I posted this thread earlier in "bicycle mechanics" forum, then C&V, then thought I might find more experienced Phil Wood customers in Track Cycling forum.
I'm considering building a rear wheel with a 7 spd/135mm OLD/36h Phil Wood FSA hub. By building with a velocity rim with 2.5mm offset spoke holes, according to SpoCalc i should be able to achieve an essentially dishless rear wheel. My objective is to achieve a stronger, better spinning rear wheel, for use in commuting, recreational riding and touring - a nice strong all-around rear wheel. I ride mostly 9 speed drivetrains but have been thinking i don't really need all those cogs.
My questions are:
1. Are Phil bearings really better than other cartridge and loose ball bearing alternatives, as far as smooth spinning / low friction goes? No hype please, I need some thoughtful answers to this $500 question - it's a really expensive proposition to me. Are they worth it?
2. I have no recent experience with threaded hubs and freewheels. Are good quality (ie pawls and bearings) freewheels available at low cost? So far I've found the QBP shimano listing, and interloc's defiant freewheel, as well as various ebay listings. http://www.interlocracing.com/freewheels_steel.html
3. Are most 7 spd freewheels spaced the same as a 7 spd shimano cassette, so that I can use older 7 speed indexed shifters? I suspect they are/I can.
1. Phil wood hubs are very high end quality but they dont use any special bearing. Its just a press in cartridge bearing set up. You could put in even better bearings if you wanted too. The same goes for any hub with press in bearings.
2. Good freewheels are next to impossible to come by these days unless you shop Ebay. I know my shop has a couple dura-ace ones and some suntour ones but your dealing with old obsolete tech. And Besides that the suntour one will explode.
3. If you manage to find a good 7 speed freewheel like you want it will work with 7 speed shifters ment for a cassett with zero problems.
My opinion, its a waste of time. You could find a newer set of hubs with a good freehub body and use more modern non obsolete equipment too. It would be more reliable and easier to service witch as a touring rider would be a bonus.
I was under the impression that Phil Woods' strong point was its bearings. They even make retrofit bearings for the newer style external bearing bottom brackets. Heck, they claim they started the use of sealed bearings in bicycles.
I also thought PW hubs were popular in track cycling...
...they are but your questions regarding freewheels and indexing compatibility only apply to geared hubs and track bikes don't use these.
Re the bearings issue, you're right in that PW's have a reputation for producing excellent bearings. But as Caferacer points out you risk jumping through a number of hoops concerning availability / redundancy / cost in order to get this. I'd also question whether the difference in terms of reliability, longevity and drag reduction between a set of PW bearings and another 'lesser' brand like Shimano or Campag would be a factor in practice. The higher end Ultegra and Chorus models from the latter are well sealed, fairly cheap and spare parts are readily available if you need them and any extra losses in terms of bearing smoothness will be undetectable, particularly for commuting / touring.
If you're not tied to the 7 speed freewheel route I'd second the suggestion to invest in more modern equipment.
The strong point of Phil Wood FSA hubs is they are field servicable with two 5mm allen wrenches. Something that may be important if you are riding far from civilization. I'm thinking about doing the same thing, building a new rear wheel with a FSA hub and Mavic A713 rim.
My first road bike came with a freewheel system. Broke the axle within only a few months. When Shimano introduced freehubs, I upgraded and never had another broken axle again. The freehub design is not only lighter but most freehubs are stronger than a freewheel system since they put the bearings further outboard leaving less leverage to bend or break axles.
Cassettes are easier to service than freewheels. When your cogs need to be cleaned off, you remove it and dump it into a container filled with cleaner knowing that there are no small parts inside that will jam up. Do this with a freewheel and you might end up unexpectedly converting your bike to a fixed gear. One that doesn't work very well at that.