Making a Novatec Hub

Jan 29, 2013
by Matt Wragg  
 
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Novatec may not be a familiar name for those in the West. They are pushing to get your attention though, signing Kyle Strait, Eric Carter and Brian Lopes in 2012. While the name may not ring any bells yet, there is a fair chance that if you have an OE-branded hub on your bike that it was made in their factory, as they are one of the biggest suppliers out there. We were invited to their factory in Taichung, Taiwan, to follow the production of one of their hubs from start to finish.

With a factory of this size they can't alter production just for us, so this article features several different types of hub through production, but they are all made in the same way, on the same machines - just the technology and material quality changes as you go up through the range.

The raw material.
Raw metal details.
  This is how a hub starts life - as a solid rod of aluminum. There are probably precise details of the grade on the cards at the end of the rack, but my Chinese is not good enough to translate it. Different parts are made from different size rods, but every major part of the hub starts life like this. It is then chopped to length, ready for cold-forging.

The cold-forging machine.
  This hellish-looking thing is the cold-forging press. On the day we visited it was out of order for maintenance, but it makes little difference as we wouldn't be able to see inside anyway. Essentially, the metal is forced into a mold under extreme pressure, like putty. To make metal deform like that you need mind-bending amounts of force - this machine develops 500 tons - it's hard to even try and get your head around those kind of numbers when you consider that a single ton is more than the human body could bear.

Loading axles for heat treatment.
Heat-treatment details.
The heat treatment machine.
  The raw parts are then heat-treated. In the simplest terms, the metal is cooked and it loses the softness that allowed it to be pressed into shape - after heat treatment the metal would shatter rather deform. This means it can't be reformed, but it will hold its shape, as you wouldn't want your hub body deforming.

A pressed heat-treated hub.
  This is a hub body after heat-treatment. You can see that complex details are already there from the forging process, but there is excess material around the outside of the shell and it is covered in a layer of carbon from the oven.

The CNC machine.
CNC details.
Freehub centres going into the polisher.
Post-CNC.
  Although the basic shapes are there from forging, the tolerances aren't tight enough yet, so next the parts are polished and CNC'd. Excess material is removed and they are cut back to the exact sizes and specifications they need to function together as a hub.

A CNC d and polished hub among the raw ones.
  Before and after. You can see the difference between the raw hub shells that arrive from heat treatment and the refined pieces that leave to be anodized. Like most companies, Novatech get the anodizing done by another company at another location.

Applying the decals by hand.
Finished hubs ready to.
  Once the hubs return from anodizing the decals are applied by hand to each hub with painstaking precision.

Getting ready for assembly.
Pressing the bearings in.
Working on the press.
  Finally, they are sent upstairs for assembly. It is surprising how many different processes and stages there are to put a hub together, and all of it must be done by hand. First off the bearings are pressed using a hydraulic press to seat them precisely.

Bearing detail 2.
Bearings detail 1.
Freehubs before closure.
  Assembling the freehub is incredibly involved and the number of small parts that must be put in there is surprising.

Finishing the freehub.
Finishing the assembly.
  With the freehub done there are still two more stages to complete the process, ending with tightening it all together.

Listening for defects.
  This is the most impressive part of the process - the people who assemble the hubs are trained to listen to the exact sound the hub should make and can pick up faulty ones simply from the noise they make when the freehub is spun. This is repeated several times throughout production by several different people to make sure dodgy freehubs don't make it out of the factory.

The finished product sort of - this is their new Factor hub .
  Finally you have it - a finished hub. This one is actually a pre-production sample of one of their high-end Factor hubs that they will be launching this year, packed full of interesting ideas like super-fast engagement and a reinforced freehub body.

