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Hubless wheels

Miscellaneous 18 1947

Yesterday, I saw a post on the Core77 blog that featured this concept rendering of a bike with hubless wheels. The post linked to Kancept, where several respondents took issue with the design. I was just thinking the other day that I had not seen an open wheel design in a while. They seemed to surface every so often in the early nineties, but I never heard a really good explanation of the mechanics involved. Yeah, I know that spokes cause a lot of drag, but I have a hard time buying into this solution. I am usually pretty open to new ideas, but I am always skeptical when I see one of these designs. Besides renderings are pretty easy to dismiss, right?

The grainy picture shown here is the Black Hole wheel from an American company called Wear and Tear. This image came from the September 1994 issue of Bike Mag (thanks to Liam for sending it to me). Supposedly, the wheel rotated on three self-lubricating ball bearings in the monoblade fork. According to the company, the fork/wheel assembly weighed about a pound less than a conventional system. Did it work? I don’t know, but Wear and Tear does not seem to be in business anymore. Does anybody remember this company or know if this product every made it to the market? Also, if you know of a similar product that went beyond the concept stage, I’d love to hear about it. Like I said, I am skeptical about hubless wheel concepts, but I would still like to try one.


  1. jorgensen August 22, 2006 at 9:43 pm -  Reply

    An Art Center Student did a CONcept of one in the 80’s as well, the physics required placed it in the same league as read in Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan novel. I wrote it off as an excuse not to model a “real” wheel. It was a handsome model however.

    If one can’t design, at least Style it well.

  2. Michael Downes August 23, 2006 at 12:38 am -  Reply

    Dismal! I think it’s a solution looking for a problem. There are far more practical ways to enhance aerodynamics. You are right, these ‘concepts’ (and I use the term reluctantly) always bubble up every few years when designers can’t think of any cool ideas for a bicycle. Apart from the practical difficulties of getting a hubless wheel to roll smoothly against a bunch of tiny rollers or bearings there is the additional problem of lateral strength. Not easy to achieve with a skinny carbon do-nut. The simple fact is the traditional spoked wheel is an elegant, adaptable and mechanically sophisticated solution that has yet to be bettered. If it ain’t broke dont fix it.

  3. 54 August 23, 2006 at 1:52 am -  Reply

    Haha….can’t blame them. They are art students after all. Worst yet, they can’t make it working for the auto industry….so they are designing bikes.

    Hahaha….did I step on some toes there?

    I remember seeing them(the Black Hole wheel) as well, when it came out in the mid 90’s. The funny thing was that… in later version of the wheel, that hole in the middle shrunk to half…

    Damn those engineers….

    Another thing with some of these concept bikes that annoys the hell out of me is those top tube that cantilever out to the seat. I know it looks cool/uniqe and all, but… How in the f@#$ am I suppose to stand over that?

    I can understand if those Art Center boys skipped a few physics/engineering classes, but really, you really should try to ride a bike a few times, before you go crazy with them pretty markers/crayons.

    I know, I know…You boys live in LA, and nobody rides in LA, and it’s not easy riding up that hill to Art Center either…So, I don’t really blame ya. Hahaha….

  4. tr August 23, 2006 at 9:57 pm -  Reply

    i have to say that when i saw that on core77, i was a bit disappointed. yet again, an industrial designer shows what little engineering and physics he/she knows. yes, i am an industrial design student myself, but i came into this field after earning a degree in physics. and it really irks me how many people in this field have no real understanding of basic mechanics or kinematics. i understand that this is just a rendering, and there really is no background information available about the design. but i would really like to know the reason behind the design, behind the features, and the needs that are being met, or the problems that are being solved. and if there are no unmet needs, or problems that are trying to be solved, well then this is just a 3D modeling/styling exercise.

  5. James August 25, 2006 at 11:56 am -  Reply

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I guess I am not the only one who is not a big fan of this particular idea.

    Ben, thanks for submitting pictures of your homemade bike. I have seen many examples of hubless wheels on motorcycles. Usually they are flashy cruisers and it is obvious that the wheel is just for looks. As you stated, there is no performance advantage to your wheel. It is fine to do it just because you like the look, but I don’t like it when these types of designs are touted as the next step in the evolution of the wheel.

  6. Anonymous March 31, 2007 at 7:20 am -  Reply

    Hi guys, just been watching a program on discovery channel called ‘biker build off’ and in this a builder had made a hubless wheel which seemed to be rolling down the highway just fine, has anyone else seen this too?

