Tech Tuesday - Cup and Cone Hub Basics

Oct 25, 2011
by Mike Levy  
How do they work? A cup and cone hub makes use of loose ball bearings and allows you to easily adjust bearing tension, unlike most sealed bearing hubs that don't allow for any adjustment. They consist of the "cup" that acts as the bearing's outer race, which is pressed into the hub shell and not replaceable, and the "cone" that serves as the inner race and threads onto the axle. The hub bearings, which are usually 1/4" in rear hubs and 3/16" in front hubs, spin between the cup and cone. Bearing tension is adjusted be threading the cone down on the axle, and then locking its position in place with the locknut (a spacer between the cone and locknut allows you to tighten the two against each other easily). Front cup and cone hubs are usually symmetrical, although the hub will be offset slightly to compensate for its rotor disc rotor mounting. Rear hubs use a freehub (the clutch mechanism that allows you to coast) and the driveside cone and locknut can be found set within, sometimes hidden from view.

Tech Tuesday
From left to right: the cone (notice the wrench flats), spacer and locknut, with the axle in the background.

Why cup and cone? Because the majority of high-end aftermarket hubs use sealed bearings it's common to think of a cup and cone hub as lower quality, but that isn't always the case - Shimano's top tier XTR hubs are an example - and there are actually some advantages to going with a loose ball hub set. Not only are they easier to service (if you're into that sort of thing) once you know how to do it, not requiring any bearing press tools and a vice or hammer, but because bearing tension is adjustable you can dial in the perfect amount tension. On top of that, a well setup cup and cone hub that has been put together with proper grease will usually offer lower rolling resistance that sealed bearing hubs can only dream of. It has also been said that a cup and cone system offers far more lateral bearing support than sealed bearings, although most riders would be hard pressed to notice the difference.

Tech Tuesday
Most cup and cone hubs use a rubber dust shield (left) to help keep the elements out. Remove it to expose the hub's locknut and cone wrench flats (right)

Where do they lose points to sealed bearing hubs? Cup and cone systems often require more maintenance and can be prone to loosening up under hard riders, especially from sideways landings. This can be an especially big issue because the hub's outer bearing race - the cup - and the inner race - the cone - can be easily damaged when ridden lose. The cup itself is pressed into the hub shell and is not replaceable, meaning that the entire hub can quickly be turned to scrap metal if it becomes pitted, whereas it is quite rare to damage a sealed bearing hub's bearing bore from riding it loose. Worn out and lose sealed bearings? Simply pop them out, press in news ones and call it a day.

Tech Tuesday
The cone and locknut are tightened up against each other, with a thin spacer in between, to lock them in place.

Some helpful pointers before you begin:

• Always use the smallest cone wrenches the fit. Most front hubs will accept either 13, 15 or 17mm sizes, while rear hubs often take 15, 17 and 19mm size wrenches. A crescent wrench can be used on the outer locknut.
• Turning the axle with your fingers will give you much better indication of if it is too tight than spinning it in the frame or fork. But rocking the wheel laterally while it is still in the bike will allow you to easily feel if it is too loose.
• It is important to note that adjusting the hub bearings tighter than required will not in any way keep them from coming loose sooner, but will actually increase wear on all components. A loose ball hub that has been ridden with too much bearing tension will likely have damaged both the cone and cup, possibly requiring the hub to be replaced. The same will result from riding a hub that is too loose. Your goal should be to adjust the hub so that it has the least amount of bearing tension without being loose.

Tech Tuesday
The hub's loose ball bearings roll on the cup, a concave and pressed in piece that acts as the outer bearing race. Both the cup and the cone's bearing surface must be in good shape in order for the wheel to turn smoothly, with even the smallest amount of pitting causing a noticeable amount of roughness. Different grade hubs also use differing qualities of bearing surfaces - XTR hubs will turn smoother than lower level product.

