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What Rear Hub Ratchet failed you on your tandem?

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K&K
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The second day of our "Tandem Mountain bike vacation" this week, the ratchet ring on our Phil Wood hub failed. The manufacture has been contacted and, since we are not the original purchasers, have received an estimate of up to $260 to have the hub repaired.

I have always heard that Phil Wood hubs are among the strongest and most reliable hubs available. After this failure, I did some research and discovered a surprising and disconcerting number of similar stories (16 first hand reports in about 2 hours of searching), in short periods of time (from 2 days, to 6 months of use) with several reporting repeated failures AFTER being serviced by Phil Wood. The earliest experiences I found was reported in 2001 and the most recent, 2013, so it does not seem to be related to a "bad batch" as some have suggested.

This seems a good place to find people with first-hand experience. I'm curious to know if this is a quality issue with Phil Wood or simply a fact of life with tandem mountain biking. FWIW, we are a 340 lb team, 50+ years old, and not particularly strong.

I'm going to try to figure out how to post a poll, but just in case I can't work that out, here are the questions I have:

-How many here have had a similar experience (ratchet ring failure) with a Phil Wood hub?
- How many have had a similar experience with a Chris King hub?
- How many have had a similar experience with some other hub?

I'm holding my breath, knowing that some will feel compelled to defend Phil in his absence. I hope you understand, I'm not interested in hearing stories of thousands of flawless miles on Phil Wood hubs; I have heard those stories already and that is why I have Phil Wood hubs. :)
 

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The only type of Phil Wood failure I've seen was on a clyde's bike (it happened to the same hub twice). He ran it really loose for a few months without noticing or tightening it, and the pawls gouged up the ratchet ring, which had to be replaced at the factory. If that's the type of failure you experienced (again, the only kind I've seen during years of wrenching on bikes in shops), I'd say check the adjustment frequently and you'll be just fine. I still ride Phil Wood hubs with confidence.

That said, I haven't seen that particular failure mode on other manufacturer's hubs.
 

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MTB Tandem Nut
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I have seen the ratchet ring failure on a few Phil Wood hubs over the years. Have seen WI hubs fail both in the pawl mechanism and structurally, Have seen Hope tandem hubs fail in the bearing assembly, which fouls the pawls and causes lockdown, but that can be repaired, Have seen DT Swiss fail (but the DT failures were several years ago and MAY have been related to an assembly issue). Have not seen Hadley hub fail yet, but we've sold VERY few of them over the years compared to the other hubs listed here, so that's not necessarily a fair comparison. We have not had a Chris King failure, but I know one of the members here has had an issue, and it may be on a wheel that we built. I have not seen a Rohloff failure yet. We don't even try Shimano tandem hubs any more due to multiple failures early on.
IOW, there isn't a cassette-style hub out there that I know of that hasn't experienced some sort of failure.
So the next best thing is - what is the mode of failure on the various hubs? On the DT hubs, it's very easy to field-service the ratchet mechanism if it blows out. The Chris King issue, AFAIK, wasn't a catastrophic failure structurally, as has been the case with some other hubs. It's feasible to take a CK apart in the field, but a PITA.
Short answer, and this is an OPINION, is that C King seems to have the best long-term record as far as holding up under tandem use, and DT and King seem to telegraph any issues before they become structural problems that cannot be remedied with a field swap. We're hopeful that DT will provide some durability as well, and will be spec'ing them on many tandem builds.
I suspect we may see more failures if the larger cassette rings become feasible on tandems, since that will increase the potential force on the hubs.
Let's face it - we're putting forces on these hubs that no designer ever envisioned. So the solution may come from E-bikes or similar, but I doubt it will be anything reasonably lightweight.
Fixie maybe?
 

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K&K
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Yes Solomon, That sounds like the same failure type I had, and what I've been reading about. I will be sure to check for looseness if I decide to keep these. Once again, the problem repeated. I wonder why so many seem to have repeated problems when others go years with no issues.
 

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K&K
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks Alex, great overview!

We became a fixie half-way through "Slim Shady" in Sedona. I highly suggest it for those who have found tandem mountain biking lacking in challenges :p
 

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Fixie tandem. Yeah, we've been there.

