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  1. #1
    djb
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    a question about bearing hubs vs hubs with sealed bearings

    Ive been meaning to ask this about hubs for years and never got around to it, and figured I'd get the best answer from some of you who work in the business.

    Last summer when we bought my wifes Sora equipped entry level road bike, I asked the store owner if the hubs were ball bearing hubs or sealed, and mentioned that as always, I would check the adjustment (I have found that hubs often come too tight new, plus I like putting in more grease). The fellow looked at me strangely and told me that he never heard of anyone adjusting or regreasing hubs (which certainly seemed to me as rather odd) so then I began to wonder if more and more new bikes come with sealed hubs and that I was clearly out of the loop.

    I learned how to take apart, regrease and reassemble ball bearing hubs about 25 years ago, and in that time I have only had bikes that had hubs like this.

    Here are my questions- I assume sealed hubs are like sealed bb's (compared to the old ball bearing type) in that one never adjusts anything or regreases? My bikes are older, but even my newest bike (4 years old, a Specialized Tricross Sport), my wifes newish entry level road bike, and all my friends bikes and our kids bikes, all use traditional ball bearing hubs. None of these bikes cost more than perhaps $1400 can.

    Are sealed hubs only on bikes above a certain price level?

    Do they perform that much better? Or is there a big range of quality of hubs that makes this question hard to answer? And yes, with ball bearing hubs I know that how you adjust them can make a diff in how they roll, as well as I assume the quality of the hubs in general.

    I guess I need to look up some schematics of sealed wheel hubs, cuz I dont even have an idea of how the bearing surfaces look like, are they a solid round bearing that fits into a pressed area, I just dont know.

    thanks in advance. I have good quality hubs that are 15 years old and get ridden regularly, and with proper maintenance seem to be in good shape as when new. So I have no problem with how they work, nor with working on them (I enjoy doing it in fact).

    thanks

  2. #2
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    Virtually all LBS grade hubs are sealed, but some are cup-and-cone and some are cartridge. You don't adjust cartridge bearings, but some quality hubs still keep old fashioned cup-and-cone rebuild-able and adjustable hubs. They just have seals to keep out dirt and water now. Cup-and-cone bearings are found on the cheapest of the cheap, and some of the highest grade hubs like Dura Ace and Record hubs. Low grade cup and cones can be cheaper to manufacture than cartridge bearings, and some manufacturers think a cup-and-cone bearing can offer unrivaled performance if done right.

    Cartridge bearings are often used on mid-range and boutique wheels because they offer good performance for the price and do not have to be manufactured by the hub company on a large scale since they can just order them from BB makers. They offer very good performance but are not rebuildable and most of the time it isn't practical to press out the bearing. This is an advantage for any company, large or small, that does not want to tool up to make high quality cup and cones.

  3. #3
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    djb- Sora hubs have ball bearings that also have seals.

    Every bike balled hub or bearing element i have EVER seen had seals of one type or another. So what am I calling a seal? In my view it's any design that reduces the opening from the outside world to the interior. This includes common rubber "ring" seals, dust caps (both removable and fixed) and the hub/cup/cone shape that has some sort of aspect that creates a gap smaller then the balls are.

    Now many people (and most employed by the marketing arms of our industry) will call a sealed bearing something else, a subset of my definition. Often the term sealed is used to describe what I know of as a radial cartridge bearing with a rubber seal which within itself has no allowance for end play adjustment. But others would disagree. Like Shimano, Campy, Chris King.

    So to be fully accurate in describing bearing types I like to state the assembly methods, the bearing contact angle, the type of any removable additional sealing device and the rolling element shape. The classic Campy NR hub would be a threaded cup and cone, angular contact ball bearing with removable dust cap design. What Phil Wood has used for years would be called a press fitted cartridge, radial contact, ball bearing with "rubber" seals.

