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Bicycle Mechanics Broken bottom bracket? Tacoed wheel? If you're having problems with your bicycle, or just need help fixing a flat, drop in here for the latest on bicycle mechanics & bicycle maintenance.

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Old 01-31-09, 07:12 AM   #1
Basil Moss
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Cartridge BB's suck.

They really do. I think they are like comparing a bic biro to a fountain pen. The bic doesn't last long, and you throw it away pretty soon. The fountain pen, you have to look after, but it works so much better, and should last forever.

The square taper BB cartridges last maybe a year and a half, then they don't work quite perfectly, and 6 months on, they make noises, get play, and generally become a nuisance and have to be thrown away. The Octalink ones are the same, except that they last even less well, due to the smaller bb's.

However, a good quality cup and cone BB lasts forever- you just have to repack it with fresh BB's once a year. You can check the adjustment, and keep it perfect all the time. I've got a new one with which the cups screw in with a Shimano splined BB tool, and it has an excellent rubber seal to keep grit from getting in along the spindle. Must be just as well sealed as the sealed cartridge kind, as long as you use one of the little concertina thingies in it.

I think for anyone putting a lot of miles in on a bike, who is capable of at least basic bike maintenance, a traditional BB assembly can offer much better performance, as well as saving a lot of money in the long run.
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Old 01-31-09, 07:35 AM   #2
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^ I think because that's how the threaded BB design was originally intended. The ball bearings are therefore larger and the left and right bearing races would be spaced-out further away from each other compared to what's inside the cartridge types. The old way should be lighter too because the extra casing of the cartridge body is like placing another BB shell inside the BB shell.

The ultimate of course is the modern external bearing types, but they don't make those for square taper cranksets. The effective spacing between the left and right bearing races are the widest possible distance which not only makes them laterally strong, but should make the ball bearings last longer (and lighter too). The draw back is if the BB shell isn't perfectly faced on both sides, the resulting slight misalignment would produce uneven race wear...

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Old 01-31-09, 08:11 AM   #3
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Hmmm I don't know what you are doing to wear out cartridge bottom brackets in that short time (isis or Octalink I would understand). I have lx and xt grade bottom brackets that I have used for 10 plus years sometime moving from one frame to another as I wear out everything else, still smooth as buttah.
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Old 01-31-09, 08:16 AM   #4
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I agree completely with the OP.
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Old 01-31-09, 08:26 AM   #5
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My experience doesn't match yours at all. I and my riding friends/relatives have gotten 30,000 miles and more on Shimano UN-XX series square taper bottom brackets and they still ran quietly and with no play. I currently have 19,000 miles on an Ultegra Octalink bb and it's also spins in like-new condition. Finally, I have 9000 miles on a Campy Chorus square taper cartridge and it's also still like new.

Cup-and-cone bb's can indeed be like fountain pens. Some are cheap and not very durable, even with good maintenance. Others are crazy expensive and last a long time but require frequent care.

