King of Wheels: Review of Chris King Hubs
There are few component manufacturers more iconic than Chris King. For over 35 years King has been manufacturing the gold standard in high-end cycling gear. From their introduction of the first sealed bearing headset, to their recent innovations in XD compatible driveshells and Press-fit bottom brackets that actually work, Chris King continues to push the envelope in quality, beauty, and functionality.
King prides themselves on their ethic of sustainable manufacturing, and produces their 100% of their wares in their Portland, OR USA facility. They use only materials from high-quality US and Canadian mills with verified manufacturing and labor practices. In a world where high-volume, outsourced, overseas, no-questions-asked production is the norm King proves that it is still possible and economically feasible to feel good about where your stuff comes from and how it’s made. Even the oil for their machines is soy-based and from domestically grown beans. Most of it anyway. The remainder comes from recycling used oil by literally squeezing it out of their scrap metals as they are compressed into “pucks” to be recycled. This process produces a higher quality recycleable stock and reduces the amount of “burn-off” of oils. In the world of Chris King, even the trash is of exceptional quality, and has a reduced enviromental impact.
But in this industry, this means nothing if the product is not ridiculously good. All the hippie-love, feel-good, save-the-planet, make-a-difference, good intentions will never get the chance to save a unicorn if the product isn’t superior. Since their inception, Chris King Hubs have been the gold standard to which any other high-end hub has been compared. There are lighter. There are (marginally) faster. But year after year, fad after fad, Chris King hubs continue to perform with their time-proven design, performance, and meticulous machining. The first set I had I ran for almost ten years, and built and rebuilt them into multiple wheelsets. I trashed several rims, broke a frame, and destroyed almost every other part of a bicycle, but when the smoke cleared, these hubs were still going strong.
These hubs, brand, spanking new have been built into wheels for my Santa Cruz Nomad. Laced via DT comp spokes and brass nipples to 27.5 Light-Bicycle Carbon hookless rims. Built by my local wheel guru, Dave Chase from Redstone Cyclery in Lyons, CO (www.redstonecyclery.com). Apparently Boeing, maker of giant carbon fiber airplanes, states that it must go to great lengths to seal the connections between carbon and aluminum from water to prevent galvanic corrosion. Yes, evidently carbon can “rust”. Brass nipples build a stronger wheel regardless so that’s what I went with. Didn’t want to take any chances for the negligible weight bonus.
On the trail these hubs absolutely deliver. The engagement is incredibly noticeable versus more traditional pawl-based systems like those found on Shimano or Mavic hubs. Industry Nine, with 6 pawls is the only real competitor here with a couple degrees faster engagement but only 3 points of contact at any given time. At the heart of all this is Chris King’s patented Ring Drive engagement system. A beautifully simple and elegant system of helical drive gears delivering 72 points of simultaneous engagement.
Aside from complete and total explosive catastrophe, there is very little room for this system to fail. 71 teeth would have to blow out before you even noticed a decrease in engagement. 72 points in this configuration means fresh hook-up every five degrees or so. Nearly instant. This is a lifesaver in techy sections where you need a little power but don’t have much space, or when your timing is lacking. The Ring Drive is also the source of the characteristic “Angry Bee Sound”. Love it or hate it, this mechanical symphony is unmistakable and synonymous with power and quality. These hubs are rated to over 800ft/lbs of torque. For reference, that is just shy of the torque produced by a 2015 Ford Super Duty with a 6.7L Power Stroke V8 Turbo Diesel. So unless you’re juicing with Ultra-Low-Sulfur Diesel or Nitromethane, your quads are no match for this kind of durability. If you are a fearless huckster, a little bigger, or more prone to highly dynamic loading of the hub (freeriders, klutzes, ogres, gorillas) CK offers a stainless steel replacement driveshell that is even stronger and more resistant to damage versus cassettes. The downside? It’s about 54g heavier. For reference, that’s about 0.9 Clif Bars.
These bad boys carry a 5-year warranty, but it’s unlikely you’ll need it. I had my last set for almost 10 years and except for some scoring on the driveshell from a loosened cassette, they were basically identical to this brand new set I just built.
The caveat: The high expectations are reciprocal. With great power come great responsibility. In exchange for the benefits of these hubs Chris King asks but one favor: Maintain them. Yes, it’s crazy talk to expect the end-user to be able to service anything. It’s marketing suicide to produce something that can be maintained, adjusted, renewed, repaired, or otherwise “fixed” by anyone but “Authorized Service Persons”. With the tools you probably already have on your multi-tool these hubs can be broken down into three basic pieces: Hub, Driveshell, and axle. The main bearings can be accessed by removing simple snap-rings and seals, and cleaned and regreased. The Driveshell houses needle bearings that can be flushed, cleaned and regreased without completely removing them. This service should be done every 3-6 months under “normal” riding conditions and takes about 10 whole minutes.
Building something that lasts, something that can be regularly serviced with a hex wrench and a pen knife is contrary to the seemingly industry-wide philosophy of building everything to be roughly disposable. Engineering obsolescence creates a need to Buy More Stuff next year. This is not the case with King. All Chris King hubs come standard with a certain degree of future-proofing and are convertible in many cases from one standard to the next. On my last set I converted the axles several times, the front from 24mm to 20mm to 15mm, and the rear from quick-releases to a 12×135 Maxle. The newly released XD-compatible driveshell, for use with SRAM 1x systems is available as a replacement driveshell for older hubs, making it easy to upgrade your legacy hubs to the newest hotness.
Speaking of hotness, Chris King products come in 9 glorious colors. Used to be 10 until they had to put purple down. Those of you who were riding in the 90’s remember the horrific damage done by purple anodization. Entire bikes ruined in purple. Purple everything. Purple spandex. Dear god, the horror. Never Forget.
Every now and then King tries to eliminate the terrible memory of purple by sacrificing a new color as tribute. Currently, I think they are serving up “Sour Apple” a lovely light green. I chose pink for my hubs because they go so nice with my turquoise/pink Nomad. That and pink is just such a masculine color. Provided you can pull it off. Otherwise you look like a sissy. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide into which category I belong. Please be nice in the comments.
Of course, these blingtastic little beauties come with a price. There is a premium for quality. However, I would argue that these hubs, while expensive, are an exceptional value. At $440 USD MSRP for the 12×142 ISO XD rear and $209 USD for the 15mm LD front shown here the price is enough to give any consumer pause. Consider though that these hubs will last over the lifetime of many bikes. That they are user-serviceable and rebuildable. That the drive system is simple, elegant, durable, powerful. You might spend much more on much less by the time you add up the costs of lesser hubs built and broken, worn out and fallen from fashion. These babies last. Buy quality and you spend less in the long run.
- Chris King ISO Hubs with XD Driver
- 142 x 12 spacing (rear)
- 15mm LD (large diameter) (front)
- Weight: rear, 325g with steel bearings; front 197g
- MSRP: $440 USD Rear / $209 USD Front
- Compatibility: Anything. Versions for almost any axle type, width, spoke count, steel or ceramic bearings, steel or aluminum drivers, 9, 10, 11-speed (11-speed XD driver), etc.
- Warranty: 5 years