    Why is this important? Because otherwise misleading assumptions can be had if the terms are used interchangeably. And that's what makes the marketing departments go round.

    Don't make the mistake that because the bearing is one type or another that the quality, lifespan or need for maintenance is one level or another. Classic threaded cup and cone ball bearings come in a wide range of grades and if properly maintained the good ones will last for many tens of thousands of miles. Poorly made cartridge bearings can be rough from the start and go down hill from there.

    And then there are the bushinged bearings which count for FAR many more bearings, on any bike that has a chain, then any with balls do ... Andy.

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    It should be pointed out that the seals in bike bearings are dust seals and not designed to keep out water. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/brandt/sealed-bearings.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidad View Post
    It should be pointed out that the seals in bike bearings are dust seals and not designed to keep out water. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/brandt/sealed-bearings.html
    +1 most of the bearings used are commercial quality electric motor bearings, and not weather sealed. This applies most to those where the bearing face is exposed. Some hub makers add their own weather seals outside of the bearing (most don't).

    BTW- all hub bearings are ball bearings, and many adjustable cup/cone bearings have seals. While we use "sealed bearing" to mean preassembled commercial bearings, it might be better to refer to them as cartridge bearings, so your describing the construction rather than the seal or lack of it.
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  6. #6
    djb
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    My mistake, I really didnt use the right terms.

    Cup and cone vs cartridge.

    Andrew, again sorry for the "sealed" term having you explain more, I was meaning "sealed" as in non adjustable or accessible to the bearings, which wouldnt be cups and cones. Interesting what you say about poorly made cartridge bearings.
    Crescent, interesting about the mid-range to boutique wheels using cartridge, pressed in bearings, and the manufacturing reasons why.

    Crescent, I have only had and worked on cup and cone hubs. As you and Andrew say about different qualities, I have seen and worked on a wide range of quality cup and cone hubs from terrible to very very good. The hubs on my old mtn bike are a good example of a combo of great seals that keep stuff out, plus good quality metal and manufacture of the cups and cones. They keep the grease very clean over time and the surfaces are in great condition given the kms on them, plus you can feel the build quality when you put them back together.

    Like I said, I do enjoy working on cup and cone hubs, and I like the fact that with good maintenance they can work very well over a long period. I guess I should learn more about cartridge type hubs levels of qualities, I guess they follow the same route as LX vs XT etc, but I suspect I will always want to stick with good quality cup and cone hubs.
    When I got into touring nearly 25 years ago, I began learning how to service stuff, I liked and still like, being familiar with all the innards of my bikes as I was much more comfortable heading off on a trip really knowing how my bike was mechanically.

    davidad, good to point that out. I was aware but that is a good piece to explain that side of it, plus the cup and cone vs cartridge angle.

    thanks again for the responses.

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    From the twenty years I spent commuting year round in all weather conditions from sun to snow and rain, I am sold on cartridge bearing hubs. They last and last, especially good ones, and never need to be torn down for servicing. For example: Mavic 501 hub set with 50k miles that spin like new to this day, Suntour Sprint hub set with 20k miles that spin like to this day, Gyro Master hub set with 10k miles that spin like new to this day. These examples are in use on my gravel grinder, road bike, and cruiser.

    The only cartridge hubs that have needed replacement bearings have been Suntour Mountain hubs from 83. Serviced them in a matter of a few minutes by punching out the old ones and pushing in the new ones! Simple, cost effective, and no mess.

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    It is worth mentioning that cup and cone suffer mainly in regards as to the contact points that 'cup' and 'cone' press the bearing. Since bearings are spherical, as the cone moves inward during adjustment pushing the bearing into the cone, the bearing is force to conform to the loading forces of both races causing it to deform or 'ovalize' of sorts. This why it is recommended to replace the ball bears each time after opening them up--because they are no longer true 'balls'. Cartridge bearings are not cup and cone per-say, but many of them still suffer from the same problem of putting a spherical bearing against two loads causing uneven wearing. As stated above, quality has a huge part in how long either of these systems last, with Phil Wood taking the most precise route as far as this interface goes.

