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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

How to grease bicycle wheel bearings








You asked for it, here you have it. Wheel bearings on a bicycle are an important part of bicycle maintenance and by making sure that everything is well lubed in there, you can avoid costly bicycle repair down the road. Well lubed bearings also provide an easier ride.

The wheel bearings sit between a cone screwed to the wheel axle and the cup in the wheel hub. They must be properly adjusted and greased. To find out if everything is ok without taking everything apart, simply remove the wheel from the bike and turn the axle with your fingers. Everything turns nice and smooth without any play? Good, then you probably don't have to worry about anything. If the axle is stuck, very hard to turn or is very loose, you have to regrease your bearings propbably anyways. Here's how to:

1. You must get yourself some flat open wrenches, Park Tools makes good ones, make sure they are in sizes 13mm and 15mm. Those are the most common sizes. You won't get away using anything else for the bearing cones, so don't even try. Any kind of adjustable wrench will do for the locking nut.

2. Put the flat wrench on the bearing cone between the hub and the locking nut. Put the adjustable wrench on the locking nut. Hold the bearing cone in place and unscrew the locking nut. The best position to do this is hunched over the wheel while it sits on the ground. Whatever you do, DON'T open the cones at all while in this position. Just unlock it so you can unscrew everything with your fingers later.

3.This is later. Bicycle wheel bearings come nicely snug into crowns these days, but sometimes you still find some that are just put loose in the wheel hub. To avoid all of them crashing to the ground with the possibility of vanishing for ever, grab the axle on the side that is still locked in place and point the end that you've just loosened, up. Now it is time to unscrew the locking nut almost completely off the axle. Next, unscrew the bearing cone to expose the wheel bearings to the light of day. Any grease in there? You'd be surprised on how often I open up brand new bikes and find almost nothing.

4. Now this is the fast way to regrease your bearings by just shooting grease in the bearings, screwing the cone back in, flipping the wheel over, hold the cone of the bearing you've just greased, grab the axle now facing up, unscrew it to reveal the other side bearings and pack them with grease. But the proper way is by taking everything off, clean all the cones, hub cups, bearings, repack with grease and reassemble. One great way to pack grease in wheel axles is by using a small feeder syringe. Only undo one side of the axle, this way you are sure that your axle is always centered when you reassemble it.

5. Reassembly is done screwing in the bearing cone back into place, but not too tight. Bearings should be able to roll smoothly without axle play. Tightened the lock nut into place and check again. If you ever hear crunching noises while turning the axle, dirt has gotten into your bearings and you should start all over again. To avoid this, make sure you work in a clean place. If everything is clean, you might have small pits in your bearing cones or cup. Your bearings will be eaten away with time and it would be a good thing to replace those.

Special note on rear wheel bearings.

In order to repack rear wheels, you have to remove the gear cogs on them. In order to do this, you need a special socket to unscrew it. Check with your local bike shop for the proper one. Their are a few models and types. Coaster brake or inner speed hubs are almost bullet proof and very rarely need regreasing. Those should be handled by a pro.

Tip of the day: My favorite grease recipe is a 50/50 mix of green axle grease and any type of white teflon based bicycle grease. The teflon grease is very good but isn't very thick and tends to liquify easily. The green axle grease adds muscle to it. Try it.

55 comments:

Patty said...

Good tips.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to spend $100 on wrenches to do the job, you might as well spend another couple bucks on new bearings while you're at it. A good shop will be willing to figure out what size you need (write it down for next time), and sell you the bearings. Worst case, you can take in one of the old bearings (or get some calipers and measure them yourself).

Old bearings tend to become oval shaped. Once you loosen the cones, you've no guarantee that you can keep them in an orientation that will allow you to snug everything back down properly. What seems to be 'no play' will be noticeably wobbly twenty miles later. The bearings are just about the cheapest part of the whole assembly (depending how nuts you go on the grease). Scrimp here, and you'll pay dearly later. The labor cost on replacing a hub with pitting is so high that most mechanics will sell you a new wheel, with a clear conscience.

