Every decade or so, the world of bicycle components undergoes a paradigm shift. This occurred in the late-1970's when mass produced aluminum frames became competitive with hand-welded steel. It happened again in the 1990's, when they started making everything out of carbon fiber. The latest innovation to make bikes go faster is ceramic bearings.
Benefits of Ceramic Bearings
The speed of a bicycle is most determined by the performance of its rotating parts. This makes bearings a logical choice for upgrade, as they facilitate the rotation of cranks, wheels and gears. Ceramic bearings enjoy a host of benefits over their steel counterparts:
Integrity - Ceramic bearings are 10 times rounder than steel bearings and 20% more rigid. No part of the bicycle is subjected to more intense physical conditions than bearings, increased stuctural integrity in the bearings leads to a more efficient bike.
Durability - In various tests, ceramic bearings have been found to be 5-20 times more durable than steel bearings. So if your steel bearings typically last 3-4 years, ceramic bearings should last a minimum of 15 years.
Weight - Ceramic bearings weigh 40% less than steel bearings. Weight savings are most beneficial on rotating parts, nothing on your bike rotates faster than the bearings.
What do these numbers mean for a rider? Well, FSA did some testing and found that a bike equipped with ceramic bearings was 4% more efficient than the same bike equipped with steel bearings. So for every 100km ridden on the steel bearing equipped bike, the ceramic equipped competition rode 104km, while expending the same amount of energy. If we assume the peloton averaged 40km/hr, that's a win by.....SIX MINUTES!
Effective Ceramic Conversion
Ceramic bearings are most beneficial in the parts that rotate the fastest, that would be the wheels. Boca Bearing Ceramic Bearing Upgrade and Ceramic Speed Ceramic Bearing Upgrade Kit For Mavic Wheels are ceramic upgrade kits for two of our most popular wheel manufacturers.
The next item down on the RPM list is the crankset, FSA Ceramic Mega Exo Bottom Bracket provide their cranksets with a ceramic advantage. Campagnolo recently introduced a ceramic equipped Campagnolo Super Record 11 Ultra Torque Crankset.
Last on the list would be FSA Ceramic Derailleur Pulleys, compatible with Campagnolo or Shimano derailleurs. While derailleur pulleys rotate quite quickly, they do not bear weight like wheels and bottom brackets. While ceramic pulleys will no doubt improve the performance of your bike, you will not notice the immediate benefits experienced by replacing wheel or bottom bracket bearings.
Attempting to make a no-holds-barred, top-of-the-line groupset, SRAM Red will be the first gruppo offered with standard ceramic bearings. Everywhere. Not only does SRAM utilize ceramic bearings in their bottom brackets and derailleur pulleys, Red includes ceramic bearings in the brake pivots. While the increase in braking performance may be negligible, SRAM is attempting to create the world's finest drivetrain, with cost as no object.
Which leads us to the primary drawback of ceramic bearings:
As with any emerging technology, components fitted with ceramic bearings are somewhat expensive. Given the performance benefits, ceramic bearings can be a pretty good deal. Spending a few hundred bucks on ceramic bearings will be a great deal more effective than expensive weight saving component replacement.
Many wheel manufacturers experimented with ceramic rims during the 1990's. These were actually aluminum rims given a ceramic coating. Ceramic rims offered an improved braking surface, especially in wet conditions, that became especially popular with mountain bikers. While ceramic rims can still be found today, they were eclipsed in popularity by disc brakes. Ceramic rims do not offer the benefits of ceramic bearings, they are simply a coated rim that provides improved handling.
Ceramic bearings have the potential to reshape your racing experience. Cyclists can train for weeks to experience a 2% gain in performance. To gain 4%, basically overnight, is the kind of improvement is unheard of, unless you're talking performance enhancing drugs. After a good set of wheels, ceramic bearings would be our #1 suggestion for improving your performance on the bike. At WesternBikeworks.com we remain devoted to providing ceramic components at everyday low prices.