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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: DuraAce 7700 Freehub

I recently toured the alps with my DuraAce 7700 freehub. It finished the tour as quiet as it started, but it was an unusually dry tour, with relatively little riding in the rain.  For many years I avoided touring on these hubs on the theory that I wanted to save them from wear. This year, I finally decided to go all out for lightweight and brought these wheels into touring service since they'd operated for quite some time as a "daily driver" in California.

I compared the hub with several other hubs in a previous post, but let me summarize the details. With a wR of 21mm, the hub had the potential to build up the stronger wheels than any other hub on the market. On this, the hub did not disappoint. I've had the wheels since 2006, and they've been ridden hard on and off road. I broke one spoke when my derailleur shifted into the spokes, but other than that, the wheel has not even needed truing despite my recent tour and otherwise daily riding.

Mechanically, however, the hub's not very well sealed. Despite my Campy Chorus front hub being subject to significantly more rain, over the same maintenance interval, the freehub has had more water penetration whenever we took both hubs apart for service. This does not bode well for the long term life of the hub, though unless you damage the race, merely replacing the bearings and overhauling the hub frequently might be more sufficient.

The freehub portion, however, was disappointing. When Cupertino Bike Shop recently overhauled it, the freehub started making a ton of noise. It looked like it was near the end of its life, and none of the usual suppliers for that shop had a replacement part for it. I eventually found an eBay vendor that sold me some new old stock for an outrageous price, but it turns out that Ultegra parts from the same era are also compatible, so that's what I can do in the future.

The biggest impediment to frequent overhauling of the hub, however, is the need for cone wrenches. I do own them, but they're finicky, and make bearing adjustment much tougher than they should be. When I compare them to the Campagnolo front hub's adjustment mechanism, the cone wrenches I have to wield feel primitive and unnecessary.

Why not build new wheels? First of all, the double-butted 15gauge wheelsmith spokes used to build this wheel are no longer available. Secondly, the latest generation 11-speed hubs build weaker wheels, since Shimano was forced to dish the wheel further to accommodate that 11th-speed.

In retrospect, the best Shimano hubset to have built a wheel out of would have been the (also now out of production) Dura ace 7900 rear hub. These hubs were the last of the 10-speed hubs (but were also compatible with 8 and 9 speeds), so were as strong as the 7700, but eliminated the need for cone wrenches, making overhaul easy with just a pair of allen wrenches. Phil has these on his bike, and they were excellent.

In any case, I recognize that a review of the 7700s at this stage is obviously late and obsolete, but it's useful to keep track of what properties of hubs are important for long term maintenance. In any case, these aren't really recommended, though in the light of all the miles I've put on them, I cannot really complain.

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