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So ....how many balls?

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Old 12-20-10, 10:27 AM
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So ....how many balls?

I've been following several threads that mention not using caged ball bearings in bottom brackets and headsets. I've always used loose balls in my headset, but noted one post here suggesting using loose balls in the bottom bracket, but he suggested using eleven balls each side. Since the caged bearings I have for my bottom bracket contain 11 balls, I'm wondering what you folks think the advantage is, loose over caged, if you cannot gain by using at least one more bearing per side by ditching the cage. I know you gain a ball or two in the head set, which definitely has advantages.
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Old 12-20-10, 10:46 AM
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If the number of bearings can't be increased, I don't see an advantage.
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Old 12-20-10, 10:51 AM
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If the original headset cages are in good shape, I clean and reuse them. A headset doesn't get anywhere near the action other bearing systems do. I've replaced cages in vintage headsets with loose balls, only to have the headset sort of "bind" when turned to one extreme or the other. I'm not sure why this is. It doesn't matter to me. There is no real advantage to loose balls in a headset.

A general rule is to fill the cup with bearings, then remove two.
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Old 12-20-10, 10:53 AM
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Ever notice how an old cage will not hold the balls as effectively as a new cage? That's because the old cage is worn. The only thing that can cause the wear is the balls rubbing, not rolling, on the cage. This, of course, means an unnecessary increase in friction, something no one wants to increase inside a bearing.

As for number of balls? Use as many as you can, ensuring that you have a gap between the balls, once all are installed.
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Old 12-20-10, 10:54 AM
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I did that to my old schwinn, and my sisters older hybrid. Works smooth as butter afterwards. I have now installed a cartridge BB in my bike, and with it on a stand the pedals don't rotate near as freely as with the loose bearings.

I think some of the BB may have different size balls. So if yours has one with the smaller balls, it probably has more than the one with bigger diameter balls. If the cage is holding the balls apart from eachother, then you could fit one or two more in there. From what I have read, you don't want to pack it tight full of balls though. You want a half or one balls space worth of room for the balls, or they will produce friction against eachother and want to roll the wrong way or whatever.

The original reason I did it was b/c the cage came apart on my sis's hybrid and gouged the spindle all up, ruining it. I couldn't find the same sized spindle, so I welded the bearing surface and then recut the shape on a lathe. I went the loose ball route, so that a ball couldn't escape the cage again, fall out of place, and ruin the spindle again. The smart thing to do would be to just stop riding if you feel something wrong down there, immediately.

But I still like the loose bearings better than the caged. I would keep those if I had not gone to a cartridge bb to get the proper spacing for a new crankset. The loose bearings are not as convenient to disassemble, clean, and reinstall. But how often do you do that anyhow, once a year? Not that difficult, just not as convienent.
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Old 12-20-10, 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by ColonelJLloyd View Post
If the original headset cages are in good shape, I clean and reuse them. A headset doesn't get anywhere near the action other bearing systems do. I've replaced cages in vintage headsets with loose balls, only to have the headset sort of "bind" when turned to one extreme or the other. I'm not sure why this is. It doesn't matter to me. There is no real advantage to loose balls in a headset.

A general rule is to fill the cup with bearings, then remove two.
+1 I typically reuse caged bearings on headsets. On bottom brackets, I typically replace caged bearings with loose balls for a couple of reasons: first, the caged BB bearings I have seen have all had nine or fewer bearings, and secondly, they tend to have more significant wear. Since loose balls are much cheaper than replacement caged bearings, and I use the same supply of 1/4 inch loose bearings for rear hubs as well, its a no brainer. The only time I reuse bb bearings is on old Schwinn Ashtabula cranksets. Installing loose bearings there is a bit of a pain. Of course, if the bearings show wear or distress, I replace them as well.
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Old 12-20-10, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
Since the caged bearings I have for my bottom bracket contain 11 balls, I'm wondering what you folks think the advantage is, loose over caged, if you cannot gain by using at least one more bearing per side by ditching the cage.
Are those 1/4" balls (which is typical for loose ball in a BB)? I'm guessing they're not.

Neal
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Old 12-20-10, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by wrk101 View Post
The only time I reuse bb bearings is on old Schwinn Ashtabula cranksets. Installing loose bearings there is a bit of a pain.
That's putting it mildly.

Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
Are those 1/4" balls (which is typical for loose ball in a BB)? I'm guessing they're not.
+1 The caged bearings are almost certainly smaller than the 1/4" bearings with which you should replace them.
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Old 12-20-10, 11:05 AM
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+3 I can't imagine a 11 ball caged bearing for a bottom bracket, unless the balls are smaller than 1/4 inch. The caged ones I have seen with 1/4 inch bearings always had fewer balls in them.
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Old 12-20-10, 11:16 AM
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Originally Posted by ColonelJLloyd View Post
I've replaced cages in vintage headsets with loose balls, only to have the headset sort of "bind" when turned to one extreme or the other. I'm not sure why this is. It doesn't matter to me. There is no real advantage to loose balls in a headset.
My theory is that it's when bearings roll into each other due to manufacturing tolerances, forcing surfaces together which are moving in opposite directions. Cages prevent the balls moving independently, which stops them running into each other. Logically, most of the time cages will cause more sliding friction but prevent that binding. There is an advantage to jamming more balls in a headset - more bearing surface = increased durability.

In summary, no cage in the headset might be a good idea if for some reason you chew headsets up despite knowing how to adjust the preload, but it's not a good move for the BB.
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Old 12-20-10, 11:16 AM
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I should have stipulated. I'm dealing with Campagnolo Nuovo Record caged BB bearings. 11 bearings per cage but smaller than 1/4 inch. Probably more like 3/16 or, more likely, 6 mm or something. And ColonelJLloyd, if the originals are smaller than 1/4 inch, not sure I'd want to use larger 1/4 inch bearings if using loose. Races built to take certain sized balls, no?
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Old 12-20-10, 11:19 AM
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Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
I should have stipulated. I'm dealing with Campagnolo Nuovo Record caged BB bearings. 11 bearings per cage but smaller than 1/4 inch. Probably more like 3/16 or, more likely, 6 mm or something.
Any bearing you'll need for a bicycle will be sold as a fraction of an inch. Perhaps 3/16 or 7/32, but I wouldn't worry about that. Use 11 1/4" bearings per side. I'll be pretty dang surprised if that doesn't work out for you.

Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
And ColonelJLloyd, if the originals are smaller than 1/4 inch, not sure I'd want to use larger 1/4 inch bearings if using loose. Races built to take certain sized balls, no?
All I can say is that with the Campagnolo BBs I've serviced I used 1/4" bearing balls. I am by no means a Campagnolo expert.
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Old 12-20-10, 11:26 AM
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Curiouser and curiouser. The only Campy BB I know of that takes undersize bearings is the titanium Super Record.
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Old 12-20-10, 11:31 AM
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Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
Races built to take certain sized balls, no?
I'd certainly imagine so. Although...

It occurs to me that fitting larger balls might even be a good thing as long as a) they're still a smaller radius than that shared by the cup and cone, and b) they fit. A fuller race probably wouldn't matter on a hub, but in a fixed-cup BB I see it moving the spindle to the left.
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Old 12-20-10, 11:36 AM
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OK. I goofed. Sorry. Just measured. balls are indeed 1/4 in the cage, but 11 per cage. I assumed they were smaller since many here are talking about nine instead of eleven. another brain fade...
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Old 12-20-10, 12:50 PM
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cages are a good way for bearing manufacturers to save money on hardened steel loose balls. Cages collect grit and such and should not be used if you can help it. I know many will disagree but it's what I was taught at barnett's and I agree with them.
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Old 12-20-10, 01:18 PM
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Cages collect grit, but they don't distribute it.

Grease collects grit too, you know.

As I said, cages cause friction but prevent binding. If you can make balls that all exactly the same size so they never run into each other, then you should ditch the cage.
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Old 12-20-10, 01:41 PM
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Thanks all. I'd thought I'd read several postings in another thread, don't remember which one now, where guys said they use loose balls in a headset because you could add two more bearings, thus providing more support and, they also mentioned a headset will last longer that way. I thought Grand Bois was one. Maybe it was Tom. At any rate, doesn't seem like it will work in a bottom bracket however. Can't imagine 12 will fit in there. Well, I might be beating a deceased horse here... thanks to all for the input.
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Old 12-20-10, 02:06 PM
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Per a posting on another forum:
Campy actually used 11 balls in their properly designed cages, which is also the number of loose balls you should put in the BB.
Most other manufacturers cheaped out and went with 9 [caged].

YMMV
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Old 12-20-10, 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by triathloner View Post
cages are a good way for bearing manufacturers to save money on hardened steel loose