Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sealed bearing hubs

This article has been on my mind for some weeks, when I took the photographs that are below.  It is about the history and servicing of Viscount and Lambert branded wheel hubs.

Most Lambert and Viscount own-brand hubs - that is those that are stamped either ‘Lambert’ or ‘Viscount’ - have ‘sealed’ or cartridge bearings.  I say ‘most’ because some do appear that have conventional (cup and cone) bearings.  Some of these have it seems been converted from sealed bearing ones, but others were apparently made that way.  Why this was, I don’t know.  Has anyone any information?

All the own-brand ones are high-flange (HF) types.  When Viscount stopped using the own brand hubs (I would put this in 1977 or 1978, but it might have phased in earlier), they went over pretty consistently to Shimano HF ones, of no particular group set (this might need checking, but they certainly weren’t from a well-known one like Dura Ace or 600).  Later on, from 1980, the Aerospace bikes used Shimano 60, 600 or even Dura Ace low flange (LF) hubs.  These are all alloy hubs.  Non-Aerospace bikes might use steel hubs.

This might seem a bit confusing, but it is usually easy to tell what you are dealing with:  
LF ? - conventional hub.  Manufacturer confirmed by branding stamped on the shaft.
HF ? - stamped ‘Lambert’ or ‘Viscount’ or sometimes completely blank (the stamping seems to have been a bit hit and miss) - very probably sealed bearing type.  Shimano or other manufacturer - conventional bearings.
These are of course the hubs as the bike left the factory and a bike might well have been re-wheeled.

The sealed bearing hubs are likely to cause the most problems, but they are not really difficult.  Problems that ae likely to happen are that the bearing itself becomes stiff, loose or rough or that the whole cartridge becomes loose in the housing that it fits in in the hub.  The latter is potentially the most serious and may not be fixable.  The cartridge bearings are cheap to buy and fairly easy to fit.

I covered cartridge bearings quite a lot when I wrote about the bottom bracket - see    .  The bearings for the wheels are type 6000 - 10mm bore (inside diameter), 26mm outside diameter and 8mm thickness.  You will probably buy type 6000-2RS meaning that they have double rubber seals - i.e. both sides are sealed.  You can see that the one I took out of the hub shown is a 6000DU.  DU or DDU means double contact seals.  Another common type which looks similar and may be ok is one with the suffix ZZ, meaning double shielded.  In this case I think the shields are metal.  All my knowledge about bearing numbers comes from the Gizmologist’s Lair.

To service a hub a couple of basic tools are helpful to have. Or at least improvise reasonable alternatives.  Number one is a mallet.  This is like a hammer but with the business end made of wood or rubber.  Some of the bits are fairly soft or vulnerable - the alloy hubs and the threads on the axle particularly - and hitting them with the unforgiving steel of your favourite hammer is likely to damage them.  Second is something similar to a 6” nail, for knocking out bearings.  Could be a nail or an old quick release skewer.  A bearing puller would be nice, but is not essential.  This is a device with hooked jaws that pass through the bore of the bearing, which is then pushed or pulled out.  Here is one from Loose Screws, one of my favourite suppliers of hard-to-get bike bits.  There’s also a good description of how to use it.

A few weeks ago a friend showed me how to build wheels: to make a pair of gold-hubbed sprint wheels for the gold Lambert I am building up.  Part of the wheel building was servicing the hubs and fitting new bearings.  A couple of things emerged from this.  One was that it is useful to have a vice (vise in US English) for the work and the other was that it is easier to deal with hubs than a complete wheel.  An engineer’s bench vice would be best, with aluminium or hard plastic soft jaws to protect the hubs, but I’m sure any type could be pressed into service.  Without a vice, carefully supporting the hub or wheel on wooden blocks will work.

If the bearings in a hub are smooth and are firm in the hub shell; and if there is nothing wrong with the axle it is probably best to leave it alone.  There is however no point in trying to resuscitate a suspect bearing, as they are cheap.

Assuming that you need to change the bearings, first knock out the axle if present.  The Lambert / Viscount axle has no shoulders - it is just plain 10mm diameter in the unthreaded section - so one bearing might come out or it might stay stuck in.  

Knock out the remaining bearings with your nail or more sophisticated bearing puller.  Bearings come ready greased but you might want to add some.  It’s difficult to do later.  The rubber seals can be prised off with a knife or small screwdriver and grease added before pressing the seal back into place.  Just do this on one side of each bearing and make sure that side is assembled to the inside of the hub, in case you damage the seal.

The bearings have been known to work loose in the housings in the hub, for reasons that are not clear, but I think that Loctite or similar locking compound should be used.

Put the bearing on to the axle at about the right position - by squeezing in the vice or tapping.  It’s not necessary to use locking compound on the axle.  Fit the bearing into the hub and then squeeze or tap the second bearing into place.  The position of the axle can be adjusted.  Make sure that the axle turns smoothly and the bearings are not binding.  Fit the lock nuts and spacers if required.  Tighten the lock nuts so that they are snug against the bearings but do not load them.  These ball bearings are not made to be end loaded.

Next time - perhaps pedals or transfers (decals).

Happy pedalling.


  1. Thanks again Dr John for an excellent article. I have both sorts of HF hubs: a Viscount pair and a Shimano pair. Interestingly the Shimano hubs came on the Victor, which according to our friend Busaste was the first Aerospace model. Perhaps they were a lower end solution for the Victor which AFAICT was a kind of commuter bike option. Then again, from the in-depth info you and Busaste keep digging up, it seems there was rather less rhyme and/or reason to Viscount specification of their bikes than one would assume! b

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  3. Thank you! I recently came into an old Viscount from which I'm salvaging as much as I can (just about everything but the frame), and I haven't worked with sealed bearings before, and have been scratching my head for the past day or two. These are exactly the hubs that I've got, and this is exactly what I needed to know! Many thanks!

  4. John,

    I'd be interested in bying a set of hubs if you have a couple going spare - I'd like to build up a pair of wheels with tubs for my Aerospace Pro... My username's Goldie on the CTC forum - send me a PM if you've got some going spare. Cheers, Luke

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