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  1. #1
    Senior Member powitte's Avatar
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    loose ball or sealed?

    Hi all,

    I am growing tired of my my entire drivetrain getting destroyed from the Chicago salt after riding all winter. I am planning on building a fixed gear set-up to use in poor weather from now on. Question is, what is going to hold up better/longer, a cartridge bearing hub or loose ball? I am good about servicing hubs often in the winter, if that makes a difference in your recommendations.

    What are your experiences?

  2. #2
    enginerd jeff^d's Avatar
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    I have both, a Shimano LX setup with cup and cone and a White Industries ENO hub with cartridge. To be honest, I think the loose bearings of the LX are superior. They have a double seal system that seems to do a slightly better job of keeping crud out, and the bearings are much cheaper to replace assuming the cup isn't pitted.

    I typically service my hubs 3-4 times per year depending on how wet it's been. I don't notice either setup to be significantly easier to service. I have found that using a high quality grease, like Phil Wood, makes a difference over time.

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    At least with loose ball you have some idea of what's going on in the assembly; then you can get into the arguments of which grease is best. With a sealed unit, you ride it until it dies and then spend more money. Have you considered a "grease guard" system? They have their issues, but I've reliably had 3K between repacks with these units, if you're generous with the grease ***. I should say that they don't use that much salt out here in the west, if that matters.

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    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Sealed all the way. I ride all winter in wet, cold, salty, and slushy Riga weather (a lot like Chicago's) and can say that quality sealed bearings last longer that loose ball.

    Check out Phil Wood bearings, a set for a Formula fixed hubs is about $20, and is well worth it. The difference between PW bearings and others is that PW fills the bearing 100% with waterproof grease (commercial bearings fill around 30% with standard grease) and they also have far superior seals to keep water out in the first place.

  5. #5
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    Sealed all the way. When shopping for a new bike last month, I asked the shop guy which bikes had the sealed hubs....answer? Next to none

    Trek' Portland had 'em.

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    Senior Member Sci-Fi's Avatar
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    For wheels/hubs...loose. Bottom Bracket sealed. Can always buy a Bottom Bracket but that's not always the case with sealed hub bearings..and that means a new hub if you can't find a replacement bearing or are unable to press it out. Most loose ball bearing hubs are pretty well sealed anyways and many feel they roll better/less friction/coast longer distances if adjusted correctly.

    Know a few that drill a grease port in their bottom bracket and add either a grease fitting or a rubber plug (tape if you ghetto it). Still have to take it out to service/grease it, but they get a lot more life out of their bottom bracket and the old grease is pushed out of the BB instead of using a needle attachment and greasing the bearings. Most 'sealed' bottom brackets (and hubs) have seals that can be pried/popped on and off, so many wonder how well it really keeps out dirt and grime.

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    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sci-Fi View Post
    For wheels/hubs...loose. Bottom Bracket sealed. Can always buy a Bottom Bracket but that's not always the case with sealed hub bearings..and that means a new hub if you can't find a replacement bearing or are unable to press it out. Most loose ball bearing hubs are pretty well sealed anyways and many feel they roll better/less friction/coast longer distances if adjusted correctly.

    Know a few that drill a grease port in their bottom bracket and add either a grease fitting or a rubber plug (tape if you ghetto it). Still have to take it out to service/grease it, but they get a lot more life out of their bottom bracket and the old grease is pushed out of the BB instead of using a needle attachment and greasing the bearings. Most 'sealed' bottom brackets (and hubs) have seals that can be pried/popped on and off, so many wonder how well it really keeps out dirt and grime.
    Sealed bearings are extremely easy to find; there are many online sellers.

  8. #8
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    If your bearings are not sealed, will most hubs take a retro-fit?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas View Post
    Sealed bearings are extremely easy to find; there are many online sellers.

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    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vrkelley View Post
    If your bearings are not sealed, will most hubs take a retro-fit?
    No, there is no retrofit. You either have loose ball or cartridge (also called sealed) bearings.

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    Senior Member powitte's Avatar
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    Thanks for everyone's input. As I look around at options, I am having a terrible time finding many cup and cone options. For fixie hubs, it seems that sealed is becoming the industry standard. Alas. I am leaning towards loose ball (partially because I can't stand that there isn't anything I can mess with on a sealed hub), but availability may preclude this option.

