26-inch mountain bike wheel with Shimano loose ball hub and freewheel. The old axle kept developing play. I installed a complete new one and new bearings and problem persists. Cones are properly adjusted and secured. Is this fixable, do I have to live with it or is it time for a new bike??

  • Where is the play? Can you see the hub moving relative to the cones and axle? Is the play there immediately after adjusting the cones or does it return after a period of use? Are you sure you're tightening the lock nuts against the cones securely? Dec 4, 2020 at 0:53

1 Answer 1


IMHO, Time for a new hub. Whether you get a full new bike...well that would depend on what you have currently, and the kind of riding you do combined with how much you want to spend. The loose bearings and freewheel just don't do well once they are worn.

It is worth noting however that getting the cone tension just right takes practice, you have to do it several times to get a feel for it. If you have the time to mess with it, you might be able to pull it off.

Over the summer, my son and I volunteered with new bike assembly at our local non-profit bike shop. The hubs that were brand new, often came overtightened, and were quite a pain in the butt to get just right. My 13yo son actually has a better knack for it than I do. You have to overtighten the cone just the right amount so that when you snug it up with the lock nut, it loosens to the right amount of tension.

Re "cones are properly adjusted". So you set the bearing tension, and there is no play until you ride on it a bit?...or is it that you can't seem to get the right tension. Too loose is sloppy, and too tight is crunchy?

The practical amount of money to spend on a new hub is of course dependent on the bike, and what you want to do with it, and building a new wheel may not be practical for you. If the bike is worth $100, spending $100 on a wheel does not make a whole lot of sense. Tell us about more about your bike, and what kind of riding you intend to do.

Good luck, Ben

  • 1
    Thanks Ben! It's an older Nishiki mountain bike that I converted to a flat bar road. It was my late fathers bike. Solid axle. I have no trouble whatsoever getting the correct cone adjustment. For some reason it loosens up after 25-50 miles of riding. The lock nuts and cones are secured properly. The hub insides looked smooth with no visible damage. I suspect you are correct in that the hubs may be worn out. After my ride today I did an experiment. I tightened the bearings slightly too much. I will do a ride tomorrow morning and see what happens.
    – Steve
    Nov 4, 2020 at 0:04
  • 1
    @Steve Use a paint pen to mark the position of the axle, locknut, and cone. You can then see if they’re moving.
    – MaplePanda
    Nov 4, 2020 at 0:12
  • Not a bad idea!! Thanks!!
    – Steve
    Nov 4, 2020 at 1:00
  • The sentimental nature means that its worth keeping the bike and working to fix the rear wheel, or replace it if appropriate. If you want another bike as well, that's your choice. But don't trash the whole bike because of this minor issue.
    – Criggie
    Nov 4, 2020 at 1:54
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    This bike was built in 1987, during the era of narrower hubs and freewheels. The frame space is 126mm which is very common for the times. I am hoping that the tightening I did earlier will fix it or keep play to a minimum. If necessary, I will have the LBS overhaul the wheel with a new hub.
    – Steve
    Nov 6, 2020 at 0:37

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