Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM
REVIEW

Race Face Vault J-Bend Hubs - Reviewed

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Oct 30, 2018

Simple Hubs

I've been nerding out about high-performance, high-engagement, high-priced rear hubs a fair bit of late and as part of that, I've been putting all the hubs I've ridden into categories. I have lots of categories, some aren't so nice, but mainly I'm categorizing boutique hubs as having either complex or simple drive systems.

Race Face Vault hubs are simple. That's not taking away from their high-quality or snappy-fast engagement. It's just that like other pawl-and-drive-ring hubs there really isn't much going on. The Vaults provide quick & simple service, common bearing sizes, relatively inexpensive and easy to come by service parts, excellent sealing, and a massive inverted drive system in a package that anyone who's mechanically inclined can tackle at home. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

SRAM GX drivetrain that's been e*thirteened, Aeffect cranks, WTB tire, ARC aluminum rims, Marin Rift Zone frame: the Vault rear hub is a most worthwhile big-ticket upgrade to an otherwise journeyman build. 

Folks that think hubs should be optimized for true instant engagement, or for silence, or for maximum longevity no matter the cost of replacement components, proprietary tools, or complexity of service likely already have a favourite hub. I love  Onyx, and True Precision, and Chris King as well and I can happily debate the pros and cons of any of those products. 

For folks looking for the best blend of performance, ease of service, long-term service costs, low drag, and rapid engagement I think the strongest arguments are in favour of pawl-style hubs. My favourites include Project 321s and Industry Nines but there is a slew of other options using very similar rapid and refined, but really simple, drive systems. 

One of those options, albeit with a unique* inverted configuration, is the Race Face Vault J-Bend hub. 

*American Classic previously used a similar system. 

Vault J-Bend Front Hub

Normally I'd choose hubs on the quieter-to-silent end of the spectrum, but I quite like the unique whine of the Vault. It's loud enough to alert my fellow travelers to my presence but not at all tinny or obnoxious when I'm out on my own pedaling through the silent forest at night. 

3° engagement, unique inverted drive mechanism, excellent protection from elements, a plethora of configurations and any option from the proverbial, for now, Fordian colour pallette. 

Suntour Durolux RC2 29'er

Front hubs are available in Boost or non-Boost widths with a plethora of axle options. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

The two shells combine for 8x different fitment options once torque caps are included 

I don't have much to say about the front hubs. Bearings are still spinning smooth, they're a stylistic match for the rear, they come drilled for 28h or 32h - just like the rims, and two different hub shell widths cover every conceivable axle standard out there for mountain bikes. 

I've always questioned the relative value of the SRAM initiated "stronger, stiffer" Torque Cap interface, with an oversized hub-fork surface interface, but anyone regularly installing regular wheels in a fork designed for Torque Caps will certainly appreciate that the Vault has the option. 

Just to lay it out, the classic (non-Boost) hub shell can handle 15x100, 15x100 Torque Cap, 20x110, and 9x100mm axle options. The Boost hub shell can handle 15x110, 15x110 Torque Cap, and 20x110 Boost. End cap swaps, front & rear, are tool free. 


Great for dialing in custom builds, we'll have four new anodized colours by the end of the year" - Race Face

Vault J-Bend Rear Hub

I've ridden the Vault J-Bend hub exclusively with an XD driver but a Shimano option is also available. I've had it set up 11-speed, 12-speed, and single speed with no issues to speak of. The bearings still feel fresh despite not being anything exotic or bespoke and the drive system has the same drag as day one. 

I've done nothing to the hub since our initial teardown. I did not repack the accessible bearings with heavier grease, as I would with my own hubs, in order to test Race Face's labyrinth seals and I'm very impressed. The rear wheel has been drafted for single speed duty for what will hopefully be a long, wet, winter riding season so I will report back again briefly in the spring. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

Simple and well sealed with surprisingly low drag and no proprietary tools required for a full teardown. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

The 60-tooth drive ring is, uniquely, mounted to the freehub body. Which makes for easiest-in-class replacement down the road. 

