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What happens if I don't change the oil in my IGH?

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What happens if I don't change the oil in my IGH?

Old 05-23-21, 04:10 AM
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What happens if I don't change the oil in my IGH?

What happens if I don't change the oil in my Alfine 11 Internal Gear Hub? Do I risk damaging it or will it just not shift gear?
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Old 05-23-21, 04:30 AM
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I think it will depend on how much you ride it. How much is it being used? If you aren't riding it much, then you can probably get away with extending past the factory-recommended oil change intervals. If you are really putting it through a lot of use, you may need to change the oil sooner rather than later. At any rate, and in any situation, its always better to err on the side of caution and just change the oil. One of our fine fellow forum members here has a great video on changing the oil.


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Old 05-23-21, 06:46 AM
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Originally Posted by J.Higgins View Post
I think it will depend on how much you ride it. How much is it being used? If you aren't riding it much, then you can probably get away with extending past the factory-recommended oil change intervals. If you are really putting it through a lot of use, you may need to change the oil sooner rather than later. At any rate, and in any situation, its always better to err on the side of caution and just change the oil. One of our fine fellow forum members here has a great video on changing the oil.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFOMD2q5-o4
An oil change on the 11 speed Alfine is a drain and fill procedure. Removal of the internals is not necessary.
I made the above video, however many years ago that was, in response to all the discussion happening at the time around Shimano's recommendation to convert the Nexus and Alfine hubs to oil lubrication, using, of course, Shimano's own (high priced) specially formulated oil.
Lots of discussion was happening on alternatives, so being in a position to do so, I decided to run some long term tests.
I did place annotations of the videos that I was not endorsing ATF as an alternative, but unfortunately, those annotations were added after uploading to Youtube rather than during the video editing, and they have since disappeared.
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Old 05-23-21, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by J.Higgins View Post
I think it will depend on how much you ride it. How much is it being used? If you aren't riding it much, then you can probably get away with extending past the factory-recommended oil change intervals. If you are really putting it through a lot of use, you may need to change the oil sooner rather than later. At any rate, and in any situation, its always better to err on the side of caution and just change the oil. One of our fine fellow forum members here has a great video on changing the oil.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFOMD2q5-o4
I live in the flat midwest so I don't change gears often. I suppose that'll extend the time until I need to change the oil?
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Old 05-23-21, 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
I live in the flat midwest so I don't change gears often. I suppose that'll extend the time until I need to change the oil?
Probably not. Everything is still moving inside the hub.
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Old 05-23-21, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
Probably not. Everything is still moving inside the hub.
Why does an IGH require an oil change, but not a single speed?
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Old 05-23-21, 03:48 PM
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You have to lube single speed freewheels too. They're not 'internal' like an Internally geared hub though, totally different.
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Old 05-23-21, 04:31 PM
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There is good material, including pictures, from Aaron's Bicycle Repair, a.k.a. Rat City Cycles here. They're located in Seattle and therefore know about rainy environments. Read up on it and click links to some of the other pages at their site. They have a lot of advice and technical info on Shimano Nexus and Alfine hubs.


Apparently, riding your IGH a lot in the rain is what drives a need for frequent service. If you ride in a dry environment, you should be okay going longer intervals without service.

I believe I've also read from Sheldon Brown that bringing an IGH inside from the cold is not such a good practice. When the hub gets cold outside and then comes in and quickly warms up, moisture can condense inside it. If there's a secure, dry place to leave it outside in the cold, that might be better for it in the long term.
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Old 05-23-21, 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
I live in the flat midwest so I don't change gears often. I suppose that'll extend the time until I need to change the oil?
Either that, or you'll see wear happen only in that gear position. Dan is the real expert here, so maybe he'll chime in again. Its pretty simple to change the oil. I would not hesitate to use ATF either. I'm a huge fan of ATF for several different bike-related tasks.
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Old 05-23-21, 05:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Dan Burkhart View Post
An oil change on the 11 speed Alfine is a drain and fill procedure. Removal of the internals is not necessary.
This^^.

I have an Alfine 11-speed hub with over 9,000 miles on it. I've changed the oil per factory instructions roughly ever 800-1,000 miles. The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes if you take your time. The wheel doesn't even have to come off the bike.

Every time I change the oil, I remove slightly less oil than I placed at the previous change. This means that the hub loses oil very slowly over time. Over a distance of 1,000 miles the oil loss doesn't amount to much; at most a few milliliters. But eventually, there won't be enough oil to protect the internals from wear. There are *vastly* more moving parts inside a hub like this than there are inside a single-speed hub, or a hub with a cassette. Dan had made a really nice video
which will give you an idea of what goes on inside an internally-geared hub (and an Alfine-11 has a bunch MORE moving parts!). Considering how much these hubs cost, it's a small task to give it an oil change once in a while. If the mileage interval seems too short, I'd do the change at least once a year.

