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Old 05-02-12, 10:07 AM   #1
jdave5917
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Hub Oil vs Bearing Grease in Front Hub

Working on a vintage "Made in England" FRONT hub (Hercules Bike with Sept 1958 Sturmey Archer-SW rear hub) and was wondering - why not just plug the oiler cap hole and use modern bearing grease. Seems like that would be a lot less messy since I wouldn't have to occasionally add oil and deal with the excess oil leaking onto places where your don't want that (like the braking surfaces on the rim). The only potential drawback that I can see is that the cups on the hub have a more "open" shape to them than modern hubs and perhaps they would not contain the grease in the cups as well as modern hubs where the bearing cups seem to be a "tighter" design that conforms more closely to the shape of the bearings.

The cap for the oiler broke off and I used a cut-off 10-32 brass screw to plug the oiler hole and it seems like it would be a lot less trouble to just go with grease. I realize that is not an option with the rear 3-speed hub since the internals need the lubrication that the regular oil additions provide.

Anyone tried this and regretted it afterwards?
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Old 05-02-12, 11:44 AM   #2
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As I understand it, oil hasn't been a sole source of lubrication for a long, long time with the only real exception being track racing. Everyone uses grease but the oilers were used to freshen up the grease with a drop now and then. Oilers fell out of hub fashion after the fifties except for a few hubs like Campy Record.

Someone recently posted a web site where they still sell oiler caps with a variety of threads.
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Old 05-02-12, 11:47 AM   #3
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Maybe the heavy grease will interfere with proper cone adjustment??
I have used 80W-90 forever in the front hub. I use a syringe and add a measured amount. Take it for a ride and park it on it's kick stand and weave paper towels in and out of the spokes to catch any drips. I do this until it stops staining the paper. You can use the paper towel trick on the rear hub as well.
The 80-90 is much thicker than the lighter oils and seems to stay put better.
There is a reason the Brits didn't use grease on their earlier models and you have probably hit upon it.
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Old 05-02-12, 12:26 PM   #4
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Although oil lubrication is messy, when regularly applied it has the advantage of flushing contamination out of the hub instead of allowing it to collect around the bearings.
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Old 05-02-12, 12:42 PM   #5
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One could argue that oil is a superior lubricant for the way it replenishes raceways more quickly after displacement by the rolling balls.

One could argue that grease is a superior lubricant because it doesn't flush out of the system as quickly and need replenishing as frequently as oil.

Depends on what's important to you, grease and oil have different qualities. IMHO, oil is the superior lubricant for rolling ball bearings for the first reason I describe above. However, oil requires frequent replenishing and it also gets things dirty as it leaks and drains out of bearing systems. Grease has become the favorite of manufacturers everywhere because it's low maintenance. You rarely have to replenish it. But, it doesn't do as good a job.
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Old 05-02-12, 01:40 PM   #6
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Thanks for the replies. One thing that I thought of after posting the quesion is that the old hubs do not have teh outer dust seals like modern hubs, which help keep contaminants from infiltrating the hub and eventually the grease. That said, I'm probably going to take the lazy route and go with the grease. This bike will be an occassional rider so I'm thinking that the grease would be the better way to go. In the long run, I'd rather remove and regrease the bearings once in a great while rather than bother with the oil and the seepage issue on a more frequent basis.
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Old 05-02-12, 01:44 PM   #7
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I like grease because after any initial gushing-out of grease, it tends to set up an almost geometrically perfect shield which greatly supplements the dust shield.

As well, oil sloshes around more, and I'd be more worried about accumulated recirculating grit, since wear particles from the races are relatively non-damaging as compared to the super-hard silica that road grit contains.
It's just a lot harder for dirt to get to the rolling surfaces when a hub is packed with most types of grease, and to the extent that the particular grease tends to recirculate, any grit is dispersed within a much larger volume of lubricant, reducing the concentration of grit below what an oil puddle could disperse.

Oiling might have been advantageous when a rained-on bike would be oiled to displace water, but in practice this maintenance would not be so religiously applied and would be very messy.
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Old 05-02-12, 02:02 PM   #8
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The hub is 54 years old and has survived everything previously mentioned on just oil. God only knows how many times it has been oiled in the past but it is still with us and ready for more.
Grease would be more convenient for sure, but I personaly would stick with the oil.
Some of these vintage "English racers" were built so tough you couldn't kill them. Oil it up and off you go.
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Old 05-02-12, 03:59 PM   #9
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This is interesting in that I am working on a 1937 CCM with the oiler holes in the hubs. I just stripped and cleaned the front hub and assembled with Phil's Waterproof grease but was wondering about the coaster brake rear hub. If I use grease for a coaster brake will it actually work properly?
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Old 05-02-12, 09:05 PM   #10
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I've posted this before. Oil lubricates better than grease but requires constant replenishment. Grease is a good choice when constant replenishment is not an attractive option.
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Old 05-02-12, 10:17 PM   #11
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There is a reason the Brits didn't use grease.
Yeah, they like oils spots.
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Old 05-02-12, 10:23 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by darrenw1 View Post
This is interesting in that I am working on a 1937 CCM with the oiler holes in the hubs. I just stripped and cleaned the front hub and assembled with Phil's Waterproof grease but was wondering about the coaster brake rear hub. If I use grease for a coaster brake will it actually work properly?
I rebuilt 3 hubs last year using grease, 2 with oil holes and one with out. They all make a "ping" when you stop pedaling and go into coast mode. I think this is because the clutch doesn't slide as freely on the axle as it should. Could be another reason but I haven't found anyone who knows. I should try dropping a little oil in there to see how things change. Now that I think about it, I haven't noticed it on the one that I use a lot. Either it's quit or I've gotten used to it. I'll have to pay atttention next time I ride it.
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Old 05-02-12, 10:55 PM   #13
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Or you could go in the middle with automotive assembly lube - really great stuff...
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Old 05-02-12, 10:57 PM   #14
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My Sturmey AW3 gets Oil for the gears , and grease for the axle bearings.
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Old 05-02-12, 11:14 PM   #15
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This bike has never been greased save for the headset in the past 57 years... the Raleigh hubs are as smooth as any I have ever ridden on and when I tore them down to take a peek the races and cones were in perfect and like new condition even though this bicycle was ridden regularly for 50 years before it's owner passed away.



My winter bike has an AW in the rear and an old Shimano hub with an oil port up front and I use oil lubrication on this bike.

Grease has the benefit of being something you can do and then forget about the bike for a few thousand km.

On CCM coaster hubs... most of the old ones were designed to be greased while many British hubs were designed to use oil... the British hubs do not run as hot as the North American coaster hubs and also do not stop as well but are much smoother.
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Old 05-03-12, 06:55 AM   #16
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My Sturmey AW3 gets Oil for the gears , and grease for the axle bearings.
Since I live in a dry hot climate, grease on the front hubs works out great - it stays warm and slippery for the occasional service the old bike is called upon to perform. I used car transmission fluid for the rear, and it does flush out the nasty stuff over time but shifts excellently.
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Old 05-03-12, 06:01 PM   #17
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Grease and oil as long as they are compatible...

From what I gather the old brown grease was basically soap and oil mixed together. The oil volatiles would "boil" off leaving the hard soap base, by adding oil to the hub it would flush the debris down and refresh the soap based grease. Works for me!

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