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My rear wheel suddenly became loose in traffic today. It is completely off axis. The axle looks fine from the outside. I remember being told something about loose cones.

Should I bother to repair this beater bike or should I invest in a road bike? This is a department store mountain bike.

And yes I took apart the rear brake because I thought that was the source of the problem ... (I.e that's not something that broke) ... Risky I know ... But I had kool stop salmons on the front so I thought that would provide sufficient stopping power. Nonetheless the wheel kept grinding against the frame as you can see in the picture so I stopped again and realized the wheel was completely off center.

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  • Not enough information. What is broken? You have 5 questions and not a single accepted answer.
    – paparazzo
    Oct 28 '14 at 16:03
  • OK you accepted two answers. That picture shows what it is doing but it does not show what is broken.
    – paparazzo
    Oct 28 '14 at 16:38
  • Please add at least one picture showing the axle nuts, preferably one from each side.
    – Jahaziel
    Oct 28 '14 at 16:43
  • I will once I get back to my bike ...
    – Dissenter
    Oct 28 '14 at 16:48
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It looks to me that the axle need to be re-built. It may just have loosened the cones, but there is also a slight chance of axle being bent, and/or ball bearings destroyed.

Don't panic, on cheap hubs that is not big deal. They are relatively easy to service and the spares are cheap. In my country, a modest bike shop would charge the equivalent to US$ 3-5 for re-packing the hub. The axle and ball bearings can be around US$ 2-3 too.

It is not very difficult to resolve "DIY" for the mechanically inclined, but you may need a cone wrench and maybe a cassette removal tool. Both are available either cheap (good for a couple of uses a year) or good quality (good for workshop use).

Hub service basically implies removing the wheel completely from the bike, unscrewing the axle completely, inspecting it, and the cones, races, bearings. Cleaning up the old grease, and reassembling again with fresh grease and replacing any damaged part, properly adjusting the cones, re-installing the cassette (if it was removed) and putting the wheel back on the bike. Work for 1h to 1h:30m for a novice, having the tools and parts at hand. An experienced bike mechanic in a shop may take 30-40 min.

Servicing a cheap hub that is still in good condition, provided that you can find the cheap spares is a good compromise, and keeping a beater bike (or a bike-shaped-object) in good condition can be a good thing if you use it for commuting short distances on places where there is risk of the bike getting stolen.

However, if you want to commute seriously, or bike for sports, then it is wise to invest in a good bike (a used one in good condition if on a budget). Consider the type of riding you want to practice and the distance you want to travel.

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  • Confirmed with bike shop. The wheel, when taken off and spun on the truing machine, practically leapt out at the technician; the axle was literally moving everywhere and tracing out an oval shape. That being said, I have a spare, identical bike, and will probably just swap out the entire rear wheel with this one. I will keep this bike as a beater bike. What good road bikes under 500 do you recommend?
    – Dissenter
    Oct 28 '14 at 21:33
  • I do not know of any reputable maker that runs in that price range when brand new. In that budget, I'd search for locally available used bikes of a good brand, and research any prospect before buying.
    – Jahaziel
    Oct 28 '14 at 23:27
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Most likely the source of the wheel going loose was loose nut. Department store bikes are not likely to have quick release which is safer because it does not become loose with time.

Put the wheel back and screw it on tightly. Don't forget to check the front wheel too, because if that goes loose the consequences will be very unfortunate. The wheel on the picture looks off centre which is likely because it is not properly in.

The question is whether you need need to invest into more serious bike. If cycling is interesting to you, the answer is definitely yes. Just don't buy those bicycle-like objects in department stores anymore.

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  • What do you recommend for a new bike? Budget is a few hundred, below five preferably.
    – Dissenter
    Oct 28 '14 at 17:13
  • How's a felt f85 for 350 in good condition?
    – Dissenter
    Oct 28 '14 at 17:31

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