04 December 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: WTB LaserDisc Lite hubs

About three years ago, when building up my first 29er, I did quite a bit of homework. Of course, DT and King make some very nice hubsets, but they tend to be a bit loud for my tastes and would have put undue burden on my budget. Shimano XTs are quiet, inexpensive and serviceable- but a bit portly and (if I'm going to be honest) sort of unexciting. As this was to be a singlespeed, I wanted something light, strong and reasonably priced. I had my work cut out for me. At some point, I noticed that WTB's LaserDisc Lite hubs looked suspiciously like American Classic's 24o disc hubs (with a bit less finish machining). For $300/set, they were also (relatively) reasonably priced and darn light at 145g Front/265g rear. The high, machined flanges appealed to my perverse aesthetic sense, so I figured I'd give them a go.

Laced up to Mavic Open Pro rims using DT Supercomp spokes, my new 29er wheelset came in at 1600g and was, in a word, pimp. That bike saw one season in my stable, but having decided that I liked the whole 29er single speed thing I decided to build a full-on (for me) single speed XC race bike. Seeing as the WTBs had been relatively trouble free (the front hub did have a cartridge come loose, which was set straight with some red Loctite), I decided to give them another shot. This time laced to Sun ME14A road rims with purple nipples, the another LaserDisc Lite hubset was in for some abuse.

Now I know that a lot of people swear that quick-engaging hubs are the only way to go. For trials and North Shore riders, I'd have to agree. For more general use, however, I'm perfectly happy with a hub that engages reliably rather than instantaneously. The WTBs use a clutch plate that drive six double-sided pawls- for minimal drag and twelve points of engagement. That's a lot of points, and seeing as the company is OK with a bit of space between each ratchet, they're pretty meaty, too. What this means is that, while they don't have the instantaneous engagement of, say, Industry 9's or Hadley's hubs, they sure are solid. How solid? How about 2 years on a single speed. Without a skip or a crunch. That's pretty solid for a 265g rear hub.

Over the past couple of years, I've put literally thousands of SS miles on the WTBs. Despite fairly tiny bearings, they're still spinning smoothly. In fact, I rarely think about them. Sure, somtimes the sun shines through the cutouts in the high flanges and I think "damn, that shadow looks cool," but that's about the extent of it. The loose bearings that my first set experienced haven't resurfaced. Because I wanted to be able to throw these wheels on my road bike (with road tires) or 26in bike (also with road tires) in a pinch, I didn't go with the (heavier) single speed-specific hub- with a broad-based Chris King Kog and a ton of spacers, the aluminum cassette splines are holding up just fine and my chainline is perfect.

For me, WTB's LaserDisc Lite hubs are near ideal. The price (while not cheap) is reasonable for the quality and weight and they're holding up to far more abuse than I would have expected such light hubs to handle. They're popping up more and more as OEM spec, which is great. One can expect to pay an experienced wheelbuilder $600 or so to build you good a wheelset using them- a wheelset that will likely be lighter and stronger than many others in that price range. Now if only someone would make a good, light tubeless rim (sealed with metal rather than rubber Band Aids) to go with them...

marc

www.wtb.com

3 comments:

wunnspeed said...

I've had a pair of the same hubs that I built up almost 6 years ago. After thousands of miles they blew up in the last mile of a race. Due to WTB's fabulous service and help from people on mtbr.com I rebuilt them and I've put a few thousand more miles on them. Probably some of the best hubs I've ever owned (that includes Chris Kings).

Tom said...

I had them on my stock DiamondBack Sortie 2 08 bike in Australia. The front hub's rubber seal o-ring popped out itself. The rear free hub body got chewed crazily after 1 season. Not all that happy really. However, I do agree with the free hub engagement quality, really solid and no skip.

bikefix said...

Tom,

There were definitely two grades of LaserDiscs for a while- and they had a lot of problems at the OEM quality level... The aftermarket hubs have been great, though- there's a bit more money there to spend on things like tight seals and tolerances... mb