EDIT: I've been using Royal Purple MaxGear 75w-140 instead of the "official" Shimano oil because its viscosity and other properties resemble the Shimano oil (except for color: the Shimano oil is green). I'm sure ATF would work well, but it's a lot thinner and I would not be surprised if it leaked out a little more.

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Old 05-23-21, 05:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Broctoon View Post
I believe I've also read from Sheldon Brown that bringing an IGH inside from the cold is not such a good practice. When the hub gets cold outside and then comes in and quickly warms up, moisture can condense inside it. If there's a secure, dry place to leave it outside in the cold, that might be better for it in the long term.
God Bless Sheldon Brown. Love the man, and his teachings, but some things he came out with were leaning more toward hyperbole than actual fact. If you've ever disassembled any IGH, you'd soon come to realize that there may be less than a couple cubic centimeters-worth of air inside after the oil has been added, and even less than that inside a classic Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub. Think about it for a second - that air has to be laden with moisture in order for it to make any condensation, and there is so little air, I doubt it would make much difference. Sheldon Brown is our bike maintenance guru, surely, but he's been known to go off the deep end a time or two.
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Old 05-23-21, 05:26 PM
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Originally Posted by J.Higgins View Post
If you've ever disassembled any IGH, you'd soon come to realize that there may be less than a couple cubic centimeters-worth of air inside after the oil has been added, and even less than that inside a classic Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub. Think about it for a second - that air has to be laden with moisture in order for it to make any condensation, and there is so little air, I doubt it would make much difference.
I tend to agree with you here, but this is another reason to change the oil on some sort of schedule, or at least once a year. It would be pretty sad if, over the last 9,000 miles, enough moisture had gotten into my hub to cause damage. Especially when the process is so easy!
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Old 05-23-21, 06:32 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
You have to lube single speed freewheels too. They're not 'internal' like an Internally geared hub though, totally different.
how does that work? clearly you wouldn't be lubing the belt right?
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Old 05-23-21, 08:04 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
how does that work? clearly you wouldn't be lubing the belt right?
Whether single or multi speed, a freewheel contains moving parts, including bearings and the ratchet mechanism which is usually pawls and springs. Any time you have moving metal parts, they need to be lubricated. How often they need to be re-lubricated depends on a lot of things, including how well sealed they are, and sources of contamination ranging from dust to road salt. It's pretty rare to re-lube a freewheel, partly because the moving parts are only moving when you're coasting. And the time honored lubrication technique is to let some light oil drip through the hub from one side to the other. I've done that on an old freewheel on a friend's "campus bike" that she gave to my daughter.

In an IGH, any number of the internal parts, and possibly all of them depending on the design, are in motion all the time. They are usually lubricated by being bathed in light oil that collects in a sump in the hubshell. Some newer hubs have used light grease instead, don't know the pro's and con's. Early hubs like the Sturmey Archers were not sealed, and so a certain amount of oil constantly leaked out past the bearings, which is why those hubs are always coated by a patina of black greasy dust and the chrome underneath pristine. I've found that some of that oil also ends up on my chain. The oil has to be replaced, but also, changing it periodically is a chance to wash away metal particles and other filth that have collected over time.

Whatever oil drips out would certainly "lube" the belt on a belt drive bike, and so hopefully the rubber is compatible with oil. (This is typical for any rubber used for automotive purposes). But it would be worth keeping an eye on, to make sure the belt isn't getting filthy.
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Old 05-23-21, 08:10 PM
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An additional note, one of my 3-speed hubs is a Sturmey AW that was formerly on my mom's bike. Its oil cap had fallen off, and the hub had been ridden dry for some unknown time period, probably years. All I had to do was scrub the small amount of powdered rust off the internal parts, re-assemble, and have been riding that hub without issue for several years. Those English engineers knew how to design things that could be made with relatively imprecise tolerances but extreme reliability.
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Old 05-23-21, 08:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C View Post
Whether single or multi speed, a freewheel contains moving parts, including bearings and the ratchet mechanism which is usually pawls and springs. Any time you have moving metal parts, they need to be lubricated. How often they need to be re-lubricated depends on a lot of things, including how well sealed they are, and sources of contamination ranging from dust to road salt. It's pretty rare to re-lube a freewheel, partly because the moving parts are only moving when you're coasting. And the time honored lubrication technique is to let some light oil drip through the hub from one side to the other. I've done that on an old freewheel on a friend's "campus bike" that she gave to my daughter.
Ok thanks
Originally Posted by Gresp15C View Post
Whatever oil drips out would certainly "lube" the belt on a belt drive bike, and so hopefully the rubber is compatible with oil. (This is typical for any rubber used for automotive purposes). But it would be worth keeping an eye on, to make sure the belt isn't getting filthy.
Gates is Carbon, not rubber
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Old 05-23-21, 08:26 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
how does that work? clearly you wouldn't be lubing the belt right?
You would take off the seals and add fresh grease or something like Phil's Tenacious Oil in the bearings of the freewheel. If you are running a belt you don't need to lube it though you can use silicon spray however you would lube a chain. If you are running fixed you would just need hub maintenance or replacement of bearings as needed and same stuff with chain or belt.

