08 January, 2007

Maxi-car Hubs

Maxi-car hubs are the stuff of legend, 60,000 or 100,000, or more miles without need of a rebuild. These are the hubs that came on the very very best bikes from Herse, Singer, and the other great constructeurs. They are still sought after by tandem riders for their strength and by randonneurs for their reliability and longevity.

The holes in the drive side of the rear hub are like keyholes, allowing a broken spoke to be changed without removing the freewheel. The axles are oversize, like Phil Wood axles, and simply don't break.

But unlike Phil Wood and other quality hubs, Maxi-car used annular bearings designed for not only up-and-down loads, but for side loads as well. Then they encased them in a labyrinth of seals. It's been estimated that there are twice as many machining steps required to make a Maxi-car hub as, say, a Phil Wood hub.

As with so many hand machined products, Maxi-car hubs simply became too costly to manufacture and the company was unwilling to spend the money required to develop a cassette hub. The company still exists and they still make hubs, but now they are made for wheelchairs. Here is a page with more information.

The pair shown here are NOS from one of the very last production runs in the mid to late 1990s. They are going on VO randonneuse #1 .

Here's a fun Maxi-car article.


Anonymous said...

I received my Rigida 1622s. They are beautiful and make me happy to simply look at them. (These things are cheap, guys, and disappearing fast.)It is almost beyond my comprehension how good Maxicars coupled with Rigidas would make someone feel. God, I love this old, obsolete French stuff. Have you found some brittle old chrome plated spokes for them? I mean, so you could use the really cool keyhole spoke holes more often?

Anonymous said...

"Here is a page with more information."

Do you need some of those multicolored 3D glasses to see that page link?

Dad said...

Those are cool for sure.

Before anyone who prefers index shifting to friction despairs that there isn't a cassette model of these hubs (or is eyeing any freewheel hub with some nagging doubts): I thought I would just post that if anyone cares, you can use a Campy 8s Ergo setup and a Sachs 8s freewheel with the common brown spacers, and it will work perfectly. Not close; _perfect_.

All I'm saying is, don't relegate freewheel hubs to novelty status just because you prefer indexin'. My $.02.

Velo Orange said...

David, Quite right, and now that you mention it, some Suntour freewheels index. And you can use Campy 6 and 7-speed index. The Campy 6/7 shifters have a reputation for being hard to set up, but I've never had a problem with them.

Does anyone know about Shimano indexed freewheels?

Neil, I'm gonna put in well used galvanized spokes, but only on the rear drive side; that's just so I can show fellow riders how easy they are to replace ;<)

Anonymous said...

Your Maxi-cars look like one of the last runs made. Are they spaced 130mm or do you have to modify the dropout spacing on VO #1 to get them to work?
They are beautiful!!

Velo Orange said...

129.38mm according to my calipers. I think they'll fit as is.

Dad said...

Well, here is what I had scrawled down years ago when i was a pauper-ish bike racer and had to make stuff work with my Campy 8s system:

Campy 8s is 5.0mm.

Sachs 8s freewheels with brown spacers are 5.0mm.

Shimano Uniglide 8s freewheels are 4.8mm -- will work okay but will probably rustle on one outside gear or the other if you use a Campy 8s shifter setup. Shimano 7s ones are 5.0mm 'zackly.

Suntour "Ultra 6" is 5.0mm. But regular 6s are too widely spaced for either Campy or Shimano shifters, I don't know how much but they don't work. I don't know about the Suntour 7s, I'm reasonably sure they're the same as Ultra 6.

In case it's not obvious, you can just set your der. limit screws and effectively lock out one or two of the speeds on your 8s shifters, so they'll work fine with 6 or 7. <--low-discount bike racer trick

C said...

The Maxi-Car were fantastic hubs though I always wonder just how important the durability really is - especially when their cost is taken into consideration. I mean is it really that important that the hubs last 100k miles without maintenance? Is it really that hard to take apart hubs every so often and squirt in a little grease and or to punch out and replace the cartridge bearings? Also keep in mind that while the hubs might go 100k the rims most certainly won't. Seems like a Campy, Shimano or Mavic hub with some occasional TLC will last just as long and for a lower price.

Velo Orange said...

C, If cost is you sole criteria, you may have a point. But there is a certain value to craftsmanship, to an artisan's skill, that transcends such a simple formula.

Anonymous said...

I think I read somewhere the old French riders could change the drive side spokes while they were still riding the bike.

Good info David. I'll save it. Thanks.

C said...

Building a good hub has little to do with artisanship. It's engineering, not art. That's like saying it's artisans that put Neil Armstrong on the moon! Also I listed Campy so obviously cost isn't a sole criteria. I just don't get the MaxiCar worship. I just don't see what makes them any better than a DuraAce, Record, Mavic SSC, Phil, King, etc. hub.

