Bicycle Ball Bearing Durability: Everything you need to know
Ball bearings are under a lot of stress. I love to see them as the hardworking team behind the scenes. You never see them, but the wheels will come off (literally!) when they stop doing their job.
In a previous post, we talked about ball bearing reliability. Now lets wax poetic on what affects their reliability so you know what makes for a good ball bearing.
Ball bearings have five components: balls, races, cages, seals and grease. In order for the bearings to work well, all five need to be of a comparable quality.
Just like a chain, the entire bearing fails when the weakest link fails. You can have the best, most expensive bearing races in the world, but if the balls are not perfectly round, the entire bearing is going to run badly and will fail sooner rather than later.
Grading Kogel’s Ball Performance
When I started this business, my goal was to make the best possible ball bearings for bicycles. Analyze every part and optimize it to match with the application and with the other components.
Our grade-3 ceramic balls (defined as the roundness of bearing balls measured in a grade number) are close to perfect spheres; meaning their really, really accurate.
But the number three implies that there are balls available that are even more perfectly round. For example, grade-1 is typically only used in extreme stress environments: think of aerospace applications or Formula One engines that spin at 16000 RPM. This difference in grade brings along a massive change in price.
Since nothing on a bicycle spins faster than 400 RPM, grade-3 balls strike a balance between cost and performance.
Kogel’s Smoother Bearing Race Always Wins
Think of ball bearing races as the rings the bearing balls roll on. Since ceramic balls at Kogel run on steel races, the main challenge is in polishing the rings to a mirror like finish.
The polishing of our bearing races is a process that takes over 30 days. We end up with a super smooth and reflective surface.
Since the balls will always be smoother but also harder than the steel races, we also put a lot of effort into heat treating and hardening these steel rings.
Remember the weakest link? There is no point in having the roundest, hardest balls in the world if the races cannot deal with the additional pressure. Pitted races are bad for ball bearings.
Kogel Seals and Lubrication
In order to keep everything running smoothly, we offer two seal types. Road seals for lowest friction and cross seals for best durability. Both types of seals work to keep the dirt out and the grease in.
For lubrication we found a grease that strikes a balance between low friction and durability too. We could use a light oil, but that would mean you have to open your bearings to clean and relube them every couple hundred miles. Let’s be honest, who wants to do that, unless it is for the biggest race on the calendar?
Your Role in Ball Bearing Durability
With all the work we put in developing the best product, ball bearings are still fragile and can be destroyed easily if they are abused.
Have a look at the previous blog on reliability to learn about selecting your mechanic. After a perfect installation it is up to you to keep the bearings running well.
Remember, a clean bike is a fast bike, and a fast bike is a happy bike. Bearing service should be done once per year, or sooner if your bearings have been contaminated.
Keep in mind that if your bike frame has any drain or open cable routing holes that lead to the bottom bracket, you’re going to have mud, gravel and contaminants getting into your bottom bracket. You’d be surprised how much gunk can get in through these small openings.
At Kogel we strive to be the business that we would love to do business with. This is THE reason we offer the best products backed by the best warranty.
We make bearings for specific use in road and off road conditions to guarantee your ride is determined by the adventure of your choice, not by the limitation of your components.
Guaranteed Performance means that we will replace any failed items in the first year after purchase. This warranty is extended for another year after a bearing service which includes cleaning and regreasing and installation of a fresh set of seals.
The Kogel Way vs Our Competitors
Ask yourself which you would prefer: two years of umbrella warranty or four years, six years, ten years of small print, loopholes or coverage lapse because of failure to register your products after purchase? No other bearing company will cover corrosion, but Kogel does.
Because we want to keep our friends on the road using Kogel products, we even have a crash replacement program for the exceptions that do not fall under our warranty.
Let’s say you didn’t know that a hammer is not part of a bearing installation procedure or your bike fell off the car rack: we will take care of you with a discount so you can go back to focusing on riding.
So would now be a bad time to service your bearings? Download our bearing service guide; and if you have questions, give us a call. We always answer the phone during our business hours and are happy to answer your questions.