Basically anytime you have metal on metal contact you want something keeping it lubricated or protected in some way from rust and corrosion and to keep everything moving properly if needed (as in the case of your hub). It is always better to err on the side of a little extra maintenance then none at all. Alfine hubs are not the most expensive thing in the world but I wouldn't want to have to replace it because I didn't change oil once and while. Just like you need food to survive a thing with moving parts needs lubrication.
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Old 05-23-21, 09:57 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
Gates is Carbon, not rubber
Indeed, the Gates website says it's carbon fiber reinforced polyurethane, which is quite likely to be oil resistant.
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Old 05-24-21, 09:56 AM
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I’m not going to say much about changing oil in an IGH other than to say that lubricants in a bicycle application will probably last until the sun goes cold because the stresses put on them are so small. You need to change oil in internal combustion engines because the lubricant is subjected to extreme conditions. Bicycles don’t experience that.

Originally Posted by Broctoon View Post
I believe I've also read from Sheldon Brown that bringing an IGH inside from the cold is not such a good practice. When the hub gets cold outside and then comes in and quickly warms up, moisture can condense inside it. If there's a secure, dry place to leave it outside in the cold, that might be better for it in the long term.
This, however, chaps my hide. It’s just straight up wrong. If you want to test it, put a cup of hot tea next to a glass of iced tea and see which one causes condensation. You might have some condensation if you are taking a warm bike into the cold but even that is a stretch. Warm air from a heated house doesn’t have much water in it during the winter...cold air can’t carry much water and heating it doesn’t add water to it. Taking a warm bike out into the cold does lower the amount of water that the air can carry but that just brings it back down to the level of the water in the cold air. No condensation should occur.

Even if it could possibly happen, the amount of moisture is tiny and the volume of air it could condense from is also tiny. At 20C (78F), fully saturated air has 0.0017g of water in every cubic meter. That almost 2 milligrams of water in a 1 m cube. There are a million mL in a cubic meter. There are about 100 mL in a IGH hub. If the hub shell were completely empty, that a grand total of 2 one millionth of a gram. It’s not even a “drop” of water. It’s barely a “hint” of water.*

To put it another way, to get to a gram of water, you’d have to take the bike in and out of the house 500,000 times.


*I usually give the US equivalents for this kind of discussion but we have no easily used way of measuring that small a volume. A US teaspoon has almost 5 mL in it or 2.5 million times the volume.
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Old 05-24-21, 10:12 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Im not going to say much about changing oil in an IGH other than to say that lubricants in a bicycle application will probably last until the sun goes cold because the stresses put on them are so small. You need to change oil in internal combustion engines because the lubricant is subjected to extreme conditions. Bicycles dont experience that.
So ... every 800 miles?
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Old 05-24-21, 01:44 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
What happens if I don't change the oil in my Alfine 11 Internal Gear Hub? Do I risk damaging it or will it just not shift gear?
Users have reported the oil drained in the first, break-in oil change to be metallic in color. Yeah.

Hours of reading on the Alfine 11 in actual service:
https://forum.cyclinguk.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=64432
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Old 05-24-21, 03:44 PM
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Oddly enough, if there were metal particles in the oil, it would be black. As for changing the oil, at least on the old SA hubs, it's not so much a matter of changing it, but of replacing what leaks out.
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Old 05-24-21, 06:11 PM
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Originally Posted by seibaatgung View Post
how does that work? clearly you wouldn't be lubing the belt right?
No...wait for it...the F R E E W H E E L. They have bearings inside and thus need lubrication. You take apart and clean/lube the freewheel.
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Old 05-24-21, 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
No...wait for it...the F R E E W H E E L. They have bearings inside and thus need lubrication. You take apart and clean/lube the freewheel.
Same as with a single speed chain drive? Proving the point about ATF being as good as manufactured-to-be-$18-a-vial IGH oil?
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Old 05-24-21, 07:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Dan Burkhart View Post
An oil change on the 11 speed Alfine is a drain and fill procedure. Removal of the internals is not necessary.
I made the above video, however many years ago that was, in response to all the discussion happening at the time around Shimano's recommendation to convert the Nexus and Alfine hubs to oil lubrication, using, of course, Shimano's own (high priced) specially formulated oil.
Lots of discussion was happening on alternatives, so being in a position to do so, I decided to run some long term tests.
I did place annotations of the videos that I was not endorsing ATF as an alternative, but unfortunately, those annotations were added after uploading to Youtube rather than during the video editing, and they have since disappeared.
Thank you for making the video.

Did you do your penance for stealing the wifes juice and tea pitcher?
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