Cartridge Bearing Maintenance

Tuesday's post generated a lot of comment on the post and filled up my inbox with offline questions, so a bit of a followup is warranted. First, a bunch of people asked for some sort of tutorial on how to maintain bearings, so we put together a short video. 

The video is crude and unscripted, but gives you the knowledge you need to competently service cartridge bearings. Since it's unscripted, and short, here are some additions to what's in the vid.

General philosophy: We think that simple good bearings, with good sealing and a good grease fill, work better for basically 100% of people reading this. Bicycle bearings operate at speed that are about .03% of what the bearings are rated for. You aren't exactly pressing the limits of these things. The true "bad outcome" is getting the bearings crudded up or corroded, or the races scored by contamination. That takes a bearing that's operating somewhere between 99.974% and 100% efficiently and takes it WAY WAY down. Don't overthink this. The expensive super bearings are wonderful and we're happy that people push the envelopes there, but that doesn't mean we necessarily think that they're right or better for your application. 

Grease/oil/lube: Use whatever you like, there are a ton of good products out there. A super light oil will be "fastest" yet require short service intervals, while what we use in the video (boat trailer grease) will last forever and be nearly impervious to contamination. 

Service interval: Generally, let sleeping dogs lie. If your bearings seem smooth and quiet, don't do anything. If you do a really nasty ride or have some other reason for checking under the hood, by all means, but this maintenance protocol is like maybe a once a season deal for road bikes. More frequent the more off road you go. 

Flush and fill: The video doesn't show it, but if there's any stage of contamination in the bearing, flushing it with WD-40 and then blasting it with compressed air is a great idea. Then put your grease fill in there and seal 'er back up. 

Remember, the total amount of energy soaked up by your hub bearings as long as they are working well is comfortably under 10w. Lightning Quick Super Lube® will reduce that, but having a janked up contaminated bearing will cost you a lot more than Lightning Quick Super Lube® will save. Don't let us keep you from hyping up your bearings or the lube in them in any way you want, but our general take is that a bike that works most reliably at near peak efficiency all the time with minimal input is the one that most of you (and we ourselves) want to ride.  

The new RCG wheels are off to a hot start, and its perhaps previously mentioned 650b stablemate will be ready to announce next, so stay tuned for that. Exciting times. 


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  • VeloKitty on

    I agree with everything said here. Contamination (usually water) is the #1 enemy of bearings in bicycles. I think stainless steel bearings could be very beneficial to longevity, though I don’t have much experience with them.

    As I commented in the White Industries post, Hambini Engineering in the U.K. sells name-brand industrial bearings, such as SKF, NSK, NTN, and FAG. (It seems almost impossible to buy name-brand industrial bearings in the US via normal retail channels.)

  • Rico on

    Tons of options for a tool to remove the bearing seal, but I’ve found $4 ‘O-Ring’ tool set, to be the cheese.
    There’s some acquired technique, per my experience, might want to try first on your not-best wheels, if available.
    https://www.harborfreight.com/2-piece-o-ring-hook-scribe-set-42159.html

  • Scott L Booth on

    Love your “no BS” approach to the work you do!

  • Jeff G. on

    Thanks, Dave.


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