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.



13 thoughts on “Overhauling Maxi-Car Hubs, Part 1 (sigh)

  1. I almost went crazy trying to lace an old Eadie coaster hub with slotted spoke holes a while ago, ’til I worked out that if I pushed some old spoke nipples into the central holes following the spoke pairs, they wouldn’t fall back out again …

    • I’ve never built up a hub with slotted spokes. Thanks for the tip! The technical manual found at Yellow Jersey also provides advice on how the leading and trailing spokes should be set up.

      • Sturmey-Archer front Dyn0hubs have slotted spoke holes on the side opposite the generator. I have a 5-74 36° Dyn0hub on the table in front of me, along with a 10-57 40° Dyn0three. My bike that had a 32° Dyn0hub was stolen some years ago.

  2. Good luck! Frozen rusted parts are one of the banes of working on old bikes, hope the solvents come through. Wonder if an air hammer would help… or harm in this case.

  3. I’ve been on the lookout for some Maxi-car type 2 wheels for a 1961 Herse project, so am following your experience with interest! Although I’ve heard how long the Maxi-Car hubs are supposed to last, the manufacturer’s annual service procedures also seem more complicated than for typical cup and cone hubs. Thanks for all the pictures and keep us posted on your progress!

    • Hi David, I hope to be able to have some good news to share soon regarding these hubs. If not, I’ll be moving on to the overhaul of the JT tandem hubs, of which the front is a drum brake hub. I agree that these hubs are definitely more challenging to service and restore than regular cup and cone hubs.

  4. Something firmer than a rubber mallet. Wood or copper. Nothing will be damaged. Also heat.

    Maxicar hubs are most often disassembled only to see what it looks like inside. Unless really riding just the one set of wheels 30,000 miles a year they don’t need to be checked annually. After 70 years the grease is most likely separated and hard but it is so tight inside a Maxicar it might still be good.

    • Good tip – a copper mallet, maybe a heavier type could do the trick. The servicing spec’s come from Maxi-Car’s own tech manual. Agreed that probably most cyclists wouldn’t need service the hubs annually. These hubs were filthy after 70 years of neglect, and the “labyrinth” seals were no match for that.

  5. I overhauled a couple of these solid flange wingnut 50’s 5-speed versions for an old rando 650b bike about a year ago. As to be expected, they were perfect inside. I did find a pair of 80’s 6/7-speed versions once that had a bent rear axle 🙁 I always thought maxicars would be immune to that since they have pretty beefy axles, although it WAS a quick release. Perhaps it was used on a tandem or something.

    My question, if anyone knows, is about the earlier version. I had to replace the really worn out old alloy 650b rims but I was surprised to find that the newer spokes I had wouldn’t fit in the spoke holes of the 50’s wingnut solid flange maxicar hubs. I didn’t want to use the newer QR ones I had due to the aforementioned bent rear axle. I ended up having to re-use the ancient french spokes, nipples and washers. The wheels turned out *great* despite that but I was wondering if other people had run into the same thing?

    • There was a comment on my other posts dealing with these hubs. I believe the solution one person used was to insert a second set of spoke heads into the slots while building the wheel. There’s also info on building up these hubs at the Yellow Jersey site which might be useful as well

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