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  1. #1
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    phil wood freewheel vs freehub rear?

    thinking about building up a beefy phil wood wheelset for touring. im biting my tongue enough thinking about how much its going to cost, but as pricey as it is, i want to get the most out of it. question is, is it worth spending more than twice as much for a phil freehub rear as opposed to a freewheel rear? is servicing that much easier? are they at all stronger or of better quality? any reasons why i should choose one over the other?

    and this is besides being able to run a 9 speed on the freehub. i am totally fine running 7, 8 or 9 speeds.

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    If it were me I'd save money and go with a traditional hub, which is far less likely to blow the minds and parts resources of bike shops in small towns. But both will work just fine.

  3. #3
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Takara View Post
    If it were me I'd save money and go with a traditional hub, which is far less likely to blow the minds and parts resources of bike shops in small towns. But both will work just fine.
    I'd disagree. Most small town shops will not have the now esoteric freewheels. Cassettes will be easier to find just about everywhere. And I've had far less problems with freehubs then I've ever had with freewheels.
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    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    You are on the right track with the Phil hubs. I would go cassette for the reasons mentioned above. I have a couple of bikes that still have freewheels on them...guess what is getting harder and harder to find? I am building up an low buck expedition bike and am seriously considering sinking about 1/2 my budget into upgraded wheels with a cassette. FWIW the wheels I have are fine but it is running a 6 speed Suntour freewheel

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    well i dont think its hard to find freewheels. QBP has a bunch in there catalog. im more worried about strength and maintenence. like will i have to remove the freewheel often just to replace the bearings? will i have to overhaul a freehub? do freewheels break (not the hub but the freewheel itself)? does one or the other have less drag? any comments on that?

  6. #6
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Believe me freewheels are getting hard to find, it is rare to find one in a shop anymore, they usually require a special order. I think that freewheels and cassettes are equally dependable. The cassettes are much easier to work on IMHO. Also if you are like most riders you will wear 2-4 cogs more than the others, it is much simpler to pull down a cassette and replace those cogs than tear down the freewheel. I rode transcontinental in 1977 on a Motobecane Nomade with a 5 speed Atom freewheel, no problems.

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  7. #7
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    There was a thread last year on this very topic..... in fact, it was one of the few times Sheldon Brown himself visited us: Phil Wood fsa vs fsc

    Word from the experts is that it's much better to go with freehubs, the design provides a much stronger axle. That is, unless you're already locked in to maintaining a stable of freewheels and parts.

    -- Mark

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    I just fininshed the ACA Southern Tier with Phil Wood hubs laced to Mavic T520 rims. The front had 40 spokes, the rear seven speed freewheel hub had 48 spokes. Even with a too heavly loaded bike I never had to give the wheels a thought! The wheels finished the 3,125 miles as true as when they began. As for maintnance, these are Phil Wood, the best made! They have over sized axles! They ain't going to bend. You will put 30,000+ miles on these hubs before they need maintenance. As to seven speed freewheels, I have absolutely no problem obtaining them and they are cheap.

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    I think a lot of the responses so far, are correct as far as they go, but miss the/a point, which could be:

    1) It's the Phil hubs, stupid. To paraphrase Carville.

    2) If you go with the freewheel it should be because you want freewheels for the superiority of the system. And if you understand that argument you will probably carry a spare freewheel on a major haul.

    It would be fine to say that the Shimano freehubs (FH) are more reliable than Shimano freewheel hubs (FWH). But on what planet are Shimano FHs more reliable than Phil FWH with a hardened axle? In what world is the average FH more reliable than a 40 or 48 spoke Phil FWH, or what about the 145 mm Phil FWH. The nearest thing there, is the Shimano tandem hub, and it's a pig. Phil still sells both styles because... I guess he stands behind both of them.

