Ceramic Bottom Brackets
Do you want to go faster? Who wouldn’t answer an emphatic "yes" to this simple question? Chances are, we'd all like to be able to go faster. There are a few different ways to go about obtaining more speed. The first and most logical would be to improve our training program. That works for everyone, to a certain extent. However, when a reasonable level of fitness is achieved, perhaps it is time to look at the equipment, and see if there are any changes that can be made to improve the efficiency of the machine. As mountain bikers, we face two major forces of opposition when we ride -- gravity and frictional resistance. Gravity, it’s a bitch -- learn to live with it. Friction, on the other hand, can be reduced by making a few wise component choices.
We offer ceramic bearing upgrades for hubs, derailleur pulleys and bottom brackets. We’ll have a look specifically at the bottom bracket upgrades here, but much of the general information about the bearings will also be true for the other applications. Ceramic bearings are the new adopted baby. Everyone’s doing it, and for good reason. The truth is, ceramic bearings are quickly becoming one of the most popular performance upgrades that we do here at Competitive Cyclist. So the questions remain: Are they better? Do they last longer? And, are they worth the price?
First let's take a general look at bearings for bicycles. Back in the day, most bearing applications for bicycles consisted of loose bearings in a cup and cone arrangement. They were often needy in terms of maintenance with regard to periodic, if not frequent overhauls to clean them, freshen up the grease, or to fine tune the preload adjustment. Simply put, they were a pain in the butt, but a high-quality bearing of the likes of a Campy Record or Shimano Dura-Ace bottom bracket or hubset was super, ultra, silky smooth. Nothing on the market these days can compare. It transpired that our quest for maintenance free led to the proliferation of sealed cartridge bearings in the marketplace. They are used in every application from hubs to headsets. They are wonderful because they have allowed us to be a little less concerned with bike maintenance and more concerned with the riding. We love riding. What we don’t love is the drag inherent in many cartridge bearings.
Now we look to ceramic bearings as a solution. Let’s face it, external bearing bottom brackets and two-piece cranksets are here to stay. Few people are wowed by the ease with which the complete assembly spins in the bike stand. That's why we are proud to offer Shimano XTR, TruVativ GXP and FSA Mega Exo bottom brackets fitted with Enduro Ceramic Hybrid bearings for those who wish to reduce this loathsome frictional drag.
The Enduro bearings have a grade 5 silicon nitride ball coupled with a Teflon retainer to keep them separated from each other. They run in special ABEC 5 chrome steel races specifically designed for the ceramic hybrid bearing. The grade 5 designation tells us that the balls are round and spherical to 5 millionths of an inch. This is even more impressive when we consider that the balls typically found in old Record or Dura-Ace equipment was grade 25. The special steel races have been cryogenically treated to nearly absolute zero to align the grain structure so that they can withstand the incredible hardness of the silicon nitride balls. Because of the hardness, Enduro ceramic hybrid bearings are more durable than lesser bearings made of softer materials. The ceramic hybrid bearings also spin more easily. Independent testing services have determined that ceramic hybrid bearings save energy. In fact, assessments from testers indicate frictional savings by as much as 5-10% depending on the application. The bearings themselves are encased with special Teflon seals that are designed to run exceptionally lightly on polished surfaces on the races. Many lesser quality bearings have mucho drag cause by improper tolerances on the seals.
We have been retrofitting Shimano Dura Ace bottom brackets for quite some time now. During that period, we've been testing the same process on mountain bottom brackets. As such, we're now offering a ceramic upgrade for the Shimano XTR mountain bike bottom bracket, as well as TruVativ GXP and FSA Mega Exo. The process for us is relatively simple. With the proper tooling, we remove the OEM bearings, clean the bottom bracket and press in the Enduro ceramic hybrid bearings and re-grease with the high-grade Rock n Roll Super Web Grease. As stated in our product descriptions, we include the correct dust seals for each application.
There are many of us here at the shop who’ve made the upgrade, and we’ve had long and thoughtful discussions about the perceived or real advantages of the ceramic bearings. We know that they are faster on paper. Do they stack up to offer a real life advantage over conventional steel bearings? Yes. When we retrofit the Enduro ceramic bearings into a bottom bracket, it spins more easily than with the stock bearings. “Feel” on the bike is a bit more subjective. One of our employees installed ceramics in his Shimano bottom bracket on his single speed and won the first two of our state series MTB races. While this probably isn't the sole reason for his fine results, we must consider the cadence at which he pedals during portions of those events, and we're quite convinced that the ceramics offered an advantage. Similarly, others have used the ceramic bearings on their geared bikes and enjoyed trouble free, efficient, smooth riding. The ceramic bearings are more durable, last longer, spin more freely, and are even a bit lighter than the stock steel bearings in the bottom bracket.
They are better, and they do last longer, but are they worth the cost? It’s up to you to make that decision. We can say that we sell a lot of them. Mountain bikes are a perfect recipient for this type of upgrade as frictional loss is one of the main culprits (besides your second helping last night) that slow us down while out on the trail. Enduro Ceramic Hybrid Bearings will make you faster in at least one way, maybe two. Firstly, they are a better bearing than steel cartridges. Period. Secondly, installing a set may just be the placebo you need to get your head right before the next major event. Remember, happy patients are healthy patients! Likewise, confident riders are fast riders. That, friends, is where we would all like to be.