Cup and Cone Bearing Servicing

Pete, 2016

My trusty road-bike is to be 11 years old this year, it was the Focus brand’s first batch of bikes as they entered into the UK market in 2005. Although i’m clearly sentimental about this ride it’s still the most comfortable bike I have ridden, and for me comfort equals speed.

I suspect like most riders there’s a lot to say when it comes to wheels, fast ones, light ones, deep ones, aero ones, carbon ones.. circular ones..yeah that certainly was a timeless design-feature. They can be a significant upgrade to any ride but very little is ever mentioned about what makes them run smoothly. At the core of all this X-rated bike salivation babble is the hub, and mine needed servicing, although to be completely correct the bearings within the hub needed servicing. Something in a wheel has to do the hard work and inside the hub are the bearings which ride-after-ride take a pounding, helping to keep the wheels spinning with ease. My hubs happen to use a ‘cup n’ cone’ bearing system whilst the alternative is a ‘cartridge’ system. The technicalities of the two are probably best saved for another blog post but Iron-Man 70.3 ‘Ian P’ at Horsham Tri Club has experience with servicing and upgrading the latter. There is a strong case for preferring cartridge bearings these days on the basis of ease of servicing and wheel longevity, definitely worth considering when buying some wheels or a bike.

You’ll know when a hub needs servicing as the spin of a wheel turns into a hiss or indication that something’s not silky smooth within. So this weekend with a spare couple of hours I decided to service the front wheel’s hub, as it’s been sounding pretty ‘gritty’ lately. This is how I got on. BTW – this is likely a 7/10 on difficulty.

I used:

+ Cone Spanners
+ Adjustable Spanner
+ Grease
+ Tea
+ GT-85
+ bio-degradable de-Greaser
+ Biscuits
+ Rags & Nitrile Gloves
+ Magnet

First thing to do was remove the quick-release skewer, lefty-lucy until the end drops off, remember to keep the pryamid spring and keep it all safe.

So here’s the plan, get to the bearings, get em out, inspect, clean, replace the grease and reassemble, simples.

I needed a cone spanner for this job, 18mm. Its super slim compared to a normal spanner allowing it to cup the slender nut on the assembly. Using a standard spanner for the top nut hold the cone spanner in place and release the top nut, remove and set aside.


Remove the cap which helps to stop large amounts of road grime entering the bearing, this can be done gently with your chosen useful pointy thing:

Now unscrew the lower of the two nuts which is actually half of one side’s ‘cup and cone’ assembly as shown below. This is also known as the cone. Peering past the thread you’ll see the ball-bearings inside, hopefully suspended in a thick grease:

Now this is a great time to point out what you hopefully won’t find on the surface of the cone. Grit and grime is the enemy of any well lubricated mechanism and below is a perfect example of wear and tear brought about by neglect. Road grime has entered the bearings here, got caught in the thick grease that packs the assembly and ground it’s way into a paste which acts as an abrasive onto the surface of the the cup and cone. The grit is harder than the once polished surface of the cone assembly and this results in ‘pitting’ of my poor hub’s metal surfaces, increasing friction and reducing the life of the hub:


Remove the ball bearings from the cone, here are mine covered in 11 years of the best road grime Sussex and Surrey has to offer. I had a handy magnet to pick them out but a flat headed screw driver also works. You will want to repeat this process the other side of the wheel. There were 11 ball bearings in each cup and cone assembly on this wheel:


The cone where the ball bearings were sitting needs a good clean, remove all the grease from within. Notice the wear-lines and pitting on this cup too:


Clean the ball bearings and cone with ideally a bio-degradable degreaser. If you wash them off with water then use a water-displacing light lubricant like GT-85 or WD-40 to displace any remaining water from the parts. I use GT-86 because it smells nice!

Once everything is clean and free from grit its time to pack each cone with grease. Grease not oil, it is thick, viscous and does not run within operating temperature. I used a teflon based grease here but there are plenty of alternatives available. The main reason for choosing this was the handy pointy applicator.


Place a generous amount around the cone and then carefully place each ball bearing into this:


Reassemble everything being careful to ensure that the final cup is only finger-tight onto the bearings, we want to avoid sideways movement a.k.a ‘play’ but allow the bearings to move and run freely within their clean and well lubricated new home. The top nut serves to lock the assembly together which you will again use your cone spanner and standard or adjustable spanner for, tweaking together for the final time. Replace your quick-release skewer, double checking for tightness and you’re ready to ride.