Andre Jute, moving towards the zero maintenance bicycle, questions the service intervals on the Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 internal hub gearbox,, and packs the EXT Clickbox of the Rohloff on his Utopia Kranich with Phil Waterproof Grease as an experiment in bringing all the service intervals into the same period.
A healthy bike you can jump on and go anywhere, anytime. Here my pedal pal Helen and I are on the hill over the estuary of the Bandon River between Innishannon and Kinsale, looking down on Kilmacsimon Quay.
Towards a Zero Maintenance Bike
Packing the Rohloff EXT Clickbox
with Phil Waterproof Grease
by Andre Jute
Not too many owners know it, but the external clickbox on the Rohloff gearbox is supposed to have a dab of grease added every 500km. The EXT clickbox or klickbox, as some have it, is the little black box which with a thumbscrew attaches the bottom end of the two gearchange cables to the gearbox itself. Besides changing gears under normal circumstances under the control of the handlebar-mounted rotary control, the clickbox is fitted on an easy to use thumbscrew so that it may be removed if the cables should ever break, and expose the head of the change-shaft, which very conveniently takes an 8mm spanner (wrench), so that the rider can still select a get-me-home gear. Even if he doesn't have an 8mm spanner, he can use the chainsplitter on his multitool to clamp onto the 8mm shaft head and give him leverage to select a gear. It is the interface between this assembly and the part the cables turn which requires to be greased, and it does no harm to grease the entire metal mating surface to keep out water.
I don't measure my masculinity by how uncomfortable I am on my bike, or how filthy I get my hands how often. Quite the contrary. I demand to be extremely comfortable on my bike, and that it should require the minimum of service, and I abhor dirty hands. I especially hate Park's assembly grease.
In standard form the only services my Utopia Kranich (above, nearest camera) requires is to change the gearbox oil once a year, or every 5000km, whichever comes first, a few drops of oil on the chain occasionally, and a spot of grease to the clickbox every 500km. None of this is exactly onerous but none of this is strictly necessary either. Oh, vintage rubber block pedals that I fitted to have a larger surface for my Number 12s are rebuildable and require a few drops of oil through a hole every few months. I can't be bothered, so I force-packed them with Finish Line White Teflon until all the ancient grease was washed out, which should last a good long time. When the time comes, I shall repack them with Phil Waterproof Grease (see below).
The gears inside a Rohloff hub gearbox are coated with oil out of the factory and would not lose this oil except in extreme circumstances. It doesn't matter, except for the sanctity of your warranty, which is effectively a lifetime guarantee if you play by the rules, whether you change the gearbox oil at 5000km or 10,000km. Anyway, it's a clean process with the proper Rohloff kit of a drainage pipe and an injector plus two bottles, one for disposal of the used oil. I enjoy doing it once a year.
As for oiling the chain, my chain is totally enclosed in a Hebie Chainglider and I see no need to oil the chain beyond the factory lube. I'm currently running an experiment to see precisely how long the factory lube lasts, but at present it doesn't look like we will see definite results (less wear or accelerated wear of the chainring, cog or chain itself) for another year or two. I'm anyway of the opinion that there is no finer grinding paste than light oil and dust, so that my Hebie Chainglider/factory lube-only experiment is as much about excluding abrasive particles as about not overoiling the chain.
That leaves the clickbox — I say again: there is nothing else on my bike that can be serviced except the vintage pedals, the chain, and the Rohloff gearbox oil. I don't understand why the 500km interval was chosen. On the face of it it is ludicrously short.
Above is the clickbox opened for the first time in 1600km/1000m. The grease on it is Finish Line White Teflon, which I used until recently for everything, including the assembly of moving and stationary components. I'm now switching over to Phil Waterproof Grease for everything, as I don't see that I need to keep more than one tube of greasy stuff, and the Phil looks good, feels good, smells good, and won't stain my green bike. (Thanks to the Thorn Forum's Jags who kindly made me a gift of this tube of grease, and much laughter besides.)
Clearly the White Teflon is still good for another 1500km, or even twice that far; if true, the clickbox can be serviced on the same cycle as the gearbox oil is changed.
Here the White Teflon is cleaned off, and you can see how the parts mate.
Here I've packed six units/voids with Phil. There's enough grease here to be squeezed out and coat the mating surface all round the sensitive parts. The six units are the hole in the gearbox change shaft head, the two locating screws, all three on the bike side, and on the clickbox side the housing for the shaft head and the two locator holes. The important, moving units are of course the shaft head and the rotator, but, just in case the 500km service interval has nothing to do with moving parts and everything with a fear of steel and aluminium corroding into a single inseparable unit, I think it important if you're going to leave the clickbox closed for a long time to provide an anti-corroision barrier.
Okay, let's see if it makes 5000km. I'll open it for inspection every 1000km.
June 2014 ADDENDUM: OOPS!
Oh, well. Doing the annual gearbox oil change, talking to gawkers, I forgot I was running an experiment to see if the EXT clickbox would go 5000km/3000m (the mandatory main oil service interval) with Phil's Waterproof Grease. So at a fraction under 3000km, without thinking, I cleaned the EXT unit and filled it with fresh Phil's Waterproof Grease, and refitted it.
The Phil's stood up well for 3000km; there was no sign it wouldn't have lasted to 5000km total. Phil anyway claims this grease is waterproof, implication permanently, until contaminated with dirt. The well-engineered parts of the Rohloff EXT clickbox are too close-fitting to let in dirt, though it won't keep out water if submerged, and water would eventually carry in enough dirt to contaminate the grease. Didn't happen to my bike though, so it is merely a theoretical speculation for the consideration of those who routinely ford streams at least to hub height.
I conclude that it is extremely likely that with high quality grease the EXT click box factory-recommended service interval of 500km (five hundred kilometers) is, for my sort of road use, totally over the top. The EXT click box can go 3000km for sure and very likely the full oil service interval of 5000km with a single load of grease.Text and original photographs copyright © 2012, 2014 Andre Jute