Race Face makes three hub shell options for the rear. The classic covers 142x12, 135x12, 135x10. The Boost covers 148x12. The DH covers 150x12 and 157x12.

As with any hubset, this is where the magic happens. Race Face hits the 'quick enough' level for fast-engagement hub junkies with 3° of engagement. If I think about it I'm able I notice the difference between the true-instant engagement of a True Precision Stealth Hub or the 1.66° engagement of the Project 321, but then either of those hubs is 100 USD more expensive and the Stealth lacks the Raincouver friendly sealing system. 

I don't want to overstate the difference. I've also spent lots of time on an Industry Nine hub and Bontrager Line hub that had 3° of engagement and it's a different world from the 10° or 20° engagement hubs that I'd consider to have too much float for my preference. It's just that epic-bike-nerds will likely snicker a bit at Race Face's claim of "near-instant" engagement when there are more abrupt options on the market. 

Put another way, the 120-point is close enough to instant to be perfect for me but it isn't brag-to-your-friends-fast.  

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

Six pawls with two teeth each deliver 120 points (3°) of engagement. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

The drive side rear hub shell is massive to accommodate the inverted drive system. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

Seals, seals, and more seals. Race Face has a plethora of employees riding here on the Wet Coast. 

Comparing the Vault to other similarly fast, similarly high-quality pawl-style hubs on the market, the Vault's oversized drive system has one definite long-term advantage which is that, eventually, the entire drive system can be replaced with no proprietary tools since the drive-ring isn't threaded into the hub shell but rather pressed onto the freehub.  

For the do-everything-at-home mechanic, this is unique on the market 

Most important for riders, everytime I slam on the pedals the Vault hub drives my rear wheel forward with zero complaints. As with other boutique hubs on the market this fully qualifies as sh*t they're supposed to do so I'm noting that they meet performance expectations, not trying to give them kudos for longterm high performance. 

If black's not your thing, Race Face let slip that the Vault J-Bend hubs will come in four more anodized colours by the end of the year.

ARC Aluminum Rims

I've been riding Race Face ARC rims on my own bikes for a few years now. I pair a 32h ARC 30 out back with either an ARC 30 or an ARC 40 upfront depending on the bike. 

I've had my share of dents and wobbles, but I've certainly never felt like one of the rims owed me anything. I'd say the latest generation of Stan's Flow rims can be easier to air up tubeless when it comes to the more challenging tires - looking at you WTB - but at the end of the day I've yet to come across a tire I couldn't air up on the ARCs with a floor pump and that includes 29+ rubber. 

Plus Size Me AndrewM

I'll take a good 29+ tire up front on just about any bike. The ARC 40 has been my go-to for a couple of years now. 

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

Race Face provides the dimensions for their hubs and rims to simplify the build process. Photo: Essential Cycles

Race Face Vault Hubs AndrewM

If I don't bottom the front tire at least twice a ride I'm running too much air pressure (thanks for the initial setup advice Scotty). 

The 20mm deep Arc rims come on a number of sizes from basically-gravel-grinding-only-now 24mm, through 27mm, 30mm, 35mm, 40mm, and 45mm internal widths. All are available in 28h or 32h spoke drilling and use 6061 aluminum with a welded seam. 

With the range of sizes in both 27" and 29" diameters the weight range is massive so for claimed weights, I'll fire you over the Race Face website. 

Vaulted

There's a stable of high-end aftermarket mountain bike hubs to choose from and a stack of criteria from price, to engagement, to ease of service, to cost of service, colour, and etc to choose from when it comes time to pry open the wallet. To that end the Vault seems to be a bit of a sleeper. Easy to service, a hungry high-pitched whine that is loud without being obnoxious, good seals - it's a great package? 

Chatting with my friend Dave, the owner and lead wrench at BicycleHub, the other day and he said the same thing. He's been hammering his Vaults sans service and recommends them to anybody. 


