Types of Ball Bearings in Bicycles

Types of Ball Bearings in Bicycles


Bearings are vital components in a bicycle. You are unable to steer, roll, or pedal without bearings. These bearings are found in nearly any location that moves on your bike, whether it's suspension pivots, shifters, pedals, headset, or hubs. Understanding how the different types of bearings are used on each bike is essential in keeping everything well-maintained and working at an optimal level.


How to Remove and Replace Bike Bearings

Eventually, your bike bearings will need to be replaced over time. These wheel bearings are found inside the wheel hub, as you will need to take off the wheel from your bike. You will unscrew the locknut and remove all of the washers, dust caps, and spacers. Finding the correct size cone wrench is important in unscrewing the cone from the axle. 


You will remove all of the ball bearings from each side of the hub and keep track of the number for both sides. The next step is to wipe down the cups and thoroughly apply new grease inside the cups to ensure the ball bearing firmly sticks inside the cup. Lay the wheel flat and place the number of bearings in the cup and insert the balling into the other cup. Next, slide the axle into the hub and screw the cone on the axle and reattach each spacer, washer, and locknut. Afterward, attach the wheel back on your bike.


Here is an overview of the various bike bearings. 


Cup and Cone Bearings

Many bicycles use bearing balls placed in a cone, and it's compressed with a cup, which is known as a "cup and cone-bearing." The cup with curved walls will hold the balls while the cone keeps them in place by pressing on the top.


Benefits of Cup and Cone Bearings

The main advantage of a cup and cone bearing is that it's highly durable. You will only need to lubricate it once a year, and regular ball replacement can make it last practically forever. All of the spare parts you need for servicing these bearings are replacement balls and some grease. These replacement balls are very affordable and easy to find in a variety of sizes. Good load distribution is another advantage of cup and cone bearings, as the entire load is spread more equally than radial bearings.


Disadvantages of Cup and Cone Bearings

One of the main drawbacks of cup and cone bearings is that they can be tricky to set up. Finding the optimal cone preload takes some patience and practice. Irregular maintenance can also lead to greater damage compared to other types of bearings, as they need to be re-lubricated to avoid these damages. Regular maintenance is a great way to stay proactive and prevent these issues.


Cartridge Bearings

Many modern trends use cartridge bearings, consisting of a cartridge inserted into a "sleeve" in the part of the bicycle that needs to turn, such as the headset, wheel hub, or BB shell. All of the balls are packed in a sealed cartridge, as they can't be disassembled due to the rubber or plastic seal. While these seals can't prevent water or dirt from entering the bearing, they can slow the contamination process. These bearings will need to be cleaned and lubricated regularly.


Benefits of Cartridge Bearings

One advantage of cartridge bearings is that only the cartridges need to be replaced, while you will need a whole hub replacement for a cup and cone hub bearing. The replacement process is also relatively simple and straightforward, as you don't have to worry about fine-tuning preload, which is required for cup and cone bearings. Cartridge bearings also provide low rolling resistance, especially while they are new.


Drawbacks of Cartridge Bearings

The main disadvantage of cartridge bearings is that it requires more expensive service, as the balls in cartridge bearings cannot be replaced. Cartridges are also more difficult to find, and it's more costly than balls. The tools for servicing cartridge bearings are also more expensive, as a bearing puller is needed to remove each cartridge without causing any damages. The cleaning and re-lubrication process is more complex than a cup and cone system, as these bearings can't be opened.


Ceramic Bearings

Ceramic bearings are designed to be much faster by minimizing the amount of low rolling resistance. This occurs through zero contact seals, which results in less drag, but it's easier for dirt to get inside the bearings. Typically, the bearing will be faster while new, but it will begin to get slower with regular use due to the zero contact seals.


Advantages of Ceramic Bearing for Bikes

The main benefit of ceramic bearings is that it allows for faster cruising speeds and it will require less energy due to it rolling faster. These ceramic bearings are also lighter than other options, which helps to reduce the weight of your bike. Ceramic bearings are also more durable than steel bearings and are resistant to corrosion.


Drawbacks of Ceramic Bearings for Bikes

The disadvantage of using ceramic bearings for a bike is that it's more expensive than other options. Ceramic bearings will also begin to roll less fast over time, as they need to be replaced more often to maintain optimal performance.


Roller Bearings

Roller bearings use two conical races and a cage to hold the conical placement of the rollers. These bearings are often misidentified as "needle" bearings due to their appearance. The rolling resistance is much higher for these bearings than ball bearings, as they can easily handle higher loads due to a greater contact area with the races.


Benefits of Roller Bearings

The amount of friction resistance is minimal, increasing efficiency and providing outstanding performance for using roller bearings. These roller bearings also create a much smoother and stable platform, especially under a high load.


Disadvantages of Roller Bearings

Roller bearings are less standard in bikes due to the costs. You will also not get the expected quality and life expectancy of roller bearings if the interface isn't designed perfectly. These bearings are also poor at handling the forward-back movements of a steerer tube, which creates durability concerns.


Final Thoughts

Learning about the various types of bearings for a bike is a good idea before making a purchase. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each bearing will help you make a well-informed decision and ensure you are satisfied with your investment.