Introduction: Refurbishing Drive Rollers for a NordicTrack Ski Machine
I have a NordicTrack Pro ski machine made in March 1994. The drive rollers on these machines begin to hiccup with a lot of use. That means the rollers may not grab immediately on the backward push stroke, or they may not release immediately at the beginning of the forward stroke. It is an easy problem to remedy at home. This Instructable will show you how.* All you need is a couple of wrenches, a screwdriver, some penetrating oil, and some facial tissue. The actual work requires only an hour or so, but you will need to allow the rollers to dry for a few hours.
*I published this information nine years ago in the Community Forums section of Instructables and over 40,000 people viewed it there. Quite a number commented that they were able to make their machine work like new again. But, the Community Forums will soon be phased out and content there will disappear. I am making it an Instructable.
Step 1: Mark the Rollers
I put a piece of masking tape on each drive roller and drew an arrow seen from above. The arrow indicates the front of the machine, and it will help be certain a roller is not installed backwards.
Step 2: Begin Removing the Sideboard
You will need to remove one of the two sideboards. I arbitrarily chose the left sideboard. Although I have a Pro model, this process is the same for most other models. I also did this procedure on the Challenger model we had previously. There are two Phillip’s head screws to the sides of the Pro emblem on the sideboard. Remove both.
Step 3: Remove Nuts From Sideboard Bolts
Four bolts hold the sideboard in place and make it part of the machine’s frame. Two are at the front and two are at the back. Two are visible from above after a ski has been removed from the machine. Two can be seen only from the underside of the machine. The first photo shows removing one of the nuts visible from above. The nut requires a 1/2 inch wrench. An open end or a box end work well. Unfortunately, I had to use different wrenches for other nuts because of space available. See the second and third photos. The fourth photo shows the sideboard removed. Notice the ball bearing for the flywheel shaft embedded in the sideboard. Remove the drive roller from the flywheel shaft. See the fifth photo. There are two washers on either side of the drive rollers. A plastic washer is next to the roller’s rubber surface. A steel washer is next to the plastic washer away from the roller. Make certain you can remember that, or consult the photo here.
Step 4: Remove the Other Roller
Wiggle the shaft out of the sideboard bearing on the side you did not remove. Pull the other drive roller off of the end of the shaft. Do not lose the washers. The spokes on the flywheel may be in the way. If so, rotate the flywheel and utilize the space between the spokes to wiggle more.
Step 5: Do Not Panic
Look closely at this roller. There is some obvious wear, but the heavy rubber tire never wears out. Your body weight will always ensure that the ski makes firm contact with the rubber.
Step 6: Clean the Bearing
These drive rollers sound very mysterious, but they use a common one-way needle bearing used for all sorts of applications in industry. Inside the bearing is a ramp system that provides grip in one direction and slack in the other. If your ski machine hiccups, the one-way needle bearings probably need only a little cleaning, not replacement. In time, fine metallic dust from metal rubbing on metal accumulates and makes the ramp grab and release system sluggish. Simply flush the bearings with a light penetrating oil, work them back and forth with your little finger, sop out any residue with a facial tissue, and allow to air dry before reassembly. You may need to flush each bearing several times until you can feel the one-way needle bearing moving freely. Also look at the tissue. Repeat this process until you no longer see gray residue on the tissue after sopping. (There are three individual bearings inside the drive roller. A one-way needle bearing is centered in the shaft hole. A bronze sleeve bearing is on either side of the one-way needle bearing.)
I have a can of Liquid Wrench I bought in the late-1960s. Some use WD-40, but a friend who rebuilds ski machines professionally strongly discourages that. He says a nasty residue can build up. Liquid Wrench is now sold as an aerosol, but it does the same job. Some similar products are also available.
The bronze sleeve bearings surrounding the one-way roller bearings are supposed to be oil impregnated and supply lubrication. If you wish, you may add a drop or two of ATF transmission fluid for lubrication.
In the third photo I rested the drive rollers on my wrenches to elevate them for better air circulation and drying.
I confess I find it difficult to stick to a consistent exercise routine. My ski machine does not get constant use. Still, flushing and drying the one-way roller bearings has restored their function on two ski machines with no problems for the machines. Try this simple home fix before you spend money ordering new drive rollers or sending your machine off for new rollers.
Bonus—Do you need a new electronic monitor on your ski machine to measure ground speed and exercise session duration? This is a link to making one for yourself from a digital bicycle speedometer commonly available wherever bicycles are sold.
