Alfie’s Alfine 11 hub gear gets its first service

So, I’ve finally done it! The Alfine 11 hub gear service.

According to Shimano this should be done after the first 1000km and then every 5000km thereafter.

Alfie my recumbent trike has done a shade over 2,000 miles already and this is my first hub gear service. This is because the original hub started misbehaving and Madison replaced it under warranty. The new hub had done 700 miles so it was time for its spa treatment.

So what do you need to do this operation?

(a) A bike with an Alfine 11 hub gear
(b) The replacement mineral oil (Shimano part SG-S700)

(c) The Oil Maintenance Kit (Shimano part TL-S703)

First thing to note is that the oil was extremely hard to come by (it was out of stock almost everywhere but I managed to get some from a small mail-order bike shop). It’s also expensive at £16 for 50ml.

Second thing to note, that I didn’t know about when I first wrote up this blog post, is that the oil the bike shop sent me was the wrong stuff, it was hydraulic mineral oil (pink) rather than hub gear oil (green). Of course I didn’t know what the oil was supposed to look like so wasn’t aware of this at the time. The correct stuff is in the photo above, the photographic commentary to this blog post has the wrong stuff (pink). More on this later.

I initially thought I’d get a local bike shop to do the job but once I’d downloaded the servicing instructions from Shimano it seemed fairly easy. I’d need the oil maintenance kit which was about £45 but once I had that I could always do my own servicing so it should work out much cheaper in the long run.

Preparation
The instructions say to do this outside in the fresh air. A slightly less windy day would have been preferable as my instructions had a tendency to want to fly away.

I also needed a size 10 spanner and a small allen key. I also wore latex gloves as suggested but didn’t bother with the eye goggles – that seemed a bit overkill.

I got the trike ready on the grass with the front wheels chocked.

The back wheel was on some cardboard in case any small bits got dropped.

So here are the two bits needed – the very pink oil and the Oil Maintenance Kit.

Note that the £45 Maintenance Kit consists of a syringe, a bit of pipe with a metal end, and a big jar for your waste oil. This is not good value for money – I reckon that lot should cost less than a fiver. Ho hum.

Here am I, latex gloves in hand, ready to start.

The Service

So, firstly I have to undo the oil port bolt with a small allen key.

This is surprisingly difficult on my trike as with the spoke lacing there is barely any room. A shorter allen key would have been much more helpful but I managed it eventually.

This is what came out – a small bolt and an O-ring (which actually needed to be back on the hub the whole time; I was always paranoid about losing it though!)

Now to screw on the pipe that will go from the syringe to the hub.

Once again, it was difficult to do this as the pipe is long and the spokes don’t leave much room for wielding a spanner. I think this would be fine on a normal-sized wheel but a 20″ one is a bit of a challenge.

The instructions say to hold the syringe within the spokes as you rotate the wheel 180 degrees but this wasn’t possible with my 20″ wheel and it was easier to just thread the syringe round the chainstay and mudguard metalwork.

The instructions say to leave it all for five minutes like this for the oil to drain down.

Then I had to very slowly use the syringe to suck out the old oil.

The oil begins to appear:

It came out as thick, black grot.

It was actually quite hard to do this well without getting loads of air bubbles. I don’t think the air bubbles matter much in themselves but the syringe was only 30ml and I was expecting 25ml of oil so didn’t want too much air. The slower I pulled the syringe the better as I had to wait for the oil to flow down to the bottom of the hub to be sucked out.

The whole procedure probably took about 10 minutes.

Here I am with about 20mls of old oil which is about all I was able to extract.

Now the instructions said at this point to turn the wheel again so the oil port was uppermost and then remove the bleed nipple and pipe along with syringe. Due to the difficulties of getting tools onto the hub, and the fact that the pipe seemed pretty much clear, I decided to just remove the syringe.

Here it is – yuck!

And here it is poured into that vastly-expensive pot that came as part of the kit. It was like thick, black treacle and was quite hard to squirt out of the syringe.

