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LEGO Steam Engine Drivers Vs. Big Ben Bricks


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#1 SavaTheAggie

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 12:24 AM

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I was asked via PM about the quality of BBB wheels, and how they compared to LEGO's steam engine drivers found on the Emerald Night.  I gave my opinion, and I thought it would be a good tool to spark conversation.

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First off let me say I am a very biased opinion on this subject.  It really is no secret that I am a huge supporter of Big Ben Bricks, and this will probably look like a huge advertisement for Ben's wheels (says the man who just posted a huge advertisement for Ben's wheels above this paragraph).  

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I have bought hundreds of dollars worth of wheels from Ben over the years, and I've never been disappointed.  I also own two copies of the Emerald Night, so I feel that I can adequately compare the two reasonably well.  Let's examine some of the different areas one would look to compare the two products- Quality, Cost, Availability, Function, and Form.  


Quality.

Big Ben Bricks wheels are very high quality injection molded plastic wheels.  Their colors match LEGO bricks in both color and shine, and, of the colors I own, anyway, do not look at all out of place on a LEGO steam engine.  I have owned Big Ben Bricks wheels since 2006, and have been running them on my locomotives the entire time.  I have never (knock on wood) had a Big Ben Bricks wheel break, not even after falling off a table onto a concrete floor in a show (even when the weighted - with a pile of nuts and bolts - tender fell on top of the locomotive after it had hit the ground).  The wheels turn perfectly smoothly and, at least on mine, show no signs of being at all unbalanced.  


Cost.

LEGO offers three train wheels.  Currently, as of this post, you may purchase the small LEGO train wheel from S@H, via the online PaB, for $0.49 USD.  The Large Blind and the Large Flanged drivers are unavailable for individual purhcase.  As of this post, you may purchase the small LEGO train wheel off Bricklink for an quantity average of $1.77 USD (New) each, the Large Blind Drivers for a quantity average of $2.77 USD (New) each, and the Large Flanged Drivers for $3.00 USD (New) each.  

Big Ben Bricks offers five train wheels.  The small train wheels go for $1.50 USD each, and the other four - Large Blind, Large Flanged, Medium Blind, and Medium Flanged - all go for $3 USD each.  Ben also offers special bulk amounts which will lower the price.  The best deal gives you 4 each of the drivers plus 8 small wheels, giving you a price of $2.10 USD per driver and $1.05 per small train wheel.  

(The above calculation is based on 2 small wheels ($1.50 ea x 2) = 1 driver ($3 ea x 1))

LEGO charges $4.95 USD for shipping the first $25 USD, IIRC.  Bricklink is variable.  

Big Ben Bricks charges a flat $5 for any quantity.  


Availability.

LEGO only offers small train wheels direct via PaB.  In order to buy the drivers you must buy the Emerald Night.  Availability on Bricklink is limited to the sellers who have parted out the Emerald Night (in the case of the drivers).  Currently there are 25 and 41 lots available on Bricklink for Blind and Flanged drivers, respectively.  You will be limited to where these shops ship, which I did not investigate.  

Big Ben Bricks will ship to anywhere in the world.  I am unaware of what quantities Ben keeps on hand for his stock.  I can say that his wheels have always arrived at my house within only a few days of paying for my order, so he's never run out of stock when I've ordered (and he can get more when he needs it).  


Function

I have not put them side by side, but as best I can figure LEGO's and BBB small wheels and large and blind drivers are the same diameter and all accept Technic axles.  They also have technic holes to accept connecting rods in the exact same spaces.

Now maybe it was my particular copy of the Emerald Night, but I found that the LEGO drivers were more loose on the axles than the BBB drivers I own, that is to say, they were easier to pull on and off the axle.  This can be a bad thing during operation, but like I said - maybe it's just my copy of the Emerald Night.

One major difference is that LEGO's small PF train wheel and flanged drivers have grooves molded into them to accept an o-ring, and BBB wheels do not.  I find the groove distracting and a bit ugly, but that's personal taste.  The groove might cause performance issues, i.e. the groove catching the rails oddly causing it to grind or jump the track, but I have not tested it so I cannot say for sure.  

