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How to Tell If an Older Bike Needs Fresh Grease?

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How to Tell If an Older Bike Needs Fresh Grease?

Old 10-21-16, 03:08 PM
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lightspree
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How to Tell If an Older Bike Needs Fresh Grease?

The wheels spin all right, the headset is smooth, the pedals are fine, bottom bracket seems okay...but maybe the old grease in there isn't really doing its job so well. Grease often loses some lubricating ability over the course of the years.

On the other hand, maybe it's fine, and I could save a lot of bother by just riding it.

On the other hand, I might wear out some nice components that way. Premature wear is not something I want.

So, how can you tell without taking things apart?

(These bikes are mostly XT and XTR level bikes that have been ridden very little, mostly just stored for at least five years, some longer.)

I should add that a couple of the bikes' shifters were not working well. It took some spraying (with a light lubricant) and working to get them loosened up and working properly. So enough time had elapsed for the lubricant inside the shifters to thicken. But the lubricant inside may not have been the same as the grease in the other bearings.

Can you tell by feel, or sound, or some other method, when it's time?

There is no roughness...things seem pretty clean.

Last edited by lightspree; 10-21-16 at 03:42 PM.
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Old 10-21-16, 03:17 PM
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I would at minimum do the headset, bottom bracket, and wheel hubs. Doesn't take that long, and you may discover unknown issues while doing it.
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Old 10-21-16, 03:21 PM
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You really can't tell without taking stuff apart. Well, or waiting until you notice that something's damaged.
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Old 10-21-16, 03:31 PM
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An ounce of preventive maintenance is worth a pound of replacement parts. Take a look.
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Old 10-21-16, 03:34 PM
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Phil use to claim only 5 years of grease life WITHOUT actual use. Andy.
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Old 10-21-16, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
An ounce of preventive maintenance is worth a pound of replacement parts. Take a look.
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Old 10-21-16, 04:20 PM
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On many bicycles that had freely spinning wheels, bottom brackets, headsets and pedals; I've found many times after opening them up that the grease was a hardened paste and that the ball bearings were running totally dry. The grease had migrated away from the ball bearings and was a caked substance with a deep groove in it that went to the bare metal where the balls of the beairng were running.

Inspect clean and regrease is my motto.

Cheers
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Old 10-21-16, 05:18 PM
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Excellent replies, guys. Thanks
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Old 10-21-16, 08:00 PM
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Yup, now that I've discovered some pitted cones in the front hubs of a 25+ y/o bike I bought several weeks ago I'm going to check every bearing surface and regrease 'em all. I'm going to use Phil grease since I was satisfied with it 30 years ago.

BTW -- and I'm not sure it's worth worrying about -- but there's a superficial resemblance between Phil's green grease and the stuff Zee Germans used in the 1940s-'70s. That stuff was notorious for turning into a substance like a brittle epoxy or fragile plastic. Almost anyone who's overhauled a Hermann Weihrauch or Feinwerkbau spring piston airgun or Agfa folding camera from that era has encountered the dreaded green stuff. Maybe Phil's is different, or it just doesn't sit around long enough to harden. We probably would have heard at least a few anecdotes by now, 'cause there are plenty about Zee German green grease.
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Old 10-21-16, 08:12 PM
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In other words, you can tell it needs fresh grease if you haven't put any in recently.
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Old 10-21-16, 08:25 PM
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Just finished overhauling BB, HS, hubs. They were all spinning smooth it's been 3 years since last overhaul. I think I could've waited another 3 years. It was grey grease, anybody know what kind that was? I repacked with blue marine grease. Still spinning smoothly. Like OP, I wasn't sure if it needed it, and it didn't. Oh well .
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Old 10-21-16, 09:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Miele Man View Post
On many bicycles that had freely spinning wheels, bottom brackets, headsets and pedals; I've found many times after opening them up that the grease was a hardened paste and that the ball bearings were running totally dry. The grease had migrated away from the ball bearings and was a caked substance with a deep groove in it that went to the bare metal where the balls of the beairng were running.

