Grand Bois 5-speed Cassette Hubs

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Compass Bicycles now offers the Grand Bois freewheel hubs for 120 mm rear spacing, with 5- and 6-speed cassettes. That’s good news for those of you with older bikes that you want to ride more often.

There are many wonderful old bikes that deserve to be ridden, yet many riders are reluctant to ride on difficult-to-fix and expensive tubular tires, or risk wrecking irreplaceable lightweight rims on rough streets.

To keep these bikes on the road, some riders build a second wheelset with clincher rims. Most older bikes have generous clearances, so you can fit relatively wide clincher tires. With the Grand Bois Extra Léger tires, you can replicate much of the ride of tubulars simply by choosing clincher tires that are about 10% wider than the original high-end tubulars. Then you can keep the original wheels for displaying the bike…

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Rather than build such a wheel around a freewheel hub, with an undersized axle that can bend or break, as well as a difficult-to-find “New Old Stock” freewheel, you now can use the Grand Bois 120 mm rear hubs. The 120 mm spacing drops right into most old frames built from the 1950s until the 1970s.

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These hubs use the same hub shells and sealed cartridge bearings as the standard Grand Bois cassette hubs with 130 mm spacing (top). The freehub body is shorter (bottom), and the axle is spaced to 120 mm.

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To go with these hubs, Grand Bois offers a choice of 5- and 6-speed cassettes. They are rebuilt from Shimano 8-speed cassettes; the cogs should be available for a long time.

The 5-speed cassettes (bottom) are available with 13-23 and 14-24 cogs. They use custom spacers to get the same cog spacing as 5-speed freewheels, so you can use your bike’s 5-speed chain.

The 6-speed cassettes (top) are available with 13-26 and 14-28 cogs. They use 8-speed spacing. The benefit is that you get another cog, but you need to use a 7/8-speed chain.

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With their classic appearance and maintenance-free quality, these hubs will allow many riders to get more use out of their cherished classic bikes. You could even build a new bike around these hubs. The benefits would be a stronger rear wheel – less dish on the wheel and a shorter, and thus stronger rear axle. With the narrower rear spacing, you also can use a narrower crank tread (Q factor), since the chainstays don’t splay outward as far. It’s certainly tempting, since I don’t need more than six cogs anyhow.

Click here for more information about Grand Bois hubs.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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41 Responses to Grand Bois 5-speed Cassette Hubs

  1. John Hawrylak says:

    Very nice product. Any plans for a 7 speed version with a 126 mm spacing, for frames through the 1980′s with freewheels.

  2. Greg says:

    Interesting. Are these the only 120 mm (wide) cassette hubs on the planet? It will be nice to be able to fit six gears in a 120-spaced rear triangle. The old ‘Ultra-Six’ Suntour freewheels usually require more like 122 mm.

  3. marmotte says:

    Funny, I’m just about to open the Atom hubs of such an old randonneur bike from the fifties and (of course?) the rear axle is bent…
    Luckily I have just such an axle still lying around here, I only hope the bearing seats haven’t been damaged…
    I don’t think however I’ll be using the bike enough to warrant a new rear wheel let alone a whole set, especially at the price of the Grand Bois hubs. It’s a very nice bike, but it’s just not worth it..

  4. Roger says:

    Six cogs feels right to me. Each time I’ve moved to more cogs, I’ve returned to building a wheel using my stash of Deore 6-speed 130mm hubs – at least, the times when my reaction wasn’t all the way to single speed.

    The hub I’d most like to see is a high quality, low-dish 130mm, using a short freehub body and a 130mm axle.

  5. Bubba says:

    That is a great development for a lot of people. I wonder if it will crash the market for the speculative freewheel hoarders.

    Anyway, are the cog progressions the obvious logical ones? I’d guess that the five(and six) would go:

    14-16-18-21-24-(28)
    13-15-17-20-23-(26)

    And lastly, I assume they are hyperglide type cogs, with ramps? Does the Grand Bois cassette body have the one wide spline to align the cogs to one another?

