In part 1 of this article we covered the cost of ceramic bottom brackets and wheel bearings. Today we will look at the derailleur pulleys and the cost of ownership of a ceramic bearing upgrade.
The cost of ceramic bearing derailleur pulleys
Since the derailleur pulleys are the fastest spinning part of a bicycle (spinning your 53 ring at 110rpm results in roughly 580rpm), there are some advantages to be found in these little cogs.
Ebay offers a range of different pulleys, from all kinds of suppliers. Prices range from $50 to $65 with a wide offer in shapes and colors.
These super fragile looking pulleys from the 'brand' Omni Racer sell for $50 on Ebay
Enduro offers their Zero pulleys at $120 and we found some pretty cool ones from CNC gurus Hope, but no ceramic option available. We will not include them in this comparison.
Once again Ceramicspeed sets the gold standard, starting at $269 for the standard pulleys and a whopping $699 for the titanium 1x11 pulleys with coated ceramic bearings. (We will leave the experimental 3D printed $1000 pulley set out of this comparison, for sanity's sake)
Kogel's base offering is our aluminum and hybrid ceramic pulley, which retail at $100 for a set. You can get these with full ceramic bearings as the 'not for instagram' option for $250 if you've been real nice and deserve a treat.
Cost of installation
Installing ceramic bearings is a highly specialized job. Not so much for a set of derailleur pulleys, but most definitely for wheel bearings. The keys to successfully installing bearings are to own the exact fitting tools, which are expensive, and what the Germans call Fingerspitzengefühl. Directly translated: having the feeling in your fingertips.
Although a sixpack of quality beer goes a long way with most mechanics, please do not consider this a substitute for payment. Mechanics in high end bike shops need to be very skilled and educated craftsmen nowadays. They deserve to be paid for their work.
When it comes to pressing bearings, whether it is wheels or bottom brackets, we usually recommend to have it done by a professional. A shop can justify to buy a $300 tool for this, consumers do not get enough use out of such a tool to justify the cost. It is better to fork out a couple of twenties and a sixpack to ensure your mechanic takes extra good care of your job today. Ceramic bearings are fragile if handled with the wrong tools. That threaded rod from Home Depot and a bunch of washers are great at getting the bearings in the wheels and equally great at destroying the races.
A complete ceramic upgrade of bottom bracket, wheels and pulleys will typically take between one and two hours for an experienced mechanic, so $100 for these three jobs is a reasonable amount at a premium bike shop.
Cost of warranty or replacement
In our eyes it is safe to consider that the cheapest product will wear out quicker. Ceramic bearings are similar to carbon frames in a way that you get what you pay for. Buy the cheapest and there is a good chance that the manufacturer cut some corners to bring the cost down.
Consider this when you purchase: a failed Ebay product will probably require a new purchase. The more premium brands might have a warranty in place if your product fails prematurely. Ask questions to the manufacturers and always consider that you might have to pay your mechanic for his hours to remove and install your bearings. With this in mind, you might be able to justify buying a higher priced/better quality product from the start.
Conclusion: the cost of a ceramic bearing upgrade for a bicycle
Looking at the above numbers, the initial investment can span a huge range, depending on your source.
A set of wheel bearings, bottom bracket and derailleur pulleys can be as cheap as $139 in unbranded Ebay parts. Looking at the top end, you could spend as much as $2167. The middle ground is to be found with Enduro and Kogel Bearings at around $550.
Are ceramic bearings worth their cost? That's up to you. Do the math and decide for yourself!
This all seems very clear, but looking at the complete picture, things get a bit more complicated. It is fair to expect the life span of the cheapest parts to be shorter, so you would be forking out the cost of purchase and cost of installation more often. The higher end products are often serviceable, at Kogel Bearings we recommend a BB service interval of one year. This will include a $10 seal kit for a bottom bracket and some labor. This could balance a major part of the initial savings made on the cheapest available components.
The way you spend your hard earned dollars is up to you. I hope this overview is here to help your decision.