Broken Rolf Wheel

“I was working on the bike today,” my friend Steve wrote me, “and I thought of you. Not in a good way either.”

I laughed out loud. What had I done this time?

Apparently, even though I had moved to Colorado, my knack to mysteriously inflict complete structural failure on seemingly solid, indestructible mechanical parts remained with the Tri-City Triathlon Club. Only this time, it was transferred to Steve.

How did I get this reputation, you might ask. I guess it goes back to college in ME130, a class regarding the theory of internal combustion engines. In that course, I was accidentally breaking tools left and right bewildering even our professor, who for some reason did not eject me from the lab. (Click here for the full story.)

Anyhow, back to Steve’s incident. He explained,

I remember coming down Mt. Hamilton 4 or so months ago and felt a shake in the rear of the bike. I checked the wheel at home on the stand and could see a wobble in the rim. I was surprised but figured that I would get it straightened at some point. I rode it 6 or 7 times after that. I took it off the bike tonight and pulled off the tire and was going to take it in as I am not sure about truing of the Rolf wheels.

What Steve saw after inspecting the wheel was not exactly what he expected.

I am really surprised! I am in the 160 lbs. range and probably can’t get much over 250 watts peak. It shouldn’t have failed. I checked the rim for any dings; I thought maybe with a flat it could get a solid hit, but it looks fine.

Please see the photos below for the failure point (click on them to enlarge):

... a pronounced crack in the hub!
A closer view of the crack in the hub.

Commentary: This is the first time I have ever seen a hub cracking like Steve’s, although I have heard that some hub flanges can be really stressed in the case of radially laced wheels. (From the photos, Steve’s wheels had a spoke pattern of at least 1-cross, if not 2-cross.) Like Steve, I would have expected the rim to be damaged or the spokes breaking before the hub did. This is not to conclude that “Rolf wheels must be crap,” although this is probably not the greatest testament to their durability!

Steve continued,

Rolf Prima as they are now called say they were contracted to Trek between 1996 and 2001 so they have nothing to do with those wheels. [Steve’s were probably built in 2000 or 2001.] You must contract Trek for any warrantee, repairs or the kiss off.

It just shows you that even a top of the line wheel fail.

It also shows that I am not the only one breaking bike parts anymore. You can check out more photos of broken bicycle parts here.

Steve took his Rolf wheel off of his Kestrel to check its alignment.  Upon closer inspection he was surprised to see... Photo: Steve Wickland.
Some photos on this page may be subject to copyright by their creators.

Your Voice

  • Locke says:

    I just had the same wheel fail in the same place; I took it to my trek dealer and they said this is not the first they have seen. They said they have gotten Trek to back the warranty; we will see. Have you had any luck?

  • seattle slough says:

    This appears to be a common problem, particularly with the model that included gold annodized caps. If anyone with a cracked hub shell is willing to part it out, I am interested in the aluminum Shimano freehub. Contact mattbo[at], replace [at] with @.

  • Deer Park says:

    I can’t believe I’m not the only one to have this problem. I just took mine in to the shop. They’re going to try to get Trek to replace it, but I’m not holding my breath. I didn’t even hit any pot holes. I was just riding down a cap seal road (They pour tar and gravel and let the cars crush the gravel in) and it felt like the tire wen’t out of true. I got home and looked at it and sure enough, the hub was broken. It was in almos the same spot as Steve’s. I’m not sure I’ll get the hub back if Trek replaces the hub, but if I get it back, I’ll email you Matt.

  • Albi says:

    Well, if the hub design is looked at in more detail, the two spokes on either side of the crack, the spokes are pulling the hubs flange apart, coupled with a low spoke count and high spoke tension, the result is almost predictable. Sorry guys, is the two spokes in question were actually crossing at the crack, the force of the spokes tension would be supporting the hub…

  • Grumpy Old Wrench says:

    Unortuneately, Trek doesn’t have any replacements for the first generation Rolf wheels… I ran across the same issue about a year ago. The ones from the last two versions (with the straight-pull spokes) haven’t faired much better, we’ve had a couple of them break on brand-new bikes hanging on the sales floor One was on the limited production”I wanna be like Lance” madone we brought in to serve as a wall-hanger(since nobody is stupid enough to pay 8g’s for it when you can buy the regular model for about half the price!) The biggest issue was the spoke bed of the rim developing stress cracks after a season or so… Acording to the new corporate propaganda, the hubs have been beefed-up, along with the spoke-bed of the rims- time will tell…

  • Ballard Edwards says:

    Trek sucks. All the Trek logos on every tube and yet they don’t stand by their product. I contacted Rolf about my broken hub and they said no problem just give us the model. When I did they informed me of their association with Trek and it’s their product not Rolf. What a crock…with all the free advertisments, logos, on every tube of their bikes , you’d think they could do something for their customers. They suck big time. I had the vector, one of their most expensive wheels and I get nothing.

  • Blackmike says:

    I have a set of Vector Pro’s and had a rear hub crack when I had a LBS “tune” the rear wheel. I got the same run-around from Trek and Rolf. I had discovered that the Bontrager (Trek again) hub will work with the Rolf Rims, but Trek will not sell just the hub. E-Bay to the rescue! I found a fellow that happened to have a Bontrager hub that matched my rim and got another LBS wheel tech to rebuild my wheel with some new spokes and am very happy again. Unfortunately I found a small crack in the rim close to a spoke. I guess wheels aren’t meant to last forever. Just long enough to get out of warranty. I think they call it planned obsolescence. After all, will these companies stay in business if they built bomb proof equipment and we never had to replace them? I am more concerned about safety. I would hate to lose control downhill at 40+ MPH because of a broken hub.

  • Charl says:

    I’ve been riding my RVC’s for close on 10 yrs now (done 30k) I average around 210 lbs.
    Not once a broken spoke, no problems with hubs and still spinning like you would’nt believe. Not even trued once. Upgraded to a Giant CR Compact Road 12 mnths ago and not a single problem. Son also rides a Giant using Ksyrium’s and has already had to change to new rims.
    Thinking of pgradding to RVP’s – not sure if I will be able to find some though.

  • Mike Laughlin says:

    The original Rolf Sestieres came on my Schwinn Paramount Ti, my lifetime favorite bike to date. They have performed flawlessly, not even a trueing, though I am more football linebacker than bicyclist (6′ 225lb). I stress the components by mashing time trials full out. I liked everything about the Rolfs so bought Rolf Prima Vectors for competition and ride the older Sestieres with the Michelin 3 25s for training. Got the silver ones – I’m a retrogrouch and they look so cool. Black rims are … ugh.

  • Hugo garcia says:

    Estoy buscando un rin delantero rolf vct de color vino rojo para mi bike de ruta, si tú lo tienes podemos negociar y si estas en México mejor, mi msn

  • Hugo garcia says:

    I´m looking for a wheel front rolf vct red wine for my roadbike, if you have it and whether they can negotiate better in México. mi msn

  • igorNS says:

    I have a 24 hole DT HuGI 240 DISC and a 36 hole DT HuGI 440 FR with the same problem. Could you explain those with your “count and cross” diagnosis?
    Its a (intermediate) design problem that brought us the improved (near perfect) DT 240 S / DT 440 products! Never occured with the new products nor the original HuGI and its DT 340 clone.

  • Ferdi Malloy says:

    I have a 10 year old Rolf Sestrieres. The front hub broke while the wheels were hanging in the bike room.[Glad I wasn’t riding]!
    These wheels have never been damaged in an accident, I am 125lbs, wheels have about 10,000 miles.

  • CycleKross says:

    Don’t buy hubs machined from aluminum billet. They easily crack. Get cold forged hubs. Google “cracked hope hubs” , “cracked shimano hubs”. Compare the hits, go figure.

  • Jobu says:

    I just had one of these fail while riding, luckily I was near my house. These are, as said above, “Hugi” DT swiss hubs made to order for trek, trek built them and licensed the Rolf paired spoke thing. I actually do not think this started from the spokes, because when I took mine apart there was another crack in the hub shell near the drive side axle bearing on the other side, hidden by the cassette and cassette body.

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