Why Lubricating Your Treadmill Belt (Properly!) Is…

Before writing this article, I had a difficult time deciding what the more important topic would be, treadmill lubrication or keeping your treadmill (or any other machine) clean and free of dust and debris. While both are at the top of this list I decided to focus on treadmill lubrication first. My reason for doing so is due to my belief that treadmill lubrication is widely misunderstood while machine cleanliness is a much more intuitive concept. We’ll focus on machine cleaning next month.

Do I need to lubricate my treadmill? The simple answer is yes. Moving parts generate friction, the higher the amount of friction the harder the machine, and each individual component, has to work.

I haven’t ever lubricated my treadmill, is it too late? At this point, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Although irreversible damage may or may not have already occurred with some components, the rule, “better late than never,” applies to treadmill lubrication. To know, without a doubt, if any components have been damaged, refer to our amp draw article to make that determination.

Can components of my machine be damaged by a lack of lubrication? Yes, I’ll outline everything below:

  • $250 each, Belt and deck – premature wear resulting in increased friction load.
  • $150 each, Front and rear rollers – increased friction load will result in these components having to work harder to keep the machine moving, wearing them out prematurely.
  • $300 Drive motor – increased friction load will result in the motor having to work harder to keep the machine moving, wearing them out prematurely.
  • $250 Motor control board – the increased load on the moving components will require a larger amount of power to flow through this board. The higher the power flow, the higher the heat buildup inside the board, the faster the board will trigger an internal thermal overload switch or blow a component out completely. This is the number one indication of lack of lubrication we see in the field. Often, we receive service inquiries stating the treadmill drive motor will not engage on startup. The majority of the time we find this is due to a blown motor controller, due to a worn walking belt and deck, due to a lack of lubrication.
  • $50 Various electric components – The high amount of power flow can overload the machine’s power switch, circuit breaker, and wiring. Check out this video showing electrical components being overloaded. Fun to watch, not fun to experience!
  • $$$ Electricity – The harder the machine has to work, the higher the electric consumption, the more you pay the power company.

If you are tallying this up as we go, you’ve come to $1400. This does not include the government’s portion, shipping or labor. At that point, it would likely be a better idea to replace the machine entirely. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know my budget does not include disposable treadmills!

How will lubrication (or a lack of lubrication) affect my treadmill? The entire purpose of lubrication in any scenario is to reduce friction as well as dispersing heat. By reducing the amount of friction between the belt and deck surfaces, the entire drive system will run more efficiently and will need to perform less work for the same result. This will also reduce the wear on all drive system parts extending their usable life. To summarize, lubrication benefits your wallet more than anything else.

Due to a lack of lubrication resulting in increased friction, this treadmill deck laminate cracked from overheating

What type of lubricant should I use? That all depends on your machine. Paraffin used to be the most common lubricant used, but that has been replaced by silicone in recent years. Either way, consult your manual or contact your manufacturer to determine the correct type of lube to be used. Our 100% silicone lubricant is approved for use on ALL machines that require a silicone based lube.

Can’t I use WD-40, 3 in 1 oil, or anything else? Absolutely not. Belt and deck surfaces are engineered to work with the specific lubricants mentioned above, nothing else. Using an unapproved lubricant can deteriorate the two surfaces resulting in what we have taken to calling, “cotton candy belt.” Most belts are two-ply, the rubber layer you walk on and the cotton underside that glides along the deck surface. Unapproved lubricants have been known to break down those cotton fibers, causing them to begin scraping off as they run along the deck surface. These fibers will begin bunching up, resulting in clumps very similar in texture to cotton candy and can be found under your belt, in your motor compartment, and around your machine. Once a belt begins disintegrating, the friction levels will skyrocket very quickly. Lubrication with an unapproved lubricant will do more harm than good.