I have noticed that if you try to use wheels and drivers with installed O-rings on non-powered locomotives, such as push trains or tender powered locomotives, the O-rings cause a lot more friction and can add more strain to your motors, robbing you of pulling power.  I tried this very thing on one of my smallest locomotives because the LEGO small train wheel was so much cheaper, but the locomotive has twice or three times the resistance to want to roll as it once did.  If you do not like the groove in LEGO's wheels without the O-Rings, and you plan to design a tender powered or push engine, I highly recommend BBB wheels for the best performance.  

However, if you plan to create a locomotive that has powered drivers, I recommend LEGO's drivers - the added friction of the O-rings, while not 100% essential, will certainly give you a much greater performance.  I also use LEGO's small wheels on all of my Power Functions tender-driver engines.  

Big Ben Bricks also offers a Medium driver in both blind and flanged varieties, for those who want to build locomotives with smaller drivers to scale with your other train MOCs.  These wheels function just like the large drivers, except the medium blind drivers cannot be attached overlapping the flanged drivers like the large drivers can.  You can, however, space the wheels closer together using creative building techniques.  


Form

Visually, the big difference between LEGO's small wheels and BBB's small wheels are the spokes - LEGO's wheels are solid disks with depressions imitating spokes, where BBB small wheels have hollow spokes.  In my opinion the hollow spokes are much easier to see when the train is in motion than on LEGO's wheels.  It also allows for using BBB's small wheels in other, non wheel applications, such as the vents/fans on top of a diesel locomotive, or on the side of a building.  

The drivers are more alike, with the very notable difference that LEGO's wheels have a counterweight built into the spokes of the drivers, and the BBB wheels do not.  

LEGO's wheels, at least for now, only come in one color - black.

All of Big Ben Bricks wheels are available in eight colors - black, light (bluish) grey, dark (bluish) grey, red, yellow, green, blue and clear.  


LEGO Purism

Buying non LEGO parts for a LEGO MOC is a non starter for some people, and if that's the way you feel that's fine.  However, I would like to point out that of the many LEGO purists I know in the train community, the vast majority of them make an exception for Big Ben Bricks wheels, and say that they are the only non-LEGO parts they will use.  It's a testament to the quality of wheels Big Ben Bricks produces, and only reinforces why I recommend them so.

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#2 TheBrickster

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 02:14 AM

Tony: this is an excellent little article on Big Ben Bricks.  For those of us interested in these wheels, this will serve as an excellent resource re. the quality and use.
Thank you for taking the time to share on Train Tech.  I'd like to see more of our "train experts" share information like this, as the content is great for both new and old fans of LEGO trains.  I for one didn't know much about these wheels other than hearing about them.
Thanks! :thumbup:

#3 Cooper

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 03:49 AM

I haven't spent nearly as much on Big Ben Bricks trainwheels, but I have purchased the large and medium drivers from Ben and the small train wheels from Ben.  Much like Tony, I also have purchased two Emerald Nights.  My experience with both LEGO and BBB has been extremely similar to Tony's.

View PostSavaTheAggie, on Oct 15 2009, 05:24 PM, said:

However, if you plan to create a locomotive that has powered drivers, I recommend LEGO's drivers - the added friction of the O-rings, while not 100% essential, will certainly give you a much greater performance.  I also use LEGO's small wheels on all of my Power Functions tender-driver engines.
As much as I love the quality and color selection of Ben's wheels, when I did power the drivers on an engine using Ben's Large Drivers, the engine was pretty much tapped out traction wise with just a couple of railcars in tow.   :sceptic:  As a result, the point made above has me strongly in the LEGO camp for Large Drivers.  

Just my opinion, but I really think that steam engines should (if at all possible) be powered through the drivers.  Power Functions is just so good at putting down power through the drivers (if they have traction bands) that it seems a shame to not power the drivers.  