  6. Heather says:

    Merci beaucoup Grand Bois(or maybe it should be in japanese…). It can be stressful trying to deal with upgrading older frames, or replacing worn out cassettes or freewheels that just do not have the clearance, having to fight with stretching the fork and rear stays, or adding spacers. I have done this with a few vintage bikes! In our bike family we are regularly riding older used bikes and this is always an issue. I have a frame from 1990 which I assumed could put something somewhat modern on, but I am having trouble even with the 6 speed wheel I from the bike bit pile. Because there is only limited range for 6 speed freewheels out there, I thought I would put a 7 speed on, but there is no space on the frame! I recently saw some NOS shimano 600 14-34(!!!) 6 speed freewheels for sale, and wish I had snapped one up.
    That is another issue! Not everyone wants to deal with 9 or 11 speed cassettes, too much nooddling and beyond 8 speed everything goes up in price. However, the range is very limited for available 5 or 6 speed freewheels, and quality is mostly poor. Cassettes n’existez pas. An IRD 6 or 7 speed freewheel costs far more than a decent 8 or 9 speed cassette with mountain/touring gearing. The range of the Grand Bois 5 and 6 speed cassettes are quite narrow. I know I can manage with a 28 rear cog, but I most likely injured myself and required surgery because I was riding without enough range, which I rather dashingly thought I could do. Ha! I have no desire to ride without 30+ rear cogs again. I do like that the 6 speed can add a cog, so I could throw a 30 something on and…. oh right, see if the long cage derailleur can handle the jump…

    • If you use well-chosen front chainrings, a 28-tooth cog should be enough for most riders. On my Urban Bike, I use a 44-28, and with a 14-28 cassette, I’d have all the gears I need.

      • Mr. Palomar says:

        A good point – though to note (and I may be stating the obvious here) a 38T chainring is as small as you can go on a 130 BCD crank. A long cage derailleur paired with a 32T or even a 34T cog on a 6-speed FW/FH is a great bailout gear to have on a 52T/42T 130 BCD crankset.

        This said – great work on these hubs! It is very nice to see modern components being produced for vintage frames. Well done!

      • You are absolutely right that cranks with large bolt-circle diameters (BCD) are of limited use to most cyclists. You can compensate by using larger rear cogs, but you usually get large steps between gears (since your smallest cog usually is no larger than 14 teeth). For component makers, it makes more sense to design cranks so that you can use chainrings that make sense for your riding style.

  7. Michael_S says:

    If the hubs are the same as the Grand Bois 130mm hub, do they also have an aluminum freehub body? If so, won’t the loose cogs chew up the aluminum body?

    • That is a concern, and we mention that on the product order page. In my experience, unless you are a very strong rider, it isn’t a huge problem. Even on my Urban Bike, which sees a lot of high-torque riding – I stripped teeth of Dura-Ace cogs on that bike – it wasn’t too bad after a year’s riding. The cogs required a little more force to remove, as they had dug into the aluminum a bit, but none of the parts were anywhere near ruined.

      If you can avoid the issue – as you can with modern cassettes, which are available with aluminum carriers – then you should. However, the only way Grand Bois can make 5- and 6-speed cassettes is by using cassettes with individual cogs.

    • We’ve thought about this some more and examined some hubs that have seen significant use with “single-cog” cassettes (not mounted on an aluminum carrier). It appears that after the cogs dig into the carrier a bit, they stop (there is more resistance). When you want to remove the cogs, they won’t slide freely off the cassette body. You need to rotate them slightly with a chain wip, and then they slide off. Functionally, this does not appear to represent a problem.

  8. CJ says:

    I re-spaced a 120mm frame to fit a modern XT hub. Ha. Bad idea? It was an early 80s Miyata 1000 designed for 5 speed fw, by the way. I think it’s perfectly fine, personally.

    • I have heard stories of frames cracking when they were respaced a lot, but as always, it happens only rarely, not every time. However, if you have a 1960s Cinelli, and you just want to build a clincher wheelset so you can ride it more often, it doesn’t make sense to re-space it.

  9. tony dadson says:

    will the rear hub take a shimano 6 speed casette?

