Looking at off-road wheels? Consider your hubs...
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
The hub is the center piece of the wheel assembly. It contains the bearings which allow your wheel to spin on the axle, the brake disc for stopping, and in the case of the rear, the sprocket for your drive. As the part that contains and holds these vital components, selecting a quality hub is critical to not only your success but your safety. When selecting a hub, it is good to understand that hubs come in a variety of materials and coatings, not to mention, manufacturers. This article is designed to help you understand hubs and help you decide what is best for you.
The most common materials hubs are derived from is cast aluminum, forged aluminum, billet aluminum and even carbon fiber. Each of these materials has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Cast Aluminum: Price $
Most bikes off the showroom floor come stock with cast aluminum hubs. Cast hubs are quick to produce in large quantities and are also cost effective for the manufacturers to produce. These hubs are made in molds and then machined to specifications. The biggest downside to cast hubs is its weakness when put under high stress. Big jumps, high impacts and hard aggressive riding can contribute to the fatigue and failure of cast hubs. If any of these things sound like something you do, you should look at options to upgrade your setup.
Forged Aluminum: Price $$
When it comes to upgrading your hub, forged aluminum hubs are typically the first and cheapest option. You typically find these on wheel assemblies that are considered budget friendly. Hubs that are forged are pressed or pounded into form using machines. Depending on who you talk to in the metal world, I am not a metal expert, forged metal can be as strong or stronger than billet. For the purposes we are talking about, motorcycle and off-road, forged hubs are considered weaker. The weakness comes from the quality of the material which is used to keep the cost down, not the process. Forged hubs are a great upgrade to stock cast hubs but still are not recommended for race and high impact riding.
Billet Aluminum: Price $$$
Billet hubs are the best, and most common, option when it comes to upgrading your hubs. Most hubs you see out on the track will be made from billet as they look good and are high strength. Billet hubs are machined from a solid piece of aluminum stock. The biggest downside to billet hubs for people is the price. If you are looking to ride your best and advance your abilities, upgrading to a billet style hub should be on your list.
Carbon Fiber: Price $$$$
Carbon fiber, it looks cool and is incredibly strong. It's also one of the newer materials that hubs are made from. Manufacturers like Talon used a carbon fiber center mated to aluminum outers to create a strong yet lightweight hub. Biggest downside to the carbon fiber hub....PRICE! For most riders, a carbon fiber hub is not financially an option but it is also not necessary.
Typical coatings found on hubs are bare, found on cast OEM hubs, powder coat, cerakote and anodizing. (Sometimes you will even find that spray painted hub from the guy trying to save a few bucks.) Most aftermarket hubs that are forged or billet will have an anodized coating, it's not only strong and durable but looks good for a long time and doesn't chip or fade if taken care of properly. Powder coating and cerakote are common for do it yourselfers but no typically provided on hubs from manufacturers.
When it comes to your hub choice, your biggest question to ask is, "What am I doing and how much do I want to spend?" For the average weekend rider a forged aluminum hub would be a great option, both budget friendly and looks great. For the racer, freestyler, jumper or someone just learning to race, an upgrade to a billet hub should be in your future. (I say "someone just learning to race" as they are more prone to casing or overshooting on jumps!) Like anything, manufacturer is something to consider, brands like Talon, Haan and Kite have been manufacturing high quality wheel parts for decades. Generally, budget priced wheels are going to have a hub manufactured oversees to keep the cost down.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of what to look for when purchasing a new hub or wheel set. The key is buying what you need and works for you, not spending the most money.