My favorite combination to date is using LEGO Large Drivers with Ben's Small Trainwheels.  They look great together.  :thumbup:

#4 Captain Zuloo

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 05:56 AM

Tony, this has been very useful! I have been looking around for train wheels trying to decide what to get, and I am seriously considering some BBB wheels. So thanks for this article, an interesting and very informative read. :classic:

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#5 MrP

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 09:09 AM

I agree with most of the above, but need to point out that there
is a difference in the thickness. The Lego Drivers/Blinds are
one brick thick, were as the Big Ben Medium/Large  Drivers/
Blinds are slightly thicker. There is an axle step on the Big Ben
Drivers that stops the flanges from rubbing (this is the cause of
the extra friction on the Lego Drivers).  If you compare the
Drivers together you will notice that the Big Ben Drivers have a
larger flange compared to the Lego Drivers.  

And, I'd like to point out that the Lego small wheels will not stay
on a 5axle. But the Big Ben small wheels will.

Out of all this I would recommend the Big Ben Wheels.

Why ?
The larger flanges mean better running on uneven track.

#6 vgo

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 09:46 AM

The BBB wheels look very nice and for a long time I've wanted to buy them, but as mentioned the lack of traction is a big issue. I think they might have better traction on the 9V metal track compared to the plastic tracks. I use the 12V track and I doubt the wheels would work at all on the notched plastic rails... :(

Has anyone found good rubber bands or O rings to use with the BBB wheels?

#7 Duq

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 10:08 AM

I've only one Emerald Night and it hasn't been recycled yet. I've a small selection of BBB wheels and I'm about to upload pictures of my first model that uses them.
I think both have their pros and cons and for the moment I can't decide between them.
I really like the real spokes on the small BBB wheels but I also really like the counterweights on the Lego drivers. Growing up near Germany (and with a dad collecting N-scale trains) means that for me steam engines have red wheels so I'm glad BBB makes red wheels. I can't say much about traction as I don't have a layout at home and I haven't run the E.N. or my own model on a show layout.
As MrP noted above the BBB wheels are slightly thicker than one brick and I find that problem for two reasons. It means the driving gear has a slight offset so it won't line up with the cylinder. It also means the top of the wheel won't fit in a 1-stud wide slit. (let me know if this doesn't make sense and I'll do a picture to show what I mean)
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#8 scruffulous

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 11:25 AM

View PostDuq, on Oct 16 2009, 08:08 PM, said:

...the BBB wheels are slightly thicker than one brick and I find that problem for two reasons. It means the driving gear has a slight offset so it won't line up with the cylinder. It also means the top of the wheel won't fit in a 1-stud wide slit. (let me know if this doesn't make sense and I'll do a picture to show what I mean)
I don't have any of the large LEGO wheels (my Emerald Night is on it's way to me as I type), but I do have a small collection of BBB wheels. The extra thickness of the BBB wheels was problematic for my Victorian Railways B class locomotive, which has external frames.

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To get the frames and coupling rods outside the wheels and maintain a reasonable width I needed to use a non-standard gauge (the track has 3 studs between rails instead of the usual 4), but to fit the BBB wheels inside the frames the spacing between the wheels had to be slightly less than 3 brick widths. Not an insurmountable issue, but annoying nonetheless. Otherwise, I'm really happy with the BBB wheels: they fit very snugly on an axle and the separate spokes on the small wheels do look much better than the solid small LEGO wheels.

#9 Eilif

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 05:20 PM

Thanks for this very informative article.

The issue of powered Loco's is an interesting one. For those of us sticking with 9V motors, Big Ben seems to be an ideal choice. However, I think it would be in BBB's best interest to create a wheel capable of accepting an O-ring.  As more hobbyists begin to explore capability of powered locos via the PF system, they will likely be drawn to the gripping power of the o-ring compatible wheels.
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#10 MrP

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 06:03 AM

Quote

I use the 12V track and I doubt the wheels would work at all on the notched plastic rails... :(
vgo
if your using 12V track, use the lego Drivers/Blinds. The larger flangers on the BB wheels lift the wheels
just like when you run stanndard 9V bogies. you end up running on the flanges.

Quote

I think it would be in BBB's best interest to create a wheel capable of accepting an O-ring. As more hobbyists begin to explore capability of powered locos via the PF system, they will likely be drawn to the gripping power of the o-ring compatible wheels.
Eifil
My experiments with powered BB wheels on metal track, show that BB wheels have more
traction than the Lego wheels. Run them around 3-4 times to take the shine off (note if you
put the motor over the wheels, not like the Emerald Fright)

Edited by MrP, 17 October 2009 - 06:16 AM.