“Cotton candy” resulting from the incorrect lubricant deteriorating the underside of the walking belt

 

One of the most extreme examples we have seen, incorrect lube and a very excessive amount of friction have caused both the belt and deck to deteriorate

How much lubricant should I apply? That will vary by machine and use. Paraffin systems should have a coat of wax applied to the deck. It sounds silly, but this is literally like coloring, apply pressure to the wax brick, it will transfer to the deck surface as you move it and leave a white, waxy layer. Silicone systems should have a bottle with a nozzle of some sort. Squirt out about a half ounce on each side of the deck. Look at the wear marks from your shoes on the walking belt, you want to apply this lube on the deck, under those wear marks. No matter which type of lubricant your machine requires, do NOT allow any lube to land on any exposed surfaces, especially one you may walk on. In the event it does happen, clean it up immediately to avoid the risk of injury. Simple Green is our cleaner of choice as it will not chemically harm any of the machine’s components. After the lube has been applied, “walk” it into the machine. This is done over the course of five to 10 minutes at a slow, roughly two mile an hour, speed.

Can I overlubricate my treadmill? Yes, you most certainly can! Start small, you can always add more. Overlubrication can cause a number of issues. First, the excess lube will be flung out from under your belt at high speeds, your carpet, walls, and anything surrounding your machine could become soaked with silicone. Trust us, it’s not fun to scrub out of carpet or clothing. Second, excess lube will also be flung into your motor compartment. This will coat the interior of your motor compartment with a fine (or heavy, depending on the amount used!) film of lube which will bind to dust floating around in that enclosed space that has been drawn in by the motor fan. This results in a layer of grime that builds up in the motor compartment as it has no way to escape without opening it up and wiping it out. The lube flung into the motor compartment can find its way into the drive motor or onto the motor control board. Within the drive motor the lube will heat up and smell (best case scenario) or short the motor requiring replacement (worst case scenario). In the event it splatters onto the motor controller it may also short that out, resulting in a required motor control board replacement. Lastly, lube can come into contact with the drive belt between the front roller and drive motor causing it to slip. Odds are the drive motor and front roller pulleys will be able to be cleaned off, but the rubber drive belt will become impregnated with this lube and will require replacement. No matter what, over lubrication isn’t cheap!

How often should I lubricate my treadmill? This will vary greatly by the amount of usage your treadmill experiences. Some machines will have internal timers or odometers that will prompt you to lube your machine after a set number of hours or miles, however, these are just set intervals that have no relation to actual machine performance and need and are approximations only.

How do I know when my treadmill needs to be lubricated? The basic rule to follow is that you should be able to touch your deck surface, under the walking belt and feel a slightly waxy or oily coat of lube on the deck. Check under the area where your feet contact the walking belt. In the event you cannot feel a residue left from your last application of lube, it needs more. For a more in-depth explanation of how we make this determination using amp draws, please see our amp draw article.

This belt is in the process of being replaced, but you can see the wear marks created by users feet. On a machine with a belt still in usable condition, the lube should be applied to that area especially. Also, note the large ball of “cotton candy” that collected on the left side of the machine

My machine is under warranty, why does it need to be lubed? For the same reason oil changes and basic maintenance are required on brand new cars that are still under warranty. Yes, warranties are a valuable addition to any machine, however, they do not last forever and failures are much more likely after the warranty expires if a machine has not been properly maintained. Warranties specifically state they apply to manufacturer’s defects only, not neglect or abuse.

After lubricating my treadmill, what else will I need to do?

  • If your treadmill features a folding deck, don’t fold it up immediately after applying silicone lube. There is a chance any unabsorbed lube may run down your deck and drip on to your floor. Put about 5 miles on the machine prior to folding it again.
  • Your walking belt will absorb silicone lube, check it one and three days after applying to ensure it doesn’t need another application. Sometimes multiple applications are necessary to fully saturate the cotton under-layer.
  • If a belt and/or deck has already been damaged, lube will help, but not solve the whole problem. Some machines we see are not worth replacing parts on, but are still running. in those instances, we advise our customers to keep the machine well lubricated to squeeze the last little bit of life out of their machine if they are not interested in purchasing a replacement.

When in doubt, Contact Us, or your manufacturer. Treadmill lubrication is vitally important to your machine’s health and will go a long way toward ensuring your machine will last for years of use. Call us out for a preventive maintenance service that includes lubrication or purchase lubricant if you would rather do it yourself. Either way, we are happy to help!