The next set of instructions are to use half of the oil in the kit to flush through the system, i.e. it would be put in the hub, sloshed around a bit and then drained out again.

The instructions said to add the pipe first before the syringe. Mine was already in place, of course.

I then looked at the oil bottle and discovered a crack in the plastic at the top. James helped me to fix the tube that came with it to the syringe and he held up the bottle as I used the syringe to drain 25ml but it was clear the top was leaking as oil was running down the side of the bottle. And this is expensive stuff!

In the end we took the whole top off the bottle and put the pipe in it, using the syringe to suck it up from there. I wasn’t sure how much oil had been lost so only picked up 20ml.

It’s a lovely pink colour (if it’s hydraulic mineral oil you want, of course, as I discovered eventually!)!

I put the syringe onto the pipe coming out of the hub and started slowly squeezing it in. I had to pull the syringe plunger back a couple of times to let some of the air pressure out but the whole job was pretty easy and all 20ml was in the hub after 30 seconds or so.

I then had the fun of undoing the bit of pipe and putting the oil port bolt back in without losing the O-ring. This was quite tricky again but I managed it.

The instructions say to pedal for a minute, changing up and down the gears, so with James’s assistance (can’t lift the back of the trike and pedal and change gear on my own!) we did so.

Then it was back to the beginning of the procedure – oil port facing up, adding the pipe, adding the syringe, rotating the wheel 180 degrees, leaving it for five minutes to settle, then using the syringe to slowly drain the oil.

This time the oil came out much more readily as it was clearly thinner – but look at the colour change!

From pink to black in five and a half minutes!

Really black, but it came out with fewer air bubbles which was a relief!

A good 25mls extracted so it’s clearly helped some more of the original oil to come out.

Once all the oil appeared to have been drained I once again spun the wheel 180 degrees ready for the second 25mls of oil which would be what stayed in the hub for the next 5000 miles.

It was tricky to drain the oil out of the bottle seeing as I had to use the tube. It picked up lots of air when it got near to the bottom (and I could see I only had about 19mls) and then, horror of horrors, I had pulled the plunger a bit too far out and a trickle of oil was leaking out that way. Argh! I pushed it back in and hoped I hadn’t lost too much.

In the end I managed to get about 22ml from the bottle; there was still a tiny bit left in there but it seemed almost impossible to remove. I hope that Alfie doesn’t mind being down a few mls.

I pushed it in very easily as before.

I then did up the oil port bolt, having managed not to lose the O-ring at all which was a bonus!

I wiped a few drops of spilled oil (that came out of the pipe when I removed it) from the hub and we were ready to go.

So this is what everything looked like afterwards:

It wasn’t a particularly mucky job and was basically very easy. it would be easier on a larger-wheeled bike of course.

I shall take Alfie out this afternoon to check all works OK. I did the oil port bolt up reasonably tightly but it was very hard to wield the allen key in such a small space so I shall check it again in a day or two to check it hasn’t worked loose at all.

I now have 5000km or two years until the next oil change, whichever is sooner.

An Update

After writing up this blog post and before riding the bike I sent the link to this page to Huw at Madison who did the swap of my hub a couple of months ago.

He sent me the following reply:

Hope all is well.

Well done on the servicing, it seems you’ve got the procedure correct.
Unfortunately, the only thing I noticed from reading through your blog is that you may have used the incorrect oil.

From what I can see from the photos (and colour of the oil) its hydraulic brake fluid you’ve used.

The Alfine oil is a dark green sort of colour, and is very thick. (which would explain the difference in thickness/colour of the oils).

The shop that sold you the oil, did they say it was for Alfines specifically?

Ah.

So I sent Huw a reply saying, in effect, “HELP! WHAT DO I DO NOW?” and whilst awaiting further correspondence from him I looked up the receipt from the shop that sold me the oil. My order definitely says Shimano SG-S700 oil which is the oil for the SG-S700 hub gear (Alfine 11).