#11 vgo

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 10:07 AM

View PostMrP, on Oct 17 2009, 09:03 AM, said:

vgo
if your using 12V track, use the lego Drivers/Blinds. The larger flangers on the BB wheels lift the wheels
just like when you run stanndard 9V bogies. you end up running on the flanges.

I'll probably try those, unfortunately there's only one choice of color: black and I really need red wheels... :(

I haven't really used the 9V bogies on 12V track, just a few quick tests and I didn't notice any problems?

#12 jayhurst

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 09:06 PM

Having purchased 3 Emerald Nights, and several dozen Lego drivers off of Bricklink, I can also concur that BBB drivers fit much, much, tigher onto the axles then Lego drivers do. Several times I've had Lego drivers slip right off the engine's axles while running--- and that has never happened to me with BBBs.

My only complaint about BBB wheels is that I wish they were o-ring compatible so I could power the locos from the engine's drivers using BBBs.

Other then that, I think BBBs win in every comparison category. I own several hundred dollars worth of BBBs in all sizes and multiple colors, and I would recommend them to anyone.


My wish for the future would be that BBB comes out with a 5-stud width driver in both blind and flanged (the largest driver they make currently is a 4-stud wide), and a wheel that's exactly like their small wheel, but with an offset technic hole molded in it so it could be used as a driver. I would buy dozens of each kind if they ever become available.

Edited by jayhurst, 19 October 2009 - 09:11 PM.


#13 skaako

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Posted 29 April 2010 - 11:22 PM

Hi there. Yes, removing the o-rings from my EN made a big difference when powering it with a 9V train motor under the tender. I removed them from all the wheels, but i put 1 o-ring back on one of the rear large drivers so the wheels would turn properly. I put them back on both the rear drivers to start with but that added a noticeable amount of friction.

#14 Helmantel

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Posted 30 April 2010 - 08:06 PM

I can imagine that. Without O rings, the inner wheel can slip a little, to compensate for the shorter path it travels when going through a curve. Ideally, the inner wheel should turn slower, but that's of course not possible since they're connected.

#15 Lego Otaku

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 04:33 AM

Bumping an old thread but it's worth noting that Lego now has large red train wheel.  The Train CHase (Toy Story series) has 4 large flanged wheels and 4 small flanged wheels.  They are identical to black wheels from Emerald Night set including the ugly filled in spoke on small wheels.

No red blind wheel yet that I know of.  But the puritan now have a choice of red and black.

#16 Sinner

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 04:45 AM

View PostLego Otaku, on 18 September 2010 - 04:33 AM, said:

Bumping an old thread but it's worth noting that Lego now has large red train wheel.
This is hardly news.  :sceptic: Also, if you'd read a review on the set (or own it like me) you'd know that the set comes with two blind wheels. It would seem the mold has two flanged and one blind so LEGO had a choice to toss them in or keep them for some unlikely project in the future.

Review here.





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#17 Teddy

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:21 PM

Hi SavaTheAggie,

thanks for this article! Currently, I am building a BR 01 MOC and found that the new large Lego wheels are still too small for most locomotives of the BR types if one wants to scale the locomotive correctly. I just keep ending up with an oddly proportioned train. Wheel gauge too wide, or wheels too small, giant mini-figs. It just does not fit well together. So I ordered a set containing the XL BBB wheels yesterday, since that size is better for my purpose.
Your review gave me confidence in the quality of the BBB wheels.
Thanks!
Kind regards,

Teddy

#18 harnbak

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Posted 03 August 2012 - 11:00 AM

View PostMrP, on 17 October 2009 - 06:03 AM, said:

vgo
if your using 12V track, use the lego Drivers/Blinds. The larger flangers on the BB wheels lift the wheels
just like when you run stanndard 9V bogies. you end up running on the flanges.
Sorry for bumping an old thread, but...
Has anyone succeeded in modifying the flanges to fit the 12v tracks?

#19 Snapshot

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 07:23 AM

Not reading thread properly.......

Edited by Snapshot, 07 August 2012 - 07:24 AM.




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