  7. Anonymous August 2, 2007 at 4:51 am -  Reply

    Well from reading this you all sound like a bunch of engineers seriously lacking creativity and flare. Hubless wheels do actually work and there are companies who actually produce them. People said steel hulled boats wouldn’t float that if you went to fast on a train you wouldn’t be able to breath. Designing with preconceived constraints and by saying oh “that idea won’t work” is stupid especially if you want to get far in design. you see a problem and come up with as may different ideas as possible and overcome the problems then. Physics is still an evolving science, who thought 40years ago that we would be able to use a man made material to stop bullets, such as kevlar. Makes me laugh when i hear people moan about interesting designs such as the above. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it???? have you ever ridden a bike? wheels are constantly getting buckled and are no where near perfect. THis wheel is not a stupid design or is it unachievable with the technologies we have know this is very possible, the only reason it hasn’t be used by major companies as it would need lots of investment. If you look around you will see that airless car tires are already being tested. So please don’t attack design because you don’t understand it, put forward constructive arguments of how this could be achieved. If you are engineers that everything should be improved as to make it more efficient, from what I remember one of the most efficient products on the market is around 80% efficient and its a metal bar!

    SO stop you moaning. and be a bit more creative. you never know might do you some good!

    • Anonymous2 March 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm -  Reply

      “Well from reading this you all sound like a bunch of engineers seriously lacking creativity and flare. ” __________________________________________________________________________________________How exactly does this design advance anything other than aesthetics? This is clearly a road bike. A hubless wheel will add a tremendous amount of weight to the rim. Spokes significantly add to the radial strength of the wheel with very little weight. Without spokes, you will need to beef-up the rim weight a great deal to have an equivalent radial strength. You will then greatly increase the amount of rotational interia – your physics book hasn’t changed a bit in several hundred years with regards to angular acceleration. Racing bikes is a big business with a lot of money behind it. Why wouldn’t they invest in a better racing machine?

  8. Anonymous May 22, 2008 at 1:05 pm -  Reply

    I saw one of these black hole wheels in Cycle Werks yesterday (May 21, 2007) It looked a little different, had more mass on the bike frame side, giving the appearance of a ying/yang type thing. The story the guy told me (and I realize this is all heresay) is that the company spent $250K doing the R&D, set-up & fabrication and produced 3 of these wheels. The owner of the shop got one of them. They worked temendously well, and were noisy as hell, but they worked (by worked, implied that it was a vast improvement over conventional design). THEN, UCI decided that the wheels were ‘illegal’ for competition, and that was the end of the black hole. Application was for track riding only.

  9. Anonymous May 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm -  Reply

    i think from the computer photo you can see if a thin, sleek, wheel came out for those on bikes, it would obvioulsy be a lot lighter and alot more aerodynamic. but, youd need super strength materials. but, other than that designs out now can beat it. i think though a magnetic levitated bike wheel, which is theoretically possible, would be the better choice

  10. Minh November 6, 2008 at 5:27 pm -  Reply

    Believe it or not, a local bicycle shop here in orange county, ca has that wear and tear bike in stock!!! I’m not sure if it’s for sale or not but it’s on display on the sales floor along side with all their other bikes, I did not see a price tag though. If youre interested in more details on it, feel free to email me.

  11. romu January 16, 2009 at 3:33 am -  Reply

    As far as I know, Franco Sbarro is the inventor of the hubless wheel. He owns the patent, and never sold it to anyone.

  12. SteveB February 11, 2009 at 5:39 pm -  Reply

    I actually bought a wear and tear black hole recently after looking for it for some time. Interesting, but not something revolutionary. It’s actually 4 rollers, 3 lower and a moveable upper one to tension everything. The rim is actually 2 rims stacked and held together by carbon fiber. Which makes rom for the valve stem. It’s very noisy, and at the moment seems to have quite a lot of drag due to having 4 rollers and 8 bearings. It’s 650C and about the same weight as a regular fork and wheel. Slick looking, very trick in its day, but not a great wheel.

  13. Anonymous November 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm -  Reply

    54, are you this critical with everything, or just having a bad day?

    Yes we are art students, but we can convey our ideas on paper without autocad. We can do the research that is necessary of implementing next steps. We can design a product that not only works, but looks good and interacts with people in a positive way.

    If we knew everything, we would be going to school for 8 years. We are students, we learn as we go, we aren't experts by any means. This design is beautiful and expresses itself as such. Criticisms are great, but don't pick apart our major because you are a pessimistic man who wants to keep product design strictly for engineers.

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