Wheel building.
Wheel building details.
  Not all hubs leave the factory straight away - their higher-end ones that are to be made into wheelsets go upstairs to be built by hand. The wheelbuilders each make more than 100 wheels a day and to watch the speed and accuracy of their work is amazing.

www.novatecusa.net
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128 Comments

  • + 129
 100 wheels a day?!? never tried more than 2 in a day, but i bet 10 would be my limit on a good day. 100 is mental

is there video of the guys doing this incredibly fast wheel building? i would love to see it, it would be only 6 minutes long apparently
  • + 20
 I'd like to see that footage too. A guy at work told me he saw a video of women loading hubs with spokes - they picked up eight spokes at a time and held them in such a way to load all eight in one swift movement - not one spoke at a time. I've been looking for that footage without luck.
  • + 80
 I don't think they've got 8 hour working days Smile
  • + 13
 i had a friend that could build wheels in around 25 minutes... That's only 30 wheels a day if you work 13 hours straight...
  • + 35
 Building 100 wheels a day is amazing, but I'm sure by the end of the day that guy is beat, and makes very little money. That is a hard working life for sure
  • + 6
 Perhaps he receives the wheels with spokes already inserted and loosely into the rim, so by building a wheel all he is doing is putting it on a truing rack and truing using an power spoke wrench.
  • + 6
 There are lacing machines out there in the world.
  • + 12
 i wonder if i could pay the guy in the last picture more than novatec is... maybe bring him along every trip up to the local bike park just in case you need a wheel rebuilt in 5 minutes.
  • + 4
 I just built one yesterday, and from start to finish, it took me and a friend 3 effing hours. To get it trued , dished, and the spoke tension right was a royal pain in the A$$! 100 a day ??? No thanks haha...
  • + 4
 100 wheels a day and they prolly make 2 dollars an hour.
  • + 11
 In the early 90s, there was a documentary shot inside the shimano factories that included their wheelbuilding activities and it showed dozens of women just pickup 16 spokes in one hand, all at once, flare them like chopsticks, and insert them perfectly into BOTH hub flanges from one side all in one motion, and then do it again from the other side, in all of a matter of seconds.
  • + 5
 building wheels should be in the Olympic, 100 a day is nuts!
  • - 9
 Hand built is the best way to go. Cause if a machine does it the wheel isn't that straight and in even spoke tension!
  • + 6
 That's simply not true... there are good wheelbuilders and there are mediocure ones. Same goes with machines. The mid-level units like in the novatec factory can do a wheel to 0.2mm accuracy but there are much higher end machines that can do it to tolerances even tighter than that, thousands of times over. But you really pay for that sort of tooling. Companies like Merida and Giant and Easton use those sorts of machines.
  • + 1
 just puting all the niples in place i can do it in maybe 15 minutes... thighting them all maybe half an hour... but it gets perfect...
  • + 3
 but i think they do the thighting in a machine like the one in life cycles... 100 wheels a day is really alot i dont think its possible...
  • + 1
 @Tuete that's crazy! props for the link! And to do 40 more a day...I doubt i could build one set of good dh wheels well in a day.
  • + 16
 If the worker worked 12 hours a day, he would be cranking out a wheel every 7 minutes and 12 seconds because 12 hours = 720 minutes÷100 wheels = 7.2 minutes = 7 minutes and 12 seconds. To be exact

8 hours = 4 minutes and 48 seconds per wheel
9 hours = 5 minutes and 24 seconds per wheel
10 hours = 6 minutes per wheel
11 hours = 6 minutes and 36 seconds per wheel
12 hours = 7 minutes and 12 seconds per wheel
  • - 14
 What is this, a grade 4 math question?
  • + 4
 come on. @superman601's comment sort of put all of this in perspective.
  • + 2
 Do they just sneeze the spokes out? Razz
That is just crazy! Makes me feel like I though be more appreciative of pre-built wheels and how hard these people work.
  • - 3
 "The wheelbuilders each make more than 100 wheels a day and to watch the speed and accuracy of their work is amazing."

