Project 321 Hub Long Term NSMB AndrewM (10).JPG
REVIEW | EDITORIAL

Project 321 Hub - Long Term Review

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major & Noted
Date Mar 14, 2019

1FG

Teardown. Quiet Pawls. Loud Pawls. Full suspension. Hardtail. Spinning a semi-slick and pushing a fat knobby. When my Project 321 hub review went live on June 20th, 2018, I was confident that I'd hit all the angles other than the fact I wanted to continue pounding on it so I could speak more definitively to its reliability.

Here I am in March 2019, still spinning smoothly on the original EZO bearings with a fresh take on the project courtesy my Kona Honzo ST and a stint playing with a tensioner on my Marin Rift Zone. I've been single speeding the P321 for months now.

It's as not as dramatic as the epiphany that led to my Stache Retrial but since we're here I have to admit I missed a subtle but remarkable comparative between the P321 and other high end hubs I've ridden. With a perfect chain line and absent the rear derailleur, the lack of drag from the magnetically actuated drive system is impressive.

Project 321 Hub Long Term NSMB AndrewM.JPG

From the first ride down the block running #1FG I noticed the comparative lack of drag.

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Crazy? I also had a couple of friends who borrowed my Honzo and remarked how fast the hub felt.

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Project in a project. If I had a DH/Shuttle/Park bike I'd run it SS for sure. Going uphill was HARD.

I've ridden a whole host of high-end hubs and from the low-engagement 20° DT Swiss, to the Mavic middle ground, to the faster Chris King, or Industry Nine, or Race Face Vault, and the instant engaging True Precision Stealth. None has felt faster rolling in the stand or on the trail* when running my bike single speed.

The flip side is I can't tell the difference once a multi-speed drive train is installed and it hasn't magically made me comparatively faster than my friends. I guess it wasn't a big enough difference to overcome my lunch muscle but this bike nerd was impressed to the point that I wouldn't do another hub review without being certain to run it single speed for a while for the true comparison.

*With comparable tires

The Litany

It's quite possible that the NSMB test-writer stable has had more hours on Project 321 hubs in the past couple of years than anything else and certainly we've spilled a lot of ink that included mention of them.

Tim Coleman did a series on the We Are One Composites wheelset that he thrashed through multiple chains and rings without having to touch it. In the end he said "the bearings are still tight with no play. The freehub is smooth and still has perfect engagement. The wheels spin with ease."

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Tim put thousands of Shore-style kilometers into these We Are One laced P321 hubs with solid praise. Photo: Dave Smith

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Life myself, Mr Coleman found that he never needed to touch the adjustable bearing preloader. Photo: Dave Smith

Cam McRae has been riding the new Crankbrothers Synthesis E 11 carbon wheelset, which ships with Project 321 hubs as original equipment. It's an ongoing test process featuring the quiet pawls and "some special sauce - the Purple Drank - to make them a even quieter" thanks to Jeff at Wheelthing.

It's the lower engagement 2.5° setup compared to the 1.66° system I've been testing. The difference being that 3/6 pawls are engaged at a time compared to 2/6 in the hubs I've been riding.

Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 Wheels

Crankbrothers has been selling significantly more of their P321 equipped E 11 wheelsets than the less expensive E model with the same rims. Photo: Crankbrothers

Project 321 Hub Teardown AndrewM

This is the first rear hub I've had with adjustable bearing tension that has never come loose on the trail. I have cleaned and lubed the drive system twice since Jeff and I did the initial Teardown.

I use the same Dumonde Tech freehub lube in almost every hub that comes through my domain*, which makes it pretty easy to qualify the comparable sealing quality of different hubs. The double seal on the P321 freehub is wet coast rated with the only - unscientifically - better example in my mind being the Race Face Vault.

*The exception is Chris King

The Easy Reviews

What do the 16 USD Renthal Ultra Tacky Push-On grips, 105 USD Bontrager SE4 29x3 tires, and the 415 USD Project 321 rear hub* have in common? The easiest reviews are always the ones where I can say unequivocally that I would spend my own money on the product in question and these are examples where I have.

I needed a new non-Boost hub for my single speed and my short list ended up being very short - Chris King, Race Face Vault, and the Project 321. To my mind the Project 321 has the best combination of rapid engagement, high quality bearings, drag, and user serviceability on the market.