How could you change a spoke on ANY wheel while riding??? Love to see someone try that!!

Anonymous said...

To put things in perspective: has anyone ever mentioned a Maxi-car failure? I've never heard of one. But then no one ever speaks of a Rolls-Bentley breaking down either.

Chris, enlighten us on this.

I've heard about Campy failures and certainly experienced Shimano failures myself.


Anonymous said...

c & anon,
I would say the difference between Maxi's and the rest: Aesthetics. Of course it helps that they are well designed & work as well if not better than everything else.
Me, I ride Shimano. I like most things Japanese.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I agree with the difference being "aesthetics". I think the older Campagnolo high flange hubs, especially the Nouvo Tippos, are beautiful and roll great. The old Maxicars are really graceful too. The newer Maxicars are not bad looking, but the reason people buy them for tandems and heavy touring is not because they look good. They buy them because they're indestructable.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, C, I have to say you are just wrong.

Patek Phillipe and Seiko both make watches that function wonderfully. Arguably the digital Seiko's work a whole lot better.

But people line up for the mechanical Patek Phillipe (note, I use understated PP as an example rather than the gaudy, jewel encrusted things from Vacheron or Rolex) because they are so perfectly made.

Personally, I'll probably stick with Phil as I would always worry about getting a Maxi dirty or having it stolen. But I certainly appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship in its design and build.

Anonymous said...

Maybe another item that belongs in the bike version of the Robb Report. Great for the aficionado of 'I have and you don't' components, but for most we'll suffer with our Shimano bits.

Velo Orange said...

Brian, I must strongly disagree. Maxi-car hubs represent, at least to me, the idea that you buy the best and only buy it once. They are the very antithesis of modern consumer culture, the exact opposite of what Robb Report represents.

We live in a capitalist society that must, by its very nature, encourage continued spending to survive. So we are urged to always upgrade, to get newer and better stuff, and more of it. It was not always like this. In Europe, at least when I was growing up, you might spend three months salary on a bike. But you intended to keep it for 30 or 50 years. Upgrading meant taking back to the builder in 15 years for new paint and, perhaps, a more modern component or two.

This attitude was widespread. Ordinary people might spend a fortune on a camera like my 1956 Leica (which still works like new today.)

My grandmother lost a great deal in WW2. She used to tell me, "Only rich people can afford cheap things."

To equate well made things with unnecessary luxury or conspicuous consumption is illogical.

Anonymous said...

"To equate well made things with unnecessary luxury or conspicuous consumption is illogical."

Yes, But this implies that something along the lines of a nice Shimano 105 or Ultegra hub is somehow a compromise or "cheap". Shimano's are well made, silver, look nice and utilitarian and when it comes right down to it, I'll take a cassette over a freewheel any day. Oh, and they are pretty inexpensive and, in my experience, are extremely reliable. I have yet to break or damage one.
We don't have to decide between the "Ultimate Performer" (Maxi) or the "So-So" (Shimano). They both work. Pick your poision - but check your wallet and availability.

Anonymous said...

Current model Shimano XTRs have oversize axles, intricate seals and annual bearings.

C said...


Your argument ignores one HUGE point: the reason you hear about more Shimano and Campy issues is because Shimano and Campy make a LOT more hubs than Maxi-Car! I'd bet Shimano makes more hubs in one year than Maxi made in 20. It's like saying you hear more about Honda cars breaking down than Ferrari (which in fact require quite a bit of upkeep). I see Shimano and Campy hubs being ridden every single day. I can't recall the last time I actually saw someone riding a Maxi-Car hub.

I never denied that Maxi wasn't a perfectly made hub and I certainly appreciate the workmanship. Just saying I don't see the need for such a perfect hub. I can buy a Record hub that will last a lifetime and perform perfectly. How is something "better" than a Record hub going to make my life better? All I see it doing is making my wallet lighter.

I generally agree with Chris: buy the best and buy it once. However, you can go beyond the best and that I don't see the need for. If given a choice between a Record/Phil/DuraAce hub and a Maxi why would I want to chose the Maxi? What about it is so much better? The lack of maintenance really doesn't do it for me. If that were all that counted we'd all be riding solid rubber tires!

Reality is much of the appeal of Maxi is aesthetics and nostalgia. There's nothing at all wrong with that. All of us have bought items based largely on aesthetics and nostalgia. I know it's why I still prefer silver parts over painted/anodized parts.

Dad said...

The whole idea of these hubs -- of which I personally knew nothing about before reading this blog -- seems so awesome. Yes, they're swatting a fly with a thermonuclear warhead -- complete overkill -- but the whole concept simply touches on the divine. To me at least.

