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How to prevent a bent / broken axle on a vintage road bike

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How to prevent a bent / broken axle on a vintage road bike

Old 01-06-19, 10:05 AM
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Dampin
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How to prevent a bent / broken axle on a vintage road bike

I've gotten 2 bent axles in the last year or so on my freewheel vintage road bike. What are the causes of this and how can this be prevented ?
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Old 01-06-19, 10:21 AM
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Freewheel hubs place the drive side bearings a couple inches inside the hub, leaving the axle to bear the load. Cassette hubs, by contrast, are able to put the bearings near the dropout in both sides, so the axle is supported well.

Bent axles happen most often if the dropout spacing is 130mm, less frequently if the spacing is 126, and not often at all with 120. Some axles also are stronger than others. What hub and dropout width is on your bike?
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Old 01-06-19, 10:21 AM
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Not uncommon in old freewheel setups due to the driveside bearing cone being nearer to the center of the axle and creating more leverage to bend/break the axle. There used to be some suppliers, and maybe still are some, that would offer higher grade chromoly steel axles that would hold up longer. Check some different suppliers for info on what steel they use. Also avoid using gorilla strength to tighten the locknut against the cone as this can stretch and weaken the axle at that point. Other than that switching to a modern cassette hub eliminates this problem.
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Old 01-06-19, 10:22 AM
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Is are you using correctly spaced wheels? Are the dropouts in alignment. Are you a Clydesdale?
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Old 01-06-19, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Mr. 66 View Post
Is are you using correctly spaced wheels? Are the dropouts in alignment. Are you a Clydesdale?
haha maybe , 5'11 height and 190 lb
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Old 01-06-19, 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Crankycrank View Post
Not uncommon in old freewheel setups due to the driveside bearing cone being nearer to the center of the axle and creating more leverage to bend/break the axle. There used to be some suppliers, and maybe still are some, that would offer higher grade chromoly steel axles that would hold up longer. Check some different suppliers for info on what steel they use. Also avoid using gorilla strength to tighten the locknut against the cone as this can stretch and weaken the axle at that point. Other than that switching to a modern cassette hub eliminates this problem.
Would I have to get a new wheel for a new cassette hub ?
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Old 01-06-19, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Dampin View Post
Would I have to get a new wheel for a new cassette hub ?
You could save your rim and re-lace to the new hub. If the spokes are the correct length you may be able to use those too BUT, you'll need to spread your frame dropouts to accept the wider hub and get a new cassette (7-10 speeds) and if you're using indexed shifters of some sort you'll need to replace those with shifters with the corresponding proper number of gears. Friction shifters will work though. If it were mine I would try to get a better axle first and go the new hub route as a last resort.
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Old 01-06-19, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Dampin View Post
Would I have to get a new wheel for a new cassette hub ?
Usually most will say yes. But I suppose one could unlace their rim, checking the rim's radial and lateral condition when the spokes are at minimal tensions and relace it on a new hub. Maybe needing new spokes.

This would do a lot to eliminate broken/bent axles. At the same time checking and correcting as needed the drop out width and alignment is a very smart idea.

I ran 126+ and 135 wide set ups with classic campy NR hubs for many years. While I did have some bending and a couple of broken axles I did all I could do to minimize the bearing offsets on the axle. I set up my small cog/frame clearance to thee minimum and added as many spacers to the LH side as I could to match the drop out widths.Then dished the wheel accordingly. It helped that I am a small guy who knows how to "ride light".

About 15 years ago I began to switch over to freehub/cassette hubs along with 9 speed indexing. Even on the tandem and touring bikes I have had zero axle issues since. Andy
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Old 01-06-19, 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Mr. 66 View Post
Is are you using correctly spaced wheels? Are the dropouts in alignment. Are you a Clydesdale?
+1. I forgot one of the most important points. Misaligned dropouts also put stress on the axle. Definitely get those checked and aligned with each other.
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Old 01-06-19, 10:47 AM
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At 190lbs, you definitely are not the heavy horse. It does sound to me of dropout alignment. I would look at the dropouts unclamped, and watch the dropouts as you clamp. If they bend as clamping occurs they. aren't alingned, that puts an unnatural tension on the axel. Which could lead to the axel bending or breakages.
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Old 01-06-19, 10:51 AM
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Is it possible to allign the dropouts without any special tools ?
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Old 01-06-19, 11:05 AM
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Sort of, one can buy bolts and nuts to create the tool. Park makes the one I've used.
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Old 01-06-19, 11:10 AM
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So I probably can't even try setting a new dropout spacing, my bike is a Cannondale SR300 so it's an aluminum frame, pretty sure it's at 126 mm right now spacing wise.
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Old 01-06-19, 11:20 AM
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Old 01-06-19, 12:11 PM
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I don't think I've ever bent an axle on a road bike.

Every rear axle I've ever seen on cheap Department Store MTBs is bent. I think they sell them pre-bent.

The first thing is to be careful about what you run over.

Are there different quality of axles available? Unfortunately say vintage Campagnolo may be mostly 126mm.

