Monday, June 27, 2011

The Saga Of The Snow Dog And The Phil Wood Hub

Whelp......this isn't a post I ever wanted to write, but.......I feel that I have lost patience, and that I am well within bounds to tell it: The story of my Snow Dog and the Phil Wood hub. The "Snow Dog" is what I called my Salsa Cycles Mukluk, which has a special meaning for me. I think this part of the story is the most disappointing part for me. You see, a lot of people went out of their way to make a surprise birthday gift of the frame and fork, which I had fully intended to purchase on my own. I was flabbergasted, obviously, and suddenly the Mukluk meant a bit more to me than "just a bike" might.

The Snow Dog with the original rear wheel.
So, when I got everything together for this bike, a few days before my birthday, you can imagine my dismay when something wasn't right. A popping noise, which could be felt through the cranks, was occurring with regularity. In fact, after the second ride, I determined that it was getting worse. I had tracked it down to the drive train, and eventually, the rear hub.

After only two rides, I knew something was seriously wrong, however; the next day was my birthday, and I was bound and determined to ride the bike on my birthday, January 23rd, and then I would send the hub, or complete wheel in for servicing. That last ride was a doozy! The hub was really, really bad.

I looked at the cassette and ring gear before sending it off. One of the pawls wasn't engaging at all, while the ring gear was absolutely torn up. I knew at this point that the wheel would either have to be torn apart, or the whole wheel would need to go back to Phil Wood for servicing. I e-mailed Phil Wood on January 24th, and cordially told them about my issues.

I got a reply January 26th with a return authorization number, address, and a promise they would get to the wheel as soon as possible. I sent the wheel off that day, and on February 4th, got a message that servicing was complete, and the wheel would be coming back to me.

Ben Witt's loaner wheel worked perfectly.
In the meantime, I was loaned a rear wheel for the Snow Dog by Ben Witt. It was to be for his own snow bike project, and had a Phil Wood hub like mine laced up to a Rolling Darryl. His wheel never once gave me any problems, leading me to believe that my Phil Wood hub would eventually be good to go.

On February 10th, I got the wheel back. I sent a thank you e-mail to Phil Wood and Co, and then got to swapping out wheels. I was going to ride the Snow Dog to work and see how they did on the warranty work. Phil Wood's invoice showed they replaced the free hub and ring gear. No charge. I was stuck with the shipping bill out only.

Unfortunately, the very next day I had to send Phil Wood another e-mail in which I wrote the following:

"Once again, I wanted to compliment you on you and your teams quick service. However; the hub is still failing.

I went to work and back on the bike today, a round trip of 10 miles, and the hub engagement was making noises and I could feel the vibrations through the cranks. It seems after every time I coasted, it would almost always "pop" loudly after the first revolution, and every so often, in the middle of pedaling. Once the crank freely rotated a half a revolution, as if the pawls slipped again, like last time.

I counted 24 instances of loud popping noises just on my return trip home, which is approximately double the amount from the morning trip into work.

It is my opinion that this hub will fail again completely.

Just to cover everything: I did not touch the hub other than to install the tire, tube, rotor and cassette last evening. It also should be noted that I have been riding Ben Witt's rear wheel, (a blue anodized Phil Wood hub), on the bike for the last week plus, and it has never made a single peep, or acted anything other than normal. So, that eliminates anything to do with the rest of the bike. It definitely is an issue with this particular hub.

I can not trust this hub. I am going to cease riding it immediately."

I got a response the same day:

"Gadzooks!! That is certainly a first since I've been servicing hubs at Phil Wood. I don't blame you
   for your disappointment. I too feel your pain. I will speak to the upper management on how we are
   going to rectify the issue for you unfortunately it will not be until Monday as everyone has pretty much
   left for the weekend. Hang tight and I will get back with you ASAP on Monday."

Happier days with Ben's wheel

That was a Friday, the 11th, and on the 14th, I got a message saying that they would send out a shipping label to get the wheel back to me, and a promise that their engineering department would be taking a look at the issue and making sure it never happens again.

Well, Frostbike was happening that next weekend, and I also had to return Ben's rear wheel, so he could get his bike up and running. When I got back, I packed up the wheel again, and sent it off. Unfortunately, there was an issue with the U.S.P.S. label Phil Wood sent out to cover the shipping:(from my e-mail to Phil Wood dated 2/23/11

"I received the shipping label here Saturday while I was gone at Frostbike. I got the wheel off to you finally today.

A couple of things of note:

1: The wheel was sent intact, as instructed by you.

2: The shipping label, a Priority Mail one, had a value of seven dollars and change. The local Post Office told me that in order to send the wheel to you Priority Mail in the box I had to pack it in would cost $72.00. I had them change it to regular post, which cost me $15.00 and change. I now am out approximately $60.00 in shipping the wheel to you twice.

3: I tested the wheel one last time before pulling it down, static, while seated, I could get it to pop loudly, as if the pawls were not fully engaging, several times."

