Lubricating Bicycles

To keep a bicycle running smoothly regular oiling and greasing of all rotating, pivoting and chafing parts is essential. Depending on the weather and taking into account that, unlike a car, many of the moving parts on a bicycle are exposed to the elements, a programme for lubrication would be about once a month in good. Dry conditions, once a fortnight in average weather and once a week in really bad; wet weather.

When lubricating, the watchwords are little and often; do not overdo the oiling routine because in various ways too much lubricant can play havoc with the smooth function of a bicycle. Too much lubricant in a hub bearing, for example, will run along the spokes when the wheel is rotating. This in turn will cause the brakes to fade when the lubricant reaches the rim; if the oil reaches the tyre and tube. These will become perished.

Always use top quality oil and grease; both should be of the medium variety, which can be obtained from any good bicycle shop. Avoid light. All-purpose lubricants since these will be thrown off or will run in warm weather; on the other hand do not use a heavy variety since this will drag or congeal too easily.

Lubricating Bicycles

Cleaning Never oil a part which is covered in grit and dirt because this will increase bearing wear as well as attract more dirt to the moving parts. Always clean the area thoroughly first : use washing-up liquid or car shampoo in warm waterlo remove any surface grime from the machine. A soft long. Bristled brush is ideal for this, but be careful not to get any of the solution near the main bearings: capillary action will drag it into them and your efforts will be wasted. After rinsing, wipe down the machine with a clean, dry lint-free rag.

Main bearings

In most cases the main bearings – those in the bottom bracket, head set, hubs and pedals – should be grease-packed on initial assembly; weather permitting, they will run for three to 12 months before they need more than the occasional inspection. Due to the special tools required. It is advisable to have the head set and bottom bracket fitted by a well-equipped cycle shop – unless of course you have just bought a complete bicycle, in which case these major items should be ready for many weeks’ use. Once the seated or fixed parts of the bearings have been workshop-fitted. It is relatively easy to regrease them yourself when necessary.

Signs of a main bearing requiring urgent attention are usually visible or audible. In most cases the visible sign is a light brown paste oozing from the crevices or housings around the bearings. This indicates water has penetrated the grease barrier and formed a rusty liquid which must be cleaned out immediately. The audible signs are usually tinny, banging sounds; these indicate a worn or cracked bearing – again immediate action is required to eliminate the problem.

Bottom bracket

To inspect the bearings in the bottom bracket, take the chain off the chain ring, remove the crank arms from the axle and undo the locking ring, which is on the left-hand side of the bottom bracket housing (as viewed when sitting on the bicycle); this usually has a right-hand thread. A soft punch or C spanner will remove the ring and a peg spanner or an adjustable American wrench will remove the adjusting cup. Do not try to remove the right-hand (fixed) cup at this stage; as long as it is not pitted or worn, it is best left alone. If you have to remove it, ensure you use a tool which will firmly engage any removal flats. Also take care to remove it in the correct direction; most bicycles made in Britain have a left-hand thread, but machines made elsewhere can have a left or a right-hand thread. If in any doubt, consult your dealer.

After removing the bearings, check they are in good condition; flush them out with lighter fuel or paraffin and wipe off any traces with a clean, dry rag. Refit the bearings, fixed cup first, ensuring the cups go in tightly and squarely; it is very easy to cross-thread bracket fittings if you are not concentrating. If the bearings are worn, they must be replaced. Take the old ones with you when you buy replacements to ensure you get the right type; it is usually best to replace a complete set rather than mix old and new parts. Always replace the ball bearings, regardless of cup wear; they are very cheap to buy in comparison with the rest of the bracket unit and wear and tear can be much harder to detect on them.

Head set

The head set on which the forks rotate is not such a hard-working bearing, but still requires regular attention. After cleaning, lay the bicycle on its side and run oil along the gaps between the races at the top and bottom of the head tube. Wipe off any traces of oil and rotate the head set a few times as far as the front wheel will allow; this helps the lubricant to find its way onto the bearing surface. If you need to regrease the head set, remove the handlebars from the steering column and undo the top nut of the head set with a large American wrench. This will enable you to remove the screwed race beneath it and allow you to regrease or replace the ball bearings.

