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Cup and cone hubs are simple and will achieve high mileages with basic care. This basically boils down to swerving the jet wash, stripping and regreasing them periodically. These Campagnolo are still going strong, thirty years down the line. Our main case study strip is a rear cassette hub, but the basic principles stay the same for front and rear.

Strip, inspect, replace bearings and grease yearly and they’ll keep spinning smoothly. Six monthly for mountain bikes and others in hard, four season’s service. Neglected, or mal adjusted bearings can wear quickly and lead to more serious damage, from cones through to worn, pitted hub races. Beyond a certain point and we’re talking new hubs and then of course, the potential cost of getting them built into wheels. Fresh bearings, degreaser, decent quality grease and basic tools are much cheaper.  

bicycle wheel hub grease
bicycle wheel hub axle

Before You Start PT 1

If it’s been a while, give your wheels a more thorough inspection. Check they are spinning true with no side to side, or up and down play. Give the spikes a visual check. Anything bent, missing, or with sloppy tension will need attention, Next the rims, especially if you’re using rim brakes. Check for wear, dings, or similar. A lot of rims have simple wear indicators - usually a groove, or small hole. Once these disappear, the rim needs pensioning off. 

bicycle cycle bike rad velo

Several years ago, I was caught out by my fixed gear winter/trainer’s rear rim. Difficult to see from this photo (taken by the roadside, at the time) but it had worn wafer thin. To the point it warped-completely out of true. The implosion was several miles from home. Fair warning.


In some instances, it may be more cost effective to buy a new wheel, rather than rebuilding the hub and getting it laced into a new rim.

Before you Start PT II 

Organisation is key. Check the bearing size for your hubs and buy the correct size. Genuine manufacturer replacements aren’t much dearer than generic balls, which can be of a much lower grade. If you are working on a rear derailleur transmission, you’ll need a cassette removal tool (or a freewheel remover on an older/classic, such as my road bike built in 1991) and a chain whip, or tools like these Feedback Sports Cassette Pliers, which I much prefer. *These are not needed for old fashioned screw-on freewheels such as this Regina*

Feedback sports cassette remover

Talking of which, if you’re needing to remove the freehub body on a Shimano hub, you’ll also need a 10mm Allen key. Opinions vary, but I’m of the school that says it’s better to replace the freehub body, rather than trying to strip and overhaul.

Other essentials include clean rag and degreaser. Some rag for cleaning the hub, another large strip, or piece of card for resting and inspecting the internals. 

You’ll also need an open-ended 17mm spanner for the locknut and when it comes to rear Shimano hubs, a 15mm cone spanner (13mm front).  

bicycle tools spanners maintenance

The Campagnolo Athena (1990) needed a 13mm front, 14mm rear, so double check. Obviously, you’ll need a suitable degreaser and some fresh rags to clean and inspect the races, axles, bearings etc. 

Oil or Grease?

Most folks will go for grease every time, with good reason. Older hubs without any rubberised components can be packed with lithium greases. They are inexpensive, stout and very durable. However, I tend to default to Park Polylube1000  or other synthetics. We’ve also had pleasing results with White Lightning Crystal High Performance Clear Grease and Green Oil Eco Grease . Track and TT riders might find real benefits from low-friction greases, including  Peaty’s Speed Grease which I have found surprisingly durable. Viscosity-wise it’s closer to a semi-synthetic motor oil, than a grease and offers some tangible performance advantages. However, some racers swear by traditional oil. if you’re determined to go this route, be prepared to strip and relubricate at least every couple of weeks.   

Optional But Very Useful

grease gun

Not essential, but a magnetic bowl to collect any escapee bearings, locknuts and washers comes in very handy, making for easy inspection, without fear of them rolling away, beneath the workbench, fridge, or similarly inaccessible point. For these reasons, small, magnetised screwdrivers, or needle nose pliers are also useful for coaxing the balls out.

Grease guns keep mess and wastage to a minimum. Oh, and tasking photos of how things came apart can be a godsend, in case you get called away and a curious feline drops by .......

Case Study 

shimano deore hub bicycle wheel

This 6-year-old Deore M525 rear hub had been salvaged from Ursula’s spare wheel and has served come hell and high water. The cheap but cheerful rim had finally become wafer thin, hence its retirement. The Freehub body was decent shape, so left alone. I’ve opened and ours using a 15mm cone wrench and thirty-year old Cool Tool Multi Tool. Primarily since someone had helped themselves to my 17mm workshop ring spanner and to illustrate overhaul is still possible, say mid-tour.

