Shoving off for SSWC Saturday morning for a few days of good riding with good people and good beer. Hopefully I'll see a bunch of you up there.
It's been quite a while since the last issue of SSO, I've been trying to work on it here and there. Most of the writing and assembling of the web pages is done, but there is still more to do on both fronts. I've been sitting on the Level Components hub review for a while - meaning it's been complete and been held back for inclusion in Issue #6. Sent the Level chief Scott Hansen an email the other day to see if he was going to be making to SSWC and he was asking about the review. So, instead of selfishly continuing to hold it back, I'm posting it here and will just reprint it in Issue 6 when I finally get it done. If you see Scott at SSWC, talk to him about this hub - he's a big tall guy who should be on a XXL Gunnar. I am a firm believer in the hub's concept, it is a really cool idea and I now have been riding it for about a year (probably longer, I don't remember right now), so this is long term test data here. Just now replacing the bearings, which seems to be about on par with the schedule for my Surly hubs, so no complaints there. Plus, there's a new version that has his fixed cog interface on one side and a threaded freewheel option on the other so you run that high end White Industries freewheel you ponied up for.
The bike industry is full of innovation, many times seeing new creations that don't necessarily solve a particular problem but usually just amount to doing something different. All fine and well from a creativity standpoint, but as consumers the industry tries to convince us we need it. Then, once in a while something comes along that genuinely solves a problem and you smack yourself in the head and say "Why didn't someone else think of this sooner". In that corner, we have the Level Components fixed gear hub.
Standard fixed gear hubs use a threaded cog mated to a threaded body. The body generally being aluminum to keep the hub weight down while the cog is steel for long wear. A second, slightly smaller in diameter, set of reversed threads sits outboard of the cog. A lock ring spins on here and prevents the cog from unthreading when applying rearward forces.
Problem is, those soft aluminum threads can strip leaving your nice fixed hub useless and worse, putting your life on the line. I've done it before when heading for an intersection, light turns red, lock up my legs to skid stop. The crank stops moving but the wheel keeps rolling. It's an unsettling feeling and unless you have another method of braking, it can be quite dangerous. It can also leave you stranded.
The Level hub solves this beautifully with a splined interface called the Eye-To-Knuckle. Three large aluminum knuckles are machined into the hub. The steel cog mates to these and drives the hub when pedaling. The cog is held in place with 3 torx bolts, although you could easily swap to hex if you didn't want to carry an extra tool for emergencies (note: in all the months I been riding this, I've never had a need).
The hub body itself is a satiny machined body, silver anodized with the Level logo etched in it. High flanges allow for shorter spokes for strength and look tough to boot. The whole thing rolls on easily replacable cartridge bearings. The hub bolts on with 6mm allen bolts riding on cup-like washers meaning you can leave the 15mm open-end wrench at home.
The hub has a couple of nice touches. Well thought out design features that earn it a top-notch rating alone in my opinion. First, spacers bolt on to the aluminum axle, one for each side, that also serve as the contact point to the frame. What makes these special is, screw them off and install a different size and easily convert the hub ton any of the following widths: 120mm and 135mm. Next cool feature: the micro adjustable chain line. The cog is asymmetrical and by flipping it over you move the chain line from 45mm to 52mm. The hub is a flip-flop so you can double your pleasure by mounting up a second gear. Drillings available in 32 and 36 hole. The rear hub (tested) weighs 499g with a stainless steel 16t cog.
When the hub arrived it was setup for 120mm spacing. A couple of turns of the allen wrenches and the small spacers were off and the large ones were on. Smooth. Laced this puppy up and dropped it on the Surly Crosscheck and installed the chain. Perfect chain line, ready to rock.
Once on the bike it ran silent and smooth and I soon forgot about it - just like a nice fixed gear hub should be. Flat changes were a breeze with an allen wrench and after hundreds of miles no adjustments were needed. The cog is wearing nicely, which is to say, I can't detect any wear. It's steel and tough and has tall teeth with a nicely tapered point. No play ever developed between the hub and cog interface.
Were there any problems? Nope, not a single one. The hub is a good-looking, reliable product that solves an actual problem with fixed gear hubs.
Everyone that saw the hub thought it was a great idea. The only hesitation I heard was concerns about the proprietary cog. Sure you can't run down to your average LBS and pick one up, but it's not like they break and they certainly don't wear out at a moments notice. The other concern about the cog was: what if Level goes out of business? A risk for sure, but look at the bike industry and many companies that still exist but don't have spare parts from even a few years ago (think shocks and shifters). If you are that worried, pick up a few spares. I talked to Scott at Level about this concern and here's what he had to say: "I have been beating down as many doors as i can with respect to this issue. The worst-case scenario would be if I do go out of business I would give an independent cog manufacturer the specs for the cogs and they (the consumer) would have a viable source for spares. Best case is that all the manufacturers i have talked with accept what i am doing and start producing cogs". Hopefully that puts any worries to rest.
Bottom line, for the price this is a sweet, solid hub that won't leave you stranded on the side of the road.
Note: Level is working on a freewheel to mate with the Eye-To-Knuckle interface. It is currently in testing. Front hubs (357g) are also available.
Here's another picture from Saturday, a 4.5 hour adventure combining Gambrill State Park and the Frederick Watershed. Stopped to play on the rocks mid-way through. Another scorcher of a day, brutal humidity and high temperatures.
Luckily it appears the weather is not going to be quite as harsh for this weekend up in State College, PA where the Single Speed World Championship will take place. You did know that it is going on this weekend, didn't you? Race registration is all filled up but you can still show up to ride the killer trails and get your drink on. See you up there.
Monday - August 15, 2005
Lots of rocks to play on in the Watershed. Jay shows how it's done.
Don't look now, but those crazy single speed kids from Kansas City that go by the name of Frank Tuesday have started a blog.