*The 185 USD Front hub is a really nice piece of kit too, but it's a front hub - the rear is where the magic happens.

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I needed to buy a new hub for my non-Boost single speed - it was an obvious decision for me.

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Running the 1.66° P321 with a 32x22t setup and a 29x2.6 SE5 tire on a Velocity i39 rim. Awesome Shore To Sky winter setup.

We're currently fortunate to have great hub options and it's easy to appreciate why a rider with this budget would choose to go King, or Onyx etc. depending on which features they most value.

The sub 285-gram Project 321 rear hub has earned a place in any high end hub conversation. Made in Bend, Oregon by nice folks who are always happy to answer questions. More information at Project 321.

Comments

Timer
0
Timer  - March 14, 2019, 6:10 a.m.

There are so many awesome high end hubs available with these P321, Kings, Tune, the True Precision ones, I9, DT and eventually the new XTRs.....

But I just can't bring myself to spend major coin on a wheelset, knowing that it will be obsolete and basically landfill within a few years due to ever-changing hub and wheelsizes.

Reply

T-mack
+2 Dan Andrew Major
T-mack  - March 14, 2019, 6:44 a.m.

I don't know about that anymore tbh. Wheel standards do seem to be the default complaint but I think things have settled down for a few years. Lots of new carbon bikes have 148 spacing still.

Reply

Vikb
+3 Tremeer023 chachmonkey pedalhound
Vik Banerjee  - March 14, 2019, 7:19 a.m.

I do feel you on that. So what I am doing is:

1. only buying hubs with convertible end caps

2. not flipping bikes rapidly

3. my idea of a quality wheel set is Hope/DT Swiss hubs + Light Bicycle rims

This means I know I'll get years from any nice wheel set I buy because I'll keep the bike it's in for years. Flipping bikes is expensive and honestly if you are not 100% satisfied with one of today's uber bikes the problem is you not the bike.

With convertible end caps you can [internet lawyer disclaimer - usually] mod them so they work in the next width up the food chain. So 135mm to 142mm and 148mm, 100mm to 110mm and 148mm to 157mm, etc... You actually get a stronger wheel with less dish [internet lawyer disclaimer - usually].

My idea of a nice wheel set is not tip top of the hub/rim food chain so I can probably get two complete wheel sets before hitting the same cost as someone eating at the high high end wheel buffet.

Reply

gt-dad
+2 Velocipedestrian Andrew Major
GT dad  - March 14, 2019, 8:53 a.m.

Im with you:) Still running my hope evos with wtb frequency ust rims 4 yers now.Actually also running 26 with 2x9  but with oval 2x chainrings and carbon xo shifters and ders. That xo stuff just won't die.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - March 14, 2019, 9:48 a.m.

GT dad, one of my favourite drivetrain experiences this year was a 1x setup with an XO 9-Speed shifter, Shimano XT 11-Speed clutch derailleur, and a SunRace 11-40t 9-Spd cassette. 

The shifter will most likely outlast the rear derailleur, so keep it in mind if you wreck the rear and want to keep running the shifter!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - March 14, 2019, 9:36 a.m.

Vik, the other disclaimer you should add is you don’t care about hub engagement.

DT Swiss makes a great product if you’re happy with 20° or maybe 10° if their 36t ratchets work for you. 

Hope is not my cup-o-tea at all, great that folks like them - choice is chief - but even so that’s 8.2°.

I’m riding hubs between 3° and Instant and the difference is notable. 

These P321 hubs are 1.66°, easy to service (so they should last forever), and it’s easy to get a Problem Solvers kit if I need to size up to Super Boost.

Reply

Vikb
0
Vik Banerjee  - March 14, 2019, 10:46 a.m.

Fair enough. I don't notice engagement issues on the Hope or DT Swiss hubs I have. I couldn't tell you what degree of engagement I am running. It works for me, but I appreciate that experiences and preferences vary a lot.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Dan Timer
Andrew Major  - March 14, 2019, 9:25 a.m.

Timer, in that case - assuming you like fast engaging hubs - check out the Bontrager Line Comp + Upgrade wheels I’ve reviewed previously. 3* engagement in a wheelset that costs less than a Gucci hub.

