One very cool variation on the old Record hubs was the HiLo rear hub, which featured a low-flange on the left side, with a high-flange on the drive side. The point was to equalize spoke tension on the left and right sides of a dished rear wheel, thereby making the wheel stronger, though in reality, it actually makes little or no difference. No matter. The HiLo hubs were never very common, but they had such a cool "trick" factor that some people find them extra desirable. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I'm one of those people.
|I'm not positive if this is new-old-stock or what, but it sure|
gleams like new. Inside and out, it is perfect. Functional jewelry.
A bit of history: The HiLo hub was originally made for the West German cycling team for the '72 Olympics. They were a special request item, and while they attracted a fair amount of attention at the time, I'm not sure they were made available to the general public - or if they were, I don't know how many might have been made. I've read that another limited run of the hubs may have been made later in the '70s. The thing is, they were the kind of product that people would hear about - like "rumor has it" of their existence, but to actually find them may have taken a bit of doing, and they didn't appear in any of the catalogs in that decade. The scarcity and the whispers probably helped to create a mythical aura around them, making them seem even more special. A white whale, if you will.
|1982 Olympic catalog scan from VeloBase.com|
I've done some searching to get an idea of how many of these hubs might have been made, but that information doesn't seem to be available. I did find one article that suggested that the early runs of the hubs, around the '72 Olympics, and a run in the later '70s, might have been around 500 each. How many more might have been made in '82? A thousand? More? Less? Who knows. Regardless, however uncommon they might have seemed back in their day, they do come up fairly regularly on eBay these days. In fact, I'd venture to say that eBay has made them easier to find today than they were when they were new.
So, back to the claim that the high/low flange design made for stronger wheels. People still debate it, and there are some who are convinced they are effective, but Jobst Brandt devoted a section in his authoritative book The Bicycle Wheel to the HiLo hub design. His basic conclusion is that it really makes no difference in spoke tension or wheel strength. He wrote:
"Hubs with a high flange on the right and a low flange on the left have been made in an attempt to counteract rim offset (dish) in multispeed rear wheels. This arrangement has no effect except with radial spoking. Offset, the principal problem with rear wheels, can be reduced only by moving the freewheel farther away from the centerline, or by narrowing the flange spacing. Bringing the left flange closer to the center improves the balance of spoke tension, but only at the expense of reducing lateral strength on both sides of the wheel."
"In a high-low hub the larger diameter of the right flange can help balance tension by about five percent, but only if the spokes are radial. With tangential spoking, no improvement is achieved by the high flange because its spokes have the same length and leave the hub from the same lateral position as the ones from the small flange. . . High-lows cannot reduce vertical loads, the principal cause of spoke failures. Torque loads have so little effect that high low hubs offer no improvement over conventional hubs."
There's no difference in spoke length?
Looking at the different flange diameters, it seems to defy logic, but Brandt was essentially correct. I ran some numbers through a spoke length calculator and found that the right side spokes would indeed be shorter than the left side spokes -- but with a dished rear wheel, that's nearly always the case. But comparing the length of right side spokes for a low-flange hub vs. right side on a high flange hub, I only came up with 1 mm difference on a 3-cross wheel, which is negligible.
Notice that Brandt points out that there can be an effect on spoke tension if one uses radial spoking - so should a person use radial spoking on the rear wheel with a HiLo hub? Well, probably not - as radial spoked wheels cannot transmit torque as well -- the torque applied to the rear wheel under pedaling load "winds up" the spokes a small amount (so they are not technically "radial" anymore) but this movement, however slight, induces wear in the hub's flange, and increases fatigue to the spokes, thereby increasing the likelihood of breakage. So ultimately, they are just a cool item that makes for interesting conversation and produces bike-lust, drooling, or envy among other bike geeks. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.
|Clockwise from top left: Hi-E circa 1970s, Phil Wood circa 1970s,|
Velo Orange (current), and White Industries (current).
If I can track down the vintage rims I'd like to build with, I'll have some more posted about my next wheel building project. Cheers.