Shimano and Campy cartridge bb's are like a high quality ball point. They last a long time before being replaced and need no attention in the meantime.
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Old 01-31-09, 08:35 AM   #6
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I have been using both ball and cup and sealed cartridge BBs and haven't had any problems with
either if properly installed and maintained. On my campy Record cartridge BB I have over 14K miles and still going strong. On my old Ball and Cup Campy BB on my 1969 Cinelli It was finally replaced with a Phil Wood BB with well over 100K miles (unknown because of no odometer) but at 65 I am down to 4K miles per year at 65...so. The only BB I have trashed was a Ball and Cup Siguno on my original Specialized Stumpjumper sport after a very wet season of off roading in Oregon and not enough maintenance (My fault). BBs should last quite a while if you keep the water out. I always make sure there is a drain hole in my BB to let any water out when riding in the rain. There are some maintenance tips on adding lubricant to sealed bearings so if you ride in wet conditions a little of Phil Woods Tenacious Oil goes a long way.
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Old 01-31-09, 08:52 AM   #7
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While I like cup and cone BB that I have on my Schwinn Paramount, I am surprised at how quickly you are burning through cartridge BBs. I have an ISIS on one bike that I have been running for 4 yrs and an octalink on another that is 3 yrs old; both work just fine after many thousands of miles.
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Old 01-31-09, 09:23 AM   #8
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None of my cup and cone BB's are less than 35 years old.
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Old 01-31-09, 09:45 AM   #9
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I prefer outboard bearing bottom brackets myself and I've used all different types. They are basically no maintenance and strong with very little lateral flex. I recently installed a cartridge style bottom bracket for a friends bike that came with a plastic lock nut. After a couple months of riding that plastic piece of ChiComm crap broke and the bottom bracket worked its way loose. I replaced it with a metal lock nut. Now that really is junk.
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Old 01-31-09, 10:23 AM   #10
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I recently installed a cartridge style bottom bracket for a friends bike that came with a plastic lock nut. After a couple months of riding that plastic piece of ChiComm crap broke and the bottom bracket worked its way loose. I replaced it with a metal lock nut. Now that really is junk.
I had a similar experience with plastic nondrive cup on a shimano cartridge BB. When trying to remove a BB from a friend's bike, the BB tool sheared right through the cup. I gather the plastic cups are supposed to be less prone to creaks than the metal ones, but I replaced it with a metal one. I will say, the broken cup notwithstanding, the BB had many thousands of miles on it and the bearings were still smooth.
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Old 01-31-09, 10:28 AM   #11
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I've given up fountain pens entirely, a Pilot gives me 98% of the wonderful feel of a fountain pen, but without any of the hassle. One time to many I was caught violently shaking and licking my pen trying to write down some scrap of information.

Same thing with cartridge bottom brackets, yes I can spend the time to use a cup and cone, but it's just not worth it to me. I'd prefer to spend that hour a year doing something more fun, like riding.
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Old 01-31-09, 10:34 AM   #12
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It's funny, the ads that are on the side of my screen right now are for Lanier fountain pens. I'm about as likely to use one of those these days as a cup and cone bottom bracket. Ain't gonna happen unless I happen to finish the rebuild of my '72 Raleigh International which has a Nuovo Record bb as part of its part group. I do understand fine, vintage parts being desirable on some bikes, including bb's, but for bikes you're going to ride a lot, cartridge bb's are the way to go. Anyone who says Shimano cartridge bb's aren't durable hasn't used them.
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Old 01-31-09, 10:46 AM   #13
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Wow. It amazes me that someone would have such a strong opinion about a bottom bracket. As a wrench, the only c&c bottom brackets I see are on super low level bikes. Most customers are eager to switch out to a cartridge system. For my own bikes, I prefer whichever kind holds my crankarms and spins(namely either one).
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Old 01-31-09, 10:53 AM   #14
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Basil, it's time you try a Phil Wood. You'll never go back to the cheaper ones. bk
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Old 01-31-09, 11:17 AM   #15
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I have many years on my Shimano square taper cartridge BB. My Oclilink on the MTB is another story. 1.5 to 2 seasons max is my experience. The next time it dies, I'm going to a new crank with outboard bearings.
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Old 01-31-09, 11:33 AM   #16
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Basil, it's time you try a Phil Wood. You'll never go back to the cheaper ones. bk
You get better bearings for only 10X the price. You'll also need adapter rings and the special tool. How can anybody pass up a deal like that?
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Old 01-31-09, 11:59 AM   #17
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It's a all matter of what you want. The cheap stuff that will 'do' for the average cyclist, or the best. I kinda got forced into it when I changed to Da Vinci cranks, and needed side to side adjustability to get the chain line right. Right away I could tell the difference; strength and precision. I doubt I'll ever run anything else. If quality is what you want, you have to step up. bk
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Old 01-31-09, 12:02 PM   #18
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Campagnolo Nuovo Record and Stronglight Competition have served me well for 35 years.
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Old 01-31-09, 12:16 PM   #19
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My Oclilink on the MTB is another story. 1.5 to 2 seasons max is my experience.
It's always interesting to read about the different experiences people have with stuff, relative to my own experience. I've found Shimano Octalink mtb bb's to be so durable that I wonder how Shimano did it. Despite the smaller bearings, and the accompanying assumption that they would therefore be less durable, I just can't believe how well these things have held up for me and some of my riding buddies over the years. Maybe we've just been lucky, I don't know. Now the early ISIS bb's, that's a different story-
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Old 01-31-09, 01:07 PM   #20
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It all depends I suspect on the quality of the BB initially and, for the C&C ones the maintenance given. I just bought a bike with a fried C&C BB, a TA one. The spindle was badly pitted, apparently due to the idiot prior owner cyclocrossing it w/o a protective sleeve or adequate maintenance. Lots of grit in the grease when disassembled. French thread so I am pretty well forced to go with a Phil Wood replacement, particularly as also changing cranks on the bike. The original TA cups seem to be ok but replacement TA spindles are getting scarce and the prices are rising.

