Maintaining the oil at the right level in your Rohloff Hub is essential to keeping the hub in good working order and will prevent damage the drive’s internal components due to a lack of lubrication. Here’s are a couple of tips you may be interested in that I use to keep my Speed Hub operating smoothly over the long-haul.
Virtually Maintenance Free
Going on four years and 30,000+ kilometers, and the venerable Rohloff Hub on my Co-Motion Divide has been virtually maintenance free. I’ve come to really enjoy its wide gear range, low maintenance, and high reliability. Other than having the axle seals replaced during a shop service about a year ago, the Speed Hub has helped propel me trouble-free to a multitude of fascinating places.
However, the Rohloff Hub is not without vulnerabilities. On a two of occasions, while transporting the bike packed in a box as checked luggage, oil leaked past an axle seal and into the bike box. The oil loss likely resulted from the bike being packed on its side allowing oil to sit again an axle seal. And maybe the lower outside air pressure during flight allowed the higher pressure in the hub to help push the oil past the seal. Luckily, I spotted the leakage and refilled the hub to the proper level prior to beginning the ride.
Proper Oil Level Essential
Not having enough oil to lubricate the drive’s internal shifting components and planetary gear clusters can seriously damage the hub’s bearing and gear contact surfaces, thus shortening the life of the hub or rendering it inoperable altogether. Short of an internal component failing, the greatest vulnerability to the Rohloff Hub is a loss of lubrication.
Knowing there is enough oil in the hub is critical. There isn’t a dipstick or sight gauge on the hub to check the oil level. So, the only way to know if there is enough oil in the Rohloff is to put the oil in yourself and then watch for any leaks.
The hub uses an oil bath to lubricate the planetary gears and hub shell bearings. The approximately 25 ml of oil inside the body the isn’t much. So any leakage could significantly reduce the oil capacity in the hub potentially resulting in damage to the internal components.
Oil Resting Against Axle Seals Creates Leakage
Sustained oil contact with one or both of the axle seals combined with gravity or a higher internal air pressure could cause oil to leak past the seals. This type of leakage can occur when the bike is placed on its side in a box for extended periods of time, such as being in transport on an airplane, bus, etc. Oil setting against the seals can gradually flow past the seals and drip into the bike box.
It’s important to not lay the bicycle on its side for extended periods of time and to not overfill the hub body to prevent oil leakage. Periodical inspecting the hub is the best way to see if there is a leaking issue. Make it a habit to inspect the inside of the bike box for any signs of leakage after transport. Check and add oil if there are any signs of leakage.
I’ve never experienced a leaking problem during normal operation or while laying the bike on its side while riding. The hub has only leaked during air transport.
Too Much Oil Causes Leaks
Rohloff suggests an oil change annually or every 5000 kilometers, a service schedule I stick follow.
Overfilling the hub can raise the oil level to a point where oil rests against the axle seals which may cause oil to leak. If you change the oil and notice any subsequent leakage from the axle seals, you can drain the oil and re-add a smaller amount. In this case, I completely drain the hub. Then I re-add an exact amount of oil rather than just draining a little oil out. This way, I know exactly how much oil is in the hub.
I find that adding only 16 ml back into the Speed Hub during oil changes prevents any overfill leaks. There is enough oil for the oil bath to lubricate the internal components, but not so much to leak out the seals.
Some Oil Leakage Inevitable
With miles and use the axle seals on the Speed Hub wear and will eventually leak, which is evidenced by small amounts of oil “wetting” or seepage occurring on one or both sides of the hub.
Light wetting appears to be normal and shouldn’t be a problem as long as the leakage isn’t excessive but should be monitored Light wetting or small amounts of leakage isn’t critical but needs to be monitored. Even on the road, I wash the Divide about every week or when it gets dirty. So, it’s easy to check the Rohloff hub for any leaks.
Rohloff Maintenance Kit
As part of my standard long distance gear, I carry one Rohloff Oil Change Kit, plus an additional 25 ml bottle of Rohloff oil to replace any that may oil leak out along the way. The change kit and extra oil allow me to service the Speed Hub or add oil while I’m on the road. I can’t say as I’ve ever come across a bicycle shop in Asia that carried any Rohloff hubs, parts or accessories. So it’s a good idea to carry these hard to find items with you.
The Rohloff Oil Change Kit contains a syringe with a fill tube, 25 ml of cleaning oil, 25 ml of lubricating oil, and a 3mm replacement oil drain screw. The syringe enables you to remove or add oil. An extra plug is handy in the event you lose the original. I reuse the original and keep the replacement as a spare.
Adding Oil to the Hub
If I detect a leakage or suspect the oil level in the Rohloff Hub has dropped over a period of riding, it’s time to ensure the oil level in the hub is at the proper level.
Since there isn’t a way to measure the amount of oil in the Speed Hub other than with the syringe, use the syringe to drain the oil in the hub. Measure the amount. If it is less than 16 ml, draw the difference in new oil from the bottle of Rohloff oil until there are 15 ml in the syringe.
There should already be approximately 12 ml of oil permanently adhered to the hub’s internal surfaces.The Rohloff instructions state to add 25 ml to ensure the components get plenty of oil. However, more oil increases the chances oil will leak past the seals. I pretty much follow the guidance from Cycle Monkey (20 ml) and SJS Cycles (15 ml) listed below and only add 16 ml. This seems to be the “happy amount” for my hub.
When I followed Rohloff’s instructions in the change kit and added 25 ml, the hub leaked. At 16 ml, the hub doesn’t leak at the seals. I haven’t experienced an overflow leaking issue in a half dozen oil changes.
Inject the 16 ml of oil into to the Rohloff hub. Now the hub should have the appropriate amount of oil for lubrication. Ensure the hub is clean and monitor it for future leaking. I don’t consider any slight wetting on a higher milage hub an issue, just as long as it’s not dripping.
For oil changes, I generally follow the procedures outlined in Cycle Monkey’s video listed below. Download a copy of the Rohloff Hub oil change procedure from YouTube. Keep a copy on your smartphone for a handy reference.
- Rohloff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVhtBwXo4AQ
- Cycle Monkey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENJmXLSqrmM
- SJS Cycles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVhmgqICNhU
Keep a Maintenance Log
Keep a maintenance log to annotate any routine maintenance or repairs performed on your hub and bike. During oil changes, I note how much oil was removed and added to the Rohloff Hub. The data helps me identify any oil usage issues or peculiarities that might occur with the hub or bike in general.
I use the Day One journal app on my iPhone, which automatically syncs with all of my other Apple devices. It’s handy for keeping track of any work on the bike. The log also contains all the Divide’s component specifications of my fit measurements. I keep the minimum dimensions for a bike box, which comes in handy getting a box at the end of a trip.
Secrets to a Happy Rohloff
Several years riding with the Rohloff Speed Hub has taught me that a well-lubricated Rohloff is a happy Rohloff. Learning how to maintain your Rohloff will help you keep in top operating condition. Inspect the hub regularly and monitor for leakage. Add oil when necessary. A small amount of wetting isn’t a big deal. Get the Rohloff Hub checked out by an authorized service department from time to time to ensure the hub is in good working order. Record routine maintenance and any repairs you make to the hub for future reference.
That’s how I maintain and keep my Rohloff rolling along. Please note your comments and criticisms below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on maintaining your Rohloff Speed Hub. Cheers, Johnny