Overhauling Maxi-Car Hubs, Part 1 (sigh)

1980’s Maxi-Car front hub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been looking forward to starting a new project.  A recent purchase – an early 1980’s Meral Randonneuse with a Reynolds 531 frame – is equipped with many desireable components:  custom racks and fenders with integrated lighting, Huret derailleurs, T.A. crankset, and best of all:  Maxi-Car hubs.

Maxi-Car hub with drum brake – 1977

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m also planning to begin restoration of my 1977 Jack Taylor tandem, which is equipped with Maxi-Car hubs.  Feeling the need to experiment first, I purchased an older 1950’s wheelset (one that I wanted anyway) that also featured Maxi-Car hubs, so that I could learn the service procedure on that wheelset first.

1950’s Type II Maxi-Car hub

Hub shell engraving

Drive side slotted spoke holes – 1950’s Maxi-Car rear hub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These older hubs hail from the 1950’s, and were very dirty, looking like they hadn’t been attended to in many years.  Type II Maxi-Car hubs can be identified by their solid, undrilled flanges.  The rear hubs have the “key-hole” spoke holes on the drive side, which allow for easy spoke replacement but can make building up the hub a little more “interesting”.

Maxi-Car hubs were manufactured with “annular” bearings which are essentially cartridge bearings, in this case of the highest quality, and were atypical in that the hubs were adjustable as well as serviceable.  The recommended service schedule is once a year, so about as frequent as regular cup and cone hubs.  The difference is in the life of the bearings – lasting over 100,000 miles or more according to cycling lore.

There are several excellent resources on the web which provide technical and service specs, as well as historical information:

Bike Cafe (France):  detailed article on the history of the company, and a step by step guide on servicing (in French)  https://bike-cafe.fr/2015/06/maxi-car-la-rolls-du-moyeu-vintage/

Yellow Jersey (US):  Maxi-Car technical manual with detailed illustrations and instructions in English  http://www.yellowjersey.org/maxtek.html

In addition, Velo-Orange Blackbirdsf, and Ebykr have paid tribute to these innovative components, first introduced before WWII.  There is also an article in the Summer 2004 Bicycle Quarterly which provides step by step overhaul instructions.  Unfortunately, that edition is longer available as a reprint.

I started with the front wheel, which takes a 16 mm wrench for the locknuts, and a 14 mm wrench for the adjustable cone.  Following the instructions noted above, I removed the nut and red dustcap from the fixed side of the hub (identified by having no adjustable cone).  Then I flipped the hub over to remove the nuts and washers on the adjustable side.

I photographed each step and also laid out the parts in order, so I wouldn’t forget their orientation when replacing them after cleaning and lubrication (not knowing what would come next!).

The next step involves using a small length of 1 1/2″ PVC pipe (or wood block with 1 1/2″ hole bored) and placing the fixed end of the axle into the opening so that the hub rests on the flange.  Then, taking a rubber or wood mallet, one should tap “lightly” to cause the axle to drop down.  When it does so, it should take with it the fixed side’s cartridge bearings and washers.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

The above photo, courtesy of Bike-Cafe, shows what you should have after tapping the axle through.  However, my axle would not tap through, even with some very robust strokes of my rubber mallet.

Not wanting to damage the axle, I decided to switch over the the rear hub.  After removing the freewheel, I followed the same steps to remove the nuts and washers.  When I attempted to remove the adjustment cone I discovered that it’s locknut was embedded into the cone and could not be removed.  That meant unthreading the cone with the lock nut attached – not in any way ideal as doing so could damage the axle threads.  Fortunately, I was able to get the cone off with too much destruction to the axle, and then proceeded to the next step of attempting to tap the axle out.  Again, the axle would not budge.  That’s when I realized that probably after 70 years of not being serviced, the axle had become permanently attached to the inner races.