    For those craving maximal life from hub bearings, annular contact bearings are worth investigating. Annular bearings generally have full contact of a ring rather than two small points, allowing the bearings to wear more evenly. Maxicar hubs which are famous for last 10,000+ miles without servicing use annular contact bearings, and more recently Chris King.

    Irrespective, bearings should be examined based on how they are impacted by loads, so the bearing design you use in your hubs may not be the best for the bearings in your bottom bracket or headset. Each design has a time and place... and cost.

  9. #9
    Senior Member surreal's Avatar
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    A lot of mess going on here, OP; take the above with a grain of salt... plenty of good info, too, but...

    All I want to contribute is that you might want to find a different shop, if the owner has never heard of anyone repacking a hub. Shameful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CTZunow View Post
    It is worth mentioning that cup and cone suffer mainly in regards as to the contact points that 'cup' and 'cone' press the bearing. Since bearings are spherical, as the cone moves inward during adjustment pushing the bearing into the cone, the bearing is force to conform to the loading forces of both races causing it to deform or 'ovalize' of sorts. This why it is recommended to replace the ball bears each time after opening them up--because they are no longer true 'balls'.
    I guess this myth hasn't been eradicated quite yet. No, bearing balls do not "ovalize" in service. You replace them if they are corroded or damaged or just because you have new ones but not because they are out-of round.

    Years ago the "Tech" editor for Bicycling Magazine used to repeat this incorrect advice until, finally, an engineer from one of the large bearing manufacturers (SKF or Timken) wrote to tell him it was wrong.

  11. #11
    djb
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    I have only ever replaced balls (I have packages of various sizes bought 20 years ago) when there is discolouration on any part of the surface. I sometimes do work on friends old bikes, and sometimes things aint pretty inside, but new ball bearings and grease at least gets the hub into good working shape, even if the rolling surfaces of the cones or cups aren't great.

    Especially if the bike is for someone who doesnt ride much.

  12. #12
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
    From the twenty years I spent commuting year round in all weather conditions from sun to snow and rain, I am sold on cartridge bearing hubs. They last and last, especially good ones, and never need to be torn down for servicing. For example: Mavic 501 hub set with 50k miles that spin like new to this day, Suntour Sprint hub set with 20k miles that spin like to this day, Gyro Master hub set with 10k miles that spin like new to this day. These examples are in use on my gravel grinder, road bike, and cruiser.

    The only cartridge hubs that have needed replacement bearings have been Suntour Mountain hubs from 83. Serviced them in a matter of a few minutes by punching out the old ones and pushing in the new ones! Simple, cost effective, and no mess.
    I wish I could say I've had the same experience to the same degree. Then the shops I've worked at could have saved some $ on stocking the many different sizes of cartridge bearings and the various specialty tools to remove and reinstall them. If anything I've found that, with the increased use of cartridge bearings in the last couple of decades, the need to be able to replace them has grown. Whether it's poor grade bearings that are speced by the bike component companies (as Francis has suggested recently in another thread), the short sighted designs used (a well reputed brand uses ball diameters that are about half of what was the standard just a few years ago with relatively ineffective sealing), the poor assembly (too much preload) or riders using their bikes in worse conditions then was typical way back when; I don't know. But i do see the results often enough. Just last week we replaced the freehub body on a Campy hub due to the rough and dry bearing's. This bike was only 10 years old (or so) and by the looks of the rest of the bike didn't see excessive miles. We also have replaced the, mostly rear, hub bearings and the BB bearings of over a dozen Treks this year. And these bikes are only a few years old each, some newer.

    So, again, i wish i could say that my experience with cartridge bearings was what i would call "god's gift". But my weekly work says otherwise. Andy.