Tools needed:

Cone wrenches (13, 15, 17 and 19mm are all common sizes)
Adjustable wrench (optional)

Tech Tuesday
Step 1 - Checking Bearing Tension: While the wheel is still in the frame or fork, hold the tire and rock it back and forth laterally. Tthe hub may be loose by only the slightest amount, but this is exaggerated by the time the movement reaches the rim and tire. Your hub bearings will need to be adjusted if you feel any slop. Remove the wheel from the bike if you don't feel any play, pull out the quick release and turn the axle slowly with your fingers. Any roughness that is felt will mean that the bearing tension is too high and will need to be backed off, or that a rebuild must be performed (to be covered in an upcoming Tech Tuesday). Check to be sure that both sides' locknut and cone are tight against each other before moving on to the next step - if not, all of your work will be for nothing.
Tech Tuesday
Step 2: To adjust bearing tension you'll first need to break the locknut and cone free from each other. Do this on the non-disc side if working on a front hub, or the disc side if working on a rear hub. Position the two cone wrenches so that squeezing them together will turn the locknut to the left (as shown above), but try to keep the inner wrench's position the same. Once the locknut is loose, turn the cone wrench clockwise to tighten, or anti-clockwise to loosen, a few degrees and hold it in place as you tighten the locknut back down onto it. Check for play by trying to rock the axle with your fingers. It should turn smoothly, but have close to zero free play. Repeat as necessary.
Tech Tuesday
Step 3: If the hub is close to being perfect, but still needs a slight adjustment, you can do so without loosening the locknut once again. If it needs to be tightened, place a cone wrench on each locknut (not the cones!) and give them the slightest clockwise turn - only a degree or two - and recheck. If bearing tension needs to be back off slightly you can turn the cones out against each other by simply putting a cone wrench on each one and turning anti-clockwise.

Stay tuned for full rebuild instruction in an upcoming Tech Tuesday. Do you have any pointers on how to adjust cup and cone hub bearings? Share them below!

Past Tech Tuesdays:

Tech Tuesday #1 - How to change a tube.
Tech Tuesday #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
Tech Tuesday #3 - How to remove and install pedals
Tech Tuesday #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
Tech Tuesday #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset
Tech Tuesday #6 - How To Fix A Broken Chain
Tech Tuesday #7 - Tubeless Conversion
Tech Tuesday #8 - Chain Wear
Tech Tuesday #9 - SRAM Shift Cable Replacement
Tech Tuesday #10 - Removing And Installing a Headset
Tech Tuesday #11 - Chain Lube Explained
Tech Tuesday #12 - RockShox Totem and Lyric Mission Control Damper Mod
Tech Tuesday #13 - Shimano XT Crank and Bottom Bracket Installation
Tech Tuesday #14 - Straightening Your Derailleur Hanger
Tech Tuesday #15 - Setting Up Your Front Derailleur
Tech Tuesday #16 - Setting Up Your Cockpit
Tech Tuesday #17 - Suspension Basics
Tech Tuesday #18 - Adjusting The Fox DHX 5.0
Tech Tuesday #19 - Adjusting The RockShox BoXXer World Cup
Tech Tuesday #20 - Servicing Your Fox Float Shock
Tech Tuesday #21 - Wheel Truing Basics
Tech Tuesday #22 - Shimano Brake Pad Replacement
Tech Tuesday #23 - Shimano brake bleed
Tech Tuesday #24 - Fox Lower Leg Removal And Service
Tech Tuesday #25 - RockShox Motion Control Service
Tech Tuesday #26 - Avid BB7 Cable Disk Brake Setup
Tech Tuesday #27 - Manitou Dorado Fork Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #28 - Manitou Circus Fork Rebuild
Tech Tuesday #29 - MRP G2 SL Chain Guide Install
Tech Tuesday #30 - Cane Creek Angleset Installation
Tech Tuesday #31 - RockShox Maxle Lite DH
Tech Tuesday #32 - Find Your Tire Pressure Sweet Spot
Tech Tuesday #33 - Three Minute Bike Preflight Check
Tech Tuesday #34 - MRP XCG Install
Tech Tuesday #35 - Stem Choice and Cockpit Setup
Tech Tuesday #36 - Handlebars - How Wide Affects Your Ride
Tech Tuesday #37 - Repairing A Torn Tire
Tech Tuesday #38 - Coil spring swap
Tech Tuesday #39 - Trailside help: Broken Shift Cable
Tech Tuesday #40 - Installing a Fox Float Air-Volume Spacer
Tech Tuesday #41 - Replace the Seals on Your 2011 RockShox Boxxer World Cup Fork
Tech Tuesday #42 - Clean and Lubricate Your Fox F32 Dust Wiper Seals
Tech Tuesday #43 - Thread Locker Basics
Tech Tuesday #44 - Install a SRAM X.0 Two-By-Ten Crankset
Tech Tuesday #45 - VPP Suspension Bearing Service
Tech Tuesday #46 - Rotor Straightening
Tech Tuesday #47 - Finding and fixing that creak
Tech Tuesday #48 - Tech Tuesday - Bleed and Service Magura Marta Disc Brakes