After soaking the hubs in WD-40 for several days, I still could not budge the axles, so decided to try something a little more drastic.  Right now, I’ve got the hubs soaking in PB Blaster, which is a smelly and environmentally questionable solvent.  I’m going to give the hubs a week of soaking, and then again try to tap out the axles. If that doesn’t work, I may try the mysterious brake fluid solution.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to pull the wheels from the Jack Taylor tandem and begin working on servicing those hubs, which I hope will yield better results.

 

 

Removing (or Not) a Stuck T.A. Fixed Cup

I recently took my 1980 Meral out for a spin, and found myself not enjoying the ride.  At first I thought the problem was me – I’ve been getting back in shape after a long and unpleasant illness over the winter and spring.  But as I climbed Mt. Tabor heading home, I realized that something must be going on with the bike.  When I pulled into my garage I remembered that I hadn’t overhauled the bike since building it up back in 2013.  Um, that’s 6 years!  Whoops! So, I put it up into my stand and found that the rear wheel hub was rough, and the bottom bracket was REALLY rough.

I had purchased the frame and fork, which included the T.A. BB, in late 2012 from a French seller on eBay.  In early 2013 I built it up, converting it to 650b in the process.  One of the issues I encountered during that process was not being successful at removing the T.A. fixed cup from the bottom bracket, even after putting it in my vise and using the frame for leverage.  I built it up and went about my business, using the original T.A. 374 spindle with its 122mm length.  I remember that I had a lot of trouble getting the BB adjusted correctly, and at the time wondered if the lock ring had been cross threaded at some point.

New (1953) lockring threaded on to 1980 T.A. adjustable cup.

Original locking on top, replacement on the bottom. The 1953 replacement is oddly in much better shape than its 1980 counterpart.

When I removed the adjustable cup and lockring I found that it had indeed been cross threaded at some point.  Fortunately, the threads on the cup were fine, so I located a suitable French threaded lockring replacement – this one from a 1953 BB that used a cottered crank spindle.  It was in great shape and threaded on to the cup beautifully.  So, that problem was solved, and I proceeded to clean the cups, repack them with grease, and install new bearings.  But, the same problem I had encountered initially did not go away.  I could not get an adjustment that eliminated freeplay but also allowed for a smooth feel when turning the spindle.

Locking adjustment method NOT recommended by Sheldon Brown.

I did a little research and even tried out Sheldon Brown’s lockring adjustment method which involves NOT holding the adjustable cup in place while tightening the lockring, and instead letting them move together for the final adjustment.  This is not how I learned to adjust BB’s, but the method seems to have some merit:  because of the design of the threaded cup, tightening the lockring while holding the cup with the spanner tool, could actually loosen the adjustment.  Ultimately, neither method (mine or Sheldon’s) would give me a perfect adjustment.  At that point I concluded that maybe I just wanted to replace the BB with something different.  Let the torture begin!

Fixed cup removal tool – a la Sheldon

Various wrenches for providing leverage, including a Park alignment tool

Tightening the fixed cup tool using some torque wrenches.

The process for removing a French threaded fixed cup with Sheldon’s removal tool is different from a “normal” fixed cup because the threads are right hand instead of left hand so the cup is removed with a counter clockwise motion.  After tightening the hell out of the nut on the outer side of the fixed cup so that it can’t be tightened any further, you then tighten the bolt on the inside, thus moving the washers in a counter clockwise motion.  I tried out all of my tools at hand and even attached the Park took to my breaker bar for extra leverage, but had no luck in turning the BB shell.  I also tried the reverse process, just in case this was one of those French BB’s that was threaded in a non French way, but to no avail.

So, to kick it up a notch, I soaked the BB with penetrating oil for a week.  In order to keep the oil inside the cup, which I filled to the brim, I used a Belgian Ale cork, more dense than a regular wine cork, and shaved it to fit into the lower opening of the fixed cup, then held the frame horizontal in my stand.  A few drops leaked out over the week (it IS penetrating oil after all), but the bulk of the oil stayed inside the cup, hopefully breaking through the frozen threads.  Hope springs eternal!

