Those Noisy Rear Hubs

Just as they promised, the bike shop called today to say my new cassette had come in. I took the bike over, and they mounted it right away. And they mounted it for free, “Because we like you,” said one of the clerks (They have no idea I write a blog — I’m just another customer to them). Well, I like them, too, and I think I’ll try to throw more of my business their way.

I couldn’t wait to try out the bike with its new cassette and new wheel — even though the temp outside in mid-afternoon was in the high 90s (37C), and the humidity has been higher lately than is typical around here. I told my wife I wouldn’t be gone long, and took off.

Glorious! Not that I had a new wheel and cassette on the bike, but something else entirely. It was my first ride in several months without noise coming from my rear hub. And that got me to thinking about a common noise I hear when riding with a group.

Our club peloton rolls up a short hill in unison from our starting point, but we then hit a longish, gentle downhill on the other side. As soon as we start rolling down, the group puts up a racket. As they coast downhill, about half the bikes emit a buzzing/clicking noise from their rear hubs. The others are quiet.

rearhub

The noise comes from the freewheel’s spring-loaded pawls moving over the ratchet teeth, which are moving in relation to the fixed position pawls, according to one forum I checked. I thought the higher-end hubs were the source of the noise, although it appears that any price level hub can buzz. It all depends on the design. The more pawls a hub has, the louder its sound.

One Bike Noob reader, Bill in Colorado, hates that noise. He describes it as “cheap” and “tinny.” Other cyclists like it.

Depending upon your tastes, you can look to the make of wheel — and especially the hubs — the next time you’re thinking of replacing them. Some brands, like Shimano or American Classic, are known for spinning quietly. Others — notably Chris King, DT Swiss, and others — are reputed to have a louder buzz than most.

What’s the advantage of the noisy hubs? The ones with more pawls are usually designed to give more engagement points.  With more engagement points, the pedals need to be rotated a shorter distance before they initially engage the drive and start to propel the wheel forward. There is some debate over energy loss. Since there is friction between the pawls and ratchets, some riders contend that the noisy hubs are energy wasters. Others say the energy loss is negligible, if any.

So, what’s your preference? Do you like the buzz from your hub, or would you prefer to ride in silence? Send an email with your choice to rainycamp AT yahoo DOT com.

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10 thoughts on “Those Noisy Rear Hubs

  1. Shhhhhhh… do you hear that? No? That’s because my hub doesn’t emit that horrible racket.

    I once asked a rider with his matching bike and kit, $300 helmet, and cleanly shaved legs why his bike made so much noise. His answer, “It’s like the exhaust of a Harley Davidson, it’s so people can hear me coming.” I almost fell off my bike laughing!

    I love a bike on which I can hear the wind rather than the clatter. (Glad you finally got those wheels! Wow, that took close to forever!)

  2. energy loss from noisy hubs….ROFL…like you could measure that in terms that mean anything to the energy budget of a bicycle and rider…seriously, can’t breathe right now, laughing too hard

    and yes, those very loud clacky hubs are annoying

  3. My wheels are vary with that sound. My Mavic’s now have a smooth clicking sound, where as my Forte titans and whatever wheels I have on my cross bike are completely silent. But yeah some wheels are just aggravating, especially when you start to pay attention to the noise.

  4. …they only make ‘noise’ when you’re coasting –slacker … :-)

    But I like the ‘noise’. Especially in the paceline, it lets the guys in front of me, grinding away, know that I’m just coastin’ … LOL

  5. I can take it or leave a noisy freewheel. Just got new Williams wheels & they coast quietly…it’s kinda cool mostly cause my other wheels were loud. It is nice to be able to converse while coasting. On the other hand when on a crowded bike path I used to coast up behind people & they would hear me coming & move over.

  6. Of course, if you have quiet hubs like mine, you can emulate that type of noise by pedalling backwards. I enjoy that type of noise but I can imagine how annoying it is to others, especially when they are the ones pulling up in the front :D

  7. My hubs are silent. My commuter is a mid-level mountain style with Maxxis Aspen tires on it, so those make a slight buzzing sound while on the road (even louder while cornering, since the bigger nubs kick in).

    I prefer quiet hubs. I like to be able to direct the noise I make to get noticed (bell, shouting, whistling, etc).

  8. Energy loss or not, hearing someone on those horribly noisy DT Swiss hubs takes away from an enjoyable club ride. Silence is golden!

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