We have an ECdM and it came to us with White Industries hubs F/R. MI5/MI6. We had ratchet failure (cracked multiple places), we had shell failure (split the drive-side flange nearly off - wish I'd taken a picture of that), and we had pawl failure. The overriding failure method (according to me, who is not an engineer) is that under tandem torque loads the pawls would be pushed into the hub shell to the point it would elongate the slots the pawls fit in. At some point every 6 months we'd freewheel and then go to pedal - and at that point the slop in the pawl slots would give us only one or two of the pawls engaging the ring. We'd overload a pawl or two, bust one or two, and then the problems really started. Of three implosions, one left us stranded with no drive, one gave us a fixie, and one made the most awful noises as we babied it back to the truck.

We've also gone through a CK issue. I say "issue" and not "failure" since we were never stranded. We were able to ride back home the first time, and continue our rides the next two times we had the same issue. Dealing with CK was fine, and they eventually warrantied the hub after servicing it twice at no charge. And, again, we were never left stranded and we have had zero issue with the drive mech. We had issues with the driveside bearing, but CK would never tell us what the cause was, which I found unfortunate.

We run CK hubs and would recommend CK hubs. As Alex states above, failure is possible with any hub, but I'd rather have a noise and a long conversation with CK (and perhaps have the bike down as you send them the wheel for them to look at) than walk out from BFE. Especially since that means my stoker is walking right behind me.

We are a 360lb team, strong recreational riders at best.
 

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Other for us was a Cannondale / Hugi hybrid. The Hugi drive mechanism was fine and strong, but the Cannondale hub body split a couple of inches.

Kept the Hugi parts for spares in our DT hubs we run on all the tandems.

PK
 

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In regards to the DT Swiss hubs, They are by far the simplest to work on. Once the cassette side micro O ring is removed so the entire cassete pulls off the axle by hand, you are dealing with a hub that is tool less to service since the QR is all that holds it together.

On the Co Motion road tandem, miles from home at a rally. Could hear my lack of maintenance during the last few miles of a Friday ride. Took 10 minutes, removed the rear wheel, removed QR, slid off cassette assembly. Wiped down all drive components with a rag, lubed, reassembled and stuffed the bike back into the van for the next day. That was over 2 years ago. Guess I should lube it again. The irony of all this, was having a small audience of naysayers bummed because our weekend was over in their eyes. They were stunned that in 10 minutes the wheel was in the frame, one lap around the parking lot and ready to go fight again the next day. A few commented if it were their exotic wheel XXX (not CK) it had to go back for service.

The other cool thing with DT, is that, if the chain jams between the spokes and first ring, as long as that O ring that retains the cassette body has been removed, you loosen the QR, this releases the grip on the chain and you pull it out easily with minimal spoke damage, getting you home.

PK
 

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K&K
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
(snip) if it were their exotic wheel XXX (not CK) it had to go back for service. (snip)
PK
Oh course you're free to not name names Paul, but I am very interested who XXX is, as I am trying to decide if I should spend money to repair my Phil Wood hub or find another.
 

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It was the exotic road tandem wheels. All those wheels seem to have short lifes for some reason.

Dirt wheels, we are a DT house. I'm sure the Kings would be fine. We have no miles on them on a tandem.

The simplicity of the DT plus the strength of the drive rings keeps me coming back to them.

If you are buying a NOS DT Swiss hub, before you ride it, take the few minutes and relube the drive setup. Older waxy grease is the most likely cause of the drive rings slipping.

FWIW, we are not easy on equipment. My greater fears when climbing steeper grades is either snapping a chain or bending a cassette ring. I never worry about the hub engagement.

PK
 

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My Phil Wood failure wasn't in the ratchet ring. The second time I serviced the hub I found that the rear hub axle would not move. According to their posted service instructions the axle should have been removable by hand or light pressure.

I took a lot more force than that (there was a hammer involved). Once removed I could see that there was a barb on the inside race of one of the bearings that had gouged the axle.

At that time the hub was 8 years old and there was no way of determining the cause of the barb, be it manufacturing defect or not. I contacted Phil Wood to see if I could purchase a replacement axle and a retainer small screw that I misplaced.

