These classy hubs were in production from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. They were supplied in several Campagnolo group sets namely Nuovo Record, Record and Super Record. They are a typical cup and cone design which provides for high durability and precise bearing load adjustability. As long as the internal cups are in good condition, bearings and other parts can be replaced.
Why learn to service your own hubs?
Learning how to service and adjust a cup and cone bearing system is an invaluable skill when working on vintage bikes as most wheel hubs, bottom brackets and headsets are a cup and cone design. So the same techniques can be applied to service and install any of these components. Even modern Shimano and Campagnolo wheels often feature cup and cone style hubs.
The service process is the same whether the hub is in a wheel or not. Some of these steps can be performed using different techniques. The explanations featured in this article are the methods I use. Suggestions or amendments can be added to the comments section below.
Before deciding if this is a process you want to try please note that this article is purely an overview of how I service my own wheel hubs and should not be treated as professional advice. Please read my disclaimer at the end of this article.
To service the front hub, you will need:
- a 13mm cone wrench.
- a 16mm wrench for the lock nut.
- Bent nose pliers are useful to remove and insert ball bearings.
- A clean rag, cloth or towel
- Good quality water proof grease for bicycle bearings.
- A pair of rubber gloves.
To service the rear hub, you will also need:
- two 14mm cone wrenches.
- Paper towel
- Cotton buds
- A short length of coat hanger wire
Assessing the condition of the hub
Before you begin, remove the quick release skewer. Now assess the condition of the hub. Whilst holding the wheel (or hub body), use your fingers to rotate the hub axle to ascertain how it feels.
- Does the rotation feel notchy or rough?
- Does the axle rotate freely or is it tight?
- Does the axle have any play (up-and-down or in-and-out)?
- Feel the axle on both sides of the hub. Do they feel the same?
If the rotation is not smooth or there is play in the axle, the hub may only need an adjustment. Once you have disassembled the hub and removed the axle, you can decide if you need to clean out the old grease or simply re-insert the axle and adjust the bearing tension as described later on.
Disassemble the front hub
Pick any side of the hub you wish to dismantle. Slide the 13mm cone wrench onto the flat slots of the cone. Position the 16mm wrench on the lock nut. Hold the cone wrench firmly so it doesn’t move and turn the lock nut anti-clockwise to loosen it, then remove the lock nut from the axle. Next, slide the keyed washer off the axle. Note the notch in the axle thread aligns with the notch in the washer.
Slide the 13mm cone wrench onto the flat slots of the cone. Position the 16mm wrench on the lock nut. Hold the cone wrench firmly so it doesn’t move and turn the lock nut anti-clockwise to loosen it, then remove the lock nut from the axle. Next, slide the keyed washer off the axle. Note the notch in the axle thread aligns with the notch in the washer.
Now we need to unscrew the cone from the axle. Fit the 16mm wrench to the locknut on the opposite side of the hub and hold it firmly, then slide the cone wrench onto the flat slots of the cone and turn the cone wrench anti-clockwise to loosen the cone. Unthread the cone from the axle noting it’s orientation.
Before we pull the axle out from the hub, position the hub over a clean surface like a white paper towel just in case any of the bearings fall out when we remove the axle as you don’t want to lose any. Now pull the axle out of the hub.
There is no need to dismantle the lock nut and cone from the other side of the axle. Keeping these parts fitted in place will ensure that when we re-assemble the hub, the axle will protrude the same distance outside of the hub as before. This protruding length of axle is important to allow a contact point for the dropouts of the front forks.
Now the axle is removed from the hub, you will see the individual ball bearings sitting in the cup. There are 9 bearings fitted to each side of my hub. The grease in this hub looks to be in good condition, but as this hub was purchased second hand, I am going to remove the grease and clean the hub to check the surface condition of the cup and bearings on both sides of the hub.