Personally I think I'd prefer the variant with wingnuts, just for an insanely old school approach.

Just for the sake of knowing, where do you get such things and these and, like, uhhh, combien ca coute? $1K for the pair? More?

That's one thing that's so neat about bikes. Compared to airplanes or cars or boats or what-have-you, even at the upper reaches of the scale they're a fairly inexpensive hobby. And one that comes with the benefit of health and well-being. Cool.

Anonymous said...

Well C, you can just as soon argue there is no need for a Patek Phillippe watch, that Boones Farm wine gets you drunk as well as a de Rothschild, and a computer can paint a better image of a woman than Leanardo.

Some things are made in a way that makes them quality than other similar things. There may be arguments against the tangible benefits the quality provide. If you cannot see the value in having something like the Maxi-car Hubs, there are a lot of other things out there in the world which can be argued against as well.

Anonymous said...

Ebay. I think Chris bought his really well. Less than $1000 for newer. More than $1000 for older(for wall hangers)and are often collected by the Japanese who seem to have an ongoing love affair with all things French.

Velo Orange said...

David and C, It may surprise to learn that I paid less for these, on E-Bay, than a new set of Phil Wood (non-Ti) hubs would have cost. And unlike PW hubs, they came with quick releases.

There are a few dealers, mostly in Europe who still have new Maxi-car hubs, but I'll bet that most are sold on E-bay now. There were quite a few for sale in the Fall, but not many recently. BTW, I can still get new tandem hubs in 36h.

Anonymous said...

I hate to get into this and flail around, but comparing Shimano 105s to Maxi-Cars is simply not fair. The 105s are great, but they will simply not carry the loads the Maxi-Cars were designed for. At least not for very long. I like old Campy hubs, but if I get any heavier, I'm getting me some of them there Maxi-Cars.

Anonymous said...

David NJ or an equally bright person,

Would you happen to know IRD 5,6,7 speed freewheel spacings?

IRD doesn't seem to care or know, one. IRD's posted stack heights on their web page must contain internal assembly freewheel lengths: since they show 6mm greater than normal 120mm 5 speed stack, and one IRD 5 speed owner said 122-123mm fork spacing.

If anyone could tell me where I may fing IRD 5, 6,7 sp spacing, I'd be happy. I may have to punt with Shimano HG 7 speed freewheel so I can plan before assembly.

Thank You

Anonymous said...

I care. I have a IRD 7 at home. I'll post spacing tonight or tomorrow if no one has.

Anonymous said...

My quips in my first post were tongue-in-cheek. Confession: I have an obsession collecting Lucas and Miller bells.

But dear, they're not making any more!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Neil M Berg!

Anonymous said...

C, you're probably right! There are a lot more Campy and Shimano hubs out there.

And it's because Maxi-cars are so uncommon and the circle of users so small that we'd surely hear if an axle broke, or a flange cracked, or something along those lines. But I haven't.

Has anyone? Fill me in on this.


Anonymous said...

The IRD 7s are 5mm, which means they should index with Campy 8. But why would you want to? asked the Old Fart.
Interesting, as the derailleur I'm using with it is a late 80s Campy Rally which supposedly indexes with Ergo 8. Hum, maybe I should go over to the dark side.

Dad said...

One of the things in the world that wasn't badly thought out was the last versions of Campy 8s setups. They used a regular 3/32" chain, and simply lasted forever. Not the lightest but the Record Ti gruppos were okay. Mine was in hard use for many tens of thousands of miles, and I recently stuck it on my current Kogswell commuter bike and it still works just fine.

That being said, the new 10s Campy and Dura-Ace setups are both sickeningly great. I have no idea how durable they are or aren't, but the ease and accuracy of shifting is simply phenomenal.

Neil, unfortunately I highly, highly doubt that your Rally RD will index with an 8-speed setup. The new stuff pulls a ton of cable compared to the old friction setups.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Neil M Berg,

Its the same as Shimano and SRAM 7 sp (bottom of page in link):


May I ask what your inside rear fork spacing is? 126, 130, 128.5??

The 5 speed IRD put on a 120mm spaced rear forks was 122.5 final spacing approx.

Thank You Sir!!

Anonymous said...

Also under Sproket Spacing in link above, 5mm, like you said, was for Campy 8sp and Sachs 7&8 sp. So 5mm is excellent spacing. It also allows more robust SRAM 8 speed chain width.

Excellent. I wonder if IRD 5 and 6 sp use this same standardized size. I know who to ask for the 5 speed and will report once found.

Thank You!

Anonymous said...

"As with so many hand machined products, Maxi-car hubs simply became too costly to manufacture and the company was unwilling to spend the money required to develop a cassette hub."