    • I doubt it, unless you file the cassette cogs. Modern Shimano cassettes have a very distinctive spline pattern, so you cannot misalign the Hyperglide ramps that is different from the old Shimano 6-speed cassettes. However, if you have a good stash of 6-speed cassettes, it should be easy to find a good-condition cassette hub for them. From what I hear, cassettes rather than hubs are the difficult-to-find item.

    • oscar dube says:

      It’s vice-versa to what Jan said (how does it come this retro-buff doesn’t know that?). The old cogs fit the new cassettes (new: one large spline to align = one large gap at the body, old = all narrow). So all hubs that take HG take also UG kind cassettes, but not the other way around. Other than that, no spline patterns by Shimano that exists is of any interest.

      But if you really own an old genuine Shimano 6 speed cassette, you have to consider two completely different problems. One ist solved easily: old cassettes have a threaded last cog, that you have to replace with a modern last cog and lockring. The other: Shimano 6-speed is spaced 5.5 mm, so it takes much more space than old 5 speed. You need narrow spacers (from an 8 speed cassette likely, as GB just did, lor maybe a 9).

      Cheers

      And also, if that sounds too much trouble and you really own some NOS 6 speed cassettes, I’m always interested…

      • You are right! I apologize for the error. I vaguely remembered having to file Hyperglide cogs to fit them on older non-HG hubs when I worked in a bike shop. But that was the other way around – fitting new cogs on old hubs.

        how does it come this retro-buff doesn’t know that?

        It may surprise you, but I’ve never owned a bike with a cassette hub. All my bikes have had freewheels. Fortunately, I haven’t had to worry about compatibility of various Shimano or other cassettes.

  10. Jeremy says:

    To echo what Roger was saying, I’d love to see a hub that uses this shell and the 5/6spd cassette body, but with an axle spaced to 130mm. I assume the flange spacing would work out to be practically dishless, so the resulting wheel would be very strong. This was the intention behind the Phil Wood 130 or 135mm freewheel hubs that Rivendell sold (sells?), which could be built dishless, but relied on the ability of the customer to source high-quality freewheels. I’d much rather have a dishless wheel with a freehub body–even if the GB cassettes become difficult to find, I could fashion my own cassettes from Shimano-compatible 8spd cassette cogs.

    • We’ll ask Grand Bois. Since the cassette bodies exist, making the longer axle and spacers should not be too difficult, but all these products require minimum runs of several hundred…

      I personally prefer the narrower spacing on the rear, as it allows me to run a narrower crank tread (Q factor). A 5-speed wheel has minimal dish anyhow, so you don’t gain durability by increasing the spacing on the rear, but most of today’s bike are spaced to 130 or 135 mm, so unless you get a custom bike, you’ll want to work around the existing spacing.

      • tony dadson says:

        Jan, do you still use 120 mm and 5 speed freewheels?

      • My Alex Singer is spaced to 126 mm and uses 6-speed freewheels. My René Herse is spaced to 126 mm and uses 5-speed freewheels with a chain rest. My Grand Bois Urban Bike is spaced to 130 mm, and uses a 6-speed freewheel. I’d really like to see a return of high-quality 5-, 6- and 7-speed freewheels, something that matches the quality of the old Shimano Dura-Ace freewheels. Fortunately, old freewheel cogs last a very long time, but eventually, my stash of cogs will be exhausted.

        I’ve been tempted to go to modern components to reduce the hassle of finding “New Old Stock” parts, but I just don’t want to invest the time and money required to stay on top of a 9-, 10- or 11-speed drivetrain. Friction shifting with that many cogs and narrow spacing doesn’t work well. I can live with Ergo and DoubleTap when they are new, but their performance deteriorates relatively quickly. There really aren’t any excellent options out there for components that work well for 50,000 km or more, with chain replacements as the only required maintenance.

      • tony dadson says:

        cant you just use these cheap shimano freewheels and replace them often? theyre so cheap that they could be considered a consumable item. http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A3404771%2Cp_n_feature_keywords_two_browse-bin%3A5112815011

      • Those cheap Shimano freewheels are pretty nasty in their finish, and I worry about their function. I had an IRD freewheel stop working (freewheeling even when pedaling forward), and that isn’t something I’d want when I am in the Cascades many miles from the next habitation.