    For me the "downside" to the Freewheel could be that it is getting harder to get good stuff over 7 speed. For me 7 spped is actually an advantage in chain beef, and some other factors. Obviously if you want a 30 speed this is not the system. But then we are possibly going to have to fight for our system either way. Touring FHs keep getting kicked up the ladder to where the 9 is now the norm and the 10 is moving in. So finding the real stuff is probably a boutique proposition either way. Sure getting a new cassette in 8 is pretty easy though scavenging freewheels is sometimes easier still. But finding touring gears say 13-34 is tough all over my neck of the woods I had to get them mail order. That weirds me because one local shop has racks full of 2-4K MTBs but I couldn't get over 30 for my tourer. My favorite LBS makes both custom touring bikes, and has their own 4130 Taiwan line, no 8 speed over 30 cog.

    Freewheels are more difficult to do some repairs on, but one comon hub failure is the pawl, and that is in the freewheel itself not the hub, so that is one situation where you may be better off. Though, you need to find decent quality freewheels to have all the other moving parts up to snuff. Also finding bar ends etc... that will work with the freewheels may be a problem.

    The Phil freehub is very heavy, which is one reason not to buy it. I don't really mind the price, having splashed out on Rohloff, the Phil in either form now looks cheap.

    It is true that freehubs are stronger in terms of bearing placement, and axle protection, but neither has been a problem in Phils. The reality is that the Shimano freehub is the response to a weak design that Phil fixed over 30 years ago. That's why Phil is a bike household name. It's assbackwards that the Phil freewheel hub is made obsolete by the freehub!! LOL!

  10. #10
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    As far as the best value for the money, it's impossible to beat Shimano parts. Start with a 36 spoke hub (LX, XT, 105, even Tiagra) and get good touring rims. The reasons are price and the ablity to get parts/repairs done at almost every bike shop. It's a good bet that a bike shop might have an 36 hole Sun rim hanging in the back room. There's no chance they have a 40 hole rim. The same with bearings and cones for Shimano hubs. Or a new free hub body, or even an new MTB 8 or 9 speed cassette. It's quite possible to take parts off a used hub to get back on the road with and there is no shortage of used MTB hubs out there.

    Phil Wood hubs are the best made and are very easy to service, but the parts aren't cheap or easy to find (but you could find a sorce and use FedEx-- that's a reasonable solution for a tour).

    Most prebuilt touring bikes have a strong, long wheelbase frame built up with a mix of standard road and MTB parts. There is a good reason for this. Building a touring bike in a different way will cost more and turn into a massive pain in the ass.

    With that said.......I'm hiding a pair of NOS Maxicar hubs in my sock drawer for some future pain-in-the-ass bike project. You see I'm addicted to complex, crazy non-standard Shimano bike builds. And I professionally understand that these builds can cost more money and not work as well, as say, buying a shiny new Fuji.


    good luck and have fun!

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    "tacomee"

    I basically agree with all your points, and share the obssession, and the willingness to pay for my own mistakes. My fallback is this. If my rear wheel, costing 350-1200, packs it in, which should be a one in a million, and I find that bike shop with all the parts everyone believes is out there, then I will simply put on a new wheel. Cut the spokes away from the Phil hubs and ride away.

    One thing about touring is that in many instances it is a low mileage proposition. I used to put 100 miles a week on my Nishiki, comuting. I still have it and it must be over 20 years old. I was doing some work on a similar comuter that a friend has. A very old Norco. The grease was so hard it was clicking in the hubs. A bike that gets used for a week or two a year touring is just not taking that much of a beating. And if it's a comuter/tourer, I wouldn't feel safe locking it up on the street with all polished parts. There is the odd person who really needs the super parts, the guy who claims to do 3000 miles a month. The rest of us are just buying a little insurance, or have found something a lot less expensive to spend our money on than a Harley. Some Harley guys have spent more money just upgrading their chrome, than my lifetime cycle budget...

