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Solid Axle Bearing Adjustment

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Solid Axle Bearing Adjustment

Old 10-18-13, 04:02 PM
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Wilfred Laurier
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Solid Axle Bearing Adjustment

Hey, mechanics! I am currently setting up a late 80s cheap mtb as a winter bike but I have a question about bearing adjustment. The front wheel has a steel hub with a solid axle. Last night, after I managed to remove the front wheel (previous owner had installed an M9X 1.0 nut on the 3/8 X 26 axle), I found the bearings were very tight, so I loosened one locknut and backed off one cone, then smeared a tonne of grease in both sides before trying to adjust the bearings. I didn't bother cleaning it or changing the bearings because it looked not too bad and, after all, it is just a steel hub on a winter bike. But at some points in the axle's rotation there is a tiny tiny tiny bit of play, and at other points it seems to be slightly tight... not 'binding' but you can feel a small increase in roughness and drag.

Should I set the bearings so there is a bit of play or a bit of drag? With a QR axle I would have no problem leaving the play and assuming the QR tension would remove it, but axle nuts will not have the same effect. So... what do I do?
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Old 10-18-13, 04:15 PM
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In your case I'd balance the adjustment between the two limits, so it's not so loose that there's no binding but not so tight there's no looseness. Then mount the wheel in the frame and see how much slop there is at the rim. You might not even feel 1/16" of rim play when riding. Andy.
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Old 10-18-13, 04:23 PM
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Since there shouldn't be any deviation in the amount of play, I'd suspect a bad ball or chunk of grit.
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Old 10-18-13, 04:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
Since there shouldn't be any deviation in the amount of play, I'd suspect a bad ball or chunk of grit.
Not necessarily. It's quite easy (and common) for one spot on the bearing surfaces to be more worn than others, but that does not necessarily explain loose in one spot and tight in another. It's quite possible the axle is slightly bent. If it is merely more resistant in one spot that's OK, If it actually tends to bind I would be more concerned.
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Old 10-18-13, 05:06 PM
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Originally Posted by cny-bikeman View Post
Not necessarily. It's quite easy (and common) for one spot on the bearing surfaces to be more worn than others, but that does not necessarily explain loose in one spot and tight in another. It's quite possible the axle is slightly bent. If it is merely more resistant in one spot that's OK, If it actually tends to bind I would be more concerned.
Maybe that's why I said "SUSPECT"?
In a "perfect world", even a bent axle would be consistent.

For a wheel that I plan on using for the Winter, I'd certainly invest $1-2 worth of balls. (and inspect the cones & races)
If it's still rough, so be it. If not, one may have PREVENTED "actual" damage.
It's not like it's a major investment!
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Old 10-18-13, 05:14 PM
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QR you adjust cones Ideally with a dummy drop out pair just like the bike uses
so when you put it in the bike its just right, as the QR will compress the adjustment .

solid axle thats not an issue so making them goldilocks in your hands should be OK.
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Old 10-18-13, 07:36 PM
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The Op said his hub is a steel one. These are usually made of at least 3 parts. The center "barrel" and each flange end with the bearing surface formed inside. Some steel hubs even have the bearing cup and the flange made up of different parts. These parts are combined with a press fit, swedged fit or even spot welding. It is common for this fit together to have a slight misalignment and/or shift over time and stress. Then there's the cones which on low cost hubs are made as cheaply as possible. Their forming can have inconsistencies. Lastly remember that cones don't rotate, so wear is focused on the portion that is pointing toward the ground. If a wheel is not removed and reinstalled for many miles the cone will wear unevenly.

All this makes steel hubs much more likely to have some miss alignment or distortion of the bearing surfaces. Many of the low cost bikes I repair have some amount of binding in their hubs at axle rotational points. BTW i see far more of these reasons to have binding then I do from the actual balls. Andy
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Old 10-18-13, 07:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
Since there shouldn't be any deviation in the amount of play, I'd suspect a bad ball or chunk of grit.
Reasonable suggestions. I didn't do more cleaning than a cursory wipedown of the outside before disassembly.

And when I got the wheel off the bearings were damn tight, so damage is possible, too.
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Old 10-18-13, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by cny-bikeman View Post
Not necessarily. It's quite easy (and common) for one spot on the bearing surfaces to be more worn than others, but that does not necessarily explain loose in one spot and tight in another. It's quite possible the axle is slightly bent. If it is merely more resistant in one spot that's OK, If it actually tends to bind I would be more concerned.
'More resistant' is a very good description. I could tighten it up more before it is anything resembling 'binding'.
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Old 10-18-13, 07:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
The Op said his hub is a steel one. These are usually made of at least 3 parts. The center "barrel" and each flange end with the bearing surface formed inside. Some steel hubs even have the bearing cup and the flange made up of different parts. These parts are combined with a press fit, swedged fit or even spot welding. It is common for this fit together to have a slight misalignment and/or shift over time and stress. Then there's the cones which on low cost hubs are made as cheaply as possible. Their forming can have inconsistencies. Lastly remember that cones don't rotate, so wear is focused on the portion that is pointing toward the ground. If a wheel is not removed and reinstalled for many miles the cone will wear unevenly.

All this makes steel hubs much more likely to have some miss alignment or distortion of the bearing surfaces. Many of the low cost bikes I repair have some amount of binding in their hubs at axle rotational points. BTW i see far more of these reasons to have binding then I do from the actual balls. Andy
The hub is made from at least three pieces, but is a lot nicer (nicer looking, anyways) than any BSO hubs from the past twenty years. And pretty smooth. I am taking your advice and setting it as good as I can get it both play- and friction-wise. I think it will have to be slightly tighter than I have it now. I will mount it up and see how it feels.

Your earlier comment...

Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart
not even feel 1/16" of rim play when riding
...confuses me slightly. I always thought you were supposed to have zero play in bearings. Would a tiny amount of play like >1/16" be acceptable?
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Old 10-18-13, 07:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Wilfred Laurier View Post

Your earlier comment...



...confuses me slightly. I always thought you were supposed to have zero play in bearings. Would a tiny amount of play like >1/16" be acceptable?
Some bearings are designed with a slight end play being needed. There was a recent thread about this aspect of many radial contact cartridge bearings. Some bearing "systems" are not very well made and so the adjustment is "as good as possible" (as yours seems to be).

What is not being said (yet) is whether it's better (whatever that means) to have a bearing running a bit too tight or too loose. I have been of the opinion that a too tight bearing will Brinell or fret and result in surface damage far greater then a slightly loose one. Perhaps some think that a loose bearing will result in a denting of the surfaces (the hammering action of loose parts under impacts) but I don't think I've seen this unless the slop was WAY TOO MUCH.

I'd be interested in what other experienced people think about this question. Whether it's The hub is made from at least three pieces, but is a lot nicer (nicer looking, anyways) than any BSO hubs from the past twenty years. And pretty smooth. I am taking your advice and setting it as good as I can get it both play- and friction-wise. I think it will have to be slightly tighter than I have it now. I will mount it up and see how it feels.better to run a bearing on the tight or loose side, all things being equal? Andy.
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