2 months ago
Thank you very much for this. I found your page while looking for where to buy replacement rollers, which I now don't need! The rollers on my 1997 NordicTrack 3000 are much improved.
I found it easiest to lay the machine on its side rather than prop it up as in your pictures.
I started cleaning with a WD-40 "straw" spray. The white residue that your friend mentioned is a wax, which I don't think would do any harm. But I followed up with 3-in-1. I couldn't get my little finger in to exercise the rollers, so I scrubbed them with a small old toothbrush. Everything else was exactly as you described (plus at least 8 times checking that I'd got the washers round the right way - extra thanks for that detail!)
Reply 24 days ago
Update: Unfortunately, one of the rollers started slipping even more badly after a couple of months. As it was unsafe to use, I decided to take some extreme measures; couldn't make it any worse. I have a steam mop with a nozzle attachment. I removed the rollers again and ran almost a whole tankful of steam through them, focusing it on the internal roller bearings as much as possible. They dried fairly quickly, being warm from the steam, but I left them on a radiator for a while to be sure. Then I put a tiny drop of 3-in-1 oil onto each. Four 20-minute sessions later and it's working well. I'll update again if (a) I have trouble, or (b) it continues OK for 2 or 3 months.
Reply 24 days ago
Thank you for sharing your experience.
Reply 25 days ago
Thanks PhilB for the article and jeffas for the additional comments. I was searching for replacement clutch rollers and then remembered a similar problem with a slipping bicycle freewheel was solvable with copious amounts of degreaser... If this works, it'll save a lot of search time and $!
Reply 24 days ago
So far, it has worked for a very large group of people, including myself. A few years ago a set of new clutch rollers was about $100. They are probably more now. I like Instructables that are practical and save a person serious money. Let us know how it turns out for you. (One person put his ski machine back together before the penetrating oil had dried completely and his rollers had a few problems with slipping until a few days had passed and they finally dried out.)
Welcome to Instructables!
Reply 2 months ago
Thank you for your comment. At its best, Instructables helps people solve problems, makes their lives better, and saves them money. A few times people have found something I submitted that was helpful to them and joined Instructables. I appreciate knowing something I did has helped them and it makes my day. One good thing is if the WD-40 or the 3-in-1 cause any unexpected problems, you can always repeat the process with something else. Welcome to Instructables.
Question 1 year ago on Step 6
Hi, can you comment on the spacing when reassembling? I've reassembled my machine four times, but each time, once I ski for a day, the right roller bearing seems to bind against the side of the frame and makes it difficult to slide the ski forward. The left roller bearing free spins in the forward direction, but the right one seems to be jammed against the frame.
Answer 1 year ago
The image is from a NordicTrack ski machine manual. Notice part numbers 59 and 60. There are two of each. There is a set of washers on both sides of the roller. Do you have washers between the wood sideboard and the roller as shown? If you do not, you can get what you need at a hardware store. The plastic washer could be cut from an empty milk jug. Also, is your machine on a level floor?
1 year ago
Hi, Phil B, Thank you for resurrecting this information from your Community post (from 2012, I think). I saved the original when I found it in 2014, along with the early comments no longer available, and now I have both old and new versions in my backup files for safe-keeping. (I also made an audio player tray similar to yours, although now I use a tiny clip-on mp3 player. Now I want to make a bigger tray to hold a tablet or small laptop securely for viewing scenic "virtual tours" while Nordic Tracking.)
I've been using my Nordic Track Achiever since I bought it in about 1990, and between the maintenance instructions that came with it and your very helpful Instructables I've managed to keep it working well so far. It's teh best daily exercise I've found for staying active with a bad back, no excuses for inclement weather, and it has really helped me overcome some balance problems due to an old injury.
I haven't had to rebuild my drive rollers yet, but I'm pretty sure I can do that when the time comes, guided by your directions and photos. Flushing the drive roller bearings has made a big difference after so many years of use. I recently replaced the leather pad under the arm exerciser wheel with a bit of leather I found in my craft supplies. I think keeping that pad lightly oiled is key to its longevity.
I'm pleased to find that replacement parts are still made and available online for my Nordic Track, but as an avid do-it-myselfer I'm curious to know what material you used to make your orange drive strap? And have you made replacement arm cords from some commonly available material? I've tried paracord of the same diameter but it stretches too much and is more "springy" than the original cords.
Thank you again for helping us keep our Nordic Tracks running smoothly, and for so many of your other Instructables and comments over the years!