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    In my book, cartridge bearings win hands down. After four riding seasons, I drop the wheels off at the LBS. New bearings, true the wheels, all for $60.00. With this regime, they always run great and I don't have to fool with them. Nirvana. bk

  14. #14
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    shielding a cartridge Bearing such as the ones Specialized got made for them & sold
    are a fine combination ..

    the design just didn't get carried over to Freehubs.. the popular Shimano hubs are
    loose ball , shielded .. rubber ring around some of the cones..
    & road hubs are less drag... by not having contact seals ..

    some of the other suppliers (to bike assembly companies) have added hubs with rubber boots,
    in wheels fitted to some modestly priced bikes, I note*.. the boot weather seals quite well ..

    * assembling them for sale in LBS..

    My Rohloff hub uses lots of cartridge needle and ball bearings inside, none have seals,
    just an external oil seal to keep the oil inside, wetting the parts.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 01-18-14 at 09:42 AM.

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    djb
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    Quote Originally Posted by surreal View Post
    All I want to contribute is that you might want to find a different shop, if the owner has never heard of anyone repacking a hub. Shameful.
    This was the case of a store that I had only gone into once, it had a good price on the previous years model of an entry level road bike that in XS fits my wife perfectly and so a great introduction to drop bars and brifters.

    the things said that got my radar up other than the hub repacking one included:
    -going into their workshop area was forbidden, due to "insurance reasons"--now this may be legit, but the LBS I go to the most is pretty open with it, sure they know me, but when someone shows interest and/or knowledge about mechanics, a place that is opening makes you feel better as a customer. * I realize the guys have to work, and dont want people bugging them.

    -he insisted that the both tires had to be at 110 or more psi, they are 25s. For my first time drop bar wife, I wanted to soften the front a bit as well as the back so she would be comfortable (to encourage more riding). I regularly run 28s on my cross/light tourer at 100r and 90-95 front, I weigh 140, my wife is about 125, plus this bike is probably low 20s in weight.
    I have also toured fully loaded on 28s a lot, me at 140, various bikes about 30, fully loaded stuff at 40 or a bit more, so easily 210+lbs total. I've run these tires at about 100psi and never, ever had any flats or other tire issues.
    I realize tire pressures opinions can be varied, but my concern was for my wifes riding comfort (previous wrist and neck issues) and my view was backed up by lots of personal experience.

    -there was a certain amount of poo-pooing attitude about the gearing changes I did to the bike (again, to encourage my wife, make it easier for climbing) I changed the cassette from a 12-25 to a 11-28, plus threw on an old 28t granny I had kicking around to replace the stock 30t. Cheap easy changes and the original chain length was good with the 3t increase, just a little b screw adjust on the rd.

    -the fd kept going out of adjustment, and I finally noticed that the fd cable bolt hadnt been fully tightened (no big deal, the young guy who assembled it was probably rushed)

    -the kicker though was taking the bike in for the included checkup where unbeknownst to me, the owner told his mechanic to change the position of the rear rack I had installed. (We brought the bike in as I am not good at evaluating spoke tensions, so figured they could check those).
    I had bought and installed a rear axel mounted light rack--the rear calipers get in the way of the mounting holes at the rear, and Axiom make a model that mounts using the rear caliper bolt (Tubus does as well)
    http://www.axiomgear.com/products/ge...iner-road-dlx/

    When I installed it, I tried using the mounting holes in the frame instead of using the skewer option (less hassle changing a flat), but the shape of the rear part of the frame has the rack/fender mounting holes much wider than where the skewer goes in. Result was that to bolt the rack on, you had to force the rack apart, and the tension also then made it tricky getting the bolt in due to the rack mounting plate not being parallel and moving around--in my experience, the chance of cross threading the bolt getting it in was too risky (or someone else doing it in the future) so I just went with using the "skewer" option. I knew my wife would only use the rack for carry day ride stuff, probably no more than 10-15lbs, plus the rack was designed for this, and I know people with carbon frames use this rack all the time.