  12. #12
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fatigoworld View Post
    well i dont think its hard to find freewheels. QBP has a bunch in there catalog. im more worried about strength and maintenence. like will i have to remove the freewheel often just to replace the bearings? will i have to overhaul a freehub? do freewheels break (not the hub but the freewheel itself)? does one or the other have less drag? any comments on that?
    A freehub has the bearings mounted further outboard which makes for a stronger wheel. Freehubs are much easier to remove if you have to replace a spoke (if you turn the lockring in the right direction). If something goes wrong with the freehub, replacing one is easier then a freewheel.

    To remove and replace a freewheel, you really need a vise or a long handled wrench. The hub tightens as you ride so they can be a real bugger to get off. Often, even with a vice, I'd have to apply some real muscle to get the freewheel loose.

    The problem I commonly had with freewheels was the outer ring would work loose. If it happened to come completely off, the little bearings inside would spill out and the ride was over. I still carry a 16 penny nail that I used to tighten the outer ring on a regular basis (and I haven't used freewheels in 15 years)

    All-in-all, the freehub is just a better mechanism. Yes the Phil is expensive but it's well worth it. If you are going to go the freewheel route, look on Fleabay. They come up there from time to time and are cheaper.
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  13. #13
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    If wheel strength / longevity is critical, then you may want to choose the PW fsa hub over the fsc. The fsa will build into a stronger wheel than the fsc, due to the more inboard location of drive side spoke flange on the 8-9-10spd shimano compatible fsc.

    In fact, a 135mm OLD fsa hub, combined with an offset drilled rim (alex, bontrager, velocity), will build into a nearly (only ~1mm off center) dishless wheel.

    The fsa hub costs less than half that of the fsc hub too.

    http://www.lickbike.com/productpage.aspx?PART_NUM_SUB='1912-25'

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    Peterpan1 wrote: "It is true that freehubs are stronger in terms of bearing placement, and axle protection, but neither has been a problem in Phils. The reality is that the Shimano freehub is the response to a weak design that Phil fixed over 30 years ago. That's why Phil is a bike household name. It's assbackwards that the Phil freewheel hub is made obsolete by the freehub". LOL![/quote]

    The case is perfectly stated, Bravo!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmmCeeBee View Post
    There was a thread last year on this very topic..... in fact, it was one of the few times Sheldon Brown himself visited us: Phil Wood fsa vs fsc

    Word from the experts is that it's much better to go with freehubs, the design provides a much stronger axle. That is, unless you're already locked in to maintaining a stable of freewheels and parts.

    -- Mark
    Amusing! -- Sheldon says, sure, cassettes are better technology than freewheels, but then indicates that a $35 freewheel beats everyone if the goal is getting on the road and having some money in your breast pocket if there's a thunderstorm at sunset.

    In other words, yes -- the two approaches are insignificantly different at solving the problem of letting you tour using a derailleur switching gears on your rear wheel.

    Which sets up the question: Would you like to have ten motel rooms' money in hand instead -- for ten motel rooms, or ten adventures? Sounds more important to me than what you shift back there under your rack.

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    "Which sets up the question: Would you like to have ten motel rooms' money in hand instead -- for ten motel rooms, or ten adventures? Sounds more important to me than what you shift back there under your rack."

    Or looked at differently you can get the Phil freewheel hub for the cost of a tank of gas, sad to say.

    The marginal cost is one hotel room. An LX is a good value hub, but it still costs something and the marginal difference is 1-2 stays in a hotel three evasote mats, 2 tires. It seems to me that way back when I first saw Phil's on a trip from Toronto to look at better equipt bike shops in Buffalo aroun 1973, It seems to me it was 100 bucks then, or maybe 75. Now it costs 120.

    "To remove and replace a freewheel, you really need a vise or a long handled wrench. The hub tightens as you ride so they can be a real bugger to get off. Often, even with a vice, I'd have to apply some real muscle to get the freewheel loose."

    Maybe they need to develop a drop out that the freewheel tool could be mounted in so the whole bike would be a wrench. Sounds more useful than one of those spoke carriers, would probably open a beer also.

  17. #17
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    go with a freehub & cassette system, freewheel is not as quality, strong, easy to find, or easy to remove.

