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I'm building two sets of wheels for loaded touring. They'll be used for heavy loads (one bike will be around 250lbs loaded, the other will be around 350lbs loaded) mainly on road (which means surviving potholes, rail road crossings, etc) and very likely some gravel forrestry roads as well. I know I want to use mountain bike freehubs due to the reduced dish and I don't really care wither the front hubs think they're for road or mountain. Non-disc, btw. My primary concern is durability and not needing constant service in rain/dust/etc.

So, when it comes down to it, what are the real differences between Shimano hubs? What do you actually get as you move from Deore, to XT, to XTR or Sora, to 105, to DuraAce?
 

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thin blue line
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I can't provide you with an answer for all, but . . .

I have Deore on my Fisher and XT on a $150 wheelset. They are both trash so far as I am concerned. I have had the Fisher for less than a year and have not even begun to put the kind of miles on it I would like to and the cup and cone assembly is already in need of repair. Same thing with the XT hubs, which I used for less than 2 months. Both have loosened up causing there to be play between the hub and axle. If I had the money I'd buy anything but Shimano. I know this doesn't answer your question, but beware Shimano hubs. Apparently, you must spend upwards of $300 to get a good hub, which I find most discerning because I spent $2500 on my Fisher thinking I was getting a good setup.
 

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I recall XT having bad hubs when it went from steel axle to alloy axle a couple of years ago but they have since redesigned the hub. My 6 year XT (765 centerlock) is still good, given I rebuild it twice a year - that's really a must-do if you ride trail, on any hubs. Shimano produces reliable products for the most part.

If you put that much weight, don't go XTR as those are really designed to be raced. Not saying it won't hold, but it's got minimalistic construction. Saint is probably a good choice, although SLX should be solid enough.
 

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fan of maple syrup
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Sorry if this sounds like a really unhelpful response, but anyway - I may not know the differences between all the Shimano hubs (though I imagine hub material will get lighter & stronger as you go up the chain, axle with grow in diameter and be alloy instead of threaded steel etc) ... but I do know a similarity with all Shimano hubs: they all run cup & cone.

Cup & cone bearing setups suck the big one.

Sealed bearing hubs FTW. If you're in the market for new hubs, I would steer clear of Shimano. Well clear. Like .... 100 mile radius clear. Hope make strong durable sealed bearing hubs and are pretty cheap on CRC (think they have a non disc version). DT Swiss are super reliable, and their 340, 350 & 370 series are popular on touring bikes I believe (and way cheaper than their 240 & 190 series).

But yeah ... avoid Shimano like the Plague.
 
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