    So bike gets taken into their shop, we wait. We wait, and after a while I look in, and the young mechanic is changing the rack and is bolting it into the mounting holes. The owner told him to do it without asking us, and like I said, I didnt like how the bolt werent lined up properly, and with lots of force required to hold the rack mount in place to line it up, so if the mechanic wasnt careful, he could be damaging the threads (which I should admit, I have done many years ago on a bike)
    The owner then said he told his mechanic to do this because of the warranty on the frame, that "people do stuff all the time and break frames". I didnt know what to say.
    I had them put it back.

    -leaving, the chain had had lube gooped copiously all over it, not even wiped down.

    so no, I am not going back. I realize I probably sound like one of those pain in the arse, know-it-all customers. I've worked in retail before and know them, but boy the owner of this place certainly came across as someone in it as a business only, get the bikes in, get em out. Bing bang boom.

  16. #16
    Senior Member surreal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
    I wish I could say I've had the same experience to the same degree. ....So, again, i wish i could say that my experience with cartridge bearings was what i would call "god's gift". But my weekly work says otherwise. Andy.
    Agreed. Cartridge bearings, and the hubs designed around them, can vary widely from really good to pretty lousy. Latley, I've been more likely to go with loose ball hubs, mostly b/c I know I can handle those perfectly, without any specialized tools beyond a cone wrench. That being said, I do have some cartridge bearing hubs, and this current crop has been really good to me, so far. And, they definitely require less routine maintenance. (OTOH, occasionally repacking Shimano and coaster brake hubs isn't a big deal, either....)

    I think we'll all do better when the component manufacturers move past the notion that "sealed bearings"= better sales.... low-buch cartridge hubs don't get much love from me. More importantly, I think we need to move towards a few "standard" size cartridges; it's not that bad now, but Andy brings up a good point about the difficulty a shop faces in trying to keep a bunch of different size bearing cartridges and associated tools in stock.

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    Senior Member surreal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    This was the case of a store that I had only gone into once, it had a good price on the previous years model of an entry level road bike that in XS fits my wife perfectly and so a great introduction to drop bars and brifters.

    <<list of weird things this shop did omitted>>

    ...so no, I am not going back. I realize I probably sound like one of those pain in the arse, know-it-all customers. I've worked in retail before and know them, but boy the owner of this place certainly came across as someone in it as a business only, get the bikes in, get em out. Bing bang boom.
    Yeah, seems like that particular shop might want to change up their approach. Are they a newer shop?

    Seems to me like they could do with a little MORE "bing-bang-boom". Why waste the time to move the rack from where you put it? That, combined with the nose-wrinkling and gearing changes, and the idea that you shouldn't crack open new hubs to properly lube/adjust them, leads me to think the owner might be more concerned about cautiously keeping the bikes as they "should be"--- as in, how the factory did it/would do it (in the case of the rack.) All of the mods you made, regardless of the valid reasons why, might've made the guy nervous b/c that's not how Brand X built the bike, nor is that how Brand Y usually mounts a rack, etc....

    I don't blame you if you don't go back. They'll need to change their methods, or they'll likely perish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bkaapcke View Post
    In my book, cartridge bearings win hands down. After four riding seasons, I drop the wheels off at the LBS. New bearings, true the wheels, all for $60.00. With this regime, they always run great and I don't have to fool with them. Nirvana. bk
    Well, after a couple of years and 6,000 to 8,000 miles on a set of cup-and-cone hubs I drop the wheels on my work bench, undo the locknut and cone on one side, clean the hubs, add fresh grease and new balls, reassemble and adjust and check the rims for true. All of this takes maybe 45 minutes for both wheels, costs about $2.00 in bearing balls and grease and I don't have to drive anywhere even once, never mind twice (drop off and pickup) and they always run great. You pays your money and takes your choice.