    Cassette is a superior system.

    I suspect the reason Phil is still even selling freewheel hubs is he's stuck with them in the warehouse. Clearing out his NOS, so to speak.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    "go with a freehub & cassette system, freewheel is not as quality, strong, easy to find, or easy to remove. "

    Since the OP is all about Phil, I doubt there is a quality difference in the hubs though durability issues have been raised about the cassette hub. There can be quality and supply issues in the actual freewheels and cassettes for sure and I bought my freewheels first to be sure the quality and gearing type was what I wanted. The freewheel hubs are clearly strong enough in the Phil line, there isn't any reason to be stronger than strong enough.

    As far as removal is concerned, in Phil, the bearings will probably last, the axle is hardened, If the pawls go then it's probably an easier fix with a freewheel. Maybe some people just like taking their clusters off, but in general one probably won't have to. If the freewheel is properly maintained it's not that difficult to remove. Or if one is the kind of person who likes badly built wheels so one can replace a lot of spokes, then the freewheel will probably be off often enough to keep it from jamming, or one could choose to use a technique that does not require removal.

    I'm not going to choose an LX freewheel hub over one with a cassette, I guess Shimano has already tipped us off that their earlier stuff was crap, though my mtb/commuter has been running an LX freewheel for almost 20 years... There isn't any particularly adverse price or weight consequence with the Shimano stuff.

  19. #19
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    "maybe some people like taking their cluster off, but in general one probably won't have to?" WHAT kind of nonsense is that?

    ....I guess if you don't ride your bike much, peter..... cassette replacement is a REGULAR occurance, even if you replace chains regularily as well.

    despite being wrong about cassette replacement, you're right, peter, shimano axles are weaker than Phil's, but I can't see why that would encourage a bicyclist to buy freewheel versus cassette freehub Phil Woods.

    However, peter is wrong again about the servicability of phil freehub bodies versus non specific freewheels.....The pawls in a Phil cassette freehub body are remarkably easy to service, peter. 10 mm hex, springs and 3 pawls, thin oil.... taking apart a Sun or Shimano freewheel, not so quick and easy.

    the only new freewheel clusters out there are not well made, or offer variety to the rider that a cassette freehub does. With a cassette freehub, you can choose ANY 7, 8, 9, OR 10 speed cassette and run them ALL on friction ... no worries about finding a six or seven speed freewheel in 12-28 or 14-32.

    the insistence to use a freewheel is really out to lunch in my opinion.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    I too am looking to build up a sturdy rear wheel for my newly built touring bike. To get it ready to roll I snarfed a 32h Mavic Open Pro w/ DA hub and have been commuting on it but that wheel won't cut it for touring. As usual I've found the information in this thread very enlightening and was wondering if anyone had an opinion about Chris King hubs. Are they as good as Phil Wood's? I know King makes an awesome headset - both my bikes sport King headsets. Thanks!

  21. #21
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    does Chris King offer a multispeed freewheel rear hub?

    (I actually bet he does for BMX bikes, but that's another story...)
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    ""maybe some people like taking their cluster off, but in general one probably won't have to?" WHAT kind of nonsense is that?

    Don't wear yourself out. I don't seem to break much stuff and I haven't had to do any major repairs on the road. A lot of touring is low mileage compared to bikes that run lesser mileages, but every day. So my concern with touring bikes is that they be bulletproof for that 1 or 2 K trip. Beckman who claims to have done endless amounts of 3K months pushes the two systems about equally.

    "....I guess if you don't ride your bike much, peter.....

    That is correct, I just tour, which may well be also what others do with their touring bikes. I also hack around with the kids, but not on my touring bike. I have sorta 1.5 legs to work with and I find the tempo of touring works well for me. It hurts less if I keep moving. I seem to keep up to other tourists equally loaded, or maybe 10% less.

    "cassette replacement is a REGULAR occurrence, even if you replace chains regularily as well."