So I phoned the shop who seemed a bit confused about it all. In the end they agreed to send me the correct stuff (they blamed Madison’s confusing website for picking the wrong product, although it looked perfectly clear to me). However they were going to have to order it in from Madison, who are currently out of stock, so it wasn’t going to arrive in a hurry.

Clearly I needed to get this sorted so I did a bit of googling and found a supplier who had the 50ml bottle and another supplier that had the 1 litre pack which might be a better idea, but I decided to wait to hear from Huw as to how much I’d need to wash out the wrong stuff.

Huw phoned me to say that the mineral oil really wasn’t very good for the Alfine innards and it would need to be stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt. He offered to send a courier to collect my back wheel and to do this, do the correct oil change, then send it back.

I drained out all the mineral oil and the wheel is now packed up ready to go to Madison again.

Huw said it’s being collected tomorrow morning so hopefully it’ll not spend too long with the wrong stuff inside.

 

The Wheel Returns

My wheel arrived back after a week which included two days of TNT failing to find our house (in the end we delivered the box to their distribution depot in Basildon so at least the thing was sent off!) Huw at Madison, who was servicing it, was off work for a couple of days at the beginning of the week so it spent a few days in Milton Keynes enjoying the change of scenery.

Anyway, the wheel returned this morning looking much shinier than it did when it left here!

In refitting it to the trike we have discovered a tip to help you line it all up right as there’s the arm that holds the cable that can be a pain to get in the right place.

We found that it’s best to take the blue and the green spacers off either side of the axle before putting the wheel in. Then the wheel can be rotated until the arm thingie is in the right place, then the spacers can be put in (they stop the axle rotating). This was way easier than my previous attempts of getting everything lined up.

I went out for a ride this evening and the hub is wonderfully quiet and smooth – the service has made a huge difference. Huw said “I have taken the unit apart and cleaned out the hub, then refilled the unit with fresh oil for you.” Based on this, I shall definitely be servicing it again sooner rather than later (with the correct green oil!) as it has clearly improved its running.

He didn’t take any photos of my hub in pieces but did send me this cutaway pic.

Having used the Trice Q for the last week and a half, the Sprint initially felt a bit odd (much heavier at the back – the gears-in-a-can are heavier than the sprocket and derailleur setup on the Q) but it’s a much more comfortable ride and I was soon back into the groove. And very happy again to have gears that I can change when stationery and which always change properly, unlike my derailleur on the Q.

And once again quite remarkable service from Madison who are looking after me wonderfully with my Alfine!

Follow-up posts

Here are some follow-up blog posts relating to the Alfine:

Alfie’s back wheel gets repaired. This is the original hub replacement before I did the oil change (referenced above)

Alfie’s second Alfine service

Alfie – a winter service

Changing the Alfine-11 Sprocket

Alfie gets a new chain tensioner

Alfie gets another Alfine

14 Comments

Filed under Alfie the Trike, Trike maintenance

14 Responses to Alfie’s Alfine 11 hub gear gets its first service

  1. Nice write up Auntie Helen. I am sure others with this hub will find this a great help.
    I am going to pick up my first trike on Saturday! I got a second hand Trice Classic. I am so exited I cannot wait!

  2. Peter Drake (cambournepete)

    Good write-up!
    Well done to Madison for offering to sort out the problem for you.

    • Yes, particularly as the problem was nothing to do with them at all.
      Someone has commented that Madison appear to think I’ve used Hydraulic brake oil whereas I have actually used hydraulic mineral oil for disk brakes which this person thought is much less of an issue, so hopefully I haven’t done any long-term damage!