The service manager told me that would be fine and to contact sales. Initially sales refused to sell me the parts and asked me to send the hub back. I didn't want to do this as it was a built wheel and cross-border shipping of the wheel wouldn't be cheap. When I explained this they agreed to sell the parts, but told me that there would be no warranty coverage on the hub after that.

I asked them about that stance since the service procedure was documented on their site, and there were only a few additional steps required for full dis-assembly. They do note on their website that the pawls/ratchet aren't user serviceable but I wasn’t touching these.

At this point they did what I consider to be completely unforgivable for a company; they ignored my emails. I sent 2 more requests for some reasoning behind the full denial of warranty. Realistically at this point, on a 8 year old hub they only thing that would have still been covered was the hub shell. Unfortunately, they just ignored my emails.

For that reason alone I would think very, very hard about purchasing a Phil Wood product in the future.

Rob
 

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MTB Tandem Nut
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The DT issues were earlier than 2010, IIRC. Paul alluded to what may have been the issue - too much or too little or incorrect grease being used in the hubs. I'm more confident that the current DT lineup will hold up for us. The spoke flange spacing on the DTs is narrower than other 145mm hubs, but is also nearly dishless as well, so maybe that's actually a good thing.
I9 also makes a pretty good hubs as well, but no steel driveshell. Middleburn also tells me they'll have a bomb-proof hub available soon as well, so maybe more options are becoming available.
Or, now that we've shaken out what works and what doesn't, the new mega range cassettes will start killing rear hubs all over again...:)
 

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Howdy!

I've gone through six hubs on my mountain tandem:
3 Hugi (2 Cannondale CODA and 1 DT Hugi, from 1998)
Star ratchet failures. That being said, my Union Hugi on the road tandem has performed flawlessly for over 20 years with NO service (but not THAT many miles).
1 Deore LX (Duh! It was the temp. spare that didn't survive the first steep climb. Twisted the hubshell/freehub body spline off.)
2 Phil Wood tandem FSC. First one: ratchet ring thread locking compound failed on Slickrock Trail, screwed into hubshell, splitting it in two. This was about ten years ago.
PW repaired it N/C. Then last year, the ratchet ring had damaged edges on the ramps. Upon further inspection, noticed the body in which the pawls sit was cracked and ready to fail. PW repaired the hub (without having to unbuild the wheel) for $200.

Repaired hub working fine, albeit with limited use so far.

I've always wanted a Chris King, but have never taken the plunge. Was always concerned about the aluminum engagement ring he used at the time. I understand one can opt for SS instead. This will probably be my next hub.

I'm using traditional mountain gearing with a 24T small chainring and 34T large cog combination. ~300 lb. combined weight couple.

I hope my experience helps!
 

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K&K
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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
... and you guys are light compared to us! Well, me anyway :) We're riding a $100 replacement wheel right now. Rode singles last two rides because I don't trust it. Can't wait to get back on the tandem...

Thanks for the replies, keep them stories coming! I had just decided to go ahead with sending the Phil Woods in to be rebuilt, and now I have more food for thought...
 

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We have blown our White Industries M16 hub twice. I replaced the drive shell, pawls and springs and that wheel is now relegated as our travel back up. That completely bums me out because I love White Industries' products and they are a fantastic company (people) to deal with.

With that said, I built a wheel up with a Chris King ISO hub that I had been running on my AM single for years. We haven't had a single issue ( over one year) and our legs have given out on steeps without the sickening sound of a hub implosion. The quicker engagement is also noticible, particularly on hill starts.

For what it's worth, we are a 340 lb. team on an Ellsworth Witness.
 

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Did all those little parts come out of that big part, or did you kind of fake the photo?

PK
 

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K&K
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Everything I'm reading both here and on the Clyde page is pushing me toward Chris King. I'm only considering replacing the rear. Not sure what I have to know.... I need 36 holes. If I'm measuring right, i have 135mm between the dropouts, a 45 mm axle, and a 6 bolt disc. Looks like the tandem specific CKs start at 140, so I thinking I can't use those, ... am I right? So, if not a tandem specific, what do I need to know? Can I use any other axle types (rear).
 
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