Take it apart, clear out all of the old grease (and any stray abbrasive materials), syringe or squirt in the new, and then wipe over the grease with your finger like you would to smooth caulk on your tub, or an old style window pane. That's almost exactly the right amount to keep them lubed without too much excess coming out later (stray lube and braking surfaces do NOT mix). Poke bearings into the grease until no more fit comfortably, then screw it all back together.


There are actually a number of other tricks that are of note. Any well-reviewed book on bicycle maintenance will contain most of them.

ex-bike-mechanic

Gerry Lauzon said...

Thank you patty and thank you ex-bike mechanic for the additional information. Take note that I did not spend $100 for the tools illustrated in the article and I did buy them new. But yes, it is possible to spend an insane amount of money on bicycle specific tools. The additional information you posted is right on the money and I appreciate that you shared it with everybody.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips. I just got given a bike tool kit for a present and was finally able to use flat open wrenches.

One issue though. When I hand tighten the bearing cone, I get it to the right tightness with no problems. I then hold the bearing cone in place and tighten the locknut. There is some movement which takes place and when the locknut is tightened the bearing cone is either too tight or too loose. It therefore takes me a few goes to get it ...trial and error style.

Is there a way to guarantee that the cone will stay in the right place?

Gerry Lauzon said...

Just make sure that one side of your axle as the bearing cone and lock nut tightened. When you do the other side, tighten the cone by hand like you do until you are satisfied and then tighten it a wee bit more. Then you can tighten the lock nut and you should have just the right combination of roll without a wobbly axle. Mind you I still have to restart my axle tightening myself once and a while. Practice makes perfect.

Gerry

gotsoul said...

is it possible to over-grease a hub? obviously if it oozes out past your cones, but other than that?

Gerry Lauzon said...

Not a problem. As you say, it will simply ooze out and you can wipe the excess off. This is a very simple mechanical device and it will not commit suicide like an automatic car transmission overfilled with oil. Smart question tho and always welcomed.

Gerry

Anonymous said...

I have a back wheel where the bearings are ok, but the racket is failing. I.e. Normally, if you peddal forwards the back wheel turns, but if you peddal backwards, the wheel free runs.
My problem is it is free running in both directions. What needs fixing?

Gerry Lauzon said...

You need to replace the gear cluster. The mechanism is most probably broken inside and you cannot service that part. If you have an inner hub gear system like a three speed sturmey archer, you will have to replace the entire hub.

Gerry

Scott said...

I didn't want to shell out the dough for those flat wrenches so I went to Wal-Mart and bought a $1.88 little adjustable wrench. I then ground the "jaws" down (on one side only so that you can hold it close to a regular wrench) to about 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch. Works fine for me!

Just look at what you are going to be using it on before you grind it to make sure you shape it right. Oh, and ya, since it is adjustable... only need one.

Gerry Lauzon said...

Brilliant idea Scott! Now why didn't I think of that? I'll be sure to try it out at some point and post the results.

Gerry

Eric M said...

OK, Scott is clearly smarter than me, and more importantly, owns a grinder. But I have to go and buy the flat wreches - I found some at a store that are "double-sided cone wrench" by Park - is that the same as a flat wrench? I ask because they are only $4 each so I wasn't sure. Thank you for the excellent site!

Gerry Lauzon said...

Those are the right ones Eric. You should get 2. One with 13 and 14mm and the other 15 and 16mm. You should be able to cover everything with those. Good luck and thank you.

Gerry

Anonymous said...

Hey this may not go with the title but its important. Well I took apart my bike to remove the coaster brakes parents fault on that but now I'm having some troubles with the bike. Like if I petal backwards it makes this really weird noise that I don't think its good. And I'm having trouble with with petal forward. When ever I put pressure on the right petal and it skips and falls fast. I'm really thinking about getting a new bike. If this doesn't work. But its a NEXT bike with a coaster brake which made me mad. If you can help thanks if not its ok ill get a new bike.

Gerry Lauzon said...

Hey man, my bike is scheduled for a coaster hub rebuild this week. I haven't done one in a while and it's mostly educated guesswork even for me. Don't buy a new bike, buy a new coaster hub wheel for $45. Much cheaper. Good luck.

