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, and increased structural 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, and 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
Before going out and replacing every bearing you have with a ceramic version, let's look at where ceramic bearings will help you out the most.
Ceramic bearings are most beneficial in the parts that rotate the fastest, that would be the wheels. Many manufacturers produce racing wheelsets with ceramic hub bearings. The next item down on the rotations-per-minute list is the crankset/bottom bracket. If you've already got ceramic hubs, upgrading your bottom bracket will give you another step up in performance.
Last on the list would be ceramic derailleur pulleys. While derailleur pulleys rotate quite quickly, they do not bear weight like wheels and bottom brackets. They will no doubt improve the performance of your bike, but you will not notice the immediate benefits experienced by replacing wheel or bottom bracket 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 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. Please don't hesitate to contact us at 1-800-651-4050 or [email protected] with any questions.