Opening Up an Internal Gear Hub

Alfine 8 Guts
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Let’s see, I’ve either owned or had on loan five bikes with Shimano Alfine 8 hubs, four with Shimano Nexus 8 hubs, two with Sturmey Archer 5 hubs, three with Sturmey Archer 3 hubs, one with a Nexus 7 hub, one with a Nexus 3 hub, and one with an SRAM iMotion 9 hub. Among all of those internal gear hubs, I’ve never had an issue until the most recent Alfine 8 on my Civia Bryant.

It’s not unusual for internal gear hubs to make some noise when they’re new, but they almost always quiet down after a brief break-in period. This particular Alfine 8 started out noisier than most, and it’s only gotten louder over time, to a point where it was obvious something was not quite right. I finally consulted an expert on internal gear hubs who recommended I have it serviced. Being the sucker-for-a-good-bike-maintenance-project that I am, I decided to take it on myself.

The recommended process involved removing the internal parts of the hub (they come out in one piece), briefly soaking them in Shimano’s special IGH oil, then reassembling everything (while I had it open, I also added some grease to the bearing races and around the seals). The specific steps included removing the cassette joint, sprocket, and dust cap on the drive side, then removing the disc caliper and bearing cone on the non-drive side. Once the external parts were removed, the innards of the hub slid out toward the drive side in one piece. Once the internal parts were free from the hub body, it was simply a matter of dunking the whole thing in Shimano’s oil bath as per their instructions, then reassembling.

Alfine Oil

I’m happy to report the service worked. The snapping/clunking sounds I was hearing while pedaling lightly are now gone. It’s my understanding that the purpose of the oil is not so much to act as a lubricant as it is to refresh the grease within the internal parts of the hub. It appears either the hub was not lubricated sufficiently from the factory or it sat dormant long enough that the grease had started to dry out (my bike is a NOS 2009/2010 model). Whatever the case, everything is smooth and quiet now and I should be good to go for at least another couple of years.

This was the first time I’ve opened up an IGH. The process was less daunting than anticipated, though I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone other than the experienced home mechanic who enjoys a challenge and is willing to do his/her homework. For those who don’t have the experience to undertake such a process, dealers who regularly service IG hubs should be able to do a service like this in under an hour (assuming no other issues). Of course, if there is actual damage to the hub, the time it takes to do the repair may be significantly longer with correspondingly higher costs.

31 Responses to “Opening Up an Internal Gear Hub”

  • remo says:

    “it’s my understanding that the purpose of the oil is not so much to act as a lubricant as it is to refresh the grease within the internal parts of the hub…”
    sounds like a lubricant to me… why don’t you use wax???? hahaha…

  • Alistair Williamson says:

    Perfect, this is why (for the blog anyway) buying the Bryant was a great move. And even better it came with components in imperfect state. Such serendipity.

    Now, can you cadge a bike with an Alfine 11? Please?

    Cheers, Alistair

  • Dave Lloyd says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve used synthetic ATF to similar effect on a Nexus 8.

  • John Lascurettes says:

    I wish the IGHs were more serviceable. I have an older Nexus 8 (the older gray model) that has about 5K miles on it and is wearing out. I’ve had it pulled apart and dipped once and that helped, and was told by the the tech that it’s not looking good, but the sounds it’s making now are pretty horrible.

    It’s part of what makes me pine for the Alfine 11 over the Alfine 8. My understanding is that it has an oil input like the Rohloff where one can extract the old oil and put in new oil, all without disassembly.

  • Helton says:

    Another plus for Rohloff, since its internals work in open-bath oil. I can only guess, but if Shimano prefers not to use oil, it must have to do with seals, which at least in Rohloff account for most of its rolling resistance, as far as I can feel it (well, the cranks spin when you pull the bike forward…).

    Haven’t used a Sram or Shimano yet, but lately they are doing some pretty disposable parts, specially on racing transmission parts.

  • Mel Hughes says:

    You are fearless, Alan! Good work! I am glad the bath seems to have quieted down things. This sort of thing is not limited to IGH’s either. My new Phil cassette hub sounded like an old, cheap freewheel unit when coasting. After a quick email Q&A with Phil’s support folks, I took it apart and applied more Phil Grease. Now it is sufficiently silent! Good luck with the Alfine!

  • Alan says:

    @Helton

    The new Afline 11 is running in a user-serviceable oil bath like the Rohloff.

  • Alan says:

    @Mel

    Over the years I’ve had new parts from a variety of manufacturers that either made noise or ran rough. In most cases it was easily remedied with a little extra lube. Only occasionally was it an actual problem with the bearing.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Alistair

    If I get a wild hair, I may upgrade this bike to an Alfine 11 and CenterTrack before the year is out.

  • Carter says:

    I’m on an Alfine 8, also.

    It’s not noisy at all (then again, I rarely shift under load), but I can feel a kind of subtle grinding in a few speeds, so I was looking into undertaking this project too.