Gerry

pat said...

I started taking apart my back bike rim its a 20 inh so it only has one speed. kind of like a trix bike. i had to switch the gear with a slighty bigger one and now i cant figure out how to put it back together. got any advice

Gerry Lauzon said...

Pat, I took one of those apart years ago and it commited suicide on me. My advice is get a new one or find a scrap one lying around and try to reverse engineer to reassemble it. Next time take some pictures as you take it apart.

Gerry :)

Jason said...

I'm in the process of resuscitating a 1990 Trek 330 road bike that I recently acquired as a learning project. I noticed the front wheel was making some audible gravelly noises so I decided to disassemble the hub and take a look at the cones and ball bearings.

The first bad sign was that the lock nut and cone on one side were loose enough to disassemble by hand. I removed the ball bearings and confirmed that they were worn in spots. Additionally after completely disassembling the hub I found both cones have a fair amount of pitting as well, although the cups appear fine.

Initially I thought I could just replace the ball bearings and the cones, but the hub is a non-stock 1987 Maillard (a defunct French company from what I've been able to gather) so tracking down compatible cones seems problematic.

The rim is fine, but the spokes are a little sketchy. At this point should I look at rebuilding the wheel with a new hub and spokes? Or is it possible to still find cones for this type of Maillard hub?

Anonymous said...

I just picked up a used hybrid and was cleaning up the chain and gears since they were caked with dirt & old grease. Anyway, after I got everything cleaned and re-lubed I noticed a clicking sound when the bike is coasting - it seems to only occur when the freewheel is stationary but the wheel is spinning. My first thought is that it is the bearings in the freewheel?? Any advice?

Gerry Lauzon said...

The sound that you hear is quite normal. It is the ratchet mechanism inside the freewheel that makes the clicking noise.

Gerry :)

Gerry Lauzon said...

Jason, I would start fresh and get myself a new wheel in that situation. If you absolutely need to keep that one, I suggest you start hunting for the vintage hub or even an entire wheel.

Gerry :)

Nhan said...

Hi,
If I pedal forward the back wheel turns; but if I pedal backward, the wheel also turns, it's not free run as it supposes to.
What can I do?
Thanks

Gerry Lauzon said...

Nahn, you will have to replace the freewheel mechanism on the rear wheel.

Gerry

Nhan said...

After posting my question, I saw your video on YouTube on how to remove the freewheel. So, to you, it's not worth trying to repair? Am I correct?
I found a Sekai 2500 on the sidewalk, I'm trying to fix it. Your Web site is really helpful. Hope that you can post more video, the videos are much more easier to follow. Thanks a lot.

sacha33 said...

I have a 21 speed bike and now when I turn the pedals the rear wheel does not turn. The chain is intact and turns. The rear wheel makes a slight ticking sound like it is slipping over bumbs or something. Any ideas? Thanks Carol

Gerry Lauzon said...

Carol, make sure your chain doesn't sit between 2 gears. If that is not the case and the freewheel turns without moving the wheel forward, the mechanism is shot and it needs to be replaced.

Gerry

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Can you tell me how to replace the Campy (Mirage) freehub on my Campy Mexico '68 rims. I am in the process of upgrading to a 10sp drivetrain and I would like to be able to still use this rear wheel.

Thank you,

Jon

Gerry Lauzon said...

Hi Jon,

Campagnolo components often require their own set of tools. That's why I don't work on these. I suggest you find a bike shop that services Campagnolo components to get advice and if necessary the proper tools.

Good luck

Gerry :)

Isaac said...

Thanks for the great info and site. I really appreciate it. A couple months ago I bought a freewheel tool, but still couldn't get the freewheel off. After reading this blog, I realized I just needed to crank on it a little harder, and it loosened up (although I did smash my knuckles on the spokes when it finally moved...)

Thanks again.

Gerry Lauzon said...

