Preparing a Tandem Bicycle for the Andes and Amazon

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How To Rebuild a Rear Hub For Gonzo Touring

This is what our tandem’s 8 speed cassette looked like after 3,000 miles in Asia; Tibet, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Now 3,000 miles is not a lot of miles, unless you consider that the miles went to 16,000 feet in elevation, multiple 7,000 ft days, potholed, dirt, mud roads and jungle paths. So, considering, this cassette doesn’t look too bad. But we’re going to South America, Peru, Brazil and maybe more countries, over more dirt and mud roads, and I need to tear apart the rear hub, heart of any bicycle, and see how it’s doing.

Inspecting and Refurbishing a Hugi Hub for a Tandem Bicycle

To get into my hub I simply put four fingers of each hand behind the cassette cogs, brace my feet at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock, and pull. And pull. And pull. Eventually the cassettes, still on the cassette body, comes off, sometimes liberating precious, essential inner parts, flying all over the place; best have a clean surface, and a helper to watch for small pieces of metal departing for greener pastures, tired of lugging you two and your luggage up mountains!

In this case, the mud from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, had mixed with the light grease I’d put in before our In Search of Shangri-La journey, kept all the little bits glued in place. Why it was not freewheeling in all this goop, I can’t imagine. However, with this type of no-tool repairable hub (the only kind to have unless you cycle ten mile circles around a good bike shop) I could have easily done this job on the road. Actually, in the 12,000 miles around Australia, I refurbished this same hub twice.

Next, take the paws (?) and springs out, remembering how they go back, and clean them with a rag first, then dish soap and water. Don’t use full strength solvent or citrus cleaners, they can over time, degrade the surface of parts that need to remain smooth to work well. While you have it apart, check the bearings for roughness and hope they feel smooth. It’s not easy to change sealed bearings on the road, but it can be done, so you might carry spares if you are really really out there. I carry spare springs for this hub, the springs being the only thing that has ever failed in this system. After cleaning and drying all the parts, grease them with a very light grease, using less than you think you should. Grease build up, mixed with road grit, is the second reason for hub failure.

Inner View of Parts on the Cassette Side of a Hugi Hub

As you can see this hub had some major abuse on our last adventure, in particular pushing for twenty kilometers while lost for two days on an old branch of the Hoh Chi Minh trail in Laos. At least it didn’t run over a bombie and blow us all up; these part would have been really scattered then. After cleaning, I forgot to take a photo, the parts were clean and smooth again, ready for another go at some more mountains, this time the Andes, and probably a bunch of bad dirt roads. That’s why I paid big bucks ($150 or so a long time ago) for a great hub (not a sponsor, we have no sponsors) The hub body has over 18,000 miles on it, and we are on the second set of paws and springs. Not a bad deal.

Outer View of Parts on the Hub Body side of a Hugi Hub

Muddy but unbowed! This is the view of the hub body showing the inner parts. While you have the hub disassembled, check the hub body where the spokes go through for cracks, and check the spokes for signs of failure. If you see any iffy spokes, change them before reassembling the hub. Don’t forget to take a few spokes for each wheel on difficult tours. I tape the rear spokes to the rear seat tube, and the front wheel spokes to the fork.

After all parts are cleaned thoroughly, reassemble the freehub body and cogs and the hub body. Since we often put the hubs under muddy water, I usually coat a little grease around the hub before fitting the two parts together. Do the reassembly carefully, wiggling the cogs back and forth until the units sit together comfortably. Test the hub’s ratcheting action. It should feel a little tight, but not much, and catch firmly every time. This is also the time to put on a shiny new set of cogs.

Now your rear wheel is ready for a few thousand miles of exciting tandem touring.  And ours is too.

Claire Rogers
Claire Rogers writes on cross-cultural adventure drawn from her travels across the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, around Australia and of course, through Iceland--all by bike.

She's currently traveling by tandem with her husband Bob, through southwest China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Check out NewBohemians.net for more information on their travels.
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