“I have been running my Vaults for almost a year now through a wet spring/dry summer/wet fall and they have continued to perform flawlessly. Their design keeps the bearings and freehub well protected so you keep rolling faster for longer.” - Dave@BicycleHub

I love quick engaging rear hubs and I think they're one of my favourite upgrades on a bike. If I had an SLX drivetrain, Tektro 4-piston brakes, and a full Aeffect parts package my first upgrade would be some Shimano brake pads and my second would be a quick-hitting rear hub. 

Unfortunately, the Vault doesn't come spec on any min-maxed rigs at the moment but it is starting to show up as OE equipment on some Gucci builds like the new Devinci Spartan starting at the 5900 USD GX LTD model. It's still a tonne of money for a bike but I can't find anything in the price range with as nice a rear hub spec. 

So there you have it. Awesome, easily serviced, Vault J-Bend hubs that kick-it quick and loud with 3° engagement while coming in at the more affordable end of the high-end hub market, spinning quick and packing seals for days. Nice package Race Face. 

Available through your local dealer for 350 USD rear and 175 USD front.

Comments

momjijimike
+1 Andrew Major
momjijimike  - Oct. 30, 2018, 4:37 a.m.

Hi,

thanks for the review!

Please more details of this cool bike:

https://nsmb.com/media/images/Race_Face_Vault_Hub_J_NSMB_AndrewM_5.original.jpg

Which frame and fork is that please? Love it! :)

Thanks a lot!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 8:13 a.m.

Thanks!

That bike is my custom rigid-specific Waltworks single speed painted by Toxik Harald.

Long wheelbase, slack HTA, and clearance for 29x3.0 front and 29x2.6-2.8 (tire-specific) in the rear. It’s ridiculously fun and capable. I ride it on - most - the trails on Fromme and Seymour.

If you’re interested in more info there’s some photos and geo on my Instagram (link at top) or fire me a message.

Reply

momjijimike
0
momjijimike  - Oct. 30, 2018, 8:21 a.m.

Thanx! Soooo cool :)

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 9:18 a.m.

Thanks! I don’t know that he’s built many rigid Shore-single-speeds but Walt does build a lot of interesting bikes. Worth scrolling his Instagram feed.

Reply

ru-tang
+1 Mammal
ru-tang  - Oct. 30, 2018, 8:04 a.m.

When I was riding 29+ on the front of my rigid, I was bragging that if you weren't dinging rim, you had to much air pressure.  I of course started bragging too loud one night and immediately flatted and tore a hole in the tire . . . .

Reply

alexdi
+3 Darryl Chereshkoff Vincent66 Skyler
Alex D  - Oct. 30, 2018, 9:18 a.m.

Seems like a nice hub. Given RF's history with droppers and cranks, though, I'd like to see it at a lower price point until it's established as a reliable product with long-term parts availability. Asking i9 money for a new, functionally equivalent design with no name cachet or support history doesn't sit right to me.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 9:31 a.m.

Rear hub is 35 USD cheaper and the set is 55 USD cheaper. Same quality of bearing, better sealing, more user-serviceable (drive ring), and excellent performance with the same engagement.

What do you think would be a fair price vs. I9?

The Torch hub I’ve been running on various SS bikes for a few years has been faultless other than needing bearings and I like that it’s North American made but I don’t see the Vault as a bad value comparatively.

I’ve never used the 1st-gen Turbine dropper post everyone hates (9point8 model) but I’ve had great experiences with all the Race Face products I’ve tested and ridden in recent memory - including getting small parts:

Atlas, Turbine, and Aeffect Cinch cranks. Aeffect dropper post. Aeffect wheels. Vault hubs. Chester bar + stem (yeah, it’s a bar and stem so mixed feelings on listing them).

Reply

alexdi
+3 Skyler Vincent66 Jan
Alex D  - Oct. 30, 2018, 10:09 a.m.

