Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ballad Of The Snow Dog And The Hub

I have a Salsa Cycles Mukluk fat bike I dubbed the "Snow Dog". It's a pretty special bike to me for several reasons.

I've always wanted a fat bike, for one thing. Ever since I saw Dave Gray's Surly Pugsley prototype sitting in front of Quality Bicycle Products warehouse. They have always been something I thought would be fun to ride, but the cash outlay to get yer mitts on one was too high, or so I thought.

Then late last year Salsa announced the Mukluk. I jumped on the ordering list for one. The asking price was too attractive, and I knew that Salsa would have the bike dialed. They did get it dialed, but unfortunately, a certain part of my Snow Dog isn't quite so dialed.

I sprung for an "upgrade" to my Mukluk that I had on order. I thought owning a set of Phil Wood hubs would be a no-brainer on this bike. I mean, they have the quality and reputation that most companies would kill for. That doesn't come just because they make high-dollar, good looking parts either. They certainly earned their keep over the years with a lot of folks.

Unfortunately, something went very wrong with my rear wheel, and I had to send it back to Phil Wood after three rides. Three rides after which the free hub was skipping so badly you couldn't ride it safely anymore. The wheel went to California and a gracious Ben Witt loaned me his brand new, unridden wheel with a blue anodized Phil Wood hub in the meantime. What a great friend! I was able to put in several rides on the Snow Dog while I waited for my own wheel to return.

When the wheel did come back, I swapped out wheels and components, and went for a ride the next day. Much to my disappointment, the hub exhibited the same popping and snapping noises that it did from the get go. Five miles to work, and it popped about 10-12 times. On the return trip, I counted. It popped and snapped 24 times in five miles, and slipped once.

It was no good. 

I contacted Phil Wood again, and they sent out a call tag, (last time shipping was on me), and today the wheel goes back to California. It really bothers me because it's Phil-freaking-Wood, and this isn't supposed to happen to their stuff. Everyone tells me they have never heard of anything like this about that company. (Well, now they have, and so have you.)

Secondly, I was super-stoked to finally get a fat bike, and now that I have one, it isn't rideable. Pretty ironic, that. Added to this is the fact that several friends, met and un-met, had collaborated to bring me the frame and fork for my birthday, and now their efforts are sitting in a corner gathering dust. That bothers me a great deal.

Finally, and not least importantly, I do not trust that hub. Ben Witt's Phil hub was flawless for me, but the one I own is cursed. I am afraid Phil Wood is simply going to try to fix it......again, and I don't want to even try it.......again. I haven't decided what I will do, if they decide to simply fix it and send it back. I have an idea or two, but I am pretty convinced I know that hub will never be right again. One thing is for sure- By the time Phil Wood and Company does anything and gets it back to me, it will be well into March, and fat bike prime time will be gone until winter 2011. I've got time to weigh my options.

It was good while it lasted, Snow Dog, but I am afraid you'll be hanging from a hook for quite awhile now. See ya next winter.


Tom said...

How sad!

In situations like this I find it is always best to consider that company's like Phil Wood are small scale manufacturers and inevitably things do go wrong. For me it is how such companies respond that really reveals their true worth.

Good luck Ted, let us know how you get on?

Guitar Ted said...

@Tom: Well said, and I believe that too. To their credit, the Phil Wood & Co. customer service has been very responsive so far. It's just that the product I have is a failure.

I will update everyone when I get some resolution to this situation.

Steve Fuller said...

It always is a disappointment when you wait so long for something and it isn't like you had hoped. Did PW say what they repaired the last time? I'm far from being a bike professional, but I'd think they'd be able to swap everything but the shell out for new innards. I suppose there's a chance that it's a bad design, but Ben's hub is proof that probably isn't the case. Here's to a happy end to the tale.

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller: Yeah, they sent a detailed list with the first return. (Four pages!) They replaced pretty much as you said- everything but the hub shell. To no avail.

Tom said...

Had a similar situation with a Nukeproof rear some years ago.

Ended up finding out that the hub shell itself was out of tolerance. Took them 3 tries to figure that out. Each set of internals would fit fine, but in use under load, the pawls would snap within a half hour or so of riding.

The folks at Phil Wood always seem to be very responsive. How about you express your "fears" about this hub to them and ask that they just replace the entire assembly, shell and all?

Ari said...

They should give you a new hub. I would then sell the new one and go with something different. Getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere, in winter is no fun.
good luck.

Guitar Ted said...

@Tom: (#2!) I have done that. Hopefully they sympathize with my feelings, but ultimately, it is their call.

mw said...

i remember when i broke by second pair of grafton cranks. i said, how about you send me some brakes instead, they said, ok.

MG said...

I share Ari's feelings on this, but am even stronger in my opinion, given this is on a snow bike.

Mark, you know my opinion about Phil Wood. I love Phil Wood stuff. I own several of their components myself. But that said, you absolutely CAN NOT take any piece of equipment into the field on a snow bike that you don't absolutely trust. Your LIFE DEPENDS ON IT.

I don't think people in California understand the conditions people in inclement states with actual inclement weather ride their bikes in. I remember early on, when Chris King started making hubs, MW told them about slipping he was having in very cold weather with his rear hub due to the grease they were using in the hub, to which he was basically told "that's impossible". He was like, "well, it's happening to me."

Which forced them to consider that, perhaps some folks are using our parts in a more hardcore fashion than our own folks are using them?

King got the point. They started using gear oil to lube their hubs... Problem solved, but it did take them lacing a new hub shell into MW's wheel, which they did without MW even asking for it (or even knowing it was necessary). Now that's great customer service! And guess what? He's still running that exact King hub on one of his bikes. It's awesome. I bought a set of King hubs after seeing that, in fact, and I know several others who did as well.

Hopefully, whatever this is, you'll get a 100% suitable solution too. Phil Wood is a great company. They'll take care of you. I have faith in them.

Jay said...


bmike said...

Might want to pick up one of those hand made hubs from across the Pacific.


In all seriousness, I destroyed 2 Phil BBs, one of which went back and forth twice. This was on my rando bike. Rain, mud, lots of miles.

I like their stuff, but haven't had good luck with the BBs. And know a few long distance riders with hub issues.