Wheel bearings have a tough life on a bike, but they rarely ‘wear out’. Usually, their demise is related to the ingress of water/dirt that degrades lubrication and causes corrosion. Once this occurs a bearing can deteriorate very quickly. As riders we want our hubs to offer minimal resistance, but at the same time, for most of us, we want them to be as maintenance-free as possible. Unfortunately, there’s a conflict of interest here because bearings that are very resistant to the elements are usually packed full of thick grease and have multiple tight-fitting seals, all of which rob us of precious watts.
We use what are commonly referred to as sealed cartridge bearings in all our hubs, but maybe the word sealed is misleading because it conjures up thoughts of being completely impenetrable and impervious to anything. Of course, whilst the bearings in our hubs offer a great balance of low resistance and effective sealing, they are not indestructible. A poorly aimed pressure washer, overuse of degreasers or bike cleaner, or a river crossing or two followed by a period of inactivity can cause a bearing to corrode and feel rough next time the bike is wheeled out. This corrosion is not covered under warranty, although of course, we are happy to carry out an inspection.
There will become a time when your bearings do need replacing and this time depends upon several factors – what you ride, where you ride, how you ride, your cleaning regime and what preventative maintenance was performed over the life of the bearing. Bearing life can be extended through preventative maintenance and it works in a similar way to how we might replace the oil in the engine of a car. Sometimes no benefit is felt after the service, but it extends the life of the components considerably. If we wait until parts feel bad, then usually irreparable damage has been done and it’s time for a rebuild. Servicing a sealed bearing hub generally involves stripping the hub down – removing the axle and freehub body and cleaning and inspecting all parts. Rebuilding the hub is a reversal of disassembly with the addition of a film of light grease on all the components. Particular attention should be paid to greasing the seals and the freehub body mechanism. Only a film of grease is needed, and it mustn’t be too thick and heavy as this will restrict the freehub body and could cause it to malfunction. This service is almost always done whilst leaving the main bearings in place as removal can damage them. This preventative maintenance is virtually free, keeps overall running costs down and keeps us on our bikes and happy.
When our hubs have passed the point of a bit of preventative maintenance it’s essential to have the specialist tools, the right parts and correct know-how and mechanical skills to replace the bearings and do the job right. The beauty of a sealed bearing hub is that in most cases, even if you ride your hubs for many miles, through the worst conditions, with no servicing until they seize solid, there’s a good chance they can be brought back into service again. This is due to the bearing surfaces being part of the bearing itself and therefore replaceable, rather than part of the hub shell as is the case with most cup and cone style bearing assemblies.
New bearings need to be of the correct specification (we recommend using the original specification of bearing that we fit to our hubs and can supply as replacements) and they should be pressed into the hub using a good quality bearing press of the correct dimensions so that the force used in fitting the bearing is taken up by the outer race of the bearing. Loading just the inner race, the bearing seals or using a punch or screwdriver to seat the bearing will usually render it useless from the start. Bearing presses are expensive and as this job doesn’t need to be performed super frequently it’s usually one that’s best left for your friendly local bike shop or you can return your wheels to us where we can let you know the cost (if any) of the replacement/service.
As ever, if we haven’t answered your questions here then get in touch via email, live chat or just give us a call. We are always happy to talk wheels and do what we can to get you rolling smoothly again.
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