That said both 148 and 157 rear hubs are settled.

If you did buy a 148 and then a frame came out with Super Boost that you had to have, Problem Solvers makes a Boostinator kit for that. I’ve got plenty of experience now with the PS Boostinator kits front and rear (cheap, not hub specific) and they’re great. Boost (and Super Boost) spacing doesn’t really matter.

Reply

Timer
+1 Velocipedestrian
Timer  - March 14, 2019, 10:25 a.m.

Andrew, I appreciate your recommendations. Didn't know that there are already spacer kits for 148 to 157mm available.

Luckily there is also no shortage of good mid-range wheelsets. (Currently running the excellent Newmen rims on DT 350s with ratchet upgrade,).

Which doesn't mean that i haven't lusted after Gucci wheels occasionally. The trouble with bling wheelsets is that i want the hubs to last a decade or so, and that seems unrealistic. While rear hub widths might only fluctuate between 148 and 157 for the next couple of years, i don't trust the peace at the front end. With all the recent talk about forks lacking in stiffness, i don't expect the 15mm front axle to last much longer. Who knows, 20mm might even be making a comeback. But knowing the industry, the new standard will be 18.9mm x 105mm. ;)

Reply

JVP
+2 Dan Andrew Major
JVP  - March 14, 2019, 9:32 a.m.

> This is the first rear hub I've had with adjustable bearing tension that has never come loose on the trail. 

Interesting. I've been tempted by this 321 rear hub, as well as the Onyx, but the preloaders have kept me away. Having to adjust hubs half way through a ride is just stupid - and I had to do it constantly with one fancy brand back in the day. Quiet hubs are almost worth the risk of stepping away from the ultra-reliable Hope or DT benchmarks. 

There's a battle raging in my mind between quiet and dead-simple reliable.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Dan
Andrew Major  - March 14, 2019, 9:42 a.m.

P321 is a premium product over Hope or DT350 - no doubt. I don’t see any loss of reliability in terms of quality or maintenance requirements (basic cleaning).

The quiet pawls are not Onyx / True Precision silent - but they’re damn quiet.

That said, it’s an easier hub to fully teardown than either DT or Hope and a basic clean and relube is a similar effort to DT (looking at you Hope plastic “labyrinth seal”).

No one I know with a P321 hub has had issues with the bearing adjuster coming loose. I can’t speak to Onyx as I’ve never used one long term (quality of their products does appear excellent).

Reply

dan
+1 JVP
Dan  - March 15, 2019, 8:04 a.m.

I've been on a P321 hub since late summer and no bearing preload problems at all. Park laps, shuttles, trail rides. I *really* like the near-silence when coasting.

Reply

CheeseIsNice
+1 Dan
CheeseIsNice  - March 14, 2019, 1:32 p.m.

Why are Chris King hubs excepted from the use of Dumonde Tech freehub lube? I have been using Phil's Tenacious oil in my King hubs and that has been working well but have contemplated switching to Dumonde and was wondering why you do not use it. (For clarification I am referring to lubing of the Ringdrive mechanism only, not use in the actual bearings themselves)

Reply

Enurjetik
0
Enurjetik  - March 16, 2019, 11:07 a.m.

Andrew -

Did I read that correctly that you were running your Rift Zone as a single speed with a tensioner? If so, how did you get on with full suspension single speed? 

I've been debating giving that a go with my Devinci Marshall. I've been hesitant partly because it doesn't seem like anyone online has done this with a bike using modern suspension design.

Reply

clayteson
0
Blake Clayton  - March 19, 2019, 6:43 a.m.

I've been running P321 hubs for a few months and wow! they are awesome.  My debate was P321, Hope, and I9 and I wanted something a little more quiet than I9 with easy servicing.  I have a friend who went the Hope route and I'm glad I didn't.  The increased drag is noticeable on the stand and the trail, and my engagement is 5x less for what amounted to $100 more.  I repeatedly beat the snot out of these wheels in Pisgah and have yet to encounter an issue with the bearing adjuster.  The weight and drag reduction was immediately noticeable via better acceleration and momentum, plus the machining and anodizing is better than Hope.  P321 has been awesome.

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