Kogswell FG hubset
by Genny Gebhardt
I look at hubs from the viewpoint of one who used to go through headsets in six months and bottom brackets in four. My hubs suffer from hemidemisemiquaver, and I once watched my freewheel disintegrate while riding over a bridge on the way home from work. (The tiny silver bearings trickled through the deck and into the tumbling water faster than my brain cells dribbled out in University.) So when Matthew at Kogswell asked me to test the company's rugged $80 fixed gear hubset, I perked right up.
My offroad hubs range from Suntour Greaseguard (yes, I am that old) down to Campag Tipo (but not quite THAT old).
For years, I rode and raced on a single pair of Suntour XC Pros. Charlie 'WTB' Cunningham's genius hack allowed one to fire gobs of clean white grease into one port and watch the nasty black goo ooze out the other side. Unfortunately, in the rainy, muddy conditions of Puget Sound, I'd do those on-the-fly repacks about once every few weeks. Expensive tubes of grease ran out fast in the winter. 12 years old, on their third rims, and with untold miles of road and trail, the Suntours are still running--albeit with distinct wear and wobble.
The low end Tipos were my choice when a lethal combination of poverty and delirium convinced me that they were appropriate hubs for cyclocross. A lumpy four hour ride and one cross race later, I had to repack the hubs, and retired the wheels back to the road.
The Kogswells come somewhere in the middle.
The hub of affairs
The things that struck me about the Kogswells were i. they gleam all pretty and smooth with a lovely engraved Kogswell on the barrels, and ii. they look mighty stout. These are not featherweights. The medium-high flanges sport a reassuring amount of material, and the shafts have a cylindrical burliness bringing to mind the late lamented Bullseye. They are equipped with the reliable SKF sealed bearings. I will mention in passing that even urban skaters, hard users of tiny bearings, swear by SKF products.
Kogswell's new site no longer publishes a full spec sheet, but the rear axle looks like a standard 10mm to me. The front comes with a nicely finished, smoothly actuated quick release. The rear, however, has these lock nuts--well, they're awful danged nice is all I can say. Beefy, well finished and positive, they're the kind of thing you buy aftermarket to replace the cheesy originals on your track wheel before Something Awful happens. Since offroad riding adds the effects of backpedalling, sudden jumps, unintended skids and pounding over rocks to the already tough conditions of the track, the designer was thinking ahead when they specced those nuts.
The rear hub is 135mm--too much of a spread for my road fixed gear, but perfect for my Kona Jake the Snake 'cross. The pair were very well machined, with smooth eyelets and even finish. Since I couldnt bear to put one of my crummy stamped cogs onto the rear, I invested in a fine new Surly.
A cranky day
I planned a pleasant test program combining deteriorated fire roads, singletrack, good Puget Sound muck and the submergence test, but two factors intervened. The first was that trails in the Pacific Northwest are closed between October and April, and generally not rideable until May. The second was the close encounter I had with a large and aggressive traction grating after snapping a crank. I was literally impaled on the traction spikes, while my fingers somehow became entangled in the grate, breaking several of them and tearing a ligament in one hand. Ooops. My first thought as kindly bystanders dragged me off the street was that playtime was over for a while.
Testing time was short, and my hand was slow to heal. I abandoned the idea of building up the Kogswells myself, relying instead on an expert to lace them 3x into Sun CR-18 rims with plain spokes. However, my efforts at finding someone else to test a fixed gear hub offroad only resulted in people backing slowly away from me, looking nervously for the door. In the end, I gave the front to a local HunkyBoy for testing while I healed up enough to work out the rear.
My chosen HunkyBoy has an impressive record of Famous Disasters, all the way up to ripping the teeth off of cogs. He also has a long and very lumpy commute to work in all weathers over the coffin-sized potholes, cobbles, endless construction sites and general rubble that we laughingly call streets here in Seattle.
After a dirty winter on bad roads with a hard rider, the front hub spun clean and smooth, remaining tight and well adjusted despite having received zero maintenance. There was no side-to-side wobble, no grit, hitch or hesitation. The quick release operated positively and my tester reported no shifting of the wheel in his fork. Even the finish was restored with a simple whisk of a clean shop rag and a tooth brush. I saw no cracks or defects in the shell nor the flange.
A grand day out
As soon as my hand healed enough to be able to stand riding drop bars, off I went on the Jake.
My first ride with both hubs was over 22 miles of deteriorating fire road. Since I hadn't ridden fixed offroad in quite a while, I took the easy route first, feeling out the hubs, my new Jake, getting the hang of it all again.
The rear wheel, as expected from my first impressions, worked smoothly. I was unable to dislodge it from the dropouts no matter how much I skidded around, jerked to a stop, or forced it up steep little inclines. Side to side stability was tested when my left crank unwound itself some ways into the ride. The hub stood several miles of one-legged pedalling, with periodic jams on the right crank to stop.
Later tests took place on the steep, chunky singletrack typical of the Northwest. I rode the Jake in rain and shine, as my only off-road machine. Except for the time I became so disgustingly muddy that I climbed, bike and all, into the shower, Kogswell maintenance was limited to spraying them off with a hose.
Cruel and unusual
Finally, not satisfied with all of the mud and crap I'd ridden through, I rode the bike through water, brake-high. (In this climate, immersal is more common that you might think. During one memorable ride, I sank hipdeep in mud, having to throw my bike up onto fallen logs to haul myself out before the trolls at the bottom got me.) I gave the Kogswell a final blast with the hose. It was still tight and smooth.
Dismantling the rear hub for a final inspection revealed a flaw. The flats are not wide enough to accept either a crescent wrench or a standard open-ended wrench. The Ritchey Cool Tool fits, but the nuts are pretty tight and the little Tool gives inadequate leverage. Nor did our mechanics bench (stocked via the marriage of two gearheads) contain an appropriate wrench. It was very difficult to get the hub apart.
Obviously, Kogswell did not feel that this hub would need disassembly very often. In my case, they were correct.
I have ridden these hubs on fire roads, single track, bad city roads, mud and mire, and even completely immersed in water. They've not let me down, remaining tight, true and smooth. Their design is well thought through, the selected bearings are of high quality and up to the task of hard service; the shell and flange stand up to the punishment of hard use. They even come out of the box properly specced with beefy lock nuts and a high quality quick release. Clydesdales and Bonnydales might like to see a stouter axle in the rear hub. My concern about disassembly is just a quibble, really. They never seem to need it.