Cycling - Gear/Equipment

Bike Maintenance: Bike Wheel Bearing (Everything to Know for a Smooth Ride)

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A carefree bike ride is a great way to unwind and keep our bodies fit. Paddling and cruising on various terrains, enjoying the wonderful weather…refreshing, isn’t it? But do you realize that your bike also needs care and maintenance? For a smooth biking experience, it is essential to keep your bike in a good state and one of the ways to do that is servicing the bike wheel bearings.

Wheel bearings are the small yet vital machine element on which the bike wheels run. It is a device used to facilitate the rotational or linear movement while reducing friction and handling stress. They are a critical component of the braking system and reduce friction between the moving parts to facilitate the desired motion. And without the appropriate maintenance, you will end up with grinding wheel bearings that impede a smooth ride. Bike wheel bearings are the essential parts of the bicycle which need to be prevented from being worn and corroded.

Frequent breakdown of your bike can instantly kill your happy ride mood but more importantly, a poorly maintained bike can lead to potential road dangers. On a second thought, it is always beneficial to have knowledge of bike maintenance and repairing routine for the emergency.

Living Tip
 Always check the condition of your bike before you leave for your adventurous ride.

Now, cycle maintenance and repairing are no rocket science. There are some simple things that you have to wrap your head around about it and you are good to go!

First up, let's discuss-

How to Service Bike Hub

If it feels hard to spin the wheels of your bike then perhaps it's time to service the bearings/hubs. Stiffness in wheel spinning usually happens when the wheel bearings are worn out. Another likely reason could be ingress of water and grime.

A basic bike hub consists of an axle, balls, cone, cup, and locknut.

But before you learn how to service the bike hubs, know that there are two types of bearings commonly seen in hubs and servicing differs with each type.

How to service your bike's hubs
cartridge and cone

The two types of bearings viz. cartridge (sealed bearings) and cup and cone (non-sealed/loose) bearings.

A common rear hub includes the following parts in it -

  1. Ball Bearings
  2. Hub Shell
  3. Axle
  4. Spacers
  5. Lock Nuts
  6. Rubber Seal

Cup and Cone Hubs (Loose/Non-sealed)

Cup and cone hubs

Tools required-

  1. Cone spanners - 15 to 17 mm
  2. A magnetic hex screwdriver
  3. Grease
  4. Adjustable spanners
  5. Degreaser
  6. Paper cloth
  7. A chain whip and chain removal tool

Step 1:
Let’s start with the procedure.

At first, take out the cassette from hub body. For this, you will need chainwhip to hold the sprockets so that you can easily release the cassette. This procedure is same for both sides of wheels. To take out the spacer and locking nut, release the nut present on the driverside by will easy for you to fix it later if you remember the sequence properly. Now hold the lock nut of the driver side with the spanners and twist the cone of the non driver side by releasing it with another spanner. This will make easy for you to remove axis of the hub.

Step 2:
There are different methods to replace the bearings of every hub. In the hubs from Easton, the bearings and axle have to be removed at the same time. A soft faced hammer is a good tool to take out the parts out of the hub.

The best tool to remove the bearings separately from the axle is bearing puller. You can also do this with the punch but this is a bit risky you can damage the hub if not done properly. This can result in removing inner bearing race and leaving the outer race inside the hub. If you face this problem then use bearing puller and slowly remove the outer surface without damaging the hub

Step 3: 
Ensure that you clean the bearings properly. Remove the grease out of them. Use a paper cloth to wipe out the dirt. After this remove old free wheel body. To do this use an Allen wrench into it and loosen it. Slowly remove the other parts also present there.

Clean these parts thoroughly. Clean the cogs, axle, cone nuts, washers, jam-nuts present in the hub. Make sure no dirt is present.

Step 4:
After cleaning all the parts and removing the grease. Now it’s time to reassemble the parts again. Remember sequence is important, it will be easy for you at the time of fixing the parts. To do so apply a layer of grease to the parts of freewheel body, hub, and the lock nuts. Apply the surfaces of bearing races with the grease on both the sides, before changing the bearings. The reason why grease is applied is that it helps to keep the bearings in one place.