        Most of all, they don’t come in the ratios I need. The steps between gears are rather large. I prefer not having more than 2 teeth between cogs.

      • tony dadson says:

        Yes i can understand that. for me , they work fine tho as I’m not too far from civilization and ride a more leisurely pace. i treat them as i would a chain. replace as necessary. I am heartened to hear your ideas on required numbers of cogs tho!! i have 6 speeds on my old bianchi road bike and 8 on my city bike.

    • PTD says:

      I think the big benefit of having these in 130mm spacing would be having a modern bike with a more sane number of speeds. I live in a flat area and basically never use my 9 cogs in back, so I’d much rather have a stronger wheel with less cogs that takes a cheaper chain. I guess I could respace my Surly to 120mm spacing in back, but I’ve never heard of someone going to smaller spacing in the rear.

  11. As I read your description of the cassettes, I had a sudden flashback to Sheldon Brown. Pleasant flashback.

  12. Dylan says:

    If you built a wheelset with these hubs for a new bike what derailleur would you use?

    • I’d use an older derailleur. Perhaps a Shimano Dura-Ace, unless I could find a Simplex SLJ. If I had to use a newer 8- or more-speed derailleur, I’d go with Campy – their derailleurs are designed for more immediate shifts, which works better with friction shifting.

  13. Garth says:

    Hope makes a single-speed cassette hub spaced for 135 that can be fitted with 6 9-speed cogs or 5 8-speed cogs. There’s a youtube video that shows the freehub making a loud clicking sound.

  14. Doug Lowrie says:

    Cassette hubs for120mm spacing are most welcome. I have been a freewheel user since the early 70′s and now the difficulty in finding quality freewheels can be traded for the Grand Bois 5-6 speed hub. While I have experienced no problems with the IRD as of yet I rely on Suntour Winner ultra 6′s for my machines. When those are need replacement a Grand Bois setup will definitely be in the mix for consideration. Nice looking and the red spacers/dust caps give them a little extra.
    Off the subject but I would like to see a quality set of down tube controls without ratchet mechanism.

  15. Jim says:

    Oh I’d love to have a 126 ultra 7 version of this thing. I don’t really want to coldset this nice SPX frame. Never done it before and I’m sceered, lol.

  16. Charlie says:

    What’s up with the huge amount of space between the largest cog and the flange? It looks to have a similar amount of dish as a modern road hub. Disappointing.

    • The 5-speed hub uses the same hub shell as the 10-speed hubs. However, since the driveside part of the axle is 10 mm shorter, the dish is reduced. It would be nice to use a hub shell specifically made for 5-speed (with slightly wider flange spacing), but considering the tiny production run, this is not feasible at this point. We are glad that Grand Bois could persuade the hub maker to make this limited-production component at all.

      • Doug Lowrie says:

        Interesting! Might it be possible now to use a Sun CR18 or other symmetrical rim with this hub and still have acceptable wheel dish? Looks possible and would be a plus for using this set up.

      • Charlie says:

        Still, it looks like you could fit a 7th sprocket in that gap. My eye just keeps going back to the base of the cassette body, where the splines bulge out. Why couldn’t that bit be similar in width to the base of the 8-10 speed cassette body? The dish would be even less, which would be a bonus. It looks like the Fyxation SixFyx hub has a similar surfeit of space there, though photos of that hub are still scarce.

      • There is no room for a 7th cog. Look at the photo comparing the 8/9/10-speed hub with the 5-speed hub. There is at most half a cog difference. So yes, in an ideal world, a new hubshell could move the drive-side flange about 2 mm to the right for an even better spoke bracing angle, but not more.

      • Charlie says:

        Let’s forget about the hubshell; why does the base of the 5/6 speed cassette body have to be so much wider? An overshift could send the chain right past the spokes to grind on the flange instead!

        Anyways, could a longer non drive side endcap possibly turn it into a 126mm hub?

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