    You do this by the side of the road? Well I stand corrected. For myself I am more interested in avoiding that kind of thing on tour. So far I seem to be making the right choices. If you go back to the first comment you parsed, that was the kind of behaviour I was talking about: lots of fiddling by the side of the road on parts that are really great, lots of replacements required, and lots of replacements available. Or you could just get some stuff that didn't break in the first place. Buy American, even if it's a Canadian saying it!

    "despite being wrong about cassette replacement, you're right, peter, shimano axles are weaker than Phil's, but I can't see why that would encourage a bicyclist to buy freewheel versus cassette freehub Phil Woods."

    It wouldn't necessarily. But see if this works, this time. They are both sufficiently strong in the axle area. Stronger than "strong enough", is not required. So if one reason for the shimano cassette system was to allow the bearing more outboard so as to make up for the weak shimano axle, that isn't something one needs to worry about on the Freewheel Phil, and you can turn your attention to the fact that it is: Lighter, doesn't have the weak aspects of the cassette shell, costs less, if that is important.

    "However, peter is wrong again about the servicability of phil freehub bodies versus non specific freewheels.....The pawls in a Phil cassette freehub body are remarkably easy to service, peter. 10 mm hex, springs and 3 pawls, thin oil.... taking apart a Sun or Shimano freewheel, not so quick and easy."

    Actually my point was that swapping the freewheels was easier than what you propose. None the less I appreciate your thoroughness in responding to points I didn't make.

    "the only new freewheel clusters out there are not well made, or offer variety to the rider that a cassette freehub does."

    Right, but who cares. As I mentioned start with the freewheels, and don't buy the hub if your scavenging skills aren't up to finding the NOS you need. You can still find quite a few bikes with them to scavenge on the road. I get asked to fix stuff aroung my neighbourhood, and I think that, conservatively, 50% of the houses have at least one freewheel in them. You can carry an extra in your pannier for what the Phil freehub weighs extra, and that is rotating weight, somewhat. I know it is hard to beleive in the US, but here in a city of countless millions I could't source a cassette over 32, or over the last few days a decent front rack. I buy what I need and prefer not to rely on strangers, or bike shops that will have to get product from the US in the first place before they ever send it out to me.

    "With a cassette freehub, you can choose ANY 7, 8, 9, OR 10 speed cassette and run them ALL on friction ... no worries about finding a six or seven speed freewheel in 12-28 or 14-32."

    There is no question that they are more available. Nobody doubts that. Some people just like the old stuff for those advantages it has. Others might find a Phil Freewheel hub a better option than any shimano, and they may not want the cost weight or mechanical issues of the super hubs in freehub format. But good luck convincing everyone to do as you do, is there a T-shirt yet? I am only here pointing out the options, not telling people what they have to do. I leave that in your capable hands.

    I couldn't ride a bike from about '97 to '05. During that period (and whatever period there before since I bought a bike) I missed the whole freehub roll out, and you know, it didn't hurt a bit.

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    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    dude, whatever.

    you admit to several points about the superiority of a freehub cassette system. well said, peter.

    being an old fogie that likes old stuff doesn't make the antique better, it makes you a curmudgeon.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    "does Chris King offer a multispeed freewheel rear hub?

    (I actually bet he does for BMX bikes, but that's another story...)"

    Well also of interest is the apparent fact that he doesn't offer touring hubs, or speak of touring on his website. Not to say those aren't colourful hubs, and wonderful for something.

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    "being an old fogie that likes old stuff doesn't make the antique better, it makes you a curmudgeon."

    Not if you are speaking English.

    My main purpose is to address the OP's question of whether it was worth paying the upgrade, and whether the Phil freehub is "stronger, or of better quality" than the freewheel hub. On stronger and quality the correct answer is in my view obviously "no". The rest of it is basically a mater of what set of features you want.

    In most mechanical things there are usually more than one design solution available, In bikes, apparently there is never more than one correct solution, though it changes every year. Things that make me go "Hmmm", and others perhaps a little gullible.

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