I was shopping around for parts online recently to build myself a new pair of wheels, and a nagging expensive thought came to my mind.
“I’ve never tried ceramic bearings before… Hmmmmmm…”
But really though, what can I gain from ceramic bearings? So I did some research on my own and this is what I found out. Technically speaking, steel and ceramic bearings are 2 types of bearings intended for mountain biking, specifically hubs and bottoms brackets. Why? Because these 2 components are the ones that has the most rotational use throughout it’s life.
You can’t see the bottom bracket in this photo, but it’s there. Trust me its there..
During my days when I worked for a huge bike brand distributor, I’ve met all type of riders and seasoned bike mechanics, both road and mtb, and there were some who swore by ceramic bearings, while there are those who’ll die-die only use balls of steel. Pun was totally intended. So yeah, I couldn’t get any definitive ‘proof’ on why ceramic bearings are better, ie. they cost more. So after a night in bed trawling the forums and reviews of bearings on my phone, here’s what I basically found out.
Steel bearings are the most common type of bearings that are used for most rotational applications. Basically, they are easy to maintain and pretty forgiving when it comes to operating in mucky conditions, like what we have in Singapore. They’re also pretty cheap, and can be easily sourced from bearing suppliers found in the Jalan Besar area.
They typically need only periodic maintenance, depending on the conditions you ride in and it’s really hard to go wrong when you choose steel bearings. For 90% of us who are riding today, your hub and bottom brackets probably have steel bearings. But if you’re using a high-end Shimano rear derailleur, your top jockey comes with ceramic bushings.
Here’s where it gets interesting. What I found out about ceramic bearings, is that when they are properly lubricated, cleaned, and with the correct bearing pre-load, the rolling resistance is so low that it’s almost like defying gravity. BUT, here’s the catch, to run ceramic bearings at their optimum, they must be kept CLEAN. Grit will increase the rolling resistance, especially with the extra tight tolerances that ceramic bearings have. And another downer, they cost a whole lot more.
Here’s the difference… (warning, it’s a long video)
So it all boils down to rolling resistance. The question is though, is it worth it?
I guess it depends.. Maybe ceramic bearings are best on a full-on race bike or for use in a “race day” situation, where every second counts. And if you can spend time to maintain them and you have deep pockets, I don’t see why not. On the other hand, if you’re like me where you tend to have a filthy bike for weeks on end, and you only have time to lube your chain and nothing else, I guess I’m much better off with just balls of steel. Again, pun intended.
Oh wells.. I guess I’ll stick to steel.