If you were to make a short list of mechanicals that can derail a race, there are a few that immediately come to mind. Chains, brakes and derailleurs are obvious, as are flats and damaged rims.
Although they might not be as catastrophic as a flat tire, issues with bearings due to poor maintenance can be a long-term drag on your bike’s performance.
Hubs, bottom brackets, headsets and even some pulleys contain the bearings which keep your bike moving. So critical are these components in almost any machine that, in the Second World War, the Allied Powers focused on bearing factories for many strategic bombing runs.
To ensure your fall campaign doesn’t grind to a halt, Cyclocross Magazine is back with another edition of Ask the Mechanics. For this edition, we enlisted Alpha-Groove Subaru’s Adam Rachubinski, Carpe Diem Racing’s Jeff Inman and WD-40 alum and KCCX mechanic Bill Marshall, all who were kind enough to get us rolling with their experience and advice.
Their responses to our questions are below. The order of responses rotates for each question.
Ask the Mechanics: Bearings, Pulleys and Bottom Brackets
CXM: What sort of grease do you use on bearings?
Adam Rachubinski: We spent a lot of time researching bearing lubrication this offseason. We use a variety of different lubricants and fill volumes depending on conditions. With our Chris King bearings, the ability to customize our bearing lubrication makes a tangible difference in drag. We use lightweight bearing oils in dry early season races, Chris King’s high-performance hub bearing grease and SKF bearing grease depending on conditions.
Jeff Inman: A mixture of Finish Line Teflon and Finish Line Ceramic depending on the application.
Bill Marshall: It depends if they are steel bearing or ceramic. I primarily use Park Tool PolyLube. It’s a solid go to for an all-around usage. For ceramic bearings, I like to use SRAM Ceramic Bearing Grease.
CXM: How do you prevent wheel spray from damaging lower headset bearings?
JI: Quality bearings paired with proper grease and installation.
BM: For me, it comes down to a regular maintenance of the entire bike, including the headset. I do have specific bike that I ride in the rain, but I still maintain it on a regular basis.
AR: We are lucky enough to run Chris King bearings throughout the bikes. Things like wheel spray just don’t affect them.
CXM: Do you do anything to seal bottom brackets more completely?
BM: I use Permatex Liquid Thread Sealant. I use this on the BB Shell for Press Fit Bearings as well as threaded BB’s. It forms a nice seal between the cups and the BB Shell. I was also taught to apply grease internally on the BB itself to further help with normal wear and tear.
AR: Nope, nothing additional needed.
JI: Plenty of Finish Line Teflon grease.
CXM: Do you use ceramic bearings? If you do, do they last longer than steel, in your experience?
AR: We use Chris King Stainless Steel bearings. They just work, plain and simple.
JI: We have used ceramic bb bearings. We do find Enduro XD15 bearings last way longer than steel, but depending on product availability, most are steel.
BM: For the KCCX Cyclocross Team we are currently using steel bearings. In the past, we had used Enduro Ceramic Bearings and they would last a long time but required more maintenance. The technology has changed a lot since we’ve used their product and I’m sure it’s better than 2012.
CXM: How often are bottom brackets replaced?
JI: Depends mainly on conditions. Whenever they become really gritty or develop play. Under normal United States cyclocross conditions we get a full season without changing.
BM: During a normal cyclocross season it depends solely on the conditions the riders have been training and racing in. The worse the conditions, the more maintenance we do to each bike overall. It can be several times in one season if the conditions are bad enough. Bottom Brackets are very bombproof these days.
AR: Honestly, never. We inspect them, clean ultrasonically and re-lubricate as needed. Some of our bottom brackets have seen three or four years of use. King bearings wear in, not out. They get better with miles.
CXM: For press fit systems, do you use grease, anti-seize, or Loctite to prevent creaking?
BM: I use Permatex Liquid Thread Sealant. I’ve had very good luck with the product on various types of BB’s and different models of bikes.
AR: We always use anti-seize with our Moots titanium frames and King aluminum cups. But in my opinion, creaking is more a matter of manufacturing tolerances. With handmade precision components it’s much less of an issue.
JI: Teflon-rich grease.
CXM: How often are derailleur pulleys serviced or replaced?
AR: Cleaned and serviced really as needed. Sometimes that’s three times a weekend, sometimes we go a month.
JI: For sure serviced after muddy races. They’re inspected each race and replaced when they show signs of wear or develop play.
BM: This too is based on the conditions the products are put through. Typically pulleys are very easy to service due to the easy access. We’ve rarely had to replace pulleys in a normal cyclocross season.
CXM: Do you use aftermarket pulleys?
JI: Robert [Marion] has personally purchased some Enduro XD15 pulleys for some of his bikes but mostly stock.
BM: No, we only use SRAM products.
AR: Nope. Stock Shimano pulleys.
CXM: Is pressure washing ok for cartridge bearings? How do you wash bikes to prevent damage to bearing systems?
BM: During my time at WD-40 Bike this was the number one question we were asked 100+ times a day! Yes, it’s ok to pressure wash cartridge bearings as well as the entire bike. I’ve always explained to not spray directly on the bearings for an extended period of time and it is similar to riding in a short burst of rain.
AR: Obviously you don’t want to directly blast any bearings or potentially vulnerable components. But with quality bearings, it’s less of an issue. Damage to bearings is caused by contaminants and lack of lubrication. As long as you take the time to clean things after a particularly muddy race and lubricate accordingly, they’ll last a really long time. This takes for granted that you are running a high quality, serviceable bearing.
JI: Pressure washing is fine as long as it’s done properly without blasting directly onto the sealing surface of the bearings. We always pressure wash and then dry and inspect everything.
CXM: Do you have any suggestions to prevent water damage?
AR: Buy good quality, serviceable components. It saves you headaches when conditions get tough, saves money in the long run and keeps parts out of the landfill all while giving higher performance.
JI: A good quality thick grease and don’t be afraid to use too much during installation. Be sure to cover the seals with the grease also as it acts as another form of waterproofing.
BM: I look at our bikes as our laundry. We are washing them, rinsing them, drying them and lubing them. What we do to wash our bikes is no different than riding in the rain, the only difference is we are cleaning along the way.
If someone takes the time to wash, rinse and dry their bikes thoroughly, they will minimize any chances of water damage. If someone does get caught in the rain I would encourage them to clean, dry and lube the bike sooner than later. Maintenance is vital to the overall lifespan of the entire bike.
For more from expert wrenches, see our Ask the Mechanics archive.