Help me replace wheels on a bike!
October 6, 2011 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Replacing the wheels on a 3-speed bike: Instructions, tools, and tricks?

I have an old Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. This weekend I'll be swapping out my old steel wheels for these new alloy wheels (yay, being able to brake in the rain!)

I've tried searching for information on possible problems and pitfalls I might have with this, as well as for clear instructions. So far, I've only been able to find resources on wheelbuilding (not applicable, as these will already be built), and on how to change a wheel on a bike with a derailleur (also not applicable, because the gearing mechanism on this is an internal hub).

I'm wondering what tools (other than those in a standard household toolkit), I might need to buy before starting this. Personal stories from people that have done this are welcome! I'm excited to do this myself, but am a bit nervous that I will do something horribly wrong.
posted by aaanastasia to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Did it back when I was a kid, probably over 3 decades ago. If an 11 or 12 year old can do it, you can too. I don't remember any particular "gotcha"s, the only thing I'd be worried about is getting the shifter cable adjusted right. The fact that I don't remember the details of it says it can't be too hard.
posted by straw at 10:25 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Google directions for removing/installing an internal gear hub. I had an awesome simple set of instructions that of course I can't find now. Perhaps Sheldon Brown is of help?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:12 AM on October 6, 2011

Or maybe this video:
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:15 AM on October 6, 2011

Er, maybe not. Ok, I'll stop being unhelpful.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:17 AM on October 6, 2011

Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.

Worth it if you plan on doing more of this in the future.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:22 AM on October 6, 2011

If your hub is anything like my hub, you're gonna need to build that wheel.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:23 AM on October 6, 2011

Do your old wheels also have an internal hub, so the wheels are essentially identical except for the composition?
posted by Think_Long at 11:26 AM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: Think_Long -- yeah, my old rear wheel currently has an internal hub, of what I believe is exactly the same type as the new will have, but an older model.
posted by aaanastasia at 11:39 AM on October 6, 2011

Best answer: First off, I assume you've confirmed that those wheels are the same size as your existing ones? The whole cruiser-wheel-size thing is a bit of a nightmare with a plethora of sizes, each differing by only a few mm - but enough to ruin your day when trying to mount the tire. The page you linked should contain enough direction to help you confirm that you've got the right thing.

Your Raleigh probably has one of the venerable Sturmey Archer 3-speed hubs, the AW being the most common by a landslide. I love those hubs; even after 50 years you can put a little bit of oil in them and they tick over just like the day they came off the factory showroom. If you have one of the wonkier versions, you're probably going to need some more help, but for the basic models this should suffice:

You can fortunately just replace the wheel, since the old shifter is supposed to be compatible with the new hub. (The new hub ships with a twist-shifter rather than the old simple SA thumb-trigger.) The actual process should be straightforward: unscrew the threaded indicator spindle and then remove the rear wheel. If you have a coaster brake, you'll need to unscrew the clamp holding the antirotation arm to the non-driveside chainstay. Put in the new rear wheel, center it and tighten up the bolts. Then screw in the indicator spindle following the adjustment directions provided in the manual. Make sure you adjust the brake pads to the new rim position and you are ready to ride!

It might not be a bad idea to replace your cable and housing when you're doing this, just to ensure crisp shifting. I'd also spring for new brake pads (and brake cable and housing as well), since all told that will make it feel like a brand new machine.
posted by lantius at 12:29 PM on October 6, 2011

I'd put on a new chain, too.

Your old chain will have worn in tandem with your old sprocket, and won't be as efficient with your new wheel as a new chain would be, plus, it will tend to wear the new sprocket unevenly.
posted by jamjam at 12:34 PM on October 6, 2011

A new chain won't hurt, but those SA cogs don't really wear like those on a modern derailleur drivetrain. They're steel and burly (1/8"), and since the chain is directly tensioned it takes a lot of miles before you damage it enough to get appreciable slippage. I've seen them run when rusted nearly solid.

That said, if it's like most old cruisers, the bike also probably has the original chain on it, and while you're doing all this it is a nice touch at least aesthetically.
posted by lantius at 1:02 PM on October 6, 2011

It's not too difficult, the instructions that lantius links too are pretty good. Read them through a couple of times to get the feel of it and you'll be fine. You'll need a 15mm spanner for the wheel nuts I think and maybe an 8mm for the bolt that holds the gear cable. You'll probably need a chain tool to shorten your new chain (buy a new chain, it's definitely worth it. I'd recommend a KMC Inox S10, it's tough and rust-proof.)

Do you have one of these Raleighs, or something similar? Sheldon's really good on old 3-speed bikes.

The major difficulties are going to be getting the chain tension correct and the wheel straight in the dropouts simultaneously and fine-tuning the indicator spindle to get the gear change nice and smooth.

So, chain tension first.Put your wheel in the frame, it helps to have the bike held in place and the rear end slightly suspended while you work. If you don't have a workstand, then stick a sturdy box under the bottom bracket or something. Then follow Sheldon's instructions here in the 'Rear Wheel Installation' section to get the tension right. Having a chain adjuster (see part #60 in the Raleigh link above) really helps to keep everything in place. If not you find that as you put pressure on the right pedal the wheel axle will slip forwards with the effect of messing up your gears and making your brakes rub.

Oh, and don't over-tighten the axle nuts, they're pretty soft and will strip. This is deliberate, since the axle is expensive and fiddly to replace and the axle nuts are cheap.

Setting up the gears is covered pretty well in the manual, however you will get some stretch in the gear cable if it's new, so expect to go back and recalibrate them a couple of times as you start to ride. You'll know when the gears are out by either having difficulty changing into one of gears or (worst case) the horrible noises coming from the hub as you pedal.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 1:11 PM on October 6, 2011

Oh, and if you find that the gear change feels 'mushy' then you might want to get a replacement compressionless housing from your local bike shop. The stock housing from Sturmey isn't that great and I found a big improvement in shifting on my Brompton by using it. It's a bitch to cut though (I use a Dremel cutting disc), so take your old cable outer in and have them cut it to length.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 1:17 PM on October 6, 2011

I've got a 1972 Raleigh Sports which I've been slowly restoring for the past year. Sheldon Brown recommends a 6" adjustable wrench. That's it. As lantius mentions, the only part that looks tricky is the indicator chain which connects to your rear hub. Unscrew that and your wheel will be easy to remove.

One thing to consider is that the Sun CR 18 alloy rims are going to be a little thinner than your original steel rims and so your brakes will need to be adjusted to grip them.
posted by cazoo at 1:39 PM on October 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all! I have a Raleigh Sports from the 70s. Put the new wheels on this Sunday, and it went well thanks to all of the advice.
posted by aaanastasia at 12:58 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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