Note "wheelbuilders".. plural
  • + 7
 Note "each"...
  • + 2
 My co-worker can build a wheel in 15 minutes. But it is still to slow to get to 100 wheels in a work day. Fast hand I suppose.
  • - 2
 thanks treehugger.. my dyslexia got in the way.
[Reply]
  • + 22
 I always think of Taiwanese factories as being heartless clinical Foxconn kind of places. Love how old school this place looks in comparison to the shiny new products they turn out.
  • + 2
 Yeh, I was chuckling to myself comparing the pictures to the ones from the Hope factory tour the other week Smile
  • + 1
 It looked like the set of " Big Trouble in Little China "
  • + 1
 wouldn't say hope is more modern, novatec is just a far bigger operation
[Reply]
  • + 14
 Funny to compare with Hope factory!
www.pinkbike.com/news/Hope-Technology-Factory-Tour-Video.html

I'm not saying that Novatec is shitty. I'm just trying to show people why it is normal that parts designed, made and tested by a small company in UK (could be anywhere else outside far east) cost more.
I'm glad some company still refuse to relocate or outsource in Asia. That's what allow innovation, good quality, good aftermarket service, environmental responsibility...

So everyone must be careful of shortcuts. There are reasons why two parts with the same purpose, that look more or less the same have different prices. And worth than that they are no reason that parts outsourced by big brands cost as much as parts made inland by small companies.
Sometimes the ones who rob us are not the ones we think.
  • + 1
 Yeah, Hope hubs are good... but... as of my experience and my friends experiences with hope hubs - we all choose Novatec over Hope.
I have had around 8-10 Novatec hubs - NONE of them have failed over several years. No problems at all.
As for Hope - for me alone - one hub - broken axle other hub ripped out spoke flange and the third - broken pawls - just pain in the a**...
As well as my friends bought new pawls each year because of the breakage..
I know that it is a small group of people, but you can actually say something from that.
  • + 6
 Not trying to be rude or sth, but how could you've been through 10 novatech hubs without braking any? Do you just collect them or do you sell them after a year? If you still have all of them, that means that you have at least 5 bikes. And if you have 5 or more bikes, you can put enough hours on them in order to wear it's components ... Just curious...

Dude, you dont buy new pawls because they brake, you buy new pawls because they have to do with friction and they wear out. It's like the jockeys on a derailleur .

Sorry to hear that your Hope hub broke though, I've only had good experience with them
  • + 2
 I assume you judge by the "mess" in their shop.

You obviously haven't seen I9 or Stratline factories Razz
  • + 1
 Its not like hubs or brakes are complex... these are all simple parts and I like hope but lets face it, Taiwan manufacturing is just as good for simple stuff like this. Anyone with money can get a Mazak 5 axis cnc with solidworks on fast computers, then all you need is basic mech engineering knowledge. if we ONLY look at the hubs, there is probably no difference. But, if you look at the way the company conducts its business from wages to environment then novatech is nowhere near Hope...
  • + 3
 Brakesnotincluded: Taiwan has the 40th place on the world in terms of GDP per capita. It is richer then Poland, Russia and on par with Czech Republic. It is a 1st world country Smile

Anyhow - to make a hub you need a cold forge, hot wire cutter, anodizing plant, polishing plant and a cnc mill. It is not that simple.
  • + 2
 PS: Third world country is a term that was used in cold war to group on which side they were (Capitalism, communism) and has nothing to do with GDP or wealth.
As for the comment further up, China does not only make cheap stuff, they make all level from top notch quality to stuff you wouldn't want to touch. It all comes down to what the purchaser wants and is willing to pay. China is in fact extremely efficient at making goods exactly to the buyers request. Plus, most of the market there is extremely over-saturated so production isn't really driven by cost since there is very narrow margins. It's mostly dependent on how much of a markup the supplier/distributor will put on the product they've purchased.
  • + 1
 GDP is a stupid way of determining the living conditions of a country. Where can I get pics of I9's factories? Loved the wheel building vid from prolite. I've owned 4 US made bikes and the rest have been Chinese or Taiwanese. I wish I could buy factory direct instead of them going to North America then to Aus. I know its racist but, Asians generally build small things better.
  • + 1
 seeing the body of the novatech loose balls and all.. i would choose hope over it for sure.. and yes Ruuz.. they do need maintainance,., as almost every part of the bike does..
  • + 1
 cyberhawk... where have you seen loose balls on novatec hubs? maybe on complete bikes for normal people, that does not know how the bike works.
Imo - best price/performance. I have never had any problems at all. Not the same for hope.
  • + 1
 in the video when they are putting them in the cassette body...
[Reply]
  • + 10
 Novatec makes hubs for Specialized, Ibis, Loaded, Fireeye, NS Bikes, Octane One, Dartmoor, Superstar Components and Transition and those are just those which I know of.
  • + 2
 As long as easton aren't included in that line up? should be good to go
  • + 3
 I believe that Specialized worked with DT Swiss on their wheels? if I'm not mistaken...
  • + 2
 Novatech do front hubs for Specialized and DT do, at least some of, the rear hubs.
  • + 2
 saw a Felt branded hub in one of the pics
  • + 1
 Rocky Mountain and Norco
  • + 2
 Specialized use both novatec and dt swiss for hub internals. The aftermarket and some OEM roval wheels use dt swiss internals. The roval wheels on the demo 8 however use novatec hubs front and rear.
  • + 1
 Novatec is the mid to higher end division of Joytech, so ultimately there are even more brands using their hubs than any other except perhaps shimano.