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  • 55 2
 I want the videos again Frown
  • 23 1
 Yeah! Give us VIDEOS! With Levy! And with Cunningham!
  • 13 0
 I vote for video + step-by-step pics with type. I feel like the pics and type could be printable for some people if they need to bring it into the garage. Thanks PB!
  • 1 0
 Agree about pics!
  • 2 2
 how about people just buy sealed bearing wheels just to make their lives a hell of a lot easier, and they will have a nice wheel as well, and not all the pain of trying to perfectly tighten bearings
  • 2 0
 a real mechanic/rider should know how to work on almost everything low end to high end. If you are a vintage nut like me virtually everything is loose ball. Cone adj is something great to know and understand. Maybe your bike wont need it now but you never know what will happen down the line.
  • 7 0
 One thing that is mentioned but should be expanded upon here, is that on a quick release wheel the bearings should have a slight amount of play when the wheel is off the bike. This is because when a QR is properly done up, it compresses the system and if you set up your hubs with no play, they'll be too tight when they're on the bike. It's a very slight amount of play and it's hard to feel without using an axle vise or using the techniques shown on Park's website.
  • 1 0
 I was thinking the same exact thing when I read through this article. It fails to inform it's readers how to properly adjust their hubs. Please edit this article to include the proper adjustment for a cup & cone hub with a QR, otherwise this is misinformative.
  • 1 0
 I disagree. You build with no slop. IE no lateral play. If you lock the cone into place by backing it into the lock nut, a quick release will not put additional preload on the bearings. The only thing leaving play does is create gaps in the seals, and a lose feeling.
  • 1 0
 We are only talking about a tiny amount of play. I do it so that there is no play felt, but if I push one end of the axle into the hub, the opposite end has a tiny tickle of play. That is the method taught to me by one of the most famous mechanics in Australia, and he used to be Shimano's go-to race mechanic back in the day.
  • 1 0
 "Quick-release hubs are trickier to adjust, because the quick-release mechanism compresses the axle slightly when it is tightened. If you adjust the cones so that they feel just right off the bike, they will bind up when you tighten the quick release. You must set the cones so that there is a little bit of play when the hub is off the bike, or when the wheel is installed with the quick-release just barely tightened." -
  • 6 0
 Anybody buying shimano hub must buy cone wrenches/spanners. It's lots of work to overhaul and adjust when you do it for the first time, but later it gets alright. It is pretty annoying to hear people btchn on cup&cone - some like to mech with their bikes... and the feeling of revolving a freshly serviced cup&cone hube - priceless buttery smoothness
  • 1 0
 I agree. Cup and cone even offers better lateral support but there is nothing more annoying than having to stop half way down a sweet descent because your wheel is rattled loose. It takes a bit of time getting to know how to do it right and things like those may happen in the beginning.
  • 1 0
 It never rattles loose out of nowhere as long as you have some basic quality hub like Deore. I'm sure if it happened to you it was loose already before the ride. And you can tighten it up temoporarily just by fingers, and get home no probs, still having a blast Smile
  • 2 5
 ok but DON'T BUY SAINT HUBS (theyre made of genuine cheese)
  • 1 0
 Saint in general seems either cheese or bacon, save the brakes and the rear mech. They might fk these up as well with the coming update, 10sp is coming...
  • 1 0
 My saint hubs seem to be fine if I'm honest, just replace the bearings every so often and keep 'em slimed up with grease and you're sound... I do wanna replace them mind... haha
  • 1 0
 How do you replace a bearing on a Saint hub? it is usualy the bearing outer race that gets screwed, and it is press fit into the hub body - I have "Irreplacable" by Beyonce sounding in my head when I think about it...
  • 1 0
 Well the bearings are pretty easy to replace to be fair, works the same way any cup and cone setup works, it's only the front hub that has a "press fit" outer race casing whatever, the rear one's piece-a-piss to do, the front one is alright to do, but what I think you're on about is some kind of plastic bearing housing they have, yeh I don't know how to remove that, you could probably buy some tool that'll cost loads to get it out, but they certainly aren't press fit, they move around like a standard plastic sleve, it's the housing that keeps them in there that's hard to get out.
+fair call on the Beyonce song aha
  • 6 0
 I love cheese and bacon.....
  • 7 0
 bacon strips+bacon strips+bacon strips+bacon strips+bacon strips
  • 1 1
 Chicken tikka
  • 3 0
 bacon weave
  • 1 1
 Beef cake! Beeeeef caaaake!
  • 2 0
 Shut it up with your beef cake! You'll disappoint the bacon
  • 2 0
 next time we eat pinkbike
  • 6 2
 Sealed bearing all the way. No regreasing, no lost balls, no going out buying specific size balls, no fustration of the balls always coming out of the groove when servicing, no calibrating to get they perfect tightness and no mess. Specialized hubs on the P1's are the worse! They never stay firm!
  • 11 1
 Balls balls balls!!!!
  • 3 0
 tyuygen - Dude compare to quality cup&cone hubs, not some no names. I assure you that no name sealed bearing hubs would fail as well. Yea it requires some skill and patience to work out how to adjust them, I guess a very hard thing to swallow in the modern world: skill and patience - you're asking impossible!