 

What Is An “Amp Draw” And What…

Kill-a-Watt Meter Plugged Into Wall

Dave S. from Frankfurt asks, “during my service your tech was using a meter that he plugged my treadmill into. He explained everything as he was working on it, but could you go over it again?”

Certainly, Dave, we’d be happy to. Treadmill amp draws are a very important part of our preventive maintenance service as they are an indicator of overall treadmill health. I find it to be an extremely valuable tool because it involves the precision of math and data, there is absolutely no guesswork. Sure, anybody can come out and slap some lube on your machine or vacuum it out. They may even offer a tip or two about how to extend the longevity of your machine. What separates the professionals from the amateurs are performing an amp draw, and, even more importantly, knowing what to do with that information and how to interpret it.

This article does go to great depth and is somewhat technical. If you don’t feel like the hassle, this test is performed on every treadmill we work on. Contact Us and we’ll be happy to handle it for you!

In simple terms, your machine’s amp draw measures how hard your machine must work to run. Think of it like your treadmill’s blood pressure. In the same way your heart works to circulate blood through your body, a treadmill requires electricity to flow through its components. The measurement we are taking indicates how much power is flowing through your machine, therefore how hard your machine must work in order to run.

Now, how do we complete this process? To take an amp draw, we have utilized three different methods in the field. I would only recommend the first procedure for a trained professional and someone who is comfortable working around electricity. I have shocked myself doing this, as has every single other tech I have ever met. The second method is better for the home user while the third method is the absolute best. To put it another way, we only utilize the third method now, using number two in rare occurrences and using number one only when we have absolutely no other options.

Method #1: For the first four years we were in business, we used only a standard clamp meter, available at any hardware store. We do not recommend this technique for the home user as the chance of electric shock is higher than I would prefer. Only proceed with this method if you are a trained professional and are comfortable working around electricity. Set your meter to the 20 or 30A setting. With the machine OFF and unplugged, place the clamp around ONE of the power wires going to the motor control board. These are usually white and black. Once again, clamp around only one of them, ensure the clamp closes fully. Hold or place the meter in an area where it does not come into contact with any other components inside the machine while it is powered on. That step is what makes this so difficult. Plug the machine back in, turn the power switch on and proceed with your readings. They will jump around quite a bit, take an average of the numbers you see displayed. As you can see in the pictures below, exposed wiring is present making this hazardous and the meter is in a very difficult position to read.

Method #1: Exposed Internal Treadmill Wiring

Method #1: Wire Selected For Clamp Meter Measurement

Method #2: This upgrade came about in 2011 when we first attended True Fitness certification in St. Louis. Joey Chirchirillo, a repair tech who has seen almost everything, showed our class an extension cord he had fabricated that made this infinitely easier. By removing the outermost layer of this cord and exposing the individual (still coated!) wires, he was able to then plug the machine’s power cord into this extension cord. Therefore he now had plenty of play in the cords to then hold his meter in his hand while using the machine. In the event you chose this method, any alterations made to this extension cord will void the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certification and should only be used to test the machine for a short (under five minute) period of time. The cord must also be 12AWG or thicker, using a thinner cord than that will result in overheating and possible fire. As a reminder, the smaller the AWG number, the thicker the cord (12AWG is heavier duty than 14AWG). Our Power Extenders are properly rated for this application. Once the machine is plugged in and turned on it is MUCH easier to take these readings. They will jump around quite a bit, take an average of the numbers you see displayed.

Method #2: Thanks Joey, For Saving Our Fingers From Shock And Making This Much Easier To Read!

Method #2: See How Easy This Is Now?

Method #3: This upgrade was discovered during our first SportsArt certification in 2015. Because we’re nerds when it comes to this stuff, we were blown away and haven’t looked back since! Our trainer there was using a Kill-a-Watt amp meter and it made this even easier for us as technicians as well as end users. By plugging the Kill-a-Watt into the outlet, then plugging the machine into that, we saw a much smoother and accurate amp reading which was easier to record in the field after selecting the amp readout. Additionally, we discovered that when plugged into our Power Extenders we gained the best of both worlds, the flexibility of Method #2 with the smooth reading of Method #3! Full disclosure, that is an Amazon affiliate link above, by purchasing through that link we will earn a small commission, thank you for your purchase!

