How sealed can these bearings be, really?

How sealed can these bearings be, really? © Chandler Snyder

by Chandler Snyder

It’s that time of year again. Time for the post-cyclocross blues to set in for some, though others may be happy that the past month of mud, snow, ice and sub-freezing temps are gone. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, don’t just hang the bike(s) up and leave them “to dry” for the next few months. Just like you, they need lots of off-season love before getting back to the job that they were made to do. Even if you’re not of the cyclocross persuasion, your bike could probably do with a little bit of love if you’ve been riding throughout the winter in any sort of place that deals with snow and ice and all the deterrents your local Dept of Transportation slings over the roadways to make them rideable … er … driveable.

Unless you’re a pro and your bike gets loved on every single day by a pro mechanic, before and after you ride it, this is for you.  At least once a year, and definitely post-cyclocross season, I recommend that my clients have their bikes torn down to the frame, components broken down to bare minimum, cleaned, rebuilt and if needed, replaced.

The conditions at Nationals and Worlds were horrible.  I had riders who had installed new bearings, cables and housing before Worlds leave the event needing to replace those “new” bearings already. With all the power washing, warming and freezing of liquids/greases inside the frames/components, expansion and contraction of metals and carbon against one another, the oxidization rate of metal on metal when water is present … all of these conditions create the perfect storm for disaster down the road if you don’t have them treated sooner rather than later.

Just because something says “sealed bearing” on a spec sheet, doesn’t exactly mean that it’s, well, sealed.  “Sealed” simply means the bearings are housed inside a retainer and not loose-packed, which is what most people assume with “old  skool” hubs and bottom brackets.  Yes, there are seals on the outside, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything that says “waterproof bearings,” so think of the seals as more of a dust cover to keep dry, everyday dirt out. Rarely do they do well when it’s been raining, you’ve ridden through numerous creek crossings or your bike has been in the snow and you bring it inside to melt off. Over time, water and the elements do creep inside and with cyclocross. When you add power washers, you increase that wear and tear time dramatically.

As a mechanic you learn “what to keep and what to throw away.” So the only real way of knowing is by having your bike completely broken down and inspected. Everything from stem to stern, wheels, hubs, headsets, any and everything.  Even little things like brakes get broken down during a post-cyclocross season overhaul here at Snyder Cycling Services.  And make sure you inspect the inside of your frame as well, since moisture has a way of getting into the smallest of places. Air out your frame and clean it appropriately before reinstalling any parts. Fresh greases and lubes everywhere make everything happy, protected and quiet.

Don’t take my word for it.  The photo above does a great job of explaining what I’m talking about. If you don’t take care of your bike now, it may not take care of you when it matters most. So, head down to your trusted mechanic and have your steeds loved on and they’ll love your bike right … I promise.