Inspect clean and regrease is my motto.

Cheers

This is exactly what a greased bearing is suppose to do. Plow a path through the grease. The, still good, grease feeds in an oil to the rolling surfaces. When that ability stops the grease is no longer any good. Andy.
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Old 10-22-16, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by lightspree View Post
(These bikes are mostly XT and XTR level bikes that have been ridden very little, mostly just stored for at least five years, some longer.)
If the bikes have those level of components, then the bb should be sealed, and possibly the hubs, headset, & pedals as well.
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Old 10-22-16, 09:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
This is exactly what a greased bearing is suppose to do. Plow a path through the grease. The, still good, grease feeds in an oil to the rolling surfaces. When that ability stops the grease is no longer any good. Andy.
I'm talking about when the grease is so dried out that the grove is totally dry and the grease is n o longer soft enugh to lubricate the ball bearings. I've had grease so hard that it required a narrow chisel to break it off the cup.

Cheers
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Old 10-22-16, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Meathorse View Post
If the bikes have those level of components, then the bb should be sealed, and possibly the hubs, headset, & pedals as well.

Not that having seals does anything different WRT grease's life. Andy.
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Old 10-22-16, 09:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Miele Man View Post
I'm talking about when the grease is so dried out that the grove is totally dry and the grease is n o longer soft enugh to lubricate the ball bearings. I've had grease so hard that it required a narrow chisel to break it off the cup.

Cheers

Yes, I also have scrapped out dried and brittle old grease from the insides of many bikes. My reference was the bearings pushing the grease aside being the way it works. That the grease will dry out over time is a different and also normal thing. Andy.
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Old 10-22-16, 09:33 AM
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If you value the bike, which it appear that you do, do the right thing and repack the bearings. Don't do it in one day if you don't want top spend the time. Do the bottom bracket one day, the headset, etc, Takes 30 mins max for one component.
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Old 10-22-16, 11:07 AM
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Take It apart and Look?
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Old 10-22-16, 04:08 PM
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I am fully aware that one approach is to take things apart, and indicated as much in the first post. It's a pretty obvious approach, and may even end up being the best option.

I can't help wondering if something like a mechanics' stethoscope might allow you to hear metal on metal, or inadequate lubricant....

Last edited by lightspree; 10-22-16 at 05:06 PM.
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Old 10-22-16, 04:20 PM
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On the other hand you could just take a close look at the oldest components you have and see if you have a problem . . . but on the other hand that's no way to invent a fetish.


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Old 10-22-16, 04:21 PM
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With a bottom bracket it's kind of hard to tell. The inertia of the crank makes it hard to feel the bearings. I've had cranks that seemed to spin fine, nice and freely, and when I pulled the cranks the bottom bracket was notchy and had previously unnoticeable resistance.
Hubs are easier. With practice you can learn to feel the difference between a dry bearing and a well-lubricated bearing.
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Old 10-22-16, 06:01 PM
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I have a set of Atom hubs that I have not re-lubed for 30 years. Every time I plan to do it, I spin the axles and feel that perfect smoothness, and I put them back on the bike. I expect that they are still fine, but I plan to re-lace them onto different rims as part of the restoration of my 74 Raleigh Competition and will tear them apart then. I am curious about what I will find.
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Old 10-22-16, 06:46 PM
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"If it's an old bike, it needs new grease"

You can quote me on that.
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Old 10-23-16, 08:11 AM
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Originally Posted by lightspree View Post
I am fully aware that one approach is to take things apart, and indicated as much in the first post. It's a pretty obvious approach, and may even end up being the best option.

I can't help wondering if something like a mechanics' stethoscope might allow you to hear metal on metal, or inadequate lubricant....
If you can hear a bearing grinding through a stethoscope, you can certainly feel it grinding as well. Mechanic's stethoscopes aren't used to hear grinding, they are used to track down the LOCATION of noises, and are of no use that I can think of on a bike. Just open up the bearing and look at it.
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Old 10-23-16, 08:25 AM
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Stethoscopes can be used in many different ways.
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