Saturday, February 15, 2014

Classic Components: Campagnolo Record Hubs

The first Campagnolo components I ever bought were a pair of Record hubs. At the time I bought them, they were probably about 10 years old, but they were brand new, perfect in their faded yellow box with the Campagnolo script logo on the top and World Champion rainbow stripes. They were for sale at the most amazing garage sale a teen-aged (or even middle-aged) bike geek could imagine. Besides the hubs, I had purchased a pair of impossibly light Super Champion tubular rims and built my first pair of wheels.

A post-'78 pair of small flange Record hubs.
Whether it was because of the extreme lightness of the rims or because of my amateur wheel-building skills (probably both), the wheels seemed to need constant truing. I eventually un-laced and re-built them with the same hubs and a more robust pair of rims (my wheel-building skills having improved greatly), and I still use them today, almost 30 years later. The hubs still spin like new.

The Campagnolo Record hubs are iconic kit -- without a doubt, the best hubs one could buy in their day, and one could argue, among the best of any time. Period.

First introduced in 1958, the Record hubs were made with only minor changes up until about 1985 or '86. The Record hubs replaced the Gran Sport hubs, which were actually manufactured for Campy by a sub-contractor, Fratelli Brivio (or FB). The Gran Sports were comprised of a steel barrel with aluminum flanges pressed on. The Record hub bodies were a one-piece design, made from a forged aluminum shell, with replaceable steel bearing races pressed into it. There were also oil holes in the center of the shaft, as well as in the dust caps that covered the bearings.

A late 60s large-flange Record hub. Note the straight-lever
quick release. 
By 1958, other companies were making quick release hubs (Campagnolo first introduced them in the early 1930s), but none had the quality of the Records. The design would be copied by many -- some even to the extent that their parts were completely interchangeable with the Campy version -- but the quality of the bearings and the hardness of the bearing race surfaces put the Campagnolo hubs well ahead of anything else available at the time -- and in my opinion, even modern sealed-bearing hubs don't really improve on them. With a little maintenance (and they are completely user-serviceable) they will last for decades. Not only that, but the quality of the forged aluminum shell was better than most of the competition, as well. The flanges were sturdy, and the finish was mirror-like. Even after years of use, they can be brought back to that like-new lustre with a soft cloth and a dab of aluminum polish.

There were several versions of the hubs. Primarily, there was the small-flange version (flange piccole) and the large-flange version (flange grandi). There were road (strada) and track (pista) versions -- differentiated by hollow axles and quick release levers for the road, and solid, nutted axles for the track. The track hubs also lacked the central oil holes, and the rear track hub had special threading for a single cog plus a lock ring. In the early 80s, there was also a BMX version, available in anodized colors.

The very-cool Hi-Lo Record hub.
Superfluous, but impressive nonetheless.
In the 1970s and early 80s, Campy also made a fairly rare version called the "Hi-Lo." This was unique in that the rear hub had a large-flange on the drive side, with a regular small flange on the left. The theory was that it would help equalize spoke tension, resulting in a stronger wheel. Jobst Brandt's book, The Bicycle Wheel, says that the claims of greater wheel strength are overblown -- but regardless, they are a cool-looking curiosity.

As mentioned, the hubs were produced over 25 years with only minor changes. The first versions (up to about the mid-60s) did not have the "Record" name engraved on them -- only the Campagnolo script. There were different axle lengths available for the rear hub to accommodate 5, then 6-speed freewheels. The most recognizable change came in 1978, when the US CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) mandated changes in the quick-release lever design. Pre-CPSC levers had a straight lever at one end, and a simple conical-shaped nut at the other end. Post-CPSC levers were curved, while the nut end was rounded nearly to a ball-shape. I have no doubt that many lives were saved because of the change.

To the best of my knowledge, the internal parts -- bearings, cones, axles, etc. -- were interchangeable throughout the production of the Record hubs. If one wants to find out the year that their Record hubs were made, there is a date code engraved on the axle locknuts. However, if the those were replaced at some point, that could be misleading.

In the late 60s, a lower-priced hub set was introduced: the Nuovo Tipo. The small-flange versions were pretty similar to the Record version, but without the little oil hole that the Record hubs were known for. The large-flange version was differentiated by having round lightening holes, as opposed to the kidney-shaped ones on the Records. Nevertheless, the internal parts were still of excellent quality, and have the potential to be just as long-lived as their more expensive counterparts.

C-Record "sheriff star" hub. Beautiful. Possibly fragile.
When production ended of the classic Record hubs in the mid 80s, they were replaced by the C-Record hubs, which had a modern, aerodynamic-looking design. The large-flange version, sometimes called the "sheriff star" hubs, were particularly gorgeous, and are incredibly valuable today on eBay. But not long after, cassette-type hubs pushed threaded freewheel hubs out of the marketplace. When freewheels and cassettes grew to 8 speeds, it necessitated widening the OLD (over-locknut-dimension) and corresponding frame width to 130 mm. At that length, cassette hubs have an advantage because the hub bearings can be placed further outboard of the flange on the drive side, meaning more support for the axle -- and less likelihood of axle bending.

