20 September 2012

Velosteel: My First Coaster Brake In 40 Years

Now I'm going to tell you a little more about the wheel I was building--and Marley was "inspecting."

As you may be able to see, the appendage hanging from the hub is a coaster-brake arm.  (That's the kind of brake you backpedal.)  The wheel I built with it is going on the rescued Trek frame

I don't know what possessed me to go and buy the hub--one of two new parts I've bought for the bike--or to decide that it was going on the Trek frame.  After all, I haven't owned a bike with a coaster brake in about 40 years.

At least I know that I will end up with a very simple bike.  In fact, the only way I could make the bike simpler would be to use a fixed-gear wheel in the rear--without brakes, of course.  I had such a bike in my youth, and rode it on the streets.  There's no way I'll do that now!

Anyway, the hub is a Czech-made Velosteel.  From what I understand, the owners of Velosteel purchased the machinery used to produce the classic German Fichtel-Sachs coaster brake hub before SRAM bought out Sachs.  

Three things are immediately noticeable about the Velosteel hub:  the weight (definitely more than a Shimano coaster-brake hub), the shape and structure of the shell, the lush chroming and the way the cog is attached.  

On most coaster brake and internally-geared hubs, the cog is splined, slides onto the hub body and is held in place with a snap ring.   In contrast, the cog screws onto this hub in the same way as a track (fixed-gear) cog.  Another feature this hub has in common with a track hub is the reverse-threaded lockring.  In other words, the cog screws on one way (clockwise) but there is a second set of threads on which the lockring attaches counterclockwise.  This prevents the cog from unscrewing when you backpedal or do a "track stand".  

And, yes, you can use track cogs and lockrings--as long as they're not Campagnolo or Phil Wood. 

While looking at the above photo, I'm thinking of the very first fixed-gear bike I ever had:  a converted Peugeot UO8.  In those days, very few people (at least here in the US) were riding "fixies," and I couldn't find any instructions on how to do such a conversion in any of the books or magazines I owned or borrowed. (Remember, we didn't have the Internet in those days!)  So, I screwed a track cog onto the Normandy hub that came with the bike and tightened a bottom-bracket lockring as hard as I could against the cog.  

I got away with riding it for about a year before I did an unintentional "track stand" while stopping for a light.  Whomp!  I just-as-unintentionally found myself spread over the frame's top tube after the cog unscrewed and my legs imitated those of a collapsible table!

But I digress.  The Velosteel cogs and lockring look to be well-machined, if not as nicely finished as the hub.  Another interesting feature of the hub body is that it's cast as one piece, as the better road and track hubs are.  Most other coaster-brake hubs have flanges that are pressed onto the hub shell.   I once had a rear hub (non-coaster brake) with pressed-on flanges that collapsed into each other.  While this may have been an unusual occurence, I've never heard of such a thing happening to hubs with one-piece shells.  

And one-piece construction makes for a more elegant shape, and allows the nice chrome finishing you see on the Velosteel. 

I built the hub onto a Mavic rim that had previously been laced to another hub and sat in my closet for I-don't-know-how-long.   It has the older grey "hard anodized" finish which, to my knowledge, Mavic no longer uses.  So I had no "mate" to this rim, which is one of the reasons it's been entombed in my closet for so long.

To mate the Mavic rim to the Velosteel hub, I used Phil Wood spokes.  Guy Doss of Elegant Wheels--from whom I bought the hub as well as the spokes--recommends Phils for the Velosteel hub because, like other steel hubs, it has thinner flanges than alloy hubs, so spokes designed for alloy hubs (such as DT and Wheelsmith) won't fit as well.   If you build a steel hub (whether Velosteel, Shimano or an old Sturmey-Archer, SunTour or Sachs three-speed hub) with one of those brands of spokes, you should use spoke washers under the spoke heads.

In time, I'll find out how the hub works and lasts.  For now, I like the look of the wheel and it seems to fit nicely into the old Trek frame.

By the way:  I highly recommend Guy Doss.  He's very helpful and personable, and can also build you a wheel from  a Velosteel hub if you've neither the skills nor the inclination to do it yourself.

N.B.--Apparently, Velosteel offers a coaster-brake hub with a cog that slides on and is held in place with snap ring:  the same configuration most other coaster-brake hubs, and most traditional internally-geared hubs, use.  However, I don't know whether Velosteel's slide-on cogs and snaprings are interchangeable with those of other brands.  At least the "track" configuration I bought can use cogs and lockrings from a number of other manufacturers.




  1. Thanks for the kind words about my service.In the interest of completing the cog matrix, I just want to point out that the Velosteel three notch spline driver is compatible with Shimano, KT, and Sturmey Archer cogs. These are commonly available....Guy

  2. Guy--I'm glad to recommend you to anybody. And, as I said in our conversation, when I need bike parts I can't find in my LBS, I'll check with you.

    Also, thanks for the information about the splined Velosteel hubs. Still, I'm glad I bought the one that takes track cogs, as I have a few (and, of course, a fixed-gear bike)!

  3. I enjoyed reading your post, thanks. I only came across your blog after ordering a similar hub from Holland, thanks for the advice about the spoke washers, I wouldn't have realised this. I'm tracking down a wheelbuilder in the Birmingham (England) area, I'm not as brave as you :)

  4. Thank you for stopping by. Building wheels requires more patience than aptitude or technique, I think. The techniques really aren't that difficult; you simply need to take the time, especially in building your first wheel(s). As with most things, the more you do it, the more quickly (and better) you can do it.

    I should think that it wouldn't be difficult to find a wheelbuilder in the Birmingham area. Do you know of any local clubs? They are often good sources of information, as club cyclists often ride custom-built wheels. Good luck!