Chris King Bottom Bracket and Injector Tool
Chris King began producing sealed bearing headsets over thirty years ago, and to this day they absolutely dominate the aftermarket headset business. Most everyone knows that if you want the best, you buy a King. Their recipe for success has been simple -- keeping their focus narrow. Thus they can fabricate every piece of their components in house -- even their own cartridge bearings -- so quality and precision can be controlled every step of the way.
We had been hearing rumors of Chris King manufacturing bottom brackets since 1999 when ISIS drive was first unveiled. Fast forward ten years and the external cup bottom bracket pioneered by Shimano have now become standard issue. Finally, Chris King saw the right opportunity and had done enough research to produce a bottom bracket and offer something all other external bottom brackets have lacked thus far, serviceability. The bearing in the Chris King Bottom Bracket can be easily serviced via the Chris King Bottom Bracket Grease Injection Tool.
So when our Shimano XTR bottom bracket was feeling gritty and in desperate need of bearing replacement or a new unit, we were more than eager to get our hands on a Chris King bottom bracket. Chris King offers a 5-year limited warranty on their bottom bracket -- we can scarcely recollect having a bottom bracket that lasted two years much less five. But then again, we own a King headset that is easily over 10 years old. The memory of having that black anodized gem being pressed into the Eddy Orange Ibis Mojo is still as fresh and enticing as ever. Pure sex. That same black King headset has made it's way onto four or five different bikes since then, and although the anodization of the top cup is slightly faded, the bearings still run just as smooth as the day it was first installed. Given our fondness for King -- thanks to their potential for long haul durability, and impressive warranty -- the $129 price tag seemed justifiable despite the fact it's over twice of what we would pay for a new Shimano XTR bottom bracket.
As pure performance driven as we are, we have to admit the prospect of getting a Red anodized bottom bracket to match our Red King headset was a chunk of the appeal. Luckily for King, their components are as sexy as they are functional. Yet another reason that they are the high end headset market. No matter how nice a frame or build is, it simply seems unfinished without a King headset.
King makes two bottom brackets, one for road and one for mountain. Due to Shimano's specifications there are slight variances in the two based on the placement of the bearing within the cups to obtain the proper bearing preload. The MTB bottom bracket uses the same sleeve as the road and the cups are virtually indistinguishable save the small designation laser-etched on the threads.
Installation of the bottom bracket to our Ventana frame was simple. We followed the same procedure that we'd use with any Shimano crank/bottom bracket installation: we faced and chased the bottom bracket on our new Ventana frame, applied grease and threaded in the cups. Since the Ventana hardtail is one of the few mountain frames still available with a 68mm bottom bracket shell we used all three of the provided 2.5mm spacers (although only one spacer is need for most 73mm frames) to fit our Shimano XTR 970 crankset. Chris King does produce their own bottom bracket cup installation tool that is hard anodized to help prevent marring the gorgeous anodized finish, but we simply used the Park BBT-19 tool in the shop and provided steady even pressure to tighten both cups to proper torque of 40nm. We carefully slid the crank spindle through the cups using only our hands until it was firm against the drive-side cup. Using a rubber mallet (or too much force) and impacting the bottom bracket violently, can cause damage to the bearings.
After putting the non-drive arm on, we immediately noticed the smoothness of the bearing feel in the Chris King bottom bracket. After setting proper pre-load we can't say that crank spun dramatically more freely than a Shimano bottom bracket, but this was the first install and these things generally require a small break in period.
Like all good bottom brackets, we did not notice it out on the trail. We rode it and forgot all about it. No creeks, no perceptible drag, just smooth day-in, day-out performance -- the way it should be. Due to record rainfall this spring we were able to ride the new bottom bracket through all sorts of mud and muck and at least once through standing water that was bottom bracket deep. We noted no grittiness, squeakiness or indication that it was overhaul time afterwards. We wish we could say the same for our Egg Beater pedals.
Nonetheless, we saw this as an opportune time to try out the Chris King Bottom Bracket Grease Injection Tool. This required us to remove the crankset and remove the black plastic spindle sleeves. Chris King recommends using their Chris King Bearing Spindle Sleeve Removal Tool which we did not have on hand, nor did we it find necessary as these pieces are easily removed by hand. The Chris King Bottom Bracket Injector Tool works in conjunction with a standard grease gun like the Santa Cruz Grease Gun. A two way seal in the bearing allow fresh grease to enter and the old grease to be purged. As recommended by King we used waterproof grease, the same type that we comes with Santa Cruz frames. However it's interesting that King also states you can use a low-friction lubricant for race day use in place of the stickier grease. And then push standard grease back in for everyday use. With rain in the forecast and no racing plans we chose not to test this out. It sounds interesting in theory but probably more trouble than it's worth. Especially considering racing is where you are usually riding in the worst conditions and pushing the equipment to its limits. The grease pushed through easily and we dabbed away the purged grease with a shop towel. We were pleased to see the purged grease still looked to be in good condition. We popped the spindle sleeves back in by hand and re-installed the crankarms. Simple.
For those of us who race or often ride in bad conditions often, we know bottom brackets often need to be overhauled or replaced once or twice a season. From that perspective the Chris King Bottom Bracket and Grease Injector Tool will easily pay for themselves over the course of five years. Hell, it will probably end up saving us some money.