Many junior and small-wheeled models have nylon bushed head sets; these should not be oiled since the bushes will swell and lock the steering. Hubs If hubs need servicing, ensure you have soft jaws on your vice — or use packing — when you grip the hub spindle securely (but not too tight) in it. Remove the lock nut from the end of the spindle (anti-clockwise), the lock washer and the cone; thin cone spanners and a wrench will be needed for this operation. Push out the rest of the spindle and ball bearings and flush through the hub shell with lighter fuel or paraffin.

Pitting on cones and races usually shows up as small ulcer-like spots or, in extreme cases, deep ruts. Wear and tear generally only affect the cones and ball bearings, which should both be replaced if they show signs of either of these. If the races are pitted, they can only be replaced in the more expensive types of racing hubs; special tools are required to remove them and fit new ones.


These bearings require the same sort of attention as the head set. There is a sintered type of pedal which does not have a fine adjustment and cannot be dismantled; it relies on graphite as a lubricant which is impregnated into the fragmented metal before it is compounded into the shape of a bearing surface. However this type still requires one or two drops of oil.

The ball-bearing type of pedal can be grease-packed by removing the cap at the end and the lock nut and cone beneath. Unlike the sintered type, these can be adjusted by rotating the cone with a screwdriver and securing it with the lock nut.

Freewheel and chain

These are usually the most abused parts of a bicycle and the grubbiest as a result.


This should be dealt with first. To clean it, remove the rear wheel and, bracing it against a bench or wall with the freewheel uppermost. Remove all dirt and grit with an old thin-bladed screwdriver and a rag soaked in lighter fuel. Do not forget the back of this unit; it is a part which is often neglected. Run a few drops of oil round the hairline gaps at the front and rear of the freewheel — capillary action will do the rest. At this point spin the wheel fast and, holding the sprocket (or sprockets) so you can hear the wheel clicking, wait for the tone to change from a dry click to a watery clack; you will then know the lubricant has reached the pawl springs — the most delicate and vulnerable parts of the machine. Wipe off surplus oil with a clean rag.


Many people recommend removing the driving chain from the machine and soaking it in paraffin to dissolve the grime. This is not only unnecessary, but also inadvisable since paraffin will dry out the chain by purging it of its inbuilt lubricant; this will induce rust to form inside the links. All you need to do is run the chain through a clean rag soaked in lighter fuel and use an old nail brush to remove any really stubborn dirt. You can remove a one-eighth chain which has a spring-link connection if you think this will make cleaning easier; but never remove a three-thirty-two ( A in) chain. The technical reasons for this are numerous. But suffice it to say you will cause yourself a lot of trouble if you do take the chain off. There is no spring-link connection on this type of thin chain, since it would foul the cage plates of the Derailleur gear through which it is designed to operate. As with the one-eighth chain, run it through a rag soaked in lighter fuel to clean it; turning the cranks backwards with the chain on the smallest cog will help to speed up this process.

Once the chain is clean, charge a 13mm paint brush with oil and apply this to the chain until the surface is completely coated with a fine film — some of the oil will find its way into the links. When the whole chain has been covered, wipe off any surplus oil with a clean rag.


Derailleur gears need a drop of oil on all the pivots and rotating parts, such as pulley rollers and lever ‘banjo’ pivots, to keep them changing smoothly. When the gears are fitted, the inner control cables should be greased as they run through the outer casing or curl under cable guides.

Hub gears should be lubricated only every six months; using a light oil, insert a few drops through the oil cap located on the shell of the hub. Do not 4 try to get oil past the cones at the ends of the spindle, since these have special built-in grease seals. A drop of oil is necessary, however, on the small toggle chain which goes into the hub spindle and on the control trigger and cable pulley, if fitted. Twist-grip gear controls need only the very smallest amount of oil.


Rod or roller lever brakes are not so common now due to the popularity of cable brakes; however if your machine has this type of brake, oil all pivoting and chafing parts regularly and they will work well 4 and give good service. Pay particular attention to the stirrup guides which are attached to the frame; it is at this point that a good deal of braking power is lost due to too much friction.

Cable or caliper brakes function best if oil is run through the outer casing and if the inner control cables are greased when first assembled. Ensure all pivoting parts are oiled, especially the two main pivots in the brake levers.

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