It takes time to overhaul a hub with sealed bearings as well, people just take it as whatever if it goes to sht I just buy new bearing, with cup&cone I would need a whole new hub! - yea just service stuff and you won't need to buy anything new but grease FFS...
  • 3 0
 more things like this i say. im tired of tech tuesday being about dust seals on a boxxer world cup fork, thats all very well but i dont own a boxxer world cup fork. although this is a little on the breif side and should be a video, its still an improvement in my mind
  • 3 0
 I am done with shimano hubs form my DH and Enduro bikes due to having enough of setting cones. Using Hopes now, never need to touch them. For me it spares time I have to spend with wrenching. Though I am able to do anything on my bike except lacing the wheels but still I don't like spending time doing it. On the other hand I have an XTR rear hub from 1994 still in use on my commuter and it runs flawlessly. It is just pure wonder.
  • 12 1
 Agree that sealed is best for any bike that you are doing serious jumps with, more reliable overall. But the loose ball design is nice for other bikes, glad shimano still uses it. When I worked as a mechanic this was one of the things I enjoyed, getting the perfect adjustment.

This article demonstrates the sloppy technique for adjusting hubs. Many novice mechanics end up doing more harm than good to their bearings using this technique. Its too easy to over-tighten the cones without anything to hold the axle in place when you are tightening the locknuts onto the cones. The professional technique is to use an axle vice to hold the axle in place while you are adjusting it. You start in a position of looseness and tighten the cone 1/8 of a turn at a time, then check it. Repeat the process of tightening the cone 1/8 of a turn at a time until you achieve the ideal adjustment. This is a time-consuming technique, but it is much more methodical than the guesswork technique described in the article above.

The article also fails to mention how to achieve a perfect adjustment on an old school QR hub. The hub should have just a tiny bit of looseness in it off the bike. Then when you tighten the the QR the QR compresses the cones a little bit and the play is removed. Some people don't like this technique for mountain bikes cause the hub has potential to get play in it quicker, but it is the ideal adjustment in terms of the smoothness of the bearings.