I'd like to see it nearer to $250. Plenty of people share your opinion of i9. This hub lineup hasn't been around long enough to accrue that sort of goodwill. I'm not going to quibble about simple products (it's no manufacturing challenge to build a mid-range alloy stem, bar, rim, or crank), but hubs aren't, and IME, RF isn't light on their feet when things go wrong. They haven't earned the price point to me.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Mammal Chad K
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 10:34 a.m.

Absolutely all about the personal experience. So my follow up, if the rear hub was 250 USD would you buy one?

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alexdi
+1 Andrew Major
Alex D  - Oct. 30, 2018, 6:34 p.m.

Based on your review, yes, if I valued ultra-high engagement.

I'm more enamored with Shimano's XTR M9100 hubs. So much that I'm mulling a new wheel build specifically for them, Micro Spline lock-in be damned. DT 240 weight and ratchet reliability, Onyx silence and minimal drag, and serviceable angular bearings. It's like a personal wishlist. I'll settle for 50 POE to have all that.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 10:51 p.m.

The M9100 is interesting to a lot of people (who are willing to service the loose ball bearings) to the point that it may be the first relevant Shimano hub since?!

Micro Spline makes a lot of sense since Shimano is looking to use one driver system for MTB and E~MTB - where XD apparently is not E~Bike friendly. 

Definitely comes down to a willingness to do routine service and preference for engagements. If you buy a set I'd love to know how the service goes. 

Cheers,

alexdi
0
Alex D  - Oct. 31, 2018, 8:18 a.m.

Andrew, I'd take loose balls any day. Cartridge bearings make initial assembly and maintenance quick, mostly clean, and idiot-proof. Adding that bearing shell compromises bearing size, adds weight, increases seal drag, reduces lateral strength, and adds an interference interface subject subject to wear and tolerance mismatches. It's a lot to trade for the privilege of ignoring the risk of damaging an inner race.

If this Vault hub does employ i9-quality bearings, that's not an endorsement and I'm surprised they're holding up so well. i9 uses middling Enduro bearings. Replacing them on that hub requires a $70 drift kit and some rather abusive manipulations. (We'll not comment on i9's instructions to install the new bearings with a hammer.) That, as opposed to swabbing the races, adding grease and new balls, and setting preload. Slower, messier, but simple, cheap, and infrequent.

I'm all for Micro Spline in two years. For now, it's XTR cassettes or bust. Quite pricey, more high-wear materials than SRAM (and even E13). Remains to be seen if Hyperglide+ is actually worth paying for.

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 31, 2018, 8:54 a.m.

Alex, I’ve serviced many a loose-ball hub. I get it - not for me thanks, but if you’re staying on top of maintenance being able to do it without having a vice or bearing press is a nice feature.

I have lots of stories from BITD about Shimano not supporting previous generations of hubs and wheels (freehub bodies, axles, unique axle parts) but that’s a long time ago - and again is really a problem for people who don’t stay on top of maintenance. 

From my experience with I9 I’d suggest that most riders will get a long happy life from their Enduro bearings and even more so here thanks to the seals on the Vault. Me personally, when they go I’ll be sourcing the EZO bearings that come in P321 hubs. They spin as smooth as anything I’ve used. 

Re. HG+, new XT and SLX can’t be far behind?

jan
+1 Skyler
Jan  - Oct. 30, 2018, 10:51 a.m.

Excellent points, and overall I'm pretty skeptical of RF/Easton products.. even aforementioned aeffect cranks seem to have compromised reliability (anecdotally, take it or leave it). At $350 it's on par with a DT 350 and a star ratchet upgrade. I'd take more drag and less engagement for DT reliability any day.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Jan Chad K
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 11:22 a.m.

A properly lubed 350 is a very low drag hub. They just have the worst-in-class engagement - even with 36t upgrade installed - and diminishing returns in their legendary reliability for each step up in teeth: 16t / 36t / 54t.