I was late adopting cassettes, but have been very happy with them. I'd probably skip the uniglide hub above (threaded outside of the freehub), and go directly to the newer hyperglide freehubs.

For Shimano, there are 3 current types of freehubs with different widths.

7 speed
8/9/10 speed
11 speed

The 8/9/10 freehubs are widely supported, and would work well on a vintage bike. Add a spacer behind the cassette if you wish to use 7 speed.
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Old 01-06-19, 12:38 PM
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Knowing the OP's height and weight only tells part of the story in my opinion. I've ridden with guys heavier than him who rode 28 spoke Record hubs (freewheel) with GL330s and never had a problem with axles, even when 7 speeds came out. Conversely, I've had to true up wheels and replace axles for 145 pound riders who had no idea what "ride light" meant. It's like they were oblivious to every crack, bump & hole in the road. Even then, they wouldn't unweight the front or get out of the saddle for anything. I think HOW you ride is more important than how much you weigh.

One last thought, on my 130mm spacing, 7 speed freewheel, rear wheel I have double butted spokes. I believe heavy, straight gauge spokes transmit more energy to the hub and axle when it comes to bumps and such.
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Old 01-06-19, 01:09 PM
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I see a lot of broken axles on freewheel hubs. I repaired one at the Co-op Friday, for someone who was complaining about: "creaking from the bottom bracket". It was actually the axle sheared clean through, with things only held together with the skewer.

We charged $5 for a new axle, and $2 for a replacement for the mangled skewer. Plus $2 for new ball bearings, as they may have been compromised with all of the mashing and grinding that had been happening with the hub.

Anyway, as previously stated, this is an inherent design flaw with freewheel hubs. In 50 years of riding these hubs I've never broken an axle, but I am light and careful, and I only use these hubs on good roads. I would not consider a freewheel hub on a hybrid or mountain bike, or on a bike with more than 7 cogs.

Here is a workaround. Note the cone below has a 'nose' or extension that will support the rear axle at the most stressed point. This is actually a front cone for an older XT/LX front hub, but it does feature 10mm threading that will work with standard rear axles. Of course, you would have to remove the rubber seal and metal dust cap before installing.

IIRC, I paid about $9 for these.


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Old 01-06-19, 01:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Dampin View Post
how can this be prevented ?
-​ If it's 126mm spacing, use a 6-speed freewheel, and no more.

- buy a nice, new Wheels Manufacturing axle and cut it to the desired length.

- If you have any hub spacers you can move from the ds/right to the nds/left side and still clear the chain from the stays, do so.

- Youtube hack rj the bike guy can explain how to make an $8 dropout alignment tool.

- Don't curb hop.
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Old 01-06-19, 01:31 PM
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Replacing a QR axle with a solid axle will also reduce this issue. My mid-1980s Kuwahara tandem has solid rear axle for this reason.

-Will
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Old 01-06-19, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Dampin View Post
So I probably can't even try setting a new dropout spacing, my bike is a Cannondale SR300 so it's an aluminum frame, pretty sure it's at 126 mm right now spacing wise.
You could buy a used 130mm cassette rear wheel, add an 8 speed cassette & chain, then "jam" it in the rear dropouts.
I've done that with 2 old Cannondales.
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Old 01-06-19, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Random Tandem View Post
Replacing a QR axle with a solid axle will also reduce this issue. My mid-1980s Kuwahara tandem has solid rear axle for this reason.

-Will
This will help far less then most at first glance would thing. The added material is at the worst location to help resist axle bending, the center where the added material has the smallest diameter and hence the least stiffness addition. As to strength (all together a different aspect) an axle with it's manufactured in stress risers (threads) will start to crack before it fully breaks through. That added material only delays the break through slightly. Look at the fracture face of a broken solid axle and you'll see the crack presence before the final failure. Andy (whose first couple of tandems also had solid axles)
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Old 01-06-19, 03:09 PM
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You can use a 7 speed cassette hub with 126mm spacing.

I have also made an 8/9/10 wheel to 126 spacing. I really like using the asymmetrical/off-center rims on the rear.
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Old 01-06-19, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Dampin View Post
I've gotten 2 bent axles in the last year or so on my freewheel vintage road bike. What are the causes of this and how can this be prevented ?
What were the circumstances when they bent?
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Old 01-06-19, 03:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post
I see a lot of broken axles on freewheel hubs.
Same here. Broken axles are more common the more sprockets you try to pile onto the freewheel. Very few on five and six sprocket drivetrains, more with seven, and even more with eight.

If you're having trouble with broken axles, assess whether you can get by with fewer sprockets on the freewheel. If you can't, switch to a freehub/cassette system. If you want to try fewer sprockets, be aware that you will need to shift some axle spacers from the drive side to the non-drive side and re-dish the wheel to fully benefit from this change.
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Old 01-06-19, 06:40 PM
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The second time where my axle cracked was on a road where there was uneven road , cracks and overall just poor infrastructure. So Iíll try to ride light on these new chromoly axles for now as it isnít an expensive fix.
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