After the bearings are replaced, fix the axle back to the place. Put the bearings on the brake side first and insert the axle. Here the axle helps to keep the bearings in one place. At the other side of axle fix bearings in the cup area by putting the axle into the hub. After this change the cone nuts that are responsible to hold the bearings by pushing the rest of the part of the axle. Tighten the cone nuts properly and check whether the wheels are spinning smoothly.

Then fix washer and jam nuts and tighten them. If there is any problem in spinning then loosen the nuts slightly. With this also change the cog stack present if it is worn out.

Step 5:
The final step of the process is to fix the wheel. Things to be kept in mind are the springs that are present in wheel should be cone shaped. Now put back the wheel in the same way as before.

Cartridge Bearing Hubs

Cartridge bearing hubs
Cartridge bearing hubs

Tools required-

  1. Bearing grease
  2. Open-ended 15mm spanner
  3. 5mm Allen keys
  4. Nylon mallet
  5. Multi-sized cone spanners: 13, 14, 15 and 16mm
  6. Small screwdriver
  7. Solid rear axle
  8. Alloy tube to press the bearings
  9. Allen key with a fresh head (helps to remove dust caps easily)

Step 1:
Remove the detachable drop out guide or locknut from the axle of the hub.

Insert a 5mm Allen key at both the ends of the hub and turn it anti-clockwise. Watch out the washers and their positions between the spacers and axle. In some hubs, the silver spacer is a dust cap and a decorative element.

Step 2:
Using the mallet, strike sharply to get the wheel bearings out, remove them carefully.

Now, flip the wheel over and put the hub with the bearing facing down. Be sure that the hub is supported by the flange and enough room for the bearing to get out.

Next, position the axle or a drift tool and strike the bearing out with solid hits. When the wheel bearings are released, clean it with degreaser using a rag. Don’t forget the hub flanges around the spoke anchor points. And while you clean the hub flanges, check for cracks or corrosion around the crack holes.

Change the hub if you spot any cracks.

Step 3:
Smear a coating of grease lightly inside and outside of the wheel bearings, inside the hub shell, and on the axle.

Do not apply thick grease coating between the hub and the new bearing, it could inhibit it from seating completely.

Drive the new bearing using the outer race of the bearing. Striking the inner race will damage the small ball bearings inside the cartridge. You can use the old bearing, which has the same diameter as the new bearings, to drive the new bearings in. Be careful as the bearing races are made of hardened steel and are brittle in nature. You’ll understand the bearing is seated perfectly as the blows firm up.

Livingit Tip
Wear protective goggles. Keep the contact area between the drift edge and the outer race edge minimum.

Step 4:
Now, put back the axle, position the second bearing, and drive it with a few strokes.

Make sure not to let the bearing go askew as that will jam it and therefore make it harder to install. It might also create ridges that could further it from seating correctly.

Hub Repairing

To replace the rear hubs, start by removing the rear cogs. If it is a ‘quick release skewer’ remove that; in the case of a solid axle type, remove the axle nuts first. Check the condition of the axle ends, measure and note the amount of the axle coming out of the dry lock out. In the case of quick release hubs, the thread count will provide you with adequate measurements.

Count number of threads a reference of axle protrusion

Next, remove the rubber cover present. Tie the small parts with strings that are coming off from the hub. Use a cone wrench to hold the hub and loosen the lock nut by rotating it anti-clockwise. Take out lock nut and spacers also. After loosening the cone take it out carefully in the counter clockwise.

Remove locknut and washers

Remove locknut and washers, place them on the tie. Also, remove cone by turning counter clock wise. Now lift the wheel slowly by keeping your hand below the right side of the wheel. The bearings can fall off from the hub so make sure you do this step properly.

