If you’ve had a bike for longer than a couple years, chances are that the hubs in your wheels could use a good cleaning and re-greasing. This how-to will take you through the process of disassembling an older style hub, giving it a cleaning, and then putting it back together with some fresh grease. Repack a bike wheel hub!
Cost: $30.00 CAD
Tools Needed: Grease, Rags, Adjustable Wrench or Several Thin Spanners, Cassette Tool
What is a Bike Wheel Hub?
A bike wheel hub is that tube-like piece at the center of your bike wheel – it holds all the spokes which connect to the outer rim, and it also contains the mechanism in which the axle spins. A nice and clean hub will spin smoothly, with very little resistance, and hopefully, will have no side-to-side movement. If your hub becomes contaminated with dirt, dust, or water, the grease will start to break down, and the ball bearings will start to damage the races of the hub, which can cause permanent damage. If you start to notice noise, resistance, or side to side movement in the wheel when you spin it, you may want to consider taking the time to repack a bike wheel hub.
What You’ll Need
Most bike wheel hubs can be serviced at home with very few tools. At the minimum, you’ll want some good grease, some rags to clean everything, a cassette tool, and a few thin wrenches to disassemble the hub. Take note that this how-to is only for hubs that contain loose ball bearings. Some hubs, which contain sealed bearings, are maintained by removing the whole sealed bearing and replacing the unit entirely. That type of hub is not covered here.
How to Repack a Bike Wheel Hub
For this how-to, I’ve got a pair of older wheels to take a look at. These are actually the summer wheels for my Bonelli Slusher, and they hadn’t been serviced in quite a few kilometres. The bike sees a lot of rain, and grit, because it sits outside all the time, and it’s my rainy day bike. We’re going to take a look at both a front wheel, and a rear wheel.
The first step in all of this is to give everything a good once over with a rag. The cleaner everything is, the less likely you are to introduce dirt into the fresh grease. You can see that both the front and rear wheels are quite dirty here.
The next step was to remove the bolts on both sides of the rear wheel, so that I can access the cassette. Once both bolts were removed, I could remove the cassette with a cassette remover. Depending on the brand of your cassette, this may require a different tool than the one pictured. Since this rear hub is a freewheel, the whole cassette just unscrews.
Remove the next level of bolts on just one side of the wheel, and you’ll be able to pull out the entire axle. Be careful here, as the bearings can easily slip away and get lost. You can see that the grease was almost completely disintegrated, and everything was very dirty from not being serviced in a while.
Remove all of the bearings and give them a good cleaning. Take a few clean rags and wipe out the inner and outer races. If there is any damage to the bearings, you should bring them to your local bike shop and get some replacements. If there is damage to any of the races (The surfaces on which the bearings roll), this is unfortunately not repairable, and you may need to look at getting the entire hub replaced.
At this point in time, I also took the time to brush off the cassette – it’s much easier off the bike than on the bike.
Now back to the hubs – select your grease and pack the hub race full. I’ve used a variety of different greases, and for something like a hub, I prefer a heavier, thicker grease like Phil Wood’s Waterproof Grease. In this case, I used this BTwin red teflon-based grease, because I wanted to try it out (I think this grease is a bit too thin for a wheel hub in hindsight). Don’t be afraid of using too much grease, as any excess will just squeeze out of the bearing and you can wipe it off.
Once you have a good amount of grease on both sides of the hub, you can place the bearings in the grease without risking them falling anywhere. Go ahead and place some additional grease in the other bearing face, and squeeze everything together.
This next part requires a little practice and some feel – when you tighten the bolts, you want it to be tight enough so that water and dirt have a hard time penetrating the bearing and there is no side-to-side movement, but you don’t want it so tight that it grinds, or resists spinning. Keep in mind that a quick release, or a bolt-on wheel (Like the one shown here) will tighten the bearing even more when you attach it to the bike, so expect this part to take a few tries.
Tighten up the bolts, attach it to your bike, give it a spin. If it’s slow, remove the wheel, loosen the bolts slightly, and reattach to the bike. If it’s fast, but there’ side-to-side movement, you may have to remove the wheel, and tighten the bolts.
Hopefully that is enough to repack a bike wheel hub. Your specific wheel hub may vary a bit, but in general, most of these bearing-based hubs are the same. A few bolts to undo, pull apart the mechanism, give everything a good cleaning, repack with grease, and tighten back up with a bit of finesse.
Something else to note is that these are pretty low-end hubs, on my most beater of beater bikes, so if you are doing this to your favorite set of wheels, please take your time cleaning and adjusting your hubs before going for a ride.
Here’s to fast, smooth hubs!