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.

 

 

Cleaning, Polishing and Restoring Vintage Aluminum Fenders

Having spent hours cleaning and polishing vintage aluminum bicycle fenders, I have wondered if there is a way to improve the efficiency of this process without harming a vintage fender’s finish?   Maybe not, but there are some products that work a bit better than others and are less likely to scratch or damage the fender’s finish.

Custom Meral steel fenders, with original wine cork spacer and attachment reinforcement

Aluminum fenders – hammered, patterned or smooth – are often found on vintage bicycles with 650b wheels.  Steel fenders, painted or chromed, were also used – although not as commonly as their aluminum counterparts. Lightweight chromed steel fenders can be found on some French, British, and Italian randonneuring bikes dating from the 1950’s on.  But, aluminum alloy fenders were generally the material of choice in those days.

Vintage 1950’s fenders with red highlights and a smooth surface

1950’s hammered fenders with dark brown paint highlights.

Vintage aluminum alloy fenders can have painted portions to add color highlights.  Cleaning and polishing these fenders involves a number of steps.  You don’t want to use any product that will dull the color highlights.  So, it’s best to focus on the unpainted portion of the fender for polishing.

As a first step, I remove the fender from the bicycle frame and remove all the mounting hardware.  Then I gently wash it with a mild surfactant, such as Finish Line’s pink bike wash. After that, I continue the cleaning process with a clean rag and some alcohol.

Because the fender is flexible and subject to damage  I place it over an inflated tire of similar width, mounted to a wheel and position this into my truing stand. I prevent the hub from turning by securing the spokes to the stand. This prevents the fender from getting twisted or misshaped while its being polished.

Once the fender is clean it is time to think about the best product to use for polishing.  For aluminum fenders, a wadding polish such as Nevr-Dull seems to work best.  I have tried many other polishes, but have found this product to work most efficiently and with the best results.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t need to reapply this product many times over a heavily tarnished fender.

I have also used MAAS metal polish with excellent results on any steel component.  So it is a good choice for chrome steel fenders (and any other steel component).

My 1973 Jack Taylor’s fenders were seriously tarnished and dull when I acquired the bike.  After polishing the fenders (over many hours), the luster of the metal was restored, as you can see from the photo above.  I used Nevr-Dull to polish the fenders.

The Lefol aluminum fender shown above is from an early 1950’s bicycle.  Cleaning and polishing this fender took some time (as in many hours), but the end result was well worth the effort.  Using a wadding polish for vintage aluminum fenders will yield the best results, as these products will not harm the underlying metal.

A Brief History of Splined Cranks and Spindles

1948 splined crankset, courtesy of The Data Book

My recent overhaul of a Shimano Octalink bottom bracket made me wonder about splined cranksets and whether they had a history that preceded Shimano’s 1996 offering.  I pulled out my copies of The Data Book, Rebour (by Rob Van der Plas), as well as the small collection of Le Cycle and Le Cyclist magazine in my library to review spindle and crankset design through the decades.  I also checked Bicycle Design to see if it contained any chapters on crankset and bottom bracket design, which it did not. As it turned out, the best resource for my research was VeloBase.com.

Rebour drawing of 1950 Gnutti splined crankset, Le Cycle Magazine, 9 Oct 1950.

After learning from the Rebour book and The Data Book that Gnutti had introduced a splined spindle and crankarm by at least 1948 or 1949, I searched VeloBase and found several examples of this design.  From the Rebour drawing above you can see that the splined portion was nice and long, and was also spliced.  I have not observed these splices on later photos of Gnutti splined spindles dating from the early 1950’s.  There are a boatload of splines on this spindle, and the splined area is very long – so it does seem like a robust product, especially when compared to the Shimano Octalink V1 spindle, with its very short splines.

Williams catalogue, courtesy of VeloBase.com

Another component maker to offer a splined spindle and crankarm was Williams, who were more well known for their low end steel cottered cranksets rather than their higher end alloy offerings.  Their AB 77 crank and spindle was introduced in the early 1960’s or late 1950’s and had fewer splines than the Gnutti competitor, but was apparently easier to install and remove.  The blog midlifecycling.blogspot.com has a nice discussion about these cranks and their strengths and shortcomings.

Gnutti splined crank spindle, courtesy of classiccyleus.com

To add to the mystique surrounding splined cranksets, I discovered this intriguing 1967 Jack Taylor custom bicycle built for Jerry Collier, which was created by the Taylor brothers to feature components from earlier decades.  The bike has a 1930’s Osgear derailleur, the earliest known cassette hub by Pallandini, as well as a splined Gnutti crank spindle, shown above.

Gnutti splined crank and spindle, courtesy of VeloBase.com

As is true of most modern cycling “innovations”, what is new was actually invented decades ago.  Index shifting, integrated brake/shifter levers, bar-end shifters, and splined cassettes with freehubs are just a few examples.  We can add splined cranks and spindles to the list.