On another bike I needed to change the chainline due to a rear wheel change. I removed a Sugino C&C BB and have replaced it with a Shimano square taper one, installed with a metal cup rather than the plastic one. Holding onto the Sugino in case I decide to change back.

Almost any design of QUALITY BB should work satisfactorily for a long time if propperly installed and given the type of maintenance recommended. Like in almost any area though the quality can vary widely from good to rotten. Cheap no name bottom brackets of any design are of questionable quality and may have a short life.
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Old 01-31-09, 01:16 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by frankenmike View Post
Wow. It amazes me that someone would have such a strong opinion about a bottom bracket. As a wrench, the only c&c bottom brackets I see are on super low level bikes. Most customers are eager to switch out to a cartridge system. For my own bikes, I prefer whichever kind holds my crankarms and spins(namely either one).
Yeah, I'm old enough to remember fountain pens too. There are reasons why ball points have cornered the market. They've pretty much killed the market for pocket protectors too.
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Old 01-31-09, 01:36 PM   #22
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I've got a C&C BB for 15 that is 5 yrs old, and good as new. I've spent 15 on a cartridge BB and had to spend the same again the following year. With a BB that you can maintain yourself, you can keep it excellent for just a few pence and a bit of time doing a job that I at least find very satisfying and strangely therapeutic. Same goes for hubs. I'm not adequately monied to go spending silly money on a boutique BB, when el cheapo C&C job does the same thing just as well.

However, I do agree that the outboard BB's are excellent. And you can at least pry the seals off and add grease, which keeps them going much longer. I use one on my race bike. But for all other applications, I'll stick to the old fashioned design. So much better. And a pleasure to use, just like a fountain pen.
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Old 01-31-09, 06:51 PM   #23
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hit and miss

I think some designs can be superior to others, but even within the same make and model, it can be hit and miss.
I've had a Phil Wood installed on a fixed-gear develop clicking within a year. I had a relatively cheap Tange unit original to cheaper Ibex bike, ridden through a couple winters stay strong and smooth.
Recently, I had a Sugino cartridge unit get rough after only six months on a fixed gear ridden in Tucson.
So I'm going to try out an Tange-made IRD unit and see if I get lucky.
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Old 01-31-09, 10:11 PM   #24
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However, I do agree that the outboard BB's are excellent. And you can at least pry the seals off and add grease, which keeps them going much longer.
Actually no. Most outboard bearings use a hard plastic spacer that covers the bearing seal and fits the bearing to the spindle. Looks like a top hat. You cannot remove it with a screwdriver because it will break. It must be removed with a specific shaped tool(Phil and some other companies make kits) and reinstalled with a different tool.

The simple cup/bearing/spindle axles were nice because they could be seviced. They sucked because they had to be serviced.

With few exceptions to certain brands, cartridge BBs survive many years with zero service and loads of abuse. In my fleet there is a UN91 in use since 1994 and a Phil that is more than twenty years old.
The only "cartridge" BBs I have had any trouble with are the look-alikes. They look like a cartridge but are cheap adjustable bearing sets that install like a cartridge bearing BB. The bearing assemble is installed from one side with a retaining cup on the other side. If you remove the cover from the end of the "cartridge" side you can see a set of adjusting nut/cone. These low ends BBs do not like abuse.
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Old 02-05-09, 06:09 PM   #25
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However, I do agree that the outboard BB's are excellent...
The "other" significant design advantage of outboard BBs is the fact that, without the bearings getting in the way inside the BB frame shell, it allowed the designers to use larger-diameter hollow-axles! The combination of compact bearings that are further apart from each other, a massive hollow axle, and a broader crankarm interface - all adds up to make this version so much stronger with minimal weight penalty. I think in some instances they are lighter than some older counterparts.

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