I use a pair of bent nose pliers to pluck the bearings out of the cup. Some people use magnets and other techniques for this. Remove the bearings from both sides of the hub. If some bearings are missing, look inside the middle of the hub. Some bearings may have fallen in there. Also check if any fell out onto your paper towel.
Clean the parts
Now we are going to clean away all the old grease and muck from the inside of the hub. The more thorough you are, the better result you will get. Degreaser, rags and cotton buds are handy for this. To get a cloth all the way through the hub, I use a piece of coat hanger to gently press the rag out to the opposite side. Do not use hard tools when cleaning the inside cup as this surface must remain smooth and unscratched.
Once you have finished cleaning, make sure the inside of the hub is dry and free of any degreaser. Check the cups for any pitting or a rough surface. If it is damaged, you may need to replace the hub. This cup is very smooth.
Now we use a bit of degreaser to clean the loose ball bearings and wipe them clean with a rag or paper towel. Inspect the bearings for any wear.
Now is the opportunity to replace bearings if required. These are the measurements of the bearings from my hub.
Clean the axle, axle threads and both cones. Check the cones for any wear.
Reassemble the Front Hub
Apply a good layer of grease to the cups on each side of the hub. Use good quality grease, don’t skimp! A small tube will last you for ages as you require so little for this job.
Note: Once the hub is reassembled, you may feel additional resistance when rotating the axle. This is quite normal and will depend on the viscosity of the grease you used. In a short period of time, everything will settle-in and the axle will being to spin more freely in the hub.
Place the correct number of ball bearings into the cup on both sides of the hub. I count them as I insert them to make sure none went missing. The grease should easily hold them in position.
Apply a thin layer of grease to the axle, axle threads and both cones. This will help stop any corrosion on the axle and make it easier to re-thread the cone and lock nut.
Before you insert the axle into the hub. Take a quick look to ensure all the bearings are still in place and none have fallen into the middle of the hub or out onto your paper towel. Carefully insert the axle into the hub making sure not to dislodge any bearings in the process.
Thread the cone nut onto the axle, making sure it is oriented as shown below.
Bearing tension adjustment
Up until this point, everything is quite straight forward. Whether this is your first time servicing a hub or your 100th time, this next step often requires a few repetitions to achieve just the right amount of tension on the bearings without any play in the axle. Yes, it can be done in one go, but most likely the bearings will be compressed too tightly.
If this is your first time servicing a hub with cup and cone bearings, I recommend repeating this process MANY times to discover the sweet spot of bearing tension. Don’t be afraid to repeat as many times as required.
Tighten the cone nut until it just comes into contact with the bearings. Now check the axle does NOT have any play ie. it should not be able to move up-and-down or in-and-out of the hub. We want the axle to be fixed in place, but we don’t want the cone to be done up too tightly as to over-compresses the bearings. This adds to rolling resistance and causes premature wear of the hub.
Before you thread the lock nut onto the axle, grip the axle (and lock nut assembly) on the other side of the hub and hold it firmly to make sure that the axle does not rotate when we begin to thread the lock nut on the axle. Ensure the lock nut is oriented correctly (as shown below) before we thread the lock nut toward the cone. Thread the lock nut down until it just touches the cone.
Check for play in the axle again in all directions. If there is any play, adjust the cone again to remove any play.
Using the cone wrench to hold the cone exactly in the same position on the axle, use the 16mm wrench to tighten the lock nut (clockwise) onto the cone with just a gentle amount of pressure, not fully tight yet.
Test the axle for play again by attempting to move it up-and-down then in-and-out of the hub to see if there is any movement. If there is some play, use both spanners to loosen the lock nut a little, tighten the cone a little more and then re-tighten the lock nut. Re-test for play.