    What was daunting to me was tracking down all the highly specific tools and doo-dads needed to open up the sucker, the fact that the only service manual I could find was actually for the Nexus and not the Alfine, and perhaps most of all… That the oil bath kit costs at least $100 bucks!

    @Dave Lloyd

    How was your experience with ATF? Seems like a far more economical option to the Shimano-specific oil, if it gets the job done.

  • Alan says:

    @Carter

    Other than the Shimano cassette/rotor remover for your center lock disc rotor there aren’t any special tools that are absolutely required.

    You can remove the snap ring that holds the cog in place with a small screwdriver if you’re careful, or if you’d rather, a snap ring tool from your local auto parts store does the trick (that’s what I use).

    A special tool to remove the dust cover is sometimes mentioned, but by placing a wide rubber band around its circumference (to give better grip) and using four hands, a helper and I were able to break it loose without the tool. Note that it’s a reverse thread.

    The only other thing you need is a cone wrench, but most home bike mechanics already have one of those in their toolbox.

    As for the cost of the oil bath kit – I agree, it’s outrageous.

    Alan

    PS – My hub wasn’t making unusual noises while shifting. I was getting a snapping/clunking sound while pedaling lightly that went away when pedaling under load.

  • Dave Lloyd says:

    The ATF seemed to work just fine. I did regrease the outer bearings and both large bearings in the middle with a thin layer of Nexus grease afterwards, too. That particular bike ended up being ridden in ugly weather, like frozen, salty, slushy stuff. The trick was to let the oil drain off the hub for a sufficient amount of time. As far as I know the hub is still going strong. I sold that particular bike about two years ago since I found I didn’t ride it after getting a Big Dummy.

    The nice thing about ATF is it has some detergent qualities so it will tend to get rid of some of any nasties that make their way into the hub. I used it because I figured if it was good ’nuff for a BMW manual transmission that’s subjected to far greater loads and temperatures than an internal gear hub, it would work fine on a Nexus 8. I can’t imagine that there’s anything so special about the Shimano oil, except that it’s available in the exclusive rave glowstick blue colorway instead of the more pedestrian smashed mosquito red colorway that ATF comes in.

    I did still have issues with the hub being sluggish in cold weather (less than 20F) to the point the pedals would turn when walking the bike. Didn’t seem to affect riding, though, really.

  • Carter says:

    @Alan

    Thanks for the tips! Especially since I have access a snap ring tool, cone wrenches, a rubber band, AND a willing accomplice!

    I must confess, I was exaggerating a little about the apparent difficulty – since it seems some of the tools I was complaining about are for disassembling the inner parts of the hub, beyond the disassembly necessary for the oil bath.

    I was excited to hear about the serviceability of the Alfine 11, but was kind of bummed to see that the syringe kit (TL-S703) is also pricey (approx. $60-$90 on a quick Google Shopping search!)

  • Carter says:

    @Dave Lloyd

    Thanks for the info! I may yet take on this project with the ATF!

  • Brett says:

    Save yourself $60+ and buy a bottle of synthetic automatic transmission fluid (ATF.) Also, you only need a 15mm cone wrench and a 17mm regular or cone wrench, not “$100 in tools”.

    Google “alfine 8 atf” and read post after post about people having very good luck with it. It’s also common for people to degrease the hub completely and flush everything in the mechanism with a solvent like gasoline (obviously be very careful here – don’t work in a basement where the fumes will accumulate and ignite, etc). People report seeing a lot of metal shavings and dirt come out on the flush.

    So far a lot of mountainbikers are seeing great results, and they’re really hammering the things – for commuter duty, I’d expect equally good results. Of note, though: they soak the hub in ATF, but use heavy grease on the bearings.

    Seems like it’s worth it to do this very early-on in the life of the hub to get out all the filings that are generated as everything goes through the initial break-in wear.

  • Joseph Eisenberg says:

    Thanks for this update, Alan. I’ve been wondering if I should get my Nexus 8 serviced (it’s taken me 2000 miles in city traffic during the past year), and now I know that it’s doable. I was hoping a local shop could do it for me, but perhaps I will give it a try myself, with the ATF for the internals and some grease for the bearings.

  • Wannes says:

    Hi Alan,

    Very interesting post! You didn’t take step by step pictures, did you?

    For the less experienced readers of this blog, it may be important to point out that you could have taken the bike back to the dealer since it’s almost brand new. Any problems at this stage should be dealt with under warranty as far as I’m concerned…

    I was thinking about this treatment for the Nexus 8 on my wife’s Dahon, but the kit is indeed ridiculously expensive…

  • Alan says:

    @Wannes

    I didn’t take step by step photos. I’m no expert at this, so I didn’t want to attempt to provide detailed,”how-to” instructions.

    Agreed, anyone who has an issue like this that is covered under warranty should be working with their dealer.

    Alan

  • joe says:

    @carter, re: the service manual. Have you been to hubstripping.com?