Should read: "As with so much of the French bicycle industry, Maxi-car simply refused to abandon their obsolete manufacturing processes and the company was unwilling to put in the hard work and hours necessary to keep themselves in the business."

Anonymous said...

Excess capital for robotic machining equipment, with no previous experience is a financial gamble. They have no business making such a huge risk for low margin returns in saturated market against Japanese marketeers.


Anonymous said...

My Rally is one of a handful made in the late 80s. It's a closer relative to the Centaur mountain group than any Rally we would recognize. When I bought it I was told that it would index, but never gave a serious thought. Maybe it was just a sales pitch.

Velo Orange said...

It is interesting that a number of entrepreneurs have looked into making Max-car hubs again. The rights to the name and some machinery are still available, but even with modern CNC technology no one has tried.

One of the reasons Max-car was viable was that most shops and builders bought directly from the factory. Today we have a system of distributors that take a large cut for storing and shipping components. I can's buy hubs directly from Campy or Shimano.

Anonymous said...

Your design should be made with the process in mind. Its hard automating a process that quality was ingrained through labor quasi busy improving quality through whatever took the longest hours. Engineers are afraid of implementing 'true' innovation for their life in little clannish villages depending on soft controlled factories. Eventually, they put them selves out of business.

Soft Management kills longterm business to avoid shortterm confrontation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon's contention that you have to design the product to the process. The rest is simply jibberish. Reading on Hard vs Soft mangement - for those who care.

Anonymous said...

Instead of Soft or Hard Management, what about Assertive and just telling the truth?

Mamby Pamby is worse, and Hard Nose is employees just waiting to screw process up. Employees should police each other for their livelihood, but Mgt would rather pay minimum instead of maximum wages and have a whole lot of losers to contend with. Efficiency and quality 'both' have to be related to pay, average or individual.

If time and money are no object that's another story.

Anonymous said...

I have seen one with a broken axle and I currently have one (1970s model, threaded, not hollow) with a bent axle. that being said, it happens to every FW hub if the circumstances are right. (Anyone know where I can get bearings other than the french guy on Ebay?)

They are super nice and smooth, but I see them almost as overkill, as most of us bike dork like to tinker around with our bikes, give it an overhaul once every year or so.

there is something to be said in something lasting forever. I guess maxicar took me out of the equation.

makes me feel like the Maytag repair man. . .

by the way, I do have a set of my own, not built up though. I don't have a bike for them yet.

jim g said...

I've got a Sachs 13-30 7spd freewheel that indexes great with Shimano derailleurs and 7spd shifters. I've also gotten indexing to work acceptably with 8 and 9spd shifters using the alternate cable-routing trick at the rear derailleur.

Tim Ostler said...

I felt I ought to raise my voice as I am apparently the only person in the universe to have suffered an axle breakage on a rear Maxicar hub (on a Mercian Super Routier). However I have had it since 1981 so must have done about 84K miles on it! I hope people will forgive my sacrilege in replacing it with a Shimano Tiagra... (needs must)

gadflyz said...

Does anyone know how to adapt a Maxicar 126mm rear hub to a 130mm spaced frame?

dan dempsey said...

I have a 1985 Trek 720 with 126mm rear spacing. It came with The Maillard Helicomatic hub and 27" wheels. About 2 years ago given the dearth of tires in 27", I decided to go to 700c. I also figured I was likely past the life expectancy of the Helicomatic. (oddly Panaracer Pasela are one of the few tires in 27" and I am now running 700c Paselas)

My LBS said they could easily spread that 126mm spacing to 130mm to accommodate modern road spacing. So I could use a casette hub.

At that time I found on ebay from France some Maxi-car touring hubs brand new. These were 127mm spacing, with solid bolted axles and 40 holes both front and rear.

This was just too good to pass up (No Shimano hubs this time around).

I have these Maxi-Car hubs and velocity Dyads (Black rims) with tied and soldered spokes and am running Panaracer folding Pasela TG 700c x 37mm tires.

Chainrings are 48 x 44 x 28 (eventually this is going to get a 24 in place of the 28) and on back is an IRD 7 speed with 13-32 {[13-15-18-21-24-28-32]} .

This gives me a top of around 100 and a low of 23.6

The half-step granny is true to 1985.

The 24t chainring would get me one gear lower with 20.3

I am using the original Suntour friction Barcons. The Huret Titanium Duopar deraileur was the first part to fail on my 720 ... It became a pretzel long ago.

you can check out what the 1985 Trek 720 looked like when I bought it new. The helicomatic was a 6 speed. My Trek is the 24 inch size and the SOH is now 34 inches.

Pretty cool that the French hubs were replaced with much better French hubs.