    Thanks again

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    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by powitte View Post
    Thanks for everyone's input. As I look around at options, I am having a terrible time finding many cup and cone options. For fixie hubs, it seems that sealed is becoming the industry standard. Alas. I am leaning towards loose ball (partially because I can't stand that there isn't anything I can mess with on a sealed hub), but availability may preclude this option.

    Thanks again
    Huh? What would you need to mess with in a hub that you can't in a cartridge bearing hub?

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    Senior Member powitte's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas View Post
    Huh? What would you need to mess with in a hub that you can't in a cartridge bearing hub?
    Are you serious? I'm talking about overhauling the hub, as opposed to a cartridge hub that you just replace. Perhaps you're thinking of how some people open up their "sealed" bearings?? I don't have plans to do that if that's what you're meaning.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by powitte View Post
    Are you serious? I'm talking about overhauling the hub, as opposed to a cartridge hub that you just replace. Perhaps you're thinking of how some people open up their "sealed" bearings?? I don't have plans to do that if that's what you're meaning.
    I don't think you fully understand how a cartridge bearing hub works. You can, and should overhaul them. You don't replace the hub, you simply replace the bearings and adjust the cones, rather like you would in a loose ball hub, except the bearings themselves are sealed against all the nastiness that winter riding brings.

    Why would you would think this is a problem for winter riding?

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    Senior Member powitte's Avatar
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    Well, you have correctly called me out on not being fully familiar with cartridge bearings hubs. I've never worked on one before, in truth. All I know is what I've read, such as at Park's website: "Hubs using the cartridge type bearings are not serviceable in the sense they can be dismantled and adjusted. As cartridge bearings wear and develop play, the entire cartridge unit is replaced."

    From my purely theoretical understanding, I have heard that the "seal" on a sealed bearing is actually more of an air dam, and doesn't keep grunge out very effectively. I was assuming I could keep the wheel rolling smoothly longer if I could deal with the salt spray and grit manually, which I didn't believe was possible on a cartridge hub. If this isn't the case, please point me in the right direction. Thanks

  15. #15
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by powitte View Post
    Well, you have correctly called me out on not being fully familiar with cartridge bearings hubs. I've never worked on one before, in truth. All I know is what I've read, such as at Park's website: "Hubs using the cartridge type bearings are not serviceable in the sense they can be dismantled and adjusted. As cartridge bearings wear and develop play, the entire cartridge unit is replaced."

    From my purely theoretical understanding, I have heard that the "seal" on a sealed bearing is actually more of an air dam, and doesn't keep grunge out very effectively. I was assuming I could keep the wheel rolling smoothly longer if I could deal with the salt spray and grit manually, which I didn't believe was possible on a cartridge hub. If this isn't the case, please point me in the right direction. Thanks
    It's the bearing it's self which is not servicing, not the hub. When a cartridge bearing reaches the end of it's useful life you simply remove and replace it. There are still cones to adjust in the hub itself.

  16. #16
    Tell them I hate them Peedtm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by powitte View Post
    Thanks for everyone's input. As I look around at options, I am having a terrible time finding many cup and cone options. For fixie hubs, it seems that sealed is becoming the industry standard. Alas. I am leaning towards loose ball (partially because I can't stand that there isn't anything I can mess with on a sealed hub), but availability may preclude this option.

    Thanks again
    Don't worry about Ziemas. He's an advocate of sealed everything for everything. If you want loose ball, the only common hubs left for track are Dura-Ace as far as I know. Not exactly ideal for a winter sludge bike.

    edit:

    Quote Originally Posted by powitte View Post
    I was assuming I could keep the wheel rolling smoothly longer if I could deal with the salt spray and grit manually, which I didn't believe was possible on a cartridge hub.
    One problem with loose ball bearings is that once the race is pitted, no more servicing . With sealed, your replacing the race along with the bearings.

    imho, I prefer loose as there is some inherent friction you are introducing with sealed, plus I enjoy overhauling and performing routine maintenance rather than participating in our disposable society.
    If you want to know about Tarck Bikes, PM me.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peedtm View Post
    Don't worry about Ziemas. He's an advocate of sealed everything for everything. If you want loose ball, the only common hubs left for track are Dura-Ace as far as I know. Not exactly ideal for a winter sludge bike.
    As I live in a very wet climate and use my cycle every day I'm damn fond of sealed everything. The 2/10th of a second I might lose due to seal drag on the way to work or a party are meaningless compared to having rusty bearings in my hub.