Method #3: The Best Solution To Date!

Method #3: Power Extender Plugged Into Back Of Kill-a-Watt, Treadmill Plugged Into Front Of Kill-a-Watt

No matter which method we use, we take four readings. Prior to lubricating the machine, both loaded and unloaded, as well as loaded and unloaded after lubrication. This allows us to determine a baseline and then determine how lubrication improves the machine’s amp draw. All readings are taken at 4mph, we have found this to be an adequate speed to accurately test the machine while not being too fast than would be safe while walking and holding the cord. Unloaded measurements are taken with no one on the machine, loaded measurements are taken with a user walking on the machine at 4mph. It is important all readings are taken at the same speed.

Unloaded, a very healthy machine should be consuming no more than 2 amps. A moderately healthy machine will be reading 2-4 amps, a mediocre reading is 4-6 amps and anything over 6 amps will undoubtedly signal an issue that will require diagnosing. Loaded readings will be different depending on the weight of each user, but the general rule is that a very healthy machine should be consuming no more than 4-6 amps. A moderately healthy machine will be reading 6-8 amps, a mediocre reading is 8-10 amps and anything over 10 amps will indicate an issue that will require diagnosing. Regardless, the loaded reading should be no more than 4A more than the unloaded reading.

If your amp draw is high unloaded, there is an issue with the system as it is currently running. The issue is NOT going to be the belt and deck (at least not entirely, more on that later). A high unloaded amp draw signals an issue with the drive motor, over tensioned drive belt, bad bearings in the front and/or rear rollers, and/or an over tensioned walking belt. At this point, you will need to isolate each component to determine the issue. Check the tensions of your belts. Are they too taught? Loosen them up, see if that corrects the issue. How easily do the front and rear rollers spin, are they noisy? Do they bind up? If so, they need to be replaced, they should spin freely and quietly. Is your drive motor noisy, does it bind up? If so, the motor will need to be replaced or rebuilt.

Start at the beginning by testing the drive motor’s amp draw only and add components until you everything is back together. Disengage the drive belt and test the amp draw. This will give you a reading on the drive motor only. Reinstall the drive belt, check tension and loosen the walking belt so the belt does not spin. This reading will give you the amp draw of the drive motor and front roller. Retension the walking belt, check the tension and take another reading. This will test the entire system and should be similar, if not identical, to the unloaded reading you took before. The component(s) added that resulted in a dramatic spike in amperage will be the source of your issue.

If the amp draw is within specifications while unloaded, but high when loaded, that is indicative of a high amount of friction between the belt and deck surfaces. Lube the machine, walk the lube in and retest. If your amp draw improves to the measurements outlined above, wonderful, your machine is operating as designed!

Excited workout man with red glasses giving thumbs up

Obligatory Stock Thumbs Up Picture. Sorry, I Couldn’t Help Myself

If your amp draw is still high, investigate the belt and deck surfaces. Decks should be completely smooth with a glass-like smoothness under the entire area the belt is over. Belts should be fibrous underneath, with no smooth burn-in spots. If a deck needs to be replaced the belt MUST be replaced as well. If the deck is in great condition, you may get away with just replacing the belt, make absolutely certain the deck surface is perfect prior to making that determination. Below are two examples of decks that should have been replaced long ago. These are extreme examples, once more, the deck must be smooth and free of any imperfections to not require replacement.

Grooved Deck – Over time, the friction between the belt and deck surfaces wore away at the laminate exposing the unlaminated core.

Spiderwebbed Deck – Over time, the heat buildup generated between the belt and deck surfaces will weaken the laminate surface of the deck resulting in cracking. 

By testing your machines amp draw you will be able to accurately determine if components of your machine are in need of replacing. All too often, generally due to a lack of lubrication, we are called out to diagnose a machine with no motor movement. We usually find this is due to a damaged motor control board that overheated due to a high amp draw, caused by the high belt and deck friction which all began with inadequate lubrication. A $20 bottle of lube and basic maintenance could have prevented what has now developed into a $400-$1000+ repair. Once again, if this is more than you would prefer to tackle yourself, Contact Us and we’ll be happy to take care of it for you. Just like your car, proper maintenance is vital to extending a machine’s longevity.