www.joy-tech.com.tw

There's a link to the Novatec homepage right off the joytech main page. As I said lastnight (though like many early commentators to a story, the message soon vanished into the sub-ether), Novatec is to Joytech as Maxxis is to Cheng Shin Tires.
[Reply]
  • + 7
 I have been using a Novatec hub.. and i kid you not..they work like charm. The rolling is like forever and they look and sound good too. i say they are worth trying without any doubt. www.freeridermag.in/novatec_hubs.html
  • + 2
 Same here , been riding novatec hubs for the last 4 years they work flawlessly, just make sure that the bearing are from a good manufacturer (f*g, SKF, NSK....).
  • + 2
 yeah, i built my front wheel around a novatec hub, it works really good, it's super smooth, and it took around 8 months to develop any sort of play, which for the price i paid for it was incredibly good. It still runs pretty well and has been on my wheel for a little more than 2 years now (:
  • + 2
 Nice to see them get a mention. Makes me feel better about the novatec hubbed china carbon rimmed wheelset i ordered yesterday
  • + 1
 My novatec rear hub started rumbling/ vibrating and felt like it was going to seize up after only 10-15 hours riding. I took it apart and added some mineral oil to the freehub and from then on its been mint. I've got hope hubs now but id defiantly own one again.
  • + 1
 Been using Novatec hubs for years. No hickups whatsoever on rough 700mls of dh. Very decent sealing and good anodizing for the price. They sound good too.
[Reply]
  • + 8
 I now have a far greater appreciation for all the work that went into my bike... wow.
[Reply]
  • + 7
 I absolutely love the fact that hubs are tested by.......................hearing. It is awesome!
  • + 1
 Brian Lopes, kyle Strait, KHS Factory Team and more.
[Reply]
  • + 5
 Their lower-end products were named Joytech. Novatec is a totally new brand and high-end brand in recent years .
[Reply]
  • + 2
 I run a Novatec 20mm front hub! So good to hear more about them in this article. I didn't know much about them and couldn't find anything much about them when I bought my hub and almost thought I might be wasting my money. I've had an excellent experience with them and this article about how they're made just confirms how well they are built. True they may not be top top top line but their hubs can take a serious beating and the weight is amazingly light. I love my Novatec hub!
[Reply]
  • + 6
 Congrats from Mainland China! Well done!
  • + 1
 LOL i guess a few of you dont understand the political tension between China and Taiwan
  • + 1
 Not as tense as you imagined mate.
[Reply]
  • + 5
 I have a Novatec hub! Hasnt failed me yet! Nice to see how they're made. Yet another good "how it's made" pinkbike article!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 In my experience, brilliant hubs. I have just built up Novatec D881s on Stans Flows in the past three months and I cannot fault them at all. Brilliant hubs. I have used Hope ProII for the past few years however the simplicity with which you can switch out the 20mm, 15mm, QR, 10mm and 12mm axels makes them attractive over the Hopes to me; I want to use the same wheelset with different forks.