Nevertheless, I have found that it is possible to use vintage Record hubs even on modern frames with 130 mm spacing, provided that one can find the proper length axle (not that difficult, really). However, the quick release skewer might pose some difficulty -- the older vintage ones might not have enough length to work, at least not without getting a bit risky with the number of threads engaged on the nut-end. I have substituted later-vintage quick release skewers in those cases. Another thing to consider if making the conversion to 130 mm spacing with these vintage hubs is that the drive side of the axle has a lot of unsupported length, and bending the axle can be more of a possibility. My recommendation is to NOT space the hub on the axle for 8-speed freewheels, which are just too wide. Instead, arrange the spacers on the hub to accommodate no more than a 7-speed freewheel, thereby keeping the hub slightly more "centered" on the axle, which also results in a wheel with slightly less "dish" -- which is stronger anyhow.

Campagnolo Record hubs are one of those great components that have proven themselves through the test of time. After their release in 1958, they quickly became the top choice of riders throughout their production for more than 25 years. Their quality is indisputable, and they are a favorite of the Retrogrouch.

Credit: more Campy info is available on the Campagnolo Timeline at Velo-Retro.

14 comments:

  1. Brooks-

    Please don't forget the matching Campy cone wrenches. They are beautiful to look at, wonderful to work with in the hand and durable beyond the hopes of those of us who are merely mortal. There is nothing more to be wished for or had.

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    1. You're right about the cone wrenches. I bought a pair of those at the same time I bought those first hubs. I had an article about the Campagnolo tools, with some pictures of my own collection (without the awesome wooden box, unfortunately). http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com/2013/09/campagnolo-tools.html

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  2. Thanks to Classic Rendezvous member Wayne Davidson for a couple of corrections. At his suggestion, I should also mention that the Record pista hubs were, for a time, available with hollow axles and quick release levers (late 60s, early 70s) -- something I knew about, but neglected to mention. For those interested in the BMX hubs, they came in silver, blue, and gold!

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  3. I have a wheel built on Record hubs, which I really like. I've recently replaced the frame with 130mm spacing. You suggest finding a longer axle isn't that difficult. I believe you, but could you elaborate? I'm at a loss at the moment. Did Campy make longer axles, or are there after market ones? Swapping out the axle will be easy, and I should repack the bearings anyway.

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    1. Campy must have made some, as there were threaded axle hubs in the 90s that were made for that spacing (8 speed freewheels, and such). But there would also be some aftermarket ones available. Not all axles have the same exact threading that Campy used, however, so if you find aftermarket ones, you'd want to check and make sure they're the same before threading your Campy cones and locknuts on. A good shop should be able to help advise.

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  4. Interesting...I have a pair of brand new pair of Chorus hubs from I think 89?

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  5. Regarding the outstanding longevity you get from your campag hubs. I'd love to know - how tight do you do up your cones. Do you leave just a tiny bit of free play which gets even tinier when you do up the quick release but nonetheless still leaves a just perceptible amount of lateral free play in the bearing? Or you do you pinch the bearing ever so slightly, which increases slightly more when you do up the quick release so there is no perceptible lateral movement at all before you set off ????

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    1. I adjust them so the bearings are just barely kissed by the cones. Is there any play at all? It's almost imperceptible. That way, tightening the quick release doesn't over-tighten the bearings.

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  6. I have some framebuilding parts (front and rear dropouts). When I rebuilt my most recent set of campagnolo hubs, I followed standard tightening instructions (locknut thumbtight when QR is at 90 degrees, then close the QR) and adjusted the hubs cones to be perfectly tight when the QRs were installed but I did this OFF THE BIKE - you can easily do it at the kitchen table ... :-)

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    1. That's an interesting approach. Id have never thought of it, but it makes sense.

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  7. Summer of 1977 I ordered cmaphy record hi flange hubs Fiamme Red Label Rims and Three Star spokes and built the ultimate wheels for my Peugeot UO-8.................still riding them

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  8. I also bought a set of low flange Record hubs (low flange was thought to be better for touring at the time) for my AD Vent Noir. I laced the wheels 4X onto 27" Weinmann A-129 36H concave rims and Robergel spokes and they have lasted many loaded tours(including cross country)and over 35K miles. They still roll smooth as silk and I have never broken a spoke. Now building a set of 700C wheels with Weinmann concave rims on a set of high flange record hubs for the next tour this summer. Probably will not be using any Robergel spokes!

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  9. In 1982 I had a pair of wheels built using Campy low flange Record hubs and Weinmann concave rims. To my knowledge, the front hub has been repacked several times but never had the bearings replaced. Today I repacked it and used new bearings. In Sheldon Brown's treatise on hubs, he says "Most front hubs take 10 three-sixteenth-inch balls per side. (Exception: Campagnolo Record, Nuovo Record and Super Record take 7/32 inch balls.)" I found there are only 9 balls per side. They look like 7/32 but I haven't measured them yet. So I have a question: do you know what the specified bearing size and count are for both front and rear hubs of this vintage?
    Great article. Thanks, jmh

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  10. Do you happen to know the specified bearing size and count for 1982 vintage Record hubs, rear and front? Sheldon Brown wrote "Most front hubs take 10 three-sixteenth-inch balls per side. (Exception: Campagnolo Record, Nuovo Record and Super Record take 7/32 inch balls.)" but I found only 9 per side, look like 7/32.
    Thanks, jmh

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