Tag Archives: bicycle hub

Bicycle Wheel and Hub Replacement

It was time to replace the chain on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I replace the chain every 2000 miles based on personal chain wear data. The distance between chain changes is probably different for everybody based on riding and lubrication habits. For me this distance has extended the life of my cassette.

Since the cassette had 6000 miles on it I decided to inspect it carefully. From the side the cogs had nice square tops and the spaces in between the cogs were not worn. From the top, however, I thought that the cogs were worn thin. When shifting gears the chain slides up the sides of the cogs, causing wear after some time. In my opinion it was time to change the cassette to avoid potential cog breakage. That would be cogs snapping off due to the wear.

After removing the wheel I spun the axle with my fingers and to my surprise I found that the hub bearings felt rough and had significant drag. I was surprised because I had myself convinced that just spinning the wheel on the bike, observing the spin duration and smoothness, was good enough to test the bearings. The problem with that is the rim, tire, and tube have enough mass that the wheel will spin and look fine even with bad bearings. The best test is to remove the wheel from the bike and to turn the axle with your fingers so that you can feel any roughness or drag. The axle should turn freely and there should be no side play. Mine felt like they were grinding. It was time for new wheels and hubs.

I have been criticized for my lack of interest in periodically taking the hubs apart, cleaning them, and re-greasing. I have never done that. My approach is still defensible. I have 17,000 miles on my worn hubs. In addition, the rim walls are worn thin by the rim brakes after all this time. Rim failure due to this wear is possible and after a long period of use the wheels and hubs should be replaced anyway.

Servicing hubs regularly seems like a big waste of energy since they last a long time. The challenge is to find someone who was able to extend the life of their wheels and hubs to, say, 30,000 miles by taking them apart every few thousand miles. With rim brakes there is a very good chance of rim failure before reaching 30,000 miles.

Now my Surly LHT has new wheels and hubs. I purchased wheels with Shimano Deore hubs, which are the same Shimano product line that came as original equipment on my LHT. The initial ride with my new wheels was unremarkable. I could not feel any difference in performance. The real difference is that I will not need to worry about hub failure for some time to come.

This episode has me thinking that after 17,000 miles, maybe I should take my bottom bracket apart to inspect it in detail. Stay tuned.

Bicycle Hub Maintenance Debate

Recently I made a post on the Facebook Surly bicycle group that talked about passing 15,000 miles on my Long Haul Trucker. I mentioned that it was a stock bike. Some people took issue when I said, “The stem, bottom bracket, and hubs have never been unsealed and are in great shape for the next 15,000 miles.” Several recommended regular servicing of the hub bearings. I found an old post by Sheldon Brown that also recommended regular servicing. On the other hand, a mechanic at my bike shop recommended no action at about a 10,000 miles when I asked about hub and bottom bracket maintenance on my bike. Further research found that this is an unsettled issue in my opinion.

The brand and quality of the hubs may be a factor. That said, there are wide ranging opinions concerning the efficacy of various hubs. For example, my hubs are Shimano LX hubs and there are some detractors. There is a broad opinion that they are as good for touring as more costly hubs.

Next I tried to find evidence of hub failures. There is evidence of freehub failures on certain types of hubs, but those are not bearing failures. They are failures of the ratchet that locks the cassette to the hub when pedaling forward. I found one video that documented hub bearing failure on a fat bike. The type of hub is not identified and other actions that may have contributed to such catastrophic failure are not discussed. Component quality and brand may be a factor in such failures.

Here is my take. Modern hubs of moderate quality are sealed and there is evidence that they do not need regular disassembly, cleaning, re-greasing, or adjustment. There are some people on the Internet who talk about having similar mileage on their bicycles as I do and have not serviced their hubs. I am only one data point and other data points are rare.

There are things that you can do to compromise the hubs, such as pressure washing. The seals are designed for an environment where they are not exposed to high pressure. Submerging a bicycle hub in water or other liquid can also compromise the seals. Under normal circumstances and use, water cannot get into the hubs.

People who service their hubs use differing maintenance schedules. Their recommendations include maintenance after each tour, after replacing tires, every 400 miles, every thousand miles, etc. My opinion is that if people feel more confident in the reliability of their equipment using this approach, that is fine. I am not a believer. Modern seal designs and lubricants have inherently increased hub reliability.

Moreover, hubs can be inspected without taking them apart. I put my bicycle on a rack and rotate the wheels. I listen for sounds coming from the hubs and look for free rotation. During free rotation, a wheel will usually spin to a stop and reverse as the heavy side seeks the bottom of the rotation. On the rack I also check for side play. There should be no side play when you grasp the rim and try to move it laterally. I use both slow motions to try to feel large side play and rapid motions to try to feel slight amounts of play.

I share the opinion of some that the rims are more likely to wear out before the hubs, bottom bracket, and stem. That observation has me thinking about my rims. They are steel rims, but it is time that I measured them with a micrometer to see what remains of the material where the brake pad friction is applied. In the meantime, I am determined to continue to ride my LHT without maintenance on the sealed bearings.