As someone pointed out, Superstar's hubs are Novatec OE, and appear to be a bargain. However, at Superstar you only get one set of adapters with the hubs and no bolt through QR (all sold separately). If you can source the Novatec branded hubs (my LBS got them here in Japan, thanks Ogawa san at Wilson) then they come with all the adapters and QR axels in the box, which made them cheaper than the equivalent Superstar set of hubs/adapters etc.

If you build your own wheels, give a set a go if you can find them!!!! You won't find them on the usual online megastores, you will have to dig deeper, or why not give your LBS the chance to shine and get you some??
[Reply]
  • + 4
 i bet it would feel weird to stick your hand in one of those buckets of bearings
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I am not saying it isn't possible. However, I worked with and as a master wheel builder with Kovachi Wheels for 15 years. I have build (start to finsh) 20 in a good day. That was at the ABA Grands back in the late 1990's. I can/have laced more than that in a day , but nowhere near 100. Again, not saying it isn't possible, but doubtful
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I've been using Novatec hubs and wheels for 3 years now, i love them!! Never had any problems.
The factory build wheels i had where actually for XC, but i used them 1,5 years for AM riding and they are still going strong after 2 years on my cousins bike!
Right now i use a DH Novatec hub for my front wheel with DT spokes and a MTX31 rim, they are just as good or even better then most "big" brands.
Oh and they are cheap!!!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Novetec is the best thing I have found. Just based on ride. Bigger bearing, roll faster and last longer. There pros kill it as well in the USA. They just took 1 and 2 in the over all at the Pro GRTs.
  • + 0
 that has nothing to do with placing first. you can place first with worn hubs and bearings!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I know many riders who prefer novatec hubs for building custom under 1800 - grams wheelsets , tipically with DT spokes and Mavic / Dt rims. They are good quality and easy to service.
  • + 1
 bine spus, Mircea!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 I have a novatec front hub laced to a DT 2350 rim. Super sweet, low maintenence, awesome reliability. I haven't had to touch it it months!
[Reply]
  • + 3
 all the workers are Chinese
  • + 0
 how do you know?
  • + 2
 by looking at the pictures
  • + 0
 yeah but how can you tell?
  • + 1
 well the ones that i can see are Chinese :L
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Chinese symbol for "100" is the same as for "Many", if I remember correctly. So maybe he just makes "many" wheels per day.
  • + 1
 Pretty sure the pinkbike staff would have been told this information. I don't think they read it in Chinese and misinterpreted it.
  • + 1
 Maybe mistranslated? "Bai" in fact does mean both "hundred" and "numerous". en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E7%99%BE
[Reply]
  • + 3
 i prefer novatec beside most hubs.... never had a proglem with them
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Gota love the west for kicking our asses in making bike parts ! They build we ride , like it should be .
[Reply]
  • + 1
 {;o!! "wanna give my a setWink " haha
[Reply]
  • + 1
 what type of cam you using?
[Reply]
  • + 1
 i only knew hope ... oO im diffrent ??
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Good to know!
  • + 3
 hahaha yeah i agree!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 1 and 3 in the over all in the pro grt.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Hope all the way
[Reply]
  • + 0
 I'm Taiwanese... is this what "my people" look like?
  • + 4
 ehhhh, what did you think they look like, supermodels working in a factory?
  • + 2
 LOL! Strangest comment in a loooong time "rattpoison".
  • + 1
 I nearly spit my drink on to my keyboard Jay. I would be stupid enough to buy it even more if supermodels made my hubs....
  • + 1
 hell yeah, me too....@Jhou
  • + 1
 No.. I wasn't thinking supermodels. That's for sure.
[Reply]
  • - 1
 The freehub is a very similar design to the Shimano hubs.
  • + 2
 that's lower end OEM stuff you're reffering to (and in some pics), i have NS Bikes hub made by them and it's so maintenance free, stiff, fast spinning, easy to service (naturaly i had to open it up, hahahahah)....... Smile
[Reply]
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