Bent Axle

If you are inspecting the bent axle, take off the right-side locknut and cones. The right-side lock nut and cones differ from the left side. So, do not get confuse them while fixing. Note the number of bearings on each side, use a pencil magnet to change the bearings from the hub shell

how to repack your axle bearings and install a new freewheel body
Count bearings

There are many hub models in which the overhaul method is possible by keeping the pressed dust caps in place. This is a better method as removal of the dust caps may result in damage. Do not forget to wipe all the parts clean and dry. You can use a damp rag cloth, avoid soaking freehub in any solvent.

Checking of Hub and its Parts

Check the hub and the parts inside for any damage before fitting them back. Trace the bearings path using a ball point pen. As the pen passes over pits, roughness and wear shall be felt, if any.

ceramic bearings in your wheels
Ball pen tracing bearing path

The shine and colour of the wheel bearings will tell you if they are damaged or worn out. Dull looking balls must be replaced. Additionally, a damaged cup cannot be replaced, you will require a new hub in that case. On the other hand, cones can be easily replaceable.

To examine the axles, roll them on the flat surface and see if any gaps appear as the axle rolls. Also, remember that a bent axle cannot be re-bent, a new axle must be used.

cost of Ceramic bearings
Axle inspection


Assembling the Hub Parts

After repairing the damages inside the hub now it’s time to put them back together. Before assembling them, grease the parts properly. This is what helps to extend the life of your bike. Put a coating of grease on axle threads and inside the hub shell cups. While putting the ball bearings inside the cups, coat the area with grease. It is to be noted that the balls are placed flat inside the cups. On an average 9 balls can be fitted in 1/4 inch of diameter on either side of rear hubs and 10 balls in 3/16-inch of diameter on each side of front hubs.

Cartridge Wheel Bearing Maintenance
Greasing hub shell cup

Fix the parts of the axle exactly and in the same manner as we're taken off before as that would be easy for you. Always remember the axle parts has to be installed from the right side first to avoid confusion. Fix the axle to the original axle protrusion measurement (as noted earlier) and tighten the cones and the locknuts completely. For the left-side parts install them in same as they were taken off but on this side no need to tighten the locknuts or set the axle protrusion.

There is a different method for quick release types of hubs, bend the cones down until they touch the ball bearings and rotate it 90 degrees. This will make the ball bearings to loosen. Tighten the locknut completely by holding the cine with a cone wrench.

Adjusting the Hub

Quick release hubs come with hollow axles that bend a little when the quick release closes. When the quick release hub is not closed tightly in the frame, a slight movement of the axle can be perceived. To avoid this, check that the hub and the wheel are clamped properly in the frame.

How to test adequate hub adjustment in your bike.

To test the adequate hub adjustment in your bike, hold the wheel as it is still in the frame and pull it to both sides laterally. Turn the wheel and repeat the procedure. If you feel no play, remove the wheel. Now, grasp the axle (not the skewer) and move it up and down to check for any sensation. If the axle moves when the wheel is outside the bike but doesn’t move inside the bike, then the adjustment is adequate. If there is no movement in the axle when the wheel is outside the bike, understand that the adjustment is too tight, even if the axle turns smoothly when out of the bike.

Tuning the Bike Wheel Bearings

The surfaces of the wheel bearings are made of hardened steel and are made by grinding. The round ball bearings roll on the curved surface of cup and cone. The smoothness of bearings varies with bike models and between manufacturers.

For assembly follow the below steps

  1. Stop cone from moving with the help of cone wrench. Also, note the wrench position and angle.
  2. Loosen the locknut with the help of another wrench and by rotating it counter clockwise.
  3. Undo the cone by turning the cone wrench to 90 degrees.
  4. Next, tighten the locknut completely while holding the cone from moving.
  5. While testing, hold the axle properly and move the rim in a lateral way.

Types of Bike Wheel Bearing: Ceramic Bearings vs Steel Bearings

There are two types of wheel bearings in the bike world- the classic steel bearings and the innovative ceramic bearings.

In the bike world, the benefits of ceramic bearings have been much discussed and tested. Most professional bikers advocate the advantages of the ceramic bearings and prefer them over the steel ones for a smoother race.

bike wheel bearing
Ceramic vs Steel bearings

Here are the stellar features of ceramic bearings that make them premium and a biker’s favourite, read on.