Reply 1 year ago
Thank you. It is good to hear this was beneficial. A friend repairs ski machines. He is struggling to find a dependable supplier for new drive rollers. He likes to give his customers a “new” machine from one end to the other. I am someone who just wants a machine that works. Flushing the old rollers does not bother me. The original version of this saved by you has the same information, but over time I argued with myself over the best way to present it and what to include or omit. The orange strap is from some nylon ratchet hold downs I got at Home Depot, I think. The strap was an inch wide. I used a hot knife cutter I improvised to narrow the strap to about 3/4 inch. I did see in a NordicTrack manual that the leather friction pad under the drum can be washed with soap and water to remove the old embedded oil. I have not tried that, but may one day. I also made an adaptation not shown. An old washing machine had four short, but strong springs that suspended the washing machine drum. I am using one of those on my NordicTrack to tension the nylon belt. But, I also made a tensioner with a wheel that allows me to dial the tension I want while using the machine. I would like to do an Instructable on that, but want it to be something someone with a few basic woodworking tools can make. The one I made for myself is steel and there was some welding. Because the spring is so sturdy I leave the tension on it all of the time. I have not replaced the arm cords on the drum, yet. I did buy some nylon cord at Lowe’s, but have not tried it to know if it stretches. It seems like it would not, but I do not know for certain. I am using an iPhone as my audio player, now. I made a holder for it from some steel sheet. That holder can also mount on a camera tripod so I can take a photo with both of my hands in the picture. I have what is left of an old nightstand lamp hanging on the wall near my head. The lamp in that fixture has a built-in Bluetooth speaker and the audio from the iPhone plays through the speaker in the lightbulb. I admire your persistence in using the ski machine regularly. Thank you, again, for the feedback.
2 years ago
Phil -- Nice instructable. I don't have one of these exercise machines, but I enjoy seeing instructables on how to fix things. I have an obsolete Dayton belt grinder that had a bearing wear out recently. Sadly, Dayton doesn't sell parts for these old machines anymore. I measured the three dimensions of the bearing and ordered one from Granger. When it arrived, I jury-rigged a bearing press using my vice and a couple of 1/2 inch drive sockets, and my old belt grinder was back in business. A $10 bearing saved a $500 machine! Good job on your instructable!
Reply 2 years ago
John, thank you. It is good to hear from you. When I first suggested in the Community Forums version of this Instructable that the one-way needle bearings could be made to work smoothly again by flushing fine metallic dust out of the bearings and letting them dry, a few guys who repair NordicTrack ski machines for a living told me all of the terrible ways I was causing the destruction of equipment by leading unknowing people to ruin their ski machines with my horrible, ill-conceived procedure. But, a number of users told me in comments flushing the bearings had saved their machines and their money.
Thank you for the bearing story, I did something similar recently. I tuned up my radial arm saw and decided to replace the ball bearings in the motor. After not locating a particular local bearing place through maps on my iPad again for their address and phone number, I measured and ordered bearings from Bearings Direct in the Los Angeles area. The new bearings actually fit just right when they arrived!
I did not think my drive rollers needed flushing, but flushed them anyway while doing this Instructable. I think they are quieter and more responsive now.
Reply 2 years ago
Last year I overhauled the blade guides on my 40 year old bandsaw. I found two sealed bearings that were the right size, but couldn't find the right size for the cool blocks. I bought a pair of oversized cool blocks and sanded them down to fit. Now I shouldn't have to do this again until I reach the age of 112, although someone may have to remind me!
Reply 2 years ago
Some days you wonder if you are making a tool new for yourself, for someone who might inherit it, or to keep it from being put into the trash. Many who restore things end up making parts that no longer exist for sale. Congratulations.
Reply 2 years ago
John, you might one day be interested in a ski machine. Occasionally, someone has one he or she wants to give to you. Or, they can be found on garage sales or Craigslist. New machines are also available. My friend makes old ones like new and sells them. They are a good full body workout. They can be gentle or intense. There is a learning curve. First, if the tummy pad is smooth, you need to add some of the non-slip matting sold in rolls. Then it is a matter of pulling smoothly with the arm on one side of your body while pushing in a matched fashion with your opposite leg. The corner rollers need a little motor oil regularly. The strap may be glazed and need to be turned over or replaced. I made the orange strap in the photos, but parts like that are easy to order. A leather strip under the drum for the cords needs to be cleaned, in its proper place, and gets a few drops of oil about once a month. You probably need to flush the drive roller bearings on a used model. And, the spring may be stretched. Almost any spring will work if you can adjust it to the tension yiu want. I listen to an audio Bible to make the time go more quickly.