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I have a Muji utility bicycle with a 3-speed internal gear hub which I got second hand around 5 years ago. The LBS which I bought the bike from has since closed down and I haven't managed to find another bike shop which does maintenance on this kind of bike (the last one I visited just told me if my bike broke down I should get a new one). I was wondering how complicated it would be to do maintenance by myself and if anyone has experience with internal gear hubs?

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  • What kind of IGH is it?
    – Batman
    Mar 6, 2014 at 16:39
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    Muji is Japanese, so it's almost certainly a Shimano. Which means maintence consists of throwing it away and buying a new one. With their old 3 speeds, you should expect to do that every 50,000 km or so.
    – Móż
    Mar 6, 2014 at 23:52
  • It is a Shimano. I'm not exactly sure which model it is but this looks close.
    – huijing
    Mar 7, 2014 at 2:00
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    I learned how to maintain my SA IGH by looking at you tube videos and reading bike blogs. The steps are really easy to learn. With time and some patience you'll become good at tuning it just right. Nov 16, 2016 at 3:04

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My experience as a bicycle mechanic in the Netherlands: don't mess with it.

If it is an Shimano, it will probably run >100.000 km. If it is a Sturmey Archer, SRAM or any other well known brand, it will mostly do >50.000 km as well.

If there is a small hole for lubricant, only do this once a year or so, with some thin grease, but not oil. Oil is to thin.

If it doesn't shift well, first look at the cable. You probably only need to adjust the tightness of the cable. If this doesn't work, de-attach the cable. Every hub must work correct in the smalles or biggest gear without a cable attached. If this still doesn't work, the hub is broken. (Happens almost never.) If a 3-gear hub is broken, it is easy to take apart and build together again. And finding which gear or bearing is broken isn't difficult either. Finding a bearing balls is easy to, but finding a spare gear is probably not so easy.

Main point: leave it as it is.

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In my experience with various internal gear hubs on Dutch bikes, I found there's no maintenance necessary: I've never heard of them breaking down because of lack of maintenance. Here's a blog post that concurs.

My current Gazelle bike manual also does not explicitly mention any maintenance on the hub gears, only how to adjust them.

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    It depends on the brand of hub. For example, theres an oil port on SA hubs as well as older hubs which you periodically have to oil. Relevant links: sheldonbrown.com/nexus-mech.html#lubrication and sheldonbrown.com/internal-gears.html#lubrication
    – Batman
    Mar 6, 2014 at 21:43
  • I have also heard that internal gear hubs are generally maintenance free, but was wondering how true that actually was.
    – huijing
    Mar 7, 2014 at 2:01
  • Looking at the pictures of that blog post it's a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed. This by far the oldest and one of the most reliable IGH ever built... While it can outlive the bicycle it's installed on, having it cleaned up every once in a while will still extend it's life. More complex hubs are much more expensive and often more prone to failure, and if you wait until it fails to perform the maintenance it will likely be too late already to save the hub. Feb 21, 2020 at 15:29
  • @Batman FYI the oil port on the SA 3-speed is a thing of the past, they unfortunately stopped doing it a while back and you have to disassemble the hub to re-grease it. I've heard of some enthusiasts drilling their own oil port though :) Feb 26, 2020 at 11:00
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I run my bike all winter long with a Nexus7 hub (SG-C3000-7R) - with Montreal's winter at the very least I need to clean up all the grime that sets around the sprocket and nearby parts, and if you need to get that far you might as well remove the hub core and dip in the lube (see Dealer's Manual p.48). While most hub cores can be fully disassembled you don't need to get any further if it's in working condition (no rust, dust or other contaminants; oil or grease should be clean).

The internal parts should not really need maintenance as long as there's enough grease on the dust caps to keep the water out, but if you ride in very dirty conditions (snow, slime, salt and gravel) you should at least prepare it before the first winter or do a maintenance after the first year to make sure it's all good, then put plenty of tick grease in the bearings and dust caps to prevent water and other contaminants from entering the hub.

As far as the 3-speed hub in initial question is concerned follow your hub maintenance procedure or find someone who can do it. Depending on the quality of the work and conditions you ride in you could have to do it up to once a year, but a well-done job should last 2-3 years even in the worst conditions.

If you opt for doing it yourself, find your hub model and follow your maintenance manual (If it's a Shimano Nexus Inter-3 hub the maintenance should be similar to the 7-speed, explained in the dealer's manual link above). Take note of every piece you remove, direction etc. Some parts may have to be inserted on the right side even if they look symmetrical, and you have to be careful with parts that have hooks or pins that should be installed properly to action the internal gears.

Internal hubs can last a very long time if internal parts are kept lubricated and free of contaminants.

UPDATE: To be fair, it seems from other posts Dutch bikes may still be using Sturmey Archer (SA) hubs, or similar hubs copied from the same design (reading more on the 3-speed hub it is as simple as it can get for an IGH, and so what it true for the SA might be true for other 3-spd IGH brands such as Shimano). I also believe Dutch weather is fairly mild compared to some other countries (lots of rain but very little need for salt and gravel in the winter), and many of those bikes have fenders and chain guards that will also do a great job keeping water and dust out.

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my experience with shimano nexus 3 speed hub is that it needs a yearly (that is at about every 3000 km ride) greasing that involves complete disassemling of the hub. therefore i do not agree with any blanket statement about the hubs being easy-care.

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    Recommended maintenance is an oil change every year or every (some number) of KM, whichever comes first. Do you completely disassemble it?
    – Criggie
    Oct 4, 2017 at 8:32

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