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    For sure it is a preference thing. Since I am lazy and don't like messy service, cartridge bearings are my preference.

    Cup and cone works quite well. I have a set of Campy hubs with just over 10k on them and they roll like new. Of course to keep them that way I serviced them every year, regardless of mileage.

  20. #20
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    The shop sounds awful. You may or may not be a PITA customer, but the shop is ridiculous.
    • 25mm tires don't need to be at max PSI. More comfortable to run them at 80 or lower. you can get by with 70 on your 28's. particularly at your weight. I run 70-80 on my 28mm tires and I weigh 200 lb.
    • loose FD bolt and excess lube not wiped off the chain could be oversights, but they're not good signs.
    • I understand the lower gears, but why did you want a cassette with an 11t small cog? Did they not have a 12-28?
    • they probably thought they were doing the right thing with the rack, but still should have talked to you first.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Eric S.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    My mistake, I really didnt use the right terms. Cup and cone vs cartridge.
    When I was into BMX in the early 80s, "sealed bearings" meant what is now referred to as cartridge bearings.

    I've only worn out 1 set of cup & cone bearing hubs in my time and they lasted 20 years before they didn't roll smooth (1992 Ultegra 8-speed). I was never good about cleaning & re-lubing them but they were cheap in 1992 and 20 years is plenty for me. The Mavic Open 4CD rims are still waiting to be laced up with something else.

  22. #22
    djb
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    Quote Originally Posted by TallRider View Post
    [*]I understand the lower gears, but why did you want a cassette with an 11t small cog? Did they not have a 12-28?[/LIST]
    ya, that was my mistake. I should have gotten a 12-27 but saw the 11-28 and just wanted to get the gear inches down. It was a good price, I didnt want to spend a whole lot on a higher end cassette (the 12-28s or whatever I think were pricey ones) not knowing how my wife would like riding the bike (she really likes it now).
    I saw later that a shimano tiagra level 9 speed 12-27 was pretty much the same price, and I really like the spacing on that,
    12-13-14-15-17-19-21-24-27, and yes 11t are a waste (and I find they feel "rough")

  23. #23
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TallRider View Post
    The shop sounds awful. You may or may not be a PITA customer, but the shop is ridiculous.
    Indeed --> ridiculous.
    RANS V3 (steel), RANS V-Rex, RANS Screamer

  24. #24
    djb
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    Quote Originally Posted by surreal View Post
    All of the mods you made, regardless of the valid reasons why, might've made the guy nervous b/c that's not how Brand X built the bike, nor is that how Brand Y usually mounts a rack, etc....
    I think you are right, that situation made me recall stuff my wife has said about newer veterinarians with less experience, they tend to order every test in the book for a case, to cover all the angles, whereas an experienced vet knows the likelihood or whatever is pretty small, and so I really do think this was a case of someone less experienced being overly concerned about "how things should be" as you say.

    back to topic,

    I'm glad to see while many of you have had great experiences with cartridge bearing hubs, there are still many that find cup and cone hubs relevant. My question really came from not knowing if this was still the case.
    I'm glad it still is, and like I said, I enjoy the time working on bikes and being intimate with the various bits, especially with the touring side of things. It adds a certain amount of confidence knowing the mechanics and how to deal with issues yourself.

  25. #25
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Put me in the loose-ball camp; not a fan of cartridge bearings.

    Cup/cone is bespoke and tailored, cartridge is the cheap option off the rack that isn't optimised.

    Contamination in loose balls is dealt with stripping, cleaning and re-lubing. In cartridge bearings, usually dealt with by replacement. Difficult to remove without damaging them anyway; the outer race isn't usually accessible from inside.

    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    so no, I am not going back. I realize I probably sound like one of those pain in the arse, know-it-all customers.
    The epic litany of fail you recite means you're discerning, not a PITA.

    I prefer customers like you who are capable of appreciating good work.

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