Technical FAQ: Freehubs, loose ball bearings, and more

This week, Lennard Zinn tackles reader questions dealing with compatibility between component brands, the use of bike tools, and much more.

Freehub compatibility

Dear Lennard,
I have a set of generic Taiwanese carbon wheels with 11-speed Shimano/SRAM-compatible Novatec hubs on my wife’s bike. They work great, but the freehub is very noisy when coasting due to the pawl setup. Could I buy a Shimano 11-speed Ultegra freehub and install it so it’s not as noisy? Are most 11-speed freehubs compatible and mounted with a 10mm Allen wrench?
— Doug

Dear Doug,
I have no idea in this particular case, but in general, freehub bodies are not interchangeable across brands. While some of them do indeed mount with a 10mm hex key, lots of them do not.

DT Swiss and Campagnolo/Fulcrum hubs are notable exceptions to the 10mm hex key installation method; both of these types (and note that there are lots of freehubs using the Campy pawl style) simply pull off the hub by hand. Mavic hubs require a 10mm hex key on the opposite end to remove the axle, but the freehub also pulls off by hand.
― Lennard

Replacing freehub bearings

Dear Lennard,
I recently had my Campy hub apart for a lube and I wondered if there might be anything to be gained by replacing the bearings with loose balls. I figure I would be able to add one or two per side.
— Ted

Dear Ted,
Probably not.

In order to clarify to other readers, current Campy hubs have loose ball bearings constrained in plastic retainers. So the overhaul is the same as with a loose-ball hub, but the bearings are not free to roll away individually on your workbench.

The arguments that I imagine you might be making for adding a ball or two per side would be: perhaps rolling friction would be reduced by eliminating the retainer, and perhaps distributing pressure over more balls would lead to longer life of the bearings and races.

Regarding the first point, while you would be eliminating the sliding friction of the balls on the molded surfaces of the plastic bearing retainer, you would be substituting this with drag on adjacent balls. Since the meeting points on the two adjacent balls would be moving in opposite directions, the friction between them is of concern — it is not as if they are just rolling over each other, as they roll along the bearing race. My understanding from bearing experts over the years is that this friction between balls exceeds that between balls and their retainers. After all, the bearings inside cartridge bearings are held in retainers that keep them separate from each other. If friction were lower without the retainers, you’d think that high-end cartridge bearings would be made this way; it seems to me that it would be cheaper to make them that way as well.

As for sharing the pressure distribution over more balls, I doubt that would make a significant effect on wear on the bearing races (or on rolling friction). The load is still carried on the bottom couple of balls at any given time, after all. Bearing races can also be replaced in Campy hubs with the proper puller tool.
― Lennard

Installing Campy EPS

Dear Lennard,
I have Campy Chorus EPS installed in one bike and wish now to move it to another bike. At the time of installation, I purchased the appropriate Campy tool for disconnecting the cables (UT-CG120ATEPS), but did not have to use it. Now I suppose I will, but I cannot find any information or instructions about how this particular tool should be used. Based on its shape, I cannot fathom how it will help me disconnect those cables or whether it is even necessary. Any advice or instructions that you can provide would be much appreciated.
— David

Dear David,
You don’t need to use that tool. Fingernails work fine unless you’re doing a lot more bikes in a day than just this one.
― Lennard

Feedback on thumb pain and long-reach brakes

Dear Lennard,
Louis is the physician from the UK with thumb pain after riding for just 20 minutes. I had the same thing (I am also an MD, maybe something there) right over the M-P joint. It was cured by cutting a window in my glove right over the spot that hurts. I think the compression of the glove was forcing a pisaform bone to grate against the joint line. Try that before you go to injections.
— Curtis

Dear Lennard,
I am surprised that neither you nor Andrew Pruitt mentioned using a brace or splint to help with thumb pain. I have arthritis at the base of my left thumb, and I have been using a splint for years to mitigate the problem, along with occasional use of over-the-counter NSAIDS. The first splint I got was reasonably effective, but not very comfortable for cycling. I found a hand therapist who is also a bicyclist, and he designed a more sophisticated one that does what I need and fits under my cycling glove. It immobilizes the painful joint as well as spreading the pressure from the thumb across the base of my palm without interfering with my ability to shift or brake. It is comfortable enough to wear for hours on end, and it has been invaluable to me as a result. See the photos.
— Richard

Dear Lennard,
With my back, I’ve had great success with faithful, prescribed, at-home physical therapy, heat and a continuing regimen of Aleve. A good physical therapist can do amazing things. It doesn’t cure it but eases it immensely. What about thick, cushioning handlebar tape or double cycling gloves, and/or heat balm while riding?
— Tom

Dear Lennard,
To follow up on your most recent column, here’s some real-world feedback that Shimano BR600 long-reach brake calipers do indeed have the right pull ratio for Campy and SRAM brake levers. My commuter with fenders has BR600 calipers paired with Centaur 10-speed levers; my best friend has the same setup with SRAM Force levers. Together, the two of us have logged thousands of miles of positive experiences with this setup.
— Dan

Shimano/Campy compatibility

Dear Lennard,
I can’t seem to find the definitive answer looking back on all the articles and can use your help.
I have developed some arthritis in my thumbs and after long hauls, the Campy shifters make my thumbs sore.

While I can look at a whole new group, would I just be able to purchase some Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace shifters and use those with my Campy derailleurs?
— Paul

Dear Paul,
No, that won’t work.
― Lennard

Feedback on Marinoni

Dear Lennard,
Thank you for the piece on the Marinoni movie.

In 1996 after my Cannondale race bike was stolen, I was looking around for a replacement. I decided to go steel, and a local shop helped me get a Marinoni frame. It got ridden many times in all kinds of weather, got jammed into vans with other bikes, and took other forms of abuse.

Two years ago I decided to restore the bike and contacted Marinoni about getting the frame painted. We live in Vermont within an easy drive to Montreal. It turned out the easiest way to transport the bike back and forth was to drive right there.

While working with Giovanni, the best English speaker working there, my wife had been looking over a track bike hanging on the wall and reading the plague underneath telling the Marinoni history. She asked if Giuseppe was still alive. Giovanni replied, “Why, yes he is. He is working in the back. Would you like to meet him?” How could we refuse?

Giuseppe was gracious enough to stop working and talk with us, Giovanni acting as our interpreter.

See the finished product in the photo above. It rides like a dream. Please excuse some of the non-period-correct parts.
— John