Any rider who doesn’t care about engagement is very well served by a stock 350/16t package and the value is excellent (even when considering it isn’t easily/completely user-serviceable)

Reply

jan
+1 Andrew Major
Jan  - Oct. 30, 2018, 1:05 p.m.

I have 3 years on my 54t with regular cleaning and fresh freehub oil (also a pro-x fan) and I don't have any complaints. Though I admit I've heard of the diminishing reliability you mentioned. Nice write up either way, Andrew

Vincent66
0
Vincent66  - Oct. 31, 2018, 12:25 a.m.

I almost posted the same comment about the price real close to i9's, then I saw yours. I do agree 150% !

Reply

JBV
+2 A_Marriott Andrew Major
James Vasilyev  - Oct. 30, 2018, 9:37 a.m.

how many pawls are engaged at a time? 3 i hope. with a 2 pawl engagement, if one sticks there's a problem. unfortunately, i know this from my Hadley hub.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 30, 2018, 9:39 a.m.

Three pawls are engaged at a time.

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dave_f
0
dave_f  - Oct. 31, 2018, 12:34 a.m.

This wouldn't be the first set of carefully designed hubs to end up having issues in the field once the number of users goes up. Checking the race face website, I didn't find service instructions. A quick search for parts turned up end caps and complete freehubs. I'll wait two years and check back later, thanks.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Oct. 31, 2018, 9 a.m.

Service instructions are arguably un-necessary. It’s a straight forward, tool free, experience. The only routine maintenance is occasionally pulling the free hub off and cleaning and lubing the pawls and driver. I recommend DuMonde Tech freehub oil. 

Apparently in addition to axle ends and freehub bodies other small parts (pawls, axles, etc) are readily available. Your preferred local shop can order any of these parts for you.

Waiting to see how a new product pans out is often the best way to go, especially if your not in the market for hubs today. I’m still running these SS and I’ll update if I have any issues.

Reply

FlipSide
+2 A_Marriott Andrew Major
FlipSide  - Oct. 31, 2018, 7:01 a.m.

I have a set on my Spartan GX LTD.

The Vault hubs and the Lyrik RC2 we the two main selling points for me and I am very satisfied.

I also agree with the nice sound: It's loud enough to announce your presence, but not obnoxious. Perfect for me! My BMX bike has a Profile Elite with an extremely loud 204POE and my previous mtb wheelset had a DT240 with 36POE. The Vault with 120POE is a perfect compromise in terms of engagement and loudness/sound. If the hub can be reliable for years, it will be a winner for sure!

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 A_Marriott FlipSide
Andrew Major  - Oct. 31, 2018, 9:05 a.m.

I couldnt find a nicer hub spec / price so kudos to Devinci there. 

I’d love to see companies upgrading rear hubs on OE builds vs. carbon cranks or etc.

Reply

RAHrider
0
Reed Holden  - Nov. 4, 2018, 8:58 p.m.

I just picked up a set of hope hubs for about $350 for the pair. Good engagement. great seals on the bearings. time trusted design. I have had my share of one off bike products that get changed and no parts can be found 5 years later. My chris king hubs still have the original bearings from 10 years ago - and if I wanted, I could get new ones. I'll bet anyone here that in ten years race face is not selling parts for this particular hub. Hubs are one of the highest wear parts of the bike - I'll always buy the ones that have a proven track record. Rebuilding wheels because of a non-replaceable free hub is something I don't want to go through again.

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taprider
0
taprider  - Nov. 9, 2018, 10:28 a.m.

How loud are the vaults?

more than Chris King but  less then i9?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Nov. 10, 2018, 10:36 a.m.

Hard to comment on the sound I9 hubs because a lot of people don't seem to be able to figure out that they need to be re-lubed occasionally. 

Speaking of fresh hubs using DuMonde Tech freehub lube, the Vaults are a bit quieter (and a notably different pitch/whine) compared to an Industry Nine hub and both are louder (and a different sound altogether) compared to Chris King.

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