Thursday, March 25, 2010

Phil Wood and the Sealed Bearing


I just saw a news item indicating Phil Wood recently died. Cyclists will recognize that name from the many high quality sealed bearing bicycle components with the "Phil" signature on them.

Woods' obituary is online here. An excerpt:

According to Peter Enright, who bought Phil Wood & Co., in 1991, bicycle hubs and brackets had not changed much in over a century. They were basically ball bearings placed in a cup and held in line by a pressed-in cone, which loosened easily. Wood invented a grooved hub in which ball bearings could be held in precisely by a screw-on cap. Except for the cheapest bikes, most bicycles today come with sealed hubs and bottom brackets that keep in lubricants and keep out water and grime.

However, Wood did not patent his invention and never got rich.

"My dad was an inventor," Williams said, "but he was not a businessman. He didn't care about those things. He just wanted to improve his inventions even more."
I got my first set of Phil hubs in 1974, and I still have them (pictured above with a modern rim). Way back when, we were dumbstruck by the idea of sealed hubs and bottom brackets. I loved repacking my Campy hubs, but these new Phil hubs were an evolutionary step forward. I'm sure someone will challenge that Phil was the inventor of sealed bearings, but I can attest to the fact that at the time they were not widely available in other bike parts.

As the obit notes, sealed hubs and other components are everywhere today, and we take them for granted. But some of us remember the day when things changed...

Thanks, Phil, we owe ya for millions of trouble-free miles.

3 comments:

skiffrun said...

Following the link to obit, I was shocked to see "July 9" staring back at me. According to the article, Phil Wood was born on "July 9, 1926"; making him exactly 30 years older than me.

But I am not 56 years old (the obit also notes that Mr. Wood died at age 86); at this moment in time, I am pretty sure that I am still only 53 years old (by the conventional American age counting system).

Either the universe has snuck in some unnumbered / uncounted years, or the obit is contradicting itself.

The really clever summary line goes here -- but the only line I came up with is so bad, I deleted it.

Martin

good grief, my verification word is a REAL word: norse

Biker Bob said...

I bought one of the first generation Phil hubsets in '71. I always kind of liked the original shell design of aluminum flanges with a steel inner shell, which also featured steel freewheel threads. My hubs started squeaking after riding in the rain for 3 hours, and after they dried the axles didn't turn very freely. I wrote to Phil Wood and he called me personally to ask me to send the wheels at his expense so he could replace the bearings. Apparently the first batch of bearings had some issues. I always appreciated his commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.

zaylie said...

Phil Wood’s famous bearings make riding this hub like gliding on air. Sealed bearings all abouts, sealed bearings has rubber seals to protect the bearings from dirt, dust or any possible contamination, sealed bearings are lubricated with grease, you can always remove the seals, relubricate the sealed bearings with grease then put the seals back again.
cruise and stay