The folks at Analog have been building wheels for longer than Analog has been around. Mark since the 80's. James since '99. Kat's newer at it but already has hundreds of wheels under her belt. Not only have we built a bunch of wheels; we have serviced even more. We've seen what makes hubs fail, or bearings go bad, we've worked on hubs that are easy to work on and hubs that are truly horrendous to work on.
The best hubs share these features:
- Fully replaceable cartridge bearings. No weird bearing sizes, no non-replaceable beraings, no cup and cone nonsense. This isn't 1911. You should be able to replace your bearings, because grit happens and bearings go bad. So that knocks out Chris King (non-replaceable) and DT, who uses a non-replaceable freehub bearing (ironically usually the first to go). Cup and Cone bearings work great when they work, but if your bearing race pits out, your hub is shot. Not so with cartridge bearing hubs.
- Easy bearing preload. If you either can't do it (Phil Wood) or need a proprietary tool (King, among others) it's a bad design. How do we know it's a bad design? Because plenty of hub makers have adjustable preload on their hub bearings, and it's clearly doable from a design perspective. Not having or having the preload adjustment use a weird tool is bad engineering.
- Big bearings. Lots of light hubs use small bearings. Bigger is better. Longer life.
- Steel bearings. Ceramic bearings are a sham, in all sorts of ways. One is that they use lighter seals and thinner grease, both of which make them more prone to contamination. We used to really like Onyx hubs, but they come stock with hybrid ceramic bearings, and customers were lucky to get a year out of the bearings. Compare with White or Bitex hubs, which usually get a half a dozen New England riding seasons between basic cleaning, and rarely need new bearings. Better seals, better grease. Both of these add drag, but for normal riders this drag is very very minimal, and it's worth it to not have to replace your bearings every 9 months. By the way, most of the 'speed' of ceramic bearings comes from these lighter seals and lighter grease, not from the ball roundness, which contributes VERY little to the rolling resistance of the bearings.
- Easy to swap standards. If you can't get a freehub body to swap between say, a Shimano Hyperglide cassette and the SRAM XD cassette, then you have the wrong hub. That knocks out Formula, Joytech, Novatec and other