  • Matthew says:

    This is why companies should bring back oil ports similar to those on old Sturmey Archer Hubs.

  • Carter says:

    @Joe

    Thanks for the reminder! I had looked around that site some time ago, but had forgotten about it. What a great resource!

    I just checked there, and that they mention that the procedure for opening up the Alfine is the same as the Nexus so the Nexus service manual should suffice. Cool!

  • Thomas says:

    I wonder why is that oil-can labelled with instructions written in German?
    Nippon stuff imported from Europa, maybe that’s why the kit is so expensive?

  • Alan says:

    @Thomas

    The instructions are written in English on the other side of the can.

  • Mark Potts says:

    Interesting article, Alan. I rode a shimano nexus 8 red band for about 1.5 years and maybe 8000km before I made the mistake of riding through a flooded culvert which completely submersed my hub. After that, the hub started making some fairly nasty grinding noises, so I took it to the lbs to be serviced. Unfortunately, the mechanic there did not know about the oil bath and trie to take the whole thing completely apart. He could never get it back together correctly, though, and ended up having to replace the whole thing. The whole experience left me with a much greater appreciation for drive trains that I can service myself. I now run a simple 2×7 external setup on my commuter and have switched the IGH to my xtracycle which seems to be a nice fit for it.

  • Nick says:

    I’ve got a Shimano 7 with over 12,000 easy commuter miles in the desert on it. I’ve had the lbs (mechanic runs a Shimano 8 on his DH bike) do preventative maintenance on it twice, figuring every bearing needs to be repacked now and then. After the second time there was a lot of friction, the cranks turn when pushing which they never did before. I took it back 2-3 times to no avail. It isn’t noisy and it only shifts poorly under very high load. I been thinking I’d just have to live with it, but your description of the service sounds easy enough and I think I’ll try. Sheldon Brown says not to do ‘preventative’ maintenance on an igh if nothing is wrong. The guys at Aaron’s Bike Repair disagree but seem to be remarking about riding in salt air or wet conditions. I don’t know what to think, but trying the procedure you describe with ATF sounds OK.

    btw, some of the folks at Hubstripping think that cleaning the shimano of grease and filling it with oil is the way to go. I guess it all drips out and becomes a regular maintenance issue, but they claim much better performance.

  • Stephen Hodges says:

    My daughter has a Chinese-made cruiser bike that she absolutely loves that has a cheapie Shimano three-speed IGH that makes a lot of noise (whirring, not grinding). Would an oil bath in ATF quiet it down?

  • Andy says:

    I took apart an old Sachs 3 speed hub that was on the 63 speed recumbent I bought recently. I didn’t know about the fluid flushes, but I was able to wipe up a lot of grimy grease all over the place until it appeared mostly gone, and then I covered the internal parts in bearing grease and spun it many times before wiping out a lot of extra grease. I still left a bunch in though to keep things moving. I put it all back in place and the thing shifts great now. But if the gears really started to wear, there’s not much to do in that department to actually fix the mechanical parts inside the hub.

  • Doug Robertson says:

    My 7 month old Nexus 8 started making noises 3 weeks ago. I rode it through the winter. Started on uphills only. Now pretty much all the time in any gear. I stoped riding it two weeks ago. I’ve been debating what to do. No local bike shops know how to service IGH’s. My other option is to drive down to the Minneapolis and have Hiawatha Cyclery service it. I did that with my last Nexus 8 once. But by the time I pay for gas for the two hour drive and labor for the service, I could almost buy the Shimano oil bath kit.

    But now I think I’ll give the ATF a try. Alan, you’ve inspired me to try the DIY route.

  • Jon says:

    The Shimano IG hubs almost never come with enough grease. I wish the shop I worked at had enough time so that I could pull each one apart and re-lubricate the entire thing. The oil bath is something that seems to stave off the inevitable: full disassembly and service. Unfortunately, once you get to that point, impossible-to-find spare parts are necessary. It is most likely worth it (if you’ve got a shop nearby that can do it…) to have the hub pulled apart when new, and fully greased. Especially if you’re near the ocean, or riding through a lot of snow/etc…

    @Matthew

    The oil ports are great, but only if you put precisely the right amount of oil in, work it through the gears, and drain it off. Too much and it leaks out one side, all over your bike, carpet, and whatever else is nearby. Good seals are a must, and Shimano’s IG hub seals are not as great as the stuff on their standard hubs.

  • Doug Robertson says:

    Alan,

    I finally got up the nerve to service my Nexus 8 sp hub this weekend. It went very good. I went the ATF route. Now that I’ve done it, I’ve been thinking to myself that it wasn’t difficult at all.

    Thanks for this post and giving me the confirdence to try it myslf.

    Doug

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    Great job, Doug. It’s not really that difficult if you take the time to plan your steps and work carefully. I’m glad I was able to provide a little nudge.. :-)

 
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