Sorry for the knuckles, but it comes with the territory. I've had my share of bumps and scratches over the years. I'm happy to hear that the blog helped you out. Thank you for reading it.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Hi My son took off his rear wheel to a redline BMX bike and took off the nut holding the what the chain goes on and the bearings fell out how do i help him put it back together we dont have a booklet for it please help.


thank you
concerned mom seattle,wa

Gerry Lauzon said...

Go on the left sidebar of my blog and look up the article "How to remove a one piece crank" You'll have loads of pictures and a detailed explanation on how to fix it. Hang in there Mom, you can do it!

Gerry :)

mr. farrell said...

hey g. do you have a blog about regreasing other bearings... or is it the same? i saw it mentioned in the "removing cranks" thread but cant find it.

also, what should i use to remove the old grease?

Gerry Lauzon said...

Just copy and paste this address in your browser for the article:
http://bikeoverhaul.blogspot.com/2006/08/removing-one-piece-crank-from-frame.html

You can use any type of degreaser to remove the grease.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Gerry,
I could feel some bearing roughness in my front wheel on my mountain bike. I disassembled the axle and found the race on one side was bad. The good side had 10 ball bearings, while the damaged side had 11. Rough calculations of the race shows that 11.6 bearings will fit. A site on the internet said that you should use 1 less than will easily fit. This would explain why the side with 10 was ok and the one with 11 failed. When I get the new race, I want to fix it right. What do you think?
--Bobby

Gerry Lauzon said...

Hey Bobby,

If your hubs have loose bearings, this makes a lot of sense. If you look at a hub with crown mounted bearings, they are not mounted snug, but they do have a certain distance between each other. Go for 10 and you should be good.

Gerry :)

Tristram said...

Hi Gerry,

Great blog. Can I ask if you have any advice on fixing vintage bikes? I got an old one speed Raleigh Roadster that I'm doing up, but wondering whether I should replace the cones (they do have wear), as well as the bearings.

I cleaned out the hub etc. and put in new bearings and left a bit of space but when I turn it with my hands it's a bit crunchy.
It still has Sturmey-Archer rims etc. and from a cost viewpoint I'd like to keep as many original parts as possible.

Also how do you get off and clean the free-wheel device?? I'm also waiting for a punch to arrive so I get out a seized cotter pin. It has to be done though as the other side had rusty water as lubricant.

Sadly my local bike shop (in Galway, Ireland) aren't too interested, and advice is hard to come by.

Kind Regards

Gerald said...

If the bearing cones have wear on them, it is normal if there are no pits and the wear, or "trace", is even, you can keep them. If you hear crunching, it might just be dust that got in there while you were re-assembling the unit. Take it apart again and clean it properly. It doesn't take much to sound awful! To take apart that coaster freewheel, you're out of luck. That part is my Kryptonite and commits suicide every time I try to service one.

Good luck

Gerry :)

Tristram said...

Hi Gerry,

Thanks a million for the advice. I've been working away at the Raleigh now for almost two months, what a saga!! Everything that could have gone wrong did.

The steel punches did not get the cotter pin out, and then I broke two HSS bits on it. After more waiting for the postman I got cobalt steel bits and finally got the devil out.

I've gotten the axle out and cleaned the bottom bracket as well as I know how, with an old rag and so on. There is wear on the axle and the bearing cup but no pits, so I've replaced the bearings and re-greased.

Here's the problem, just like my wheels that I re-did, the axle is a bit crunchy when turned. Even after cleaning and doing everything again. Plus the crank-side bearing cup is seized solidly to the frame and I can't shift it. Guy at the bike shop said I would have to be welded out (I didn't understand that part) so I smoothed down as best I could from the far side. Will this wear very unevenly from now on and create a lot of wobble? Also I have tried 11 (1/4") bearings which is the max that will fit, and 10 bearings and each set-up seems to be equally 'crunchy'.
Before I started the whole lot by the way there was no wobble in the crank, I took it apart to be a completeist.

So anyway bike is still upside down and some worrying green mold has appeared on the underside of the leather saddle, the poor girl needs to get out.

Also on the grease side of things I'm using an ancient tin of Esso multi-purpose, or as my father calls it 'axle-grease'. The bike shop has stuff it calls 'water-proof grease' but it looks the exact same. Any prompters or am I alright?