Now we have eliminated any play from the axle, we need to check if the axle rotates smoothly in the hub. If the bearings and hub internals are in good condition, you don’t want to feel any roughness or tightness when turning the axle. It should have a light and smooth rotation. If you think the rotation is a little bit tight, use the wrenches to loosen the lock nut a bit and then loosen the cone just a fraction, then re-tighten the lock nut. Don’t forget the new grease may add some resistance so the rotation, so it may not rotate as easy as before the service.
Repeat the adjustment quite a few times and you will quickly realise when you get the best outcome. It is worth investing some extra time here.
Once you have the bearing tension set to your satisfaction. You can tighten the lock nuta bit more. I don’t overtighten the lock nut. It just has to stop the cone coming loose. The QR skewer and forks add some extra compression to the hub.
Finally, clean the parts of the quick release skewer. Apply a light coat of grease to the skewer and insert it into the axle. Be sure to orient the springs in the correct direction. The small end of each spring faces in toward the hub as shown. Learn how to service a Campagnolo quick release.
Allowing for quick release skewer loading
I have read a number of times over the years that you should leave the slightest amount of play in the axle when setting the bearing tension. The reason being; this extra play will be removed by the additional compression of the QR skewer and thus achieve the perfect bearing tension.
Whilst this may be the case, I don’t use this technique. I prefer to set the adjustment so there is no play in the axle, but it still rotates freely. I’d prefer the bearings fractionally too tight than risking the hub rolling on a loose axle.
Servicing the rear hub
Servicing the rear hub is nearly the identical to the front hub. The main skill is adjusting the cone to get the optimum bearing pressure. By now you should have had lots of practice with the front hub.
If your hub is in a wheel, it is now a good time to use a black Sharpie to mark the drive side of the hub before we disassemble the hub (ie. the side of the hub with the cogs). A rear wheel is not built symmetrically like a front wheel. The drive side spoke tensions and angle vary greatly from the non-drive side spokes. It is important that when we later re-insert the axle that the spacer is located on the drive side of the wheel (the one we just marked).
The main differences of the rear hub compared with the front hub are;
- Lock nuts are a different shape.
- We need to use 14mm cone wrenches for the cone and lock nut.
- Larger 1/4″ ball bearings (9 pcs each side).
- Spacer fitted the drive side of the axle.
Disassemble the rear hub
Select a side of the axle to remove the lock nut and cone. I chose the non-drive side as there is one less part to remove (ie. spacer). Position one cone wrench onto the flats of the cone and the other cone wrench onto the flats of the lock nut. Turn the lock nut anti-clockwise to loosen it. Once the nut is loose, unthread the lock nut, slide off the keyed spacer and unthread the cone just as we did with the front hub.
Before removing the axle, place the hub over a light coloured paper towel or similar so no loose bearings are lost if they fall out of the hub. In my hub there are 9 ball bearings on each side of the hub. The bearings are the same size on both sides of the rear hub.
Clean the hub and all the parts. Inspect the cups, cones and bearings for any wear. Re-grease the hub and all the parts just like the front hub. Re-insert all the bearings.
IMPORTANT! Look for your Sharpie mark and re-insert the axle into the hub so that the axle spacer is on the same side as the mark ie. the drive side of the wheel. Make sure you don’t knock any bearings out of place when re-inserting the axle.
Re-assemble the remaining parts in the correct orientation on the rear axle and adjust the cone in exactly the same manner as the front hub to get the best bearing tension. Once you have completed the process. Feel the rotation of the axle for both hubs and check they feel similar. Note: the grooved side of the lock nut faces out.
Whilst I enjoy working on my own bikes, I am not a qualified bicycle mechanic. The content of this article is purely illustrative and does not constitute professional advice. For your own safety, this type of work should only be undertaken by a qualified bicycle mechanic. Incorrect assembly of parts could result in equipment damage, personal injury or death.
I welcome reader feedback in the comments section. Should you wish to suggest an amendment, please include a note advising the source of your information so that myself and other readers can ascertain the accuracy of your information. Note: Trolling or argumentative comments will be removed as they are counter-productive.