Your bicycle’s wheels rolling is a given and not until things go wrong you even consider that there might be important parts there. Some components that extremely rarely have something go amiss with them are made by Chris King. Hence, it’s no secret I am a huge fan of their products, some of the reasons being the reliability and durability, since I like to use my equipment a decent amount and with some occasional maintenance, not to worry too much about it failing on me.
For Chris King it all started with their indestructible headsets that carry a 10yr warranty, I for one can’t think of anything that has such a warranty today! Subsequently their product line expanded to include the classic hubs and later the R45 models. As someone who has been using both extensively, the goal of this post is to review and compare them as well as answer some questions that you might have concerning your (next) dream wheelset.
Before getting into more specific details, there are two aspects that both the classic and R45 hubs share. First is that they both use in-house built angular contact bearings which means that as they wear in, as all bearings do, you can adjust out the play by pressing the two races together, rather than changing the whole bearing out, hence making the hubs last very very long.
Second, Chris King hubs do not use a standard freewheel ratchet, but a patented RingDrive mechanism that is responsible for the trademark angry bee buzz and ridiculously solid and fast engagement. A simplification of how it works is if you put your palms flat against each other you can rotate them against each other freely. Instead of palms the hubs have two toothed rings and in one direction the teeth slide over each other (buzzing) and engage in the other direction. The engagement is almost instant since there is a lot of surface with a good amount of teeth ‘to bite’ into each other. Classic RingDrive hubs have 72 teeth, r45 have…uhh…45.
With that being said on to the details….
Chris King Classic Hubs
After establishing themselves by making extremely durable headsets, Chris King went on to address the other important bearings on the bicycle – the hubs. Hence the Classic hubset was born. First thing that is obvious is that these hubs are solidly built, the driveshell has a roller bearing in the middle so no matter how much torque you can dish out, the hubs respond with no deflection or hesitation. Even so they are not very heavy (136g for the front and 276g for the rear). The seals on the bearings are quite substantial and are most likely responsible for the ‘drag’ that the hubs have even after a lot of miles. On some derailleurs when you back pedal the chain goes slack. Whether that resistance slows you down, is the subject for some of cycling’s many holy wars and the result is unclear. It’s those seals that make the hubs literally buttery smooth and resistant to most of the stuff that you can throw at the bike such as mud, salt, grime and daily washing. Something that I find amazing is that with the exception of the r45 hubs, all other models share the same parts. Hubshells are different, however the internals are all interchangeable. You do need the Chris King Hub tool to perform any major maintenance/parts swap, however, cleaning and bearing regreasing is done with basic tools. Adjusting bearing pre-load is also super easy. In addition you can easily swap axles to meet the different standards so you can keep the hubs if you want to change disciplines; 130m to 135mm, quick release or bolt on, 10 or 12mm thru axle, one-piece or two piece – no problem!!!! – the axles are there and you can easily swap them with a couple of allen wrenches.
Therefore there is no discipline that the hubs cannot be used (except fixed gear/track) – road, MTB, cyclocross, single speed, BMX, tandem, touring, rim or disc brake – Chris King got you covered – as well as SRAM XD compatibility. Coming from there is another feature I really like – a stainless steel driveshell – so you can virtually eliminate notching caused by almost all cassettes. It adds 50g, however, for an extremely durable, set and forget wheelset, this is the way to go. The hubs also carry the original Chris King font, which is an aesthetic aspect I really like.
A somewhat limiting feature is that the hubs come in only 28, 32, 36 spoke hole drillings and radial lacing is not allowed (Google exploding Chris King hubs) even though I have seen wheelbuilders lacing front wheels like that…. Low spoke carbon wheel choices are as a result somewhat limited. Furthermore you can only use Shimano/SRAM 8, 9, 10 cassettes. HOWEVER, you can fit a Shimano 11 speed block by removing a cog and a spacer and using the spacer behind the cassette and readjusting your derailleur limit screws. You have 10 gears with 11 speed spacing and it also is compatible with Campagnolo 11 cog setups (the blasphemy!) that way. I use my Sram Force 22 like this – Yes I love my Classic hubs that much. Use at your own risk=)
Chris King r45 Hubs
The r45 series was Chris King hubset designed for the needs of road cyclists. The hubs are a very lean and less bulky, hence even the Chris King font couldn’t fit on the skinny hubshells, axles are 17mm instead of the classic’s 19mm and the hubs have dropped some weight (103g (-23g) for the front and 221g (-55g) for the rear).
No parts are compatible with any of the classic hubs and there is a special r45 shop tool. Seal drag (or lack there of) is the most noticeable feature. Smoothness is still there, however, it is more like skating on perfect ice type of effortless rather than the hot-knife-through-butter. Due to the smaller axle size, the RingDrive has 45, rather than 72 teeth and while still faster than all other hubs (36 teeth at most), engagement is a tiny bit slower with a slight deadspot as compared to the Classic hubs. Strangely the freewheel buzz is still as loud. Ceramic bearings are available as an option for all you pure performance enthusiasts as well as low spoke counts (down to 16 front, 20 rear) and the hubs are radial lacing compatible. In addition Campagnolo driveshell and Shimano/SRAM 11 speed are available (or conversion kit if you have the older 10 speed version). One thing that I personally would like to see is a stainless steel driveshell, yes it is heavier and roadies are allergic to heavy, however, it is an extremely easy swap and would be the perfect option for training/heavy duty use. Adjusting the bearing pre-load is somewhat more complicated as compared to the Classics since you need to press down the hub on its axle while at the same time tightening the axle collar. Using a vice to hold a 5mm allen key is the preferred method, which is a bit impractical, though you can adjust it “in the field” with some creativity (or a third arm=) ).
For a while the r45 was a new kid on the block for road use only with dedicated parts and service tool, however, disc brake versions as well as thru axles are becoming available, hence cyclocrossers and even MTBers might be interested in a pair. That begs the logical question:
Which model is the one for me?
First, Chris King quality is superb therefore you are already in the right direction. Seals on the r45 are for sure less sturdy than on the classics and even less so on the ceramic versions, hence I would err on the side of caution if you are to be doing mostly off road riding. The r45s were used by the United Healthcare pro team for a while and I did not hear any durability complaints out there and pro racing is notoriously hard on equipment. For me the r45s are on my racing wheels as well as a fair weather wheelset that I also beat around in races (pictured), while my Classics are going on 4 seasons through all conditions with only a driveshell upgrade. If a stainless steel freehub becomes available for the r45 I would definitely think of converting all my wheels to r45 (i currently have 2 sets) so I can exchange parts should I need to and as well purchase the hub servicing tool. That being said if you are hard on wheels and need the extra strength you can get 36 spokes only on the Classics.