DT Swiss star ratchet system makes both models come alive. Both the 240 and 350 comes out of the box with an 18T system with available upgrades to 36T and 54T that price in at 94$ and 107$ respectively. This upgrade is not to be understated when you combine a 240’s lightweight with a 54T star ratchet you have one of the lightest and quickest engaging hubs on the market.
Weight. While others have focused purely on engagement DT has nailed it with their lightweight hubs with impressive engagement.
This is a common recommendation we give to guys looking to reduce rotational weight and boost performance. Often that comes to more XC oriented riders or those with heavier frames looking to save weight.
Industry Nine hubs are a thing of beauty. Known for their loud buzz and extensive line of customizable colors, Industry Nine Hydra hubs offer more engagement than any of their competitors using a pawl system. A rear hub featuring 690 points of engagement (.52 degrees of engagement, yes you read that right) is simply, wild. This 6-pawl system has some of the most impressive machine work I have ever seen resulting in a truly bombproof hub.
Industry offers the Hydra hub in 11 beautiful colors and in as many configurations that you can think of. Boost, Non-Boost, XD driver, HG driver, Micro-spline, Centerlock, and 6-Bolt are all options from industry nine to ensure every rider has an option on these USA made hubs. On the trail, these are one of, if not the, loudest hubs you will find. With so many points of engagement, you can bet others hear you buzzing through the woods. On the service side of things, Industry Nine does a fantastic job offering all service parts through retailers across the country and keeping the design simple for smooth bearing replacement and general maintenance down the road.
Engagement. Industry Nine offers the quickest engaging pawl system on the market and offers the custom approach with 11 color options.
We often recommend an Industry Nine Hydra hub to customers who are wanting a top-level engagement and a custom look. You will be hard-pressed to find a company with more color options that match Industry Nine performance.
Here we land at Hope, one of the most well-known hub manufacturers for the last two decades. Their current offering in the hub market is the Hope Pro 4 hub. This is definitely our most common hub used when building wheels for customers in our shop. Hope combines top quality with an extremely competitive price tag. Coming in at nearly $200 less than a Hydra, the $255 Hope Pro 4 has been winning customers over for years. What do we like so much about this hub?
To start, it is light years ahead in terms of durability that almost every stock hub that is spec’d on new bikes. We consistently see hub failures on newer bikes and this is often the place we turn to replace them. The performance is an improvement over many but does not set any records with its stats. A 4-pawl 44 tooth system power the 8.2 degrees of engagement on the Hope Pro 4 resulting in an increase over many cheaper options and top-level durability. Hope hubs are offered in a variety of colors to add a little bling to your bike and replacement parts are easily available through all of your favorite stores.
Durability and price set this hub apart. While all the hubs mentioned here are going to be durable, Hope beats them all on price and is just a few bucks more than some middle of the road hubs on the market.
If you have recently had a hub failure and don’t want to break the bank on a new hub while not wanting to break down again, the Hope is your best option. Coming in at $255, which is still not “cheap”, you will avoid any future issues. This combined with a Stans MK3 rim makes for an amazing wheel build that comes in less than $700 for a set.
What else? Onyx hubs are silent. That’s right, with no points of engagement you will be coasting with just the sound of the dirt (or road?) beneath you. I will admit this takes a little time to get used to, but there is just something about flying through the woods in stealth mode that keeps me focused down the trail. Onyx features adjustable bearing preload and has very little drag when coasting. Onyx makes one of the most advanced hubs on the market with some pretty unique features compared to competitors. Onyx features sprag internals that will provide infinite points of engagement and low drag. These hubs are truly impressive with no amount of play in the freehub body when you pedal the power is instantly transferred to the ground.
My only gripe with Onyx is that they are the heaviest of our options. Coming in over 400 grams, you nearly double the weight of a DT Swiss 240. However, with some distinct advantages over other manufacturers, Onyx has solidified their name in the high-end hub market.
Instant engagement and a silent freehub (yes silent, not quiet. Silent) this hub is unique and pushes the boundaries of hub design.
If you are after engagement, look no further than Onyx. You will take a weight penalty in return, but these are unique hubs that ride like no other brand.