It is also extremely important to adequately tighten the locknut to the cone once you achieve the ideal adjustment or it could work itself loose while you are riding. You have to almost tighten them to the point of over-tightening in order to make sure they don't come loose. Also good to do this while in a axle vice to make sure you don't lose your adjustment by accidentally turning the cone instead of the locknut while you are tightening them together.
  • 3 0
 damn ment to positive prop you sorry man ^
  • 2 0
 @Protour - This is a simple how-to that isn't intended to use the "professional technique", but rather an intro into what is going on inside a cup and cone hub. Picture yourself having never adjusted or had apart your loose ball hub, rather than someone with years of being a pro mechanic. While most shops will stock cone wrenches to sell, a lot less have an axle clamp to use in a vice... that was another concern - we want to show how to do the repair with tools that are commonly available. You certainly don't need an axle clamp to get a hub adjusted perfectly... I actually preferred not using the clamp, but the full rebuild how-to will go in to much more depth and make use of the clamp.

Regarding recommending to people that they have a small amount of looseness in their cup and cone hub, that is certainly the way to dial in just the right amount of bearing tension with the least amount of resistance, but it could spell trouble if it is your first time adjusting your hub.
  • 1 0
 If it is your first time adjusting a hub, not knowing how to properly adjust it (with a small amount of play, that goes away when the wheel is in the drop-out with the QR tightened) can spell trouble. This could lead to a hub that is too tight, causing premature wear.
  • 1 0
 This comes just after I spent the whole friday messing with a rear wtb-gravity hub Smile . The bolt that holds the freehub had gone loose and there was no straight 12mm allen keys around, so it was necessary to remove the cup from the hub to access the bolt inside the hub with a ratchet 12mm allen. Lots of work but it would be a weekend off the bike if I needed new sealed bearings. Once greased and tuned these ball bearings run smooooooth.
  • 3 0
 kind of shocked that there was no mention of using a vice to hold the axle. seems mandatory on a rear hub. any response Mike?
  • 2 0
 A vice and axle clamp can certainly make the job easier and we'll show the entire process when we do a cup and cone rebuild in the next few weeks, but this was meant to be a very basic how-to just to introduce people to what is going on in there. While most shops will stock cone wrenches to sell, a lot less have an axle clamp to use in a vice... that was another concern - we want to show how to do the repair with tools that are commonly available. Regardless, the full rebuild how-to will show how to do it w/ an axle clamp =)
  • 1 0
 Thanks for clearing that up Mike. I meant no disrespect, as I really love your Tech. Tuesdays. Keep up the good work man.
  • 1 0
 I agree 100% that cup and cone have less rolling resisitance. I ride a center lock XTR in the rear and it spins smoother and longer than hubs twice the price. I ride in the wet a lot, and have no problems with seals or contamination.
  • 1 0
 great write up...and I read some of the comments...and they've actually proved helpful...for once. I really HATE my cup and cone hubs...ALWAYS adjusting's a nightmare to get it bang wheelset WILL have sealed bearings...i'm done with Cup and cone....BTW I have Shimano M745 hubs or something....they last a longtime but are almost impossible to align right... I'm nto sure if any of Shimano's stuff is sealed or not...asiliek the durability of their hubs but hate cup and cone
  • 1 0
 The wheels in the pics are XT,heres a service guide.
It´s a bit of an operation but with the right tools its a simple one.
  • 1 0
 too short. shouldve had the rebuild included if it was going to be for something this simple..
  • 2 0
 This is a basic intro to what goes on a cup and cone hub. Full rebuild to come soon.
  • 1 0
 kind of liking the pic explanation , Nice ! specially in this cases of service, where needs to be eyes on.
  • 1 0
 sealed bearings are where its at, too much hard hits on these bearings and ull have metal shreds for bearings
  • 1 0
 Are all Shimano hubs cup and cone like this?
  • 1 0
 Yes bar the saint where it uses a steel race for the bearings to sit on,the other hubs are borozon polished on the xtr/xt line and just regular polished surfaces on the others.
  • 1 0
 I think the videos should come back all this reeding is hard on the head
  • 1 0
 just in time for me Smile guess i'll be looking out for the next one Razz
  • 1 0
 Can we have a video showing how to rebuild a Fox F100 at some point?
  • 1 0
 why cone wrenches? what is wrong with appropriately sized spanners?
  • 1 0
 Normal spanners won't fit in the thin gap where the spanner flat is. Look at the third set of photos.
  • 1 0
 fair enough. thanks for explaining
  • 1 0
 where's the video?
  • 1 0
 Right meow?
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