I also went on to say that I didn't think I could ever trust that particular hub, and requested that they swap out for a completely new one. 

That's been the last time I saw my wheel......

On March 16th, I sent a followup e-mail asking for a progress update. The next day I received an answer telling me free hub bodies were not available from their supplier and that they should be showing up "next week" , and that they would be keeping me informed as to the progress on the matter. 

On April 20th, I sent an e-mail again, since I had heard nothing from Phil Wood in the ensuing 33 days since my last communication with them. I simply asked for an update. On April 21st, I received the following:

  "Well, unfortunately the free hub bodies are STILL on back order from our
          supplier. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we will see them next
          week. I will let you know as soon as I see them hit the door.

On May 23rd, after hearing nothing for 32 days, I simply fired off this; "What's the latest?" I got the following reply....

 " We just received the back ordered freehub bodies from our supplier.
            Our hub/wheel is currently being inspected by our engineering department
            per their request just to double check that everything is within spec in order
            to prevent any further issues in the future. From what they tell me they should
            be finish with the inspection by Friday at which time will ship the wheel back
            to you right away."

Well, as of this writing, on June 27th, I have neither received the wheel back, nor heard from Phil Wood and Co. Now I have pretty much lost all faith in the situation. While I may get the wheel back at some point, I have purposed to move along, since there isn't really any way at this point that I (a) would want to run a Phil Wood hub, and (b) I can't trust this company. 

I post this as my story to those who went out of their way to make the Snow Dog possible for me, and to let anyone who might be wondering what happened with this situation know what has went down. I am not a person who wishes to "bring Phil Wood and Co. down", or "get revenge" for this situation by putting out any negative spew about the company. It is what it is. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is bad customer service. 

Finally, I want to make it clear that this hub was something I purchased with my own money. I wasn't given the hub, and it wasn't a review/test deal for Phil Wood. It was an honestly purchased hub for my personal use. 

Where am I going from here? Well, as I understand it, a matched set of snow bike hubs is due out later in the fall from a company I do trust, which I may wait for. If that looks like it might be delayed, I will have to pursue other options, but for now, that's the sad story of the Snow Dog and the Phil Wood hub. 

Now ya know....


Doug G said...

That is truly a sad tale. I admire your patience and keeping your cool throughout. I doubt I could have done the same. Hoping you eventually get your wheel back in working order.

Ἀντισθένης said...

Very evenhandedly explained. More fool them. You did not play up the fact that the compromised a winter's riding either, which you were entitled to do.

prolix21 said...

Sad tale indeed and from what I think we all thought of as a trusted company. I run some Phil Wood hubs and a Phil BB on my Surly Steamroller and never had issues. I processed a return one through them and while communication was slow (they were at Interbike or something) I did get it taken care of.

I can't imagine what would take so long if they were simply swapping out the hub?

Hope you get some sort of reasonable end to this story.

Courtney Hilton said...

Thanks for sharing I also will never purchase anything from philwood after hearing of your experiences with them. Thats terrible they should have just refunded your purchase and returned your rim to you

Unknown said...

Bummer Mark! =(

mw said...

i have a few sets of phil hubs. none with rear mechs. i'm sure i my kids will ride these hubs.

everyone makes mistakes.

MG said...

As one of the contributors to the Snow Dog fund, and also one of the folks who recommended you use Phil Wood hubs, I'm despondent at this.

I'm really sorry for making that recommendation that you use Phil Wood hubs, Mark. But you know why I did at the time, and now why I won't in the future.

Talk to you soon. Good luck!

Guitar Ted said...

@mw: Please don't think I am disparaging all of Phil Wood's products. I agree that they have some really nice single speed components, and as I stated in the post, Ben Witt's hub was flawless in performance on the Snow Dog.

I'm sure your kids will be riding those hubs some day, and that's really cool.

@MG: As I said on Facebook, I don't blame you for anything in regards to your recommendo on Phil Wood. I would still highly value your opinion no matter the outcome of this deal, which has no bearing on the rest of Phil's products, as I said to mw above.

Take Care my Friend!

mw said...

i hear you but some folks are easy to write off a co for a few bad incidents. hell, i broke a fat chance frame. did they make a nice bike? yes. of course they did, but i was none to happy when i snapped my new fat.

Guitar Ted said...

@mw:You are right about that. However; everyone has to make up their own minds, and ultimately, vote with their dollars.

I voted with mine, and so far I feel I have been vetoed and held hostage. That's all I am sayin'.

The Old Man said...

Hi Guitar Ted, did you ever find a solution to this problem?

I have just had a Phil Wood rear hub fail completely, after 9 months of use. It looks like this:
(these are not my photos)
Mine looks a lot worse inside than that in the photos!

I think the problem for me is that I am a big guy (6ft, 225lbs) doing a lot of steep-to-very-steep climbing. I have destroyed 3 Shimano freehub bodies in the past (on 26" wheels), tried Chris King (too noisy), and so settled on Phil Wood as my ultimate solution.