But that did not work at all.  Even after getting more leverage on my breaker bar by placing the bike upside down and using all my body weight to push down on the Park tool attached to the breaker bar, the fixed cup would still not turn.  Foiled!

Now was the time to end my suffering by accepting reality.  The fixed cup was here to stay.  So, then I pondered whether the T.A. 374 spindle was slightly warped, thus making it impossible to achieve an adjustment.  I searched my parts bin for a replacement and found a Stronglight 118 mm spindle that was in nice condition.  The 4 mm shorter spindle would not cause any problems because I already had plenty of chainring clearance with the other spindle (using 2 rings on a T.A. crankset).  I put the replacement spindle in, and achieved a perfect adjustment on the first try!  So, while I was never able to removed the fixed cup, at least I’m going to be able to continuing enjoying my sweet little Meral 650b.

A Bike to Make You Smile

1987 Panasonic MC 7500

Last summer, I set aside my 1987 Panasonic MC 7500 frame, after transferring many of its components to a 1989 Bridgestone MB3.  I rode the Bridgestone through the summer and fall, but found myself riding it less and less, and ultimately it sat unridden since last December.  Although that frame is similar in size to the Panasonic, its geometry is slightly different, with a longer and sloping top tube and shorter chain stays.

 

You can see the slight differences in frame geometry in the above photos. The Panasonic is a more traditional frame, with more of the rider’s weight closer to the front end of the bike.  For commuting and all-round riding, I like having the weight more evenly distributed, especially given that I haul stuff primarily on the rear rack.

While frame size issues can often be overcome with the right mix of handlebars, stem, and seatpost setback, when a bike isn’t ridden, there’s usually a reason, and sometimes no amount of tweaking the components will solve the problem.

The Bridgestone didn’t make me smile.  So, with anticipation, I brought out the Panasonic frame from storage and began the process of bringing it back to life.  I first did a complete inspection of the frame and fork, cleaned all of the threaded surfaces, applied clear touch up paint where needed, and washed the frame.  Then I polished and waxed it (with several coats), and also treated the inside of the tubes with WD-40.  Then it was time to build it up.

 

I had some inspired moments, deciding to use some period correct Shimano cantilevers, which offer much better modulated braking power than the new Tektro’s I had previously used.  At the rear is a U brake, very fiddly to set up, but the Dia Compe set installed there works fine, so long as I set the pads very close to the rime.

I also decided to go with a double crankset, instead of the single chain ring I had always used when riding the bike previously.  Wanting to keep the weight down (smaller riders benefit greatly from weight savings) I selected a Shimano Crane long cage rear derailleur, along with the drilled Stronglight crankset that I had been using with the Bridgestone.  Velo-Orange porter bars, SunTour bar mount ratcheting shifters and a 6 speed Shimano freewheel finished out the build.

I reinstalled my hand built 26” wheels, which have a V-O rear hub and Quando front hub, both with cartridge bearings, laced to SunRims CR18 rims, which have held up well (although the rear Quando hub failed prematurely a few years back, replaced by the V-O hub).

 

I’m riding the bike this summer without fenders, because I’m researching some different fender options.  As I was getting under way for my first test ride I suddenly remembered that riding a bike with cantilevers, sans fenders, can be a safety hazard.  This is because if the front brake cable fails, the straddle cable can get caught up in the tire and fork crown and cause an endo, with related potentially dangerous injuries.  So, I hastily installed a tire saver to hopefully prevent disaster, even though my cables are all new, just in case.  A reflector bracket will also work for this purpose.

My first test ride on the new build was a delight.  This machine has carried me through cold, rainy winters, and has hauled a lot of groceries and garden supplies.  It’s a beautiful but well used frame, made with double butted Tange tubing, and featuring lovely chromed rear stays.  It’s 80’s color scheme is very visible, especially with the bright orange donor fork that replaced the original fork long before the frame came into my stable.  The bike is a good friend, and it does, indeed, make me smile.