Bike

Bike
637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.



Monday, 29 August 2011

The Ultimate... in Ceramic Bearings

I have to admit to being sceptical of the benefits of using ceramic bearings in my bike. I've tried them before over the years with varying degrees of success. I've used both low and high grade ones in my bottom bracket and wheels, and it was easy to tell the difference between them.

But the real question has always been – are they worth the extra cost over standard stainless steel bearings? I suppose that will depend on what type of rider you are and how much small performance boosts mean to you. As an 'elite' rider and riding in events where every second and every watt of power is important, I look for any and every way to maximise the performance of my equipment.

Recently, I have had the chance to deal with a UK-based company that specialises in ceramic bearings. Everything from jockey wheels to bottom bracket and wheel bearings – and everything in between. I got in touch with them due to their outstanding reputation for providing top-quality equipment and some of the best ceramic bearings in the business (and reading that they provide the ceramic bearings for Bradley Wiggins' TT bike). Plus I wanted to work with a local company – and not one halfway around the world.

I managed to source a few items from them for my new time trial bike – some ceramic bearings for my Zipp disc wheel and their very ingenious BB30 to BB24 ceramic bottom bracket adaptor cups. After losing a World Cup time trial by a mere 0.4 seconds earlier this year, I wanted to make sure that all my bases are covered and if I can scrape back that time through better equipment – I will.

The benefits of ceramic bearings revolve around the hardness of the balls used – they roll better and last longer and offer much less resistance than steel bearings – so less energy is wasted. We are not talking about massive energy savings – but as I've personally experience, every second DOES count.

BB30 to BB24 adaptor cups
Upon receiving my bearings and bottom bracket cups, one of the first things I noticed was that they were actually lighter than standard steel bearings. Again, not much – but we're talking about small items. The more noticeable weight difference was in the bottom bracket cups. And I was very pleased when I just held the bottom bracket in my hands and gave the bearings a spin – it seemed to continue to spin on it's own for ages!

Installation was a relatively easy process. It helps to know what you are doing when it comes to replacing wheel bearings, but essentially it's a matter of tapping out the old ones and tapping the new ones into place. The bottom bracket installation was even simpler – the new cups merely press directly into the frame. Nothing to screw in. (I did use a rubber mallet to tap them securely into the frame).

Bearings available in a multitude of sizes
After putting the crankset through the bottom bracket, I removed the chain and did a spin test. The crankset seemed to spin freely for ages! This was a marked difference to the standard bottom bracket I was using before – which put up a fair amount of resistance. The same could be said for the disc wheel – just by holding up the wheel and giving it a spin – I could immediately tell the wheel spun a lot more smoothly than before.

And so... it was off to one of the fastest time trial courses in the country to give the new bearings a real world test. I was eager to see if I would be able to feel any difference on the bike, and if there would be any noticeable performance benefit from the new bearings.

And the verdict is in: a whopping 45 second improvement over 10 miles today! It would be great if I could attribute ALL of this to new bearings, but that would be pushing it. But there is no doubt that smooth bearings in my bottom bracket and wheels attributed to a much faster ride.

If you are in the market for some top quality bearings, jockey wheels, bottom bracket, etc – I highly recommend you check out the folks at Ultimate Ceramic Bearings (www.ultimateceramicbearings.co.uk) – and I'd like to publicly thank them for all their assistance as I head off (in a week) to the World Championships.