  3. Jon

    An enquiry to Auntie Helen. Could you tell me some about what happened with your first Alfine 11, replaced on warranty? I have a new Alfine11 with just over 100 miles on it. It’s making a strange, irregular clicking, snapping sort of sound when pedaled. It shifts and works fine except for the odd sounds. I’m trying to determine if I have a serious problem or not. Thanks for any informative help you can offer!
    Jon

    • Hi Jon,

      I can’t offer much help, I’m afraid, with regard to the strange noises. To get my Alfine replaced I went back to the supplier of my trike who arranged the replacement through Madison, the UK’s Shimano distributor. From them on I dealt directly with Madison (i.e. sent my wheel to them).

      I suggest you ask the supplier of your hub to contact your country’s distributor on your behalf and see what they say.

      Auntie Helen

      • Jon

        Thank you Auntie Helen.

        I’m working with my bicycle company now. We’re trying to determine if there’s really a problem or not. The hub functions well, but has the strange clicking. You’re the first person I’ve heard of who’s had to have an Alfine 11 replaced. Most people just say they work great. I’ll keep looking around and see if I can find anyone else having troubles. Thanks for you’re story on the oil change. It helps us all to know what to watch out for!

        Jon

  4. stephen

    Hi Helen, this is a belated thank you for this post. I live in Singapore and my local bike shops don’t have a clue about internally geared hubs! Your description encouraged me and my wife to sort it out ourselves. I’m really not looking forward to changing the rear sprocket, though… Stephen

    • Hi Stephen, thanks for your message. I did an oil change again (my fifth) last week and it’s now a breeze. Interestingly my hub obviously very slightly leaks oil as I can only ever get about 10mls out first time, although I flush it with 25mls as suggested and get that out when I drain the flushed oil. Still, it works beautifully still after 15,000 miles. The sprocket change wasn’t too bad really but it did need more than two hands (I assume you’ve seen my blog post on the sprocket change?)

      My bike shops here in the UK didn’t know about this hub either when I got it so I was rather working it all out on my own but the basic maintenance is fairly easy once you’ve got your head around it.

  5. stephen

    Thank you Helen. Yes, I’d read your post about the sprocket – not sure if I’m encouraged or not by it! Still when I get round to it, I’ll have the post to hand for reference… Equatorial regards Stephen

  6. Thanks so much for your post and excellent photos! Your step-by-step illustrations will be very helpful when I take on my first service. I have ordered the kit to change the oil and a 50 ml bottle of oil – both sourced from Amazon. Expensive, but it sound like the service is important. Over its first year, I currently have about 1,300 km on my Alfine 11-speed, so it is time to change the oil.

  7. EdG

    This write up is getting fairly old now and long term reviews on the Alfine 11 are few. I was hoping you could give a longterm update on the alfine-11 hub. How is it holding up? What problems have you had? Any other issues like leaks, etc….

    • Good idea, I’ll put something together when I’ve got some of my workload out of the way. But as a small taster, I’m on my third Alfine hub now… but I still love it! (Just under 40,000km ridden)

    • @EdG. My Alfine 11 has about 1,500 miles on it, or about 2,500 km. I did my oil change at about 1,500 km. I live in a very hilly area with many long steep climbs averaging 10% grades and steeper. I’m a big guy built like an America football player. I am probably the most extreme test you could throw at the Alfine 11. That, plus I have “cheated” on my gearing and exceeded Shimano’s “safe” ratio between the chainring and the rear cog. Because of the hills in my area, I geared down substantially and run a 39T chainring with a 24T cog, for a ratio of 1.63 (Shimano states a minimum ratio is 1.9).

      With all of this, my Alfine 11 has held up. I also own a bike with a Nexus 8-speed IGH, and I find the Alfine 11 does feel a little less robust. But that is just a feel, and is not supported by any data on actual breakdowns.

      It is important to keep the shifter adjusted on both the Alfine 11 and Nexus 8. Otherwise, you can get some ghost shifts under power – which does not sound good. Adjusting the shifter is pretty easy, so this is not a big burden. All told, the Alfine 11 IGH has held up very well. If it stands up to my use, I think it would stand up to just about anything.

Leave a Reply