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Editor’s note: Testing Today is a new column that gives you a quick glimpse of some of the cool new gear on our desks for testing. Check back for full reviews of these goodies once we’ve had a chance to run them through the wringer.
Behold, the mysterious freehub. For most riders, it’s nothing more than a fancy noisemaker that indicates your wheels are still rolling. There’s a lot going on inside to ensure you go forward when you hit the pedals, though. And while there are a lot of ways to do that — ratchet systems, for example — pawl systems have essentially become the standard.
Industry Nine’s Hydra hubs have pawls. But these ain’t your grandpa’s freehub pawls from 2005. (Your grandpa’s not that old, apparently.)
“Each tooth on the drive ring is very small,” says Jacob McGahey, vice president of Industry Nine. “Pawls are evenly spaced, and each one of them is 1/6 away from contacting a tooth. One pawl will be the first to hit, but the second, third, and fourth are only a fraction of a millimeter away. The microscopic flex of the axle and other components allow the second and third pawl to come in contact with drive ring, which means you’ll always have at least three pawls engaged.”
Okay, did you get all that? Me neither. What exactly does that mean?
For starters, it means you’ve got 690 points of engagement at any given point. (That’s six pawls, times 115 teeth on the drive ring.) McGahey says the Hydra system “offers faster engagement. With traditional pawl-driven systems, they’re designed to have all three pawls click into drive ring at once. But with axle flex and other things, occasionally you’ll get a single pawl engagement and you’ll have one pawl taking the entire load. That puts stress on the bearing and freehub, and that’s where you get a lot of wear.”
The Hydra hubs solve that problem by ensuring a solid connection between three pawls at all times. That all sounds great on paper, but what’s the benefit to you, the rider?
For starters, this should ensure longer component life. Putting big loads on a single pawl means the chances for failure increase exponentially. The Hydra hubs help distribute big loads efficiently so each component takes less stress at a time. Your pawls, bearings, and axles should all last longer.
It also means nearly instant engagement when you start pedaling. This largely means a very positive, engaged feeling the second you start grinding, which you probably won’t notice seconds later. That’s the joy of riding, right? If a component is good, you’ll forget all about it.
Since all the magic is on the inside, it’s easy to look at the Hydra hubs as just another noisemaker. And frankly, it will take quite a lot of testing to determine whether the system offers any noticeable benefits. Unfortunately for Industry Nine, component longevity testing could take years.
What will we look for in testing? For starters, while it’s difficult to gauge whether a freehub’s engagement is quicker than another system, any slop or play would be noticeable. It’s not likely we’ll feel any; Industry Nine isn’t new to this game. Technically, better engagement should mean better power transfer. It will be interesting to see if this is noticeable on a ride, whether by feel or by the numbers afterward.
Other than that, this one’s a waiting game. Will the hubs end up being long-lasting and reliable? Will six pawls only add to the list of potential parts that can fail? Are the tiny teeth on the drive ring any more prone to excessive wear than bigger teeth? Will the hubs make a cooler buzzing sound than Chris King hubs? Fortunately for us, the only way to figure it out is to hit the dirt, and often.
We’ll post the longterm review right here on VeloNews.com, so keep an eye out this summer.