Slán agus beannacht from Ireland, míle buíochas (a thousand thanks)


P.S. The bike-shop even sold me 9mm (continental type) cotter pins instead of 9.5mm(3/8")!! and I was crystal clear with him. So now another wait for the postman from ebay.

Gerald said...

The crunch that you hear might be very miniscule particles of dust caught in the grease. If you have redone this a few times, it might be that you are using dirty rags. Axle grease is fine. I actually do a 50/50 mix of cheap axle grease and Teflon grease for my rides. Don't give up, you're doing fine.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

ex-bike-mechanic >>
Very true what you are saying. I found out that the old bearings have become oval shaped - so I was not able to put it all back together without play in the axle. I will go and get new bearings and do it over again :-)

Great blog by the way.

DisappointedMommy said...

I bought my son a kids 12" bike for his third birthday. It pedals forward but as soon as you stop pedaling, it instantly stops. The wheel doesn't continue to roll. Can u tell me why and how to fix it?

Gerry Lauzon said...

If he pedals backwards and the bike goes backwards as well, it means it was make to work that way. If not, it is defective and you should return it.

Gerry :)

Don Schaefer said...

I have been researching for well over an hour now, how to fix my son's rear wheel for his Mongoose BMX. He was convinced by his little buddy to take the coaster brake "off", and though I said "don't do it", they did. So here I sit, looking at your site, understanding, FINALLY, that the job is nearly as difficult as it looks. They managed to get the entire axle and bearing set loose...and I think the pawl is out of place...I'm gonna give it another shot, but I think a trip to the local cycle shop is in my immediate future. I have bookmarked your site, and will be coming back!

Gerry Lauzon said...

Good luck. I wouldn't mess with that coaster hub myself if I wasn't 100% certain.

Gerry

rundogrun said...

I got a brand new rear wheel replacement and noticed noise that got louder the next day. It was taken less than a mile and on very flat pavement. The chain will occasionaly go slack and pull the derailer arms forward followed by a snapping back of the chain, all while coasting. I have ordered the freewheel remover tool in order to inspect it. I suspect it is a deffective item. When i take the freewheel off i will check the bearings, is there anything I am missing?

rundogrun said...

I got a brand new rear wheel replacement and noticed noise that got louder the next day. It was taken less than a mile and on very flat pavement. The chain will occasionaly go slack and pull the derailer arms forward followed by a snapping back of the chain, all while coasting. I have ordered the freewheel remover tool in order to inspect it. I suspect it is a deffective item. When i take the freewheel off i will check the bearings, is there anything I am missing?

Gerry Lauzon said...

Sounds like you got yourself a defective unit. You can't really take those apart. I say return it.

Gerry

CharlestonP said...

Hey I recentley took apart my bmx gt backwheel as it was very loose I have a problem every time I tighten the wheel bearings it keeps coming loose ne ideas? Im not very good bearing and that lol

Gerry Lauzon said...

Your lock nut is not tight enough on the cone nut.

Gerry

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for the free advice. You helped me re-grease and replace bearings and set cone correctly. You have saved me time and money. Many Thanks!!

Gerry Lauzon said...

Once again, mission accomplished.

Gerry :)

Rosey said...

Okay here is my problem, I took my sons back wheel apart to remove the coaster break (a kids schwinn bike) because it also has hand breaks which he knows how to use already. I couldnt get the break to come out, but thats not the problem. the problem is that now after re assembling the cone nuts wonts stay put. I tighten them (not too tight) and once he starts to ride one side will tighten completely and the other loosen, so if I then turn the wheel the other way they reverse and the tight one will then loosen and the loose on tighten. Enough to stop him from being able to peddle, how do I fix this?

Gerry Lauzon said...

Sorry Rosey, blogger classified your comment as spam. You probably need to tightin a lock nut somewhere on the hub. I'm sorry but coaster hubs are my Krypnonite and they then to commit suicide when I work on them, so I don't. Sorry I can't help you more.

Gerry

Clover said...

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Clover
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