    FWIW, my Colnago which never sees a drop of water has loose ball Campy Pista hubs.
    Last edited by Ziemas; 05-11-08 at 09:03 AM.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by vrkelley View Post
    Sealed all the way. When shopping for a new bike last month, I asked the shop guy which bikes had the sealed hubs....answer? Next to none

    Trek' Portland had 'em.
    Which is part of the reason I own a Trek Portland. Sealed bearings in the hubs, BB and headset. It's something I just don't have to worry about. Bike came through its first winter with 2,000 more miles and needing only a new chain and RD cable.
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  19. #19
    Senior Member striegel's Avatar
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    My admittedly limited experience with sealed wheel bearings has not been great. On my new bike (November 2007) with less than 800 miles on it, I had one of the front bearings break down badly. When I drove out the bearing and replaced it, I found that two of the balls in the sealed unit had been completely pulverized.

    In contrast, my old bike from 1974 still has every original ball that it came with when it was new (BB, pedals, headset, hubs, rear derailleur jockey wheels). There were no sealed bearing hubs offered back then, so it was and still is equipped with loose balls all around.

    Honestly, the bikes do get used differently. My old 10-speed is mostly a fair-weather bike and the majority of its tens of thousands of road miles have been over dry pavement. But it has been through rain storms at least as many times as my new commuter, though never in winter snow and slush.

    The new bike is getting all-weather use and has been taken out in everything that northeast Ohio winters dish out.

    Still, I'd have expected more life out of a nominally sealed bearing than that. We'll have to see how the replacement holds up.
    If something doesn't ache, I could be trying harder.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by striegel View Post
    My admittedly limited experience with sealed wheel bearings has not been great. On my new bike (November 2007) with less than 800 miles on it, I had one of the front bearings break down badly. When I drove out the bearing and replaced it, I found that two of the balls in the sealed unit had been completely pulverized.

    In contrast, my old bike from 1974 still has every original ball that it came with when it was new (BB, pedals, headset, hubs, rear derailleur jockey wheels). There were no sealed bearing hubs offered back then, so it was and still is equipped with loose balls all around.

    Honestly, the bikes do get used differently. My old 10-speed is mostly a fair-weather bike and the majority of its tens of thousands of road miles have been over dry pavement. But it has been through rain storms at least as many times as my new commuter, though never in winter snow and slush.

    The new bike is getting all-weather use and has been taken out in everything that northeast Ohio winters dish out.

    Still, I'd have expected more life out of a nominally sealed bearing than that. We'll have to see how the replacement holds up.
    You experience is not indicative of cartridge bearings.

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    The op has probably already bought hubs, however you can get cheap fixed/free loose ball formula hubs.

  22. #22
    Senior Member striegel's Avatar
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    The replacement held up no better than the first. I replaced the bearing from the same side once again after less than 800 miles. And this time there was a lot less to blame on the weather.

    This makes me question whether it may be the hub design that has it wrong. The small sealed bearings that it takes seem badly suited to the sort of use they get.
    If something doesn't ache, I could be trying harder.

  23. #23
    Senior Member mike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ziemas View Post
    Sealed all the way. I ride all winter in wet, cold, salty, and slushy Riga weather (a lot like Chicago's) and can say that quality sealed bearings last longer that loose ball.

    Check out Phil Wood bearings, a set for a Formula fixed hubs is about $20, and is well worth it. The difference between PW bearings and others is that PW fills the bearing 100% with waterproof grease (commercial bearings fill around 30% with standard grease) and they also have far superior seals to keep water out in the first place.
    Hey, Ziemas, can you get Phil Woods products in Latvia?

    I am looking forward to reading more from you about bicycle life in Latvia!
    Mike

  24. #24
    Senior Member Ziemas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mike View Post
    Hey, Ziemas, can you get Phil Woods products in Latvia?

    I am looking forward to reading more from you about bicycle life in Latvia!
    Phil Wood ships worldwide, so I just order direct from them.

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