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How dangerous is front wheel wobble due to a loose hub?

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How dangerous is front wheel wobble due to a loose hub?

Old 07-09-11, 07:34 PM
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How dangerous is front wheel wobble due to a loose hub?

Hi everyone,

Today I finally got around to overhauling my front hub (completely cleaned out hub, put in new phil wood grease, and new ball bearings). I had been meaning to do this because before, I had to keep the hub fairly loose due to grinding in the bearings. I thought that overhauling the hub would fix this problem.

However, after replacing with new bearings and putting copious amounts of new grease in, I found out I have to keep the hub even looser than before otherwise the wheel barely spins at all. I took it to the LBS to see if I was doing something wrong and they said not only were the cones pretty badly pitted (I knew they were pitted but I didn't realize they were that bad because I had nothing to compare it to) but that probably the internal parts of the hub were pitted as well.

So now I have to keep the hub even looser. There's definitely play from side-to-side when the wheel is in the bike with the QR skewer clamped down firmly. It also hits both brake pads even though I loosened the brakes to as far as I'm comfortable with.

My question is: is this a dangerous situation? Should I replace the front wheel? I'm hesitant to put 50 bucks or so into a new wheel because the bike is a 1984 Trek 420... it's old and it may be time for a new one. Thanks!
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Old 07-09-11, 07:38 PM
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You owe it to yourself and your kin to replace that wheel. (Unless you're going to leave a big estate- then your kin will probably want you to crash and die.) That bike's fine- keep it maintained and it'll give you another 3 or 4 decades of service.
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Old 07-09-11, 07:42 PM
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It's hardly ideal... I'm surprised you need to run it so loose it hits the pads. It should be possible to avoid the grinding by having it only very slightly loose, but then I don't have much experience with trashed cups. I'd prolly just adjust it as if it was normal, and never mind the grinding.

The hub is is obviously toast; if you can't build wheels, you need a fresh one. Don't drop $50 on a new wheel, though; you should be able to find a used one for $20 or less. You'd be very unlucky to get another one with wrecked cups, because it takes a lot of neglect for that to occur... cones and balls tend to die first.
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Old 07-09-11, 07:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Kimmo
It's hardly ideal... I'm surprised you need to run it so loose it hits the pads. It should be possible to avoid the grinding by having it only very slightly loose, but then I don't have much experience with trashed cups. I'd prolly just adjust it as if it was normal, and never mind the grinding.

The hub is is obviously toast; if you can't build wheels, you need a fresh one. Don't drop $50 on a new wheel, though; you should be able to find a used one for $20 or less. You'd be very unlucky to get another one with wrecked cups, because it takes a lot of neglect for that to occur... cones and balls tend to die first.
I'm thinking about going the used route but I'm worried about picking up another bad wheel. At my LBS at least, new cones are 10 bucks a piece so a used wheel that needs new cones will cost essentially as much as a new one. Also, I'd really like to get stainless steel spokes because the current ones are constantly rusting and needing to be cleaned with steel wool...

It's not just the grinding that happens if I tighten the cones, the wheel barely spins at all. There is just tons of friction in the hub when the cones are tightened to where they normally should be. I'm not sure why this is, but I tried messing with it for 30 minutes or so and 2 guys at a decent LBS couldn't get it tuned any tighter either
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Old 07-09-11, 08:13 PM
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1. Did you install new bearings?

2. Do you have the right size, and the right number of bearings on each side?
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Old 07-09-11, 08:34 PM
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Originally Posted by wrk101
1. Did you install new bearings?

2. Do you have the right size, and the right number of bearings on each side?
1. Yep, I installed the new bearings.

2. I checked twice to make sure all the bearings were in on both sides, and 2 mechanics also checked at the LBS for all of the bearings. Thought that the bearings may have been the wrong size but measured the hub using calipers (LBS did this, I don't know how) and said bearings were the correct size
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Old 07-09-11, 08:47 PM
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Even the very worst - I mean ridiculously bad - bearings should be able to be ridden with less than 1/16" play at the rim. Don't worry about how bad they feel, the wheel is shot anyway. Tighten them to the minimum play at which the wheel will still turn, and shop for a new wheel.

Riding a sloppy front wheel, isn't all that dangerous, total amateurs riding clunkers do it all the time, but keep a tight rein on speed on descents because it will compromise front end stability.
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Old 07-10-11, 04:32 AM
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Don't worry about a bike being "too old" to put a reasonable amount of money into. If the rest of the bike is in good condition, it is well worth replacing one or both wheels to keep it on the road for another 10+ years of service. Personally, my favorite people in the world are those who junk, give away, or sell for next to nothing at a yard sale, perfectly good high quality bikes just because they've sat in the garage for 15-20 years. I've obtained several good bikes this way. I keep the best and flip the rest.

If the wheels you have were good quality, how about rebuilding them with new hubs? Saves some $$$ if you can do it yourself.
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Old 07-10-11, 09:53 AM
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You need to tighten the cones until there is no play regardless of how poorly the wheel turns. If the wheel is in such poor shape that they barely spin, it is time to replace the cone. If what the shop says is true and even the cup is pitted, you need to replace the hub.
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Old 07-10-11, 11:31 AM
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I don't blame you for being reluctant to put money into an '84 Trek 420. Shop around for a new or more recent used ride. It's time. bk
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Old 07-10-11, 12:06 PM
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It is unsafe. Balls can crack in half. I have seen it happen. I have heard of cones cracking too. I could imagine the clearance around the axle suddenly opening up due to a cracked component and jamming the tire into the top of the fork, causing sudden front wheel braking. Or, the wobble could make you lose control.
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Old 07-10-11, 12:11 PM
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Thanks for all the help everyone. I'm going to tighten the cones until there is no play in the bearings where the front wheel will still spin but only with a TON of friction.

I'm shopping around for a new wheel now. The only thing that's stopping me from getting a new bike is that this is my commuter and I leave it outside around a college campus where bikes are stolen every day. Even a cheap(er) new bikes direct bike would stick out and probably be a target for being stolen while my old Trek 420 looks to be in just as bad condition as all the other bikes up here and so much less of a target.
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Old 07-10-11, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by hurley81388
Thanks for all the help everyone. I'm going to tighten the cones until there is no play in the bearings where the front wheel will still spin but only with a TON of friction.
Just make sure both cones and locknuts are securely tightened against each other. With higher fridtion it's more likely that a not properly secured cone could rotate tigherning the bearing and even locking the front wheel. Get a sense of how much play there is and monitor it for changes from time to time, and just for an added margin of safety, avoid high speed descents until you replace it.
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Old 07-10-11, 02:09 PM
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Originally Posted by hurley81388
Thanks for all the help everyone. I'm going to tighten the cones until there is no play in the bearings where the front wheel will still spin but only with a TON of friction.
If the metal is pitting, that means it has fatigued and will continue to crumble regardless of the adjustment, although something closer to correct adjustment may slow the decline a little bit.
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