It seems to me that currently available hubs cannot withstand the forces inflicted on them by heavy riders on 29" wheels with low gears. Would you agree?

So my 2 questions for you are:

1. did you end up finding out if the Ring Gear (the part in the photos that's had its teeth chewed up) is available from Phil Wood to be replaced by the user (ie, me)

2. is there a hub/freehub design out there that can withstand the forces inflicted by the combination of heavy riders on 29" wheels with lower gears than standard (designed for 26ers), and big guys? This will be an ongoing problem!

The hub I have just destroyed is laced to a Velocity P35 rim with 2.4" tyres, on a Jones Steel SpaceFrame bike. Smallest gear has been 22-34, and just recently 20-34 (though the hub started occasionally "grabbing"/seizing while running the 22-34 gearing).

I should add that I have a lot of respect for Phil Wood components, having run a Phil Wood bottom bracket on one bike for 12 years without a peep, and have a friend with a huge amount of success with Phil hubs (on road), so I have a few Phil Wood hubs on different bikes.

Thanks for your help!

Martin / The Old Man

Guitar Ted said...

@Martin/The Old man: Well, my free hub ring gear was also chewed up. Unfortunately, only a trip to Phil Wood can remedy that ring gear. It isn't a part they would sell an individual, to my knowledge. Ultimately, my dealer took the hubs back and was refunded with a new pair of Phil Wood hubs. I got my money back and invested in a set of Salsa Cycles Mukluk 2 hubs, which have been flawless. I go 230lbs, by the way.

I don't know that another Phil Wood hub is the answer for you, but I will not ever purchase another Phil cassette hub again.

MG said...

I'll concur my Salsa hubs have been solid so far as well. I'll also say that, while a bit noisy, King hubs are top-notch in the durability department, even under big, strong clydesdale-class riders, so I'd give them a solid recommendation. That said, until G-T's experience, I gave Phil Wood hubs the thumbs-up as well based on past experience as well.

Good luck in your search, and ride on brother.


The Old Man said...

Thanks for your replies G-T and MG. You certainly had shocking service G-T. I hate that feeling of completely losing faith in a bike component, and feeling like you have nothing at all to fall back on.

I have since learnt more about the Phil Wood hub and had a good look in one of my other ones for comparison. It certainly looks like you don't want the grease/oil in the hub to become thick, otherwise the pawls will not engage the Ring Gear deeply enough to avoid gauging. I wonder if the cold did this to yours G-T? Ditto the replacement? Or if someone at Phil Wood's service dept is putting too-thick grease in the hubs? Anyway, once my hub come s back from service (I haven't sent it yet), I will immediately pull it apart and make sure the oil isn't too sticky. I don't want a second failure! Or I too will lose heart...

Guitar Ted said...

@The Old Man: On the question of grease: I can see where you may think this, and I wouldn't dissuade you from checking that, or changing it. In my case, there were four sets of Phil Wood 170mm OLD hubs, all destined for cold weather use, and mine was the only one of that group that had any issues what so ever. Keep in mind that I used one of the other four hubs for a bit, on loan from Ben Witt, with zero issues. One of the other hubs went to a guy in Utah, who also had no issues.

Besides, I give Phil Wood no quarter here regarding the grease in their custom 170mmOLD hubs. What would you use that hub for? Cold weather riding is an expected use here, and they know that. Grease appropriate for the job should be used, or at least specified for use in the instructions.

Salsa Cycles also learned this lesson, having had some issues with stuck pawls on 170mmOLD hubs, and now they spec grease rated to -40F. Phil Wood- take note.

Unknown said...

I know this is an old thread here, but thought I'd toss my own story into the mix for those looking at PW hubs. I have a non-disc road rear cassette hub that has been flawless in all weather (+40 to -40C), racing, commuting, long road rides, etc.

When I purchased an Atlantis two years back for some heavily loaded touring, I bought a phil disc rear hub, the new 4-pawl version, hoping for the same reliability.

Within a hundred KM or so I started getting the identical popping problem. I first tried re-lubing the pawls according to PW directions. Now it was popping every few rotations. Then I cleaned and lubed with a very light oil, TriFlow. No popping for a few months of straight riding. As the lube dried out it returned and I could never get it to go away regardless of service. I returned it to Phil and they said they could find no problems with it at all, but replaced with a new hub anyway.

That hub had the identical problem. It started popping on my first ride. It often does it when my crank rotation brings the pawls into engagement slowly. Aggressive riding seems to be better. Currently in talks with PW on getting this worked out, but if it doesn't work out real soon I'll be returning the hub and replacing it with something/anything else.

Guitar Ted said...

@Mark Reimer: Sorry to hear this. Coincidentally, I heard about more Phil fat bike hub failures after mine, and I am pretty sure that they do not produce them anymore. At least I don't see them anymore.

Good luck and I hope you can resolve your issues to your satisfaction soon.