Opening Up

Removing the cassette or freewheel is your first job. I tend to apply a quick blast of Plus Gas or maintenace spray if they look to have been in situ a while. Old school freewheels tend to get wound on very tight as you ride. 

wheel spokes tools cassette freewheel

Hold the cassette still with your chain whip, or cassette pliers, while introducing the splined tool into the cassette lockring. Check everything is correctly aligned and then while holding the cassette still, turn the lockring/freewheel remover counter-clockwise until it loosens. 


Cassette, freewheel (or indeed fixed sprocket) removed, it’s time to delve inside. 

spanner tools adjust

Go in via the non-drive side. Slot the cone wrench in situ, to hold things steady, while undoing the locknut counter-clockwise with your 17mm wrench. If the hub hasn’t been opened in a while, it may be a little stubborn. A quick blast of maintenance, or release spray (e.g. Motorex Joker 440  WD40, or Plus Gas at this point may help). Once that has released, repeat on the other side. Before you whip the axle out (from the non-drive side of a rear hub) ensure you have some paper, stretch of clean rag, old tray to collect any bearings that may escape.

In this instance, I wasn’t going to refit, but replace the existing 18, ¼ inch balls, but there’s always a chance that one or two replacements might go rogue. No need to remove anything from the non-drive side, simply lay the parts down in order.

hub dismantle

Now coax the balls from the hub’s races, count them carefully and place them in a pot, or metallic parts dish for safe keeping. Rear hubs typically employ 18 ¼ inch bearings, front hubs tend to be smaller but ensure you have the correctly size and quality replacements. Similarly, since front and rear can be of different number/sizing, either strip individually, or keep them very well segregated.

ball bearings

Take a rag dipped in degreaser/solvent and wipe the cups thoroughly. Repeat this with the axle and associated parts. Aerosol cleaners such as Weldtite Jet Blast Degreaser  are super convenient for these jobs. I flushed the Deore through with Green Oil Agent Apple Extreme Immersion Degreaserbefore flushing it through with fresh water. 

Regardless of your chosen lube stripper, wipe everything clean, ensuring no residual is clinging on and dry thoroughly. In the Deore’s case, a greasy gravy was still affording some protection to the balls, races and axle, so I was quietly confident the hub was structurally fine. 

hub cone dirty grease

No wear to the axle or other components either. Don’t assume everything is fine. I removed all traces of grease and potential grit from the hub and its internal components, inspected them for any trace of corrosion, pitting or similar wear.  

bicycle cycle axle hub lock nut cone cup

While a secondary point, greases are not always mutually compatible, which is another crucial reason to deep cleanse. 


I packed both sets of races with synthetic grease, then counted nine balls into each.

freehub grease hub strip

Add a further layer atop and then slide the axle back.

With the axle home. Wind the cone down, so its snug, but the axle turns freely, with the faintest amount of play. Hold it steady while tightening the locknut. This will remove any remaining play and may take a few attempts to get bang on. 


Bear in mind that closing the quick release will also add some compression to the bearings. Hub(s) packed, remove any residual grease, applying that to the quick release skewer and dismiss any leftovers from the hub with a clean rag dipped in solvent. Alternatively, leave this and wrap some old, clean string around the ends to act as an improvised seal. 

Refit the skewer and cassette (don’t a bead of grease to the cassette, or centre lock disc ring, and a very light touch to the freehub splines. Go a little heavier on screw-on freewheel threads, avoiding lithium pastes, since these can result in galvanic corrosion.) and snug down carefully - job done.

hub grease
hub bicycle adjustment spanners

Bearings can bed in a little, so don’t be surprised if you need to adjust them very slightly after the first 100-200miles, or so. 

hub assembly deaore shimano

Trouble Shooting Hints

Hub feels gritty or doesn’t turn smoothly.... This may be attributable to some grit, or similar ingress remining in the hub, or stuck to the bearings. Dismantle the hub, thoroughly degrease all components, then dry and inspect.

Check bearings are of the correct size, number and if appropriate, not mixed e.g. front and rear.

Can’t remove play in the hub? Check you have the correct number and size bearings. Did you check the axle and cones properly for wear?  Open, inspect and replace as required.  

Michael Stenning




Ryton On Dunsmore

Coventry  CV8 3FH


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