How to keep your wheels running free
Worn wheel bearings can cause all manner of issues, here’s how to replace them
1 Feel for notchiness
The wear on a bearing can be detected by having the wheel raised off the ground, and then attempting to move it from side to side. A worn bearing will feel notchy and you should look for movement between the hub and wheel spacer. If your bike doesn’t have a centrestand you can support the weight on a jack and get the wheel lifted.
2 Clean the hub
With the bike supported on its main stand or a front paddock stand, remove the wheel – check in a workshop manual if you are unsure of the procedure – and inspect the area around the hub. Wipe away any road dirt or debris with a cloth so the bearing or seal area is visually clean. You can lay the wheel down on an old tyre.
3 Inspect the seals
With a pry-bar or suitable screwdriver, gently prise off any dust seals. These seals are important, and offer the first line of defence for the bearing against the onslaught of road grime. Inspect the seals for damage or any signs of perishing. Make sure the internal lip isn’t torn or broken.
4 We all like a little squirt
Cleanliness is important when you are working with bearings (or other mechanical parts). Using spray-on contact cleaner and a clean lint-free cloth, wipe away any dirt around the bearing and especially the inner hub. The bearing will need to come out, so a clean inner hub will facilitate its removal.
5 Tap the spacer
The bearings are located each side of the wheel with a spacer that is pinched between them. Check in your workshop manual for the specific procedure. Typically you will need to use a punch at 45 degrees to tap the centre spacer to one side, enough to expose around 3 or 4mm of inner bearing.
6 Free the bearings
Sometimes there are circlips that help retain the bearings, if this is the case check and remove them. With the wheel on the old tyre, tap the bearing on the area exposed by the previous step using a suitable drift. Once the bearing has moved, tap evenly around the edge until it drops out. The spacer will follow. Then tap out the other bearing.
7 Check the size
Make sure that you have the correct replacements. Check the size of the old bearings against the new, use a vernier gauge to make an accurate measurement. Often there are numbers embossed on the outer case of bearings which will help you double check you have the right parts. Give the bearing housing a final clean with your contact cleaner.
8 Square route
It is extremely important that the bearings are drifted into position squarely and are not damaged as you put them in. Only tap the outer case of the bearing, not the centre. Be sure to use a suitable drift; a large impact socket a fraction smaller than the outer diameter is ideal. As you tap in the bearing, you will hear the sound change as it locates correctly in the wheel.
9 Refit, repeat and check
Flip the wheel over on your old tyre and put the spacer in the hub. Using your drift tap the bearing in the same way as the other side, when the bearing is located check the position of the spacer is still central. Fit any retaining clips and external seals, and refit the wheel using the torque settings in your owners’ manual. Check the wheel spins freely with no binding. Go for a test ride and then recheck everything.
Notchy bearings can wreck you handling, but you can change them at home