Tuesday Tip: Wheel Bearing Maintenance

When is the last time you greased your wheel bearings? If you’re like most riders, you throw a layer of grease on your axle when you remove your wheel to install a new tire, but do little else to service the bearings that keep your wheel spinning freely. Fact of the matter is that greasing your axle does nothing at all for your bearings, so we are showing you the correct way to butter those babies up.

Large screwdriver (or seal puller), medium screwdriver, small screwdriver, small pick, seal driver (or appropriately sized socket), new wheel seals, contact cleaner, acid brush, waterproof grease, work gloves.

Once you’ve removed your wheel, use a large screwdriver to gently pry the outer wheel seal out of the hub. If you are careful enough, you can remove the seal and reuse it by inserting the tip of the blade beneath an edge and working the screwdriver in a twisting motion to pry the seal loose. Once one side of the seal has popped up, you may pry it the rest of the way out. Of course, if you’ve bought replacement seals, you can use a seal remover to pull them out.

Once you’ve removed the outer seal, you will need to very carefully remove the bearing casing seal. To do this, use a small pick to pry one edge of the seal up. Be careful not to damage the seal, as this is not sold separately and you will need to replace the entire bearing if you ruin it. Once you’ve gotten one edge up, use a small screwdriver to work the rest of it free.

Examine your now-exposed wheel bearings. If they are dirty, you may clean them with contact cleaner. If you do so, however, be sure to blow the excess cleaner out with compressed air.

Using an acid brush (available at hardware stores for about $0.30), apply a dollop of grease to the exposed bearings and spread it evenly. Be sure to work the grease in between the individual ball bearings.

Wipe the excess grease away with a shop towel, and carefully reinstall the bearing casing seal. Work it in evenly with a small screwdriver and your fingers, and make sure that it is properly seated before moving on.

Examine the sealing edges of your old seal (if you’re not replacing it with a new one) and make sure it is not damaged. Clean the seal in preparation for reinstallation. A quick shot of contact cleaner can make installing the wheel seal easier, but use too much and it can get too slippery and hard to handle.

Use a seal driver to evenly seat the seal back into the wheel. If you don’t have a seal driver, you can use a socket of appropriate size to do the same job, just make sure that it is slightly smaller than the seal itself. Apply even pressure to compress the seal as far as it will go into the hub. Now that you’re done with one side, you only have three more to go!

NOTE: The best time to grease up your wheel bearings is when your bike is new. Wheel bearings come from the factory with minimal amounts of grease, and making sure that they have a nice coating of waterproof grease is the best way to ensure long bearing life. Unless you live in extremely wet weather, this procedure can be performed once a year, and should only take about an hour, including removing and reinstalling the wheels from the motorcycle. So what are you waiting for?