  • They are comparatively smoother.
    Ceramic bearings are smoother in nature as compared to the steel bearings. Their better smoothness makes them the first choice for many bikers.
  • They save energy
    Since the ceramic bearings roll faster, they help save energy in the riders. The inherent properties of ceramic allow the formation of rounder and smoother bike wheel bearings that contribute to a comfortable ride.
  • They are light weighted and more durable
    Replacing the steel bearings with ceramic ones will reduce your total bike weight majorly. Also, the ceramic bearings are more durable compared to its steel counterparts and resist corrosion as well.

As claimed by CeramicSpeed, a well-known aftermarket bearing producer- Our wheel bearings save six to nine watts over standard steel — a not insignificant amount of power, and effectively free speed.

Ceramic wheel bearings will definitely extend your bike life but it has certain drawbacks too. You see, ceramic wheel bearings are rather costly- An entire set of cycling ceramic bearings starts at Rs. 6573.58! while the ceramic speed wheel bearings cost from Rs. 19720.75. Of course, you will find cheaper options but they will offer minimum gain over the steel bearings.

Ceramic bearings come with very low-friction seals. Now, in some cases, if the seals do a poor sealing job than the bearing is exposed to outside contaminants. In addition, the ceramic bearings aren’t totally immune to harsh weather and road conditions. Yes, frequent cleaning and lubricating will sustain their life but the riding experience may have deteriorated.

The question of advantages of steel bearings over ceramic bearings is a topic of conflict. If you think that ceramic bearings will give your bike high speed and great quality for longer distance then that’s not true. Despite regular maintenance, these can only provide a short distance speed. Do not expect them to work properly after a long-distance race. Also, it is difficult and expensive to service ceramic wheel bearing.

Solid Axle Adjustment

There isn’t a vast difference between the procedure of solid axle hub adjustments and quick release hub adjustment, except that in solid axle hubs flexing of the axle is not required. Fit the wheel (in the frame) in the same way as in quick release hub. Tighten the axle nut that holds the wheel. Check the axle adjustment, in case you sense no bearing play, create some by loosening the bearing adjustment and re-adjust gradually play is gone.

Your goal is to find the loosest adjustment with no play.

Livingit Tip
While adjusting solid axle hubs, remove the wheel from the bike.

So far, we have learned about how to replace bearings, assemble them again, how to repair and adjust them. Now let's understand which types bearings can make our riding experience better and safer.

How to Repack Axle Bearings and Install New Freewheel Body

It is recommended that with every 500 miles (100 miles on a mountain bike) your bike’s axle bearings need cleaning and repacking. Follow the steps below to clean and repack your axle bearings-

Step 1: Detach the wheel from the frame.

Step 2: Then, remove the quick-release skewer from the axle. Be careful not to lose those tiny springs.

Step 3: Take off the Cassette. You'll need a special tool to separate the cassette from the hub and a wrench to turn the tool.

While unscrewing the cassette retaining nut, hold the sprockets in place using a chain whip or cog holder. After the removal of the cassette, the cog stack will slide off the freewheel body.

Step 5: Next, extract the Axle.

Here are the freewheel body and axle in place.

Take off the jam-nut and washer from the axle then pull out the bearing cone nut which holds the bearings in place.

Step 6: Take out the Bearings

Check the bearings within. Remove them and clean all the parts thoroughly.

Livingit Tip:
You can use Aerosol brake parts cleaner, it is one of the best in the market. Price: Rs. 127.49

Step 7: Remove Old Freewheel Body

If you're just greasing your bearings, SKIP THIS STEP!

To unscrew Freewheel body, insert an Allen wrench into it. Keep it aside and place the retaining bolt with all the other parts to clean.

Step 8: Clean Everything.

Thoroughly clean the parts- axle, cone nuts, jam-nuts, cogs, washers and especially the interior of the bearing cups in the hub. Do not overlook any residue.

After the cleaning, open the new part and read the instructions to perform the required action.

Step 10: Installing the New Freewheel Body.

It is recommended to use Marine Axle Bearing Grease for the bearings. Generally used for boat trailers, this grease is quite affordable and easily available at any auto parts store.

Liberally apply a coating of grease to all the mating surfaces like the steel washer between the freewheel body and the hub and the freewheel locking bolt.

Change the freewheel body and screw in the locking bolt.

Step 11: Reinstalling the Axle.

Assemble the bearing races with generous coatings of marine axle grease. Apply grease on both sides before you change the bearings. The grease holds the bearings in place.

Step 12: Insert the Axle.

First, put the bearings into the brake side and insert the axle. The axle will help you keep the bearings in place. On the other side, thrust the axle part into the hub and put the bearings into the cup section. After you make sure that all the bearings are in, push the axle further in. Next, replace the cone nut holding the bearings in place.

Tightly screw the cone nut until you feel some binding. Reduce the tension until the wheel spins freely with no binding. Finally, add the washer and jam-nut and tighten it. Loosen it up a little in case it starts binding.

Step 13: Replace the Cog Stack.

Note that the freewheel body has one small groove on it. The cog stack has a corresponding slot in it. This guarantees that the cog stack can only go on one way. Change the cog locking nut.

Step 14: Re-install the Wheel.

Change the quick release skewer. Note that the springs are cone-shaped and the big end faces away from the hub.

You're now ready to replace the wheel on the bike. Speaking of wheels, do deep section wheels provide you with better performance than the shallow rim wheels? Let’s find out!

Deep Section Wheels for Extra Performance

ceramic bearings in your wheels
Enve Wheels

Do deep section wheels offer better biking performance? Are deep section wheels only for the pro-cyclists? Let’s find out!

It is claimed that deep section wheels provide considerable aero drag benefits compared to the traditional shallow rims. This assists the riders to bike faster for the same effort or at the same speed for less effort. They are also much sturdier than the shallow rim wheels.

But that is not to say that deep section wheels are the best type of bike wheels. While they sound to be a prudent choice, deep section wheels are not completely flawlessly.

To begin with, deep section wheels can make some riders vulnerable to crosswinds. These wheels generate added side-forces which call for additional bike-handling skills. They are heavier than the shallow rim ones and since they are mostly constructed with carbon, the expensive price tag is just another hindrance. Additionally, the deep section wheels are built with fewer spokes. These spokes can be difficult to straighten when bent. So, be careful while riding the rough terrains on deep section wheels as they tend to bear the brunt of any impact.

Having said that, let’s understand how deep is too deep for deep section wheels?

According to experts, a 60mm deepness is ideal while for a criterium, a 35mm or a 65mm deep rim is good enough. Go for the deep section wheels if you are a professional rider who rides to win. But if you derive biking thrill from cruising around nature then you can skip them without any guilt.

Wider tyres for Faster Rides

bike wheel bearing
Wider tyres

Does the width of the bike tyres really matter? Are wider tyres faster?

Narrow bike tyres from the hay days are gradually becoming obsolete. They are being replaced by wider tyres which reduce rolling resistance, saves energy, and provides additional comfort. Additionally, a wider tyre has a greater contact area with the road and that adds a modicum of extra traction. This is very advantageous in the wet conditions.

The former 23mm standard tyre size is now swapped with the preferred 25mm size. This leads to expanded tyre clearance which in turn gives the riders a comfortable riding experience without any performance compromise.

Yes, we know that wider tyres aerodynamically favourable but you can easily dodge the aerodynamic drawbacks by fitting the wider tyres on wider rims.

New biking units and innovative biking parts are trying to replace the old traditional ones. Innovation in bike mechanics has barged into its most fundamental parts like wheels and bearings. And all of that has evolved for you to achieve an excellent riding experience. However, do not go overboard with all the fancy bike body parts and gadgets. It is important to look into your expectations and understand what you need to make your riding adventure better. Think wisely before making choice and once you've chosen, try to be regular in maintaining and cleaning the bike parts to enjoy an extended bike life.

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