Thank you again for your question Dave, we’re always happy to explain in detail the processes and techniques we utilize to keep your machines in top shape!

 

Special thanks to Jake Williams at 2nd Wind Exercise in Merrillville, IN for letting us use their showroom for these equipment photographs. 

Why Is My Elliptical Rough?

John M. from Highland Park, IL asks, “why is my elliptical rough when first starting out, but then smooths out after I have been riding it about 3 minutes? After it warms up, everything works as it should, it’s just unpleasant starting out. Do I need to have you come out for service?”

Great question John, thank you for sending that in. This is a behavior that has been noticed by many elliptical users, and the solution, while goofy, works. I can’t speak to the condition of the remainder of your machine, but it is not necessary to have us out for this issue alone, provided it resolves itself soon after you begin your workout.

Most ellipticals utilize a wheel of some sort, with a convex or concave wheel running on a rail or within a track respectively. These wheels are generally made of a material similar to an inline skate or skateboard wheel. Depending on the manufacturer, and sometimes varying from model to model, wheels may be harder or softer to match the machines intended use. Generally, a softer wheel material will result in a smoother ride, ideal for a home setting, whereas a harder wheel will wear down much less quickly and is better suited for a commercial setting.

Convex Elliptical Wheel Within Track

Concave Elliptical Wheel On Rail

We find this issue to be more prevalent on the home use models and their softer wheels. We have discovered that as the user works out, heat builds up from the friction between the wheel and the rail/track that it rides on. This softens the wheel even further enabling the user to experience a highly cushioned workout, but this also results in the wheels becoming out of round when cooling.

Once the user completes their workout, the warm, soft wheels are then left sitting on the hard rails. As they cool, the wheel material is so soft and the rail is so hard that the wheel surface begins to conform to the shape of the rail. This is generally not enough of a difference to be visually apparent, but you will certainly notice it during your next workout. After the user warms the wheels back up, they soften and return to their round, even shape.

Now, how to get around this. If your wheels are internal and inaccessible, unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done. If your wheels are accessible, you can lift the pedal arms on to blocks which will allow the wheels to cool down with no weight on them. Due to gravity, this may not solve 100% of the roughness but it will solve 95%, if not more. Yoga blocks or massage rollers are just about perfect for this, in a pinch you can use those guest room throw pillows no one ever uses for anything else.

We Finally Have A Purpose In Life!

Using proper lifting technique (your knees, not your back!), lift each pedal arm, one at a time. Rest a block on a stable portion of the wheel rail or floor. Then, lower the pedal arm back down onto the block, ensuring the wheel is not resting on anything. Repeat for the other side. You may need to adjust the placement of the flywheel to allow the arms enough room to be properly propped up. Use wooden or foam blocks to avoid scratching the rails, metal items should never be used. While the pedal arms are propped up and off their tracks, do not use the unit, it is unsafe to operate. Prior to your workout, perform the same steps in the reverse order to prepare your elliptical for use.

Lifted Concave Wheels

Lifted Convex Wheels

Concave Positioning Of Foam

Convex Positioning Of Foam

For this demonstration, I used a piece of rigid foam insulation I had laying around the garage. These are available at any home project store and are easily cut to the appropriate size with a utility knife.

Look For The Pink Panther, Keep Away From Fire

Either way, John, don’t worry. If you choose to raise your pedal arms for your own comfort please do so, but there is absolutely no reason to not leave them as is. That short time the wheels are out of round will not cause any damage to the machine and is how it was designed to be operated. Thank you again for your question!

 

A special thanks to Dale Noack at 2nd Wind Exercise in Aurora, IL for letting us use their showroom for these equipment photographs. 

Why Won’t You Fix My Flooded Unit?

With all the rain lately, we’ve been asked this quite a bit. Our answer is always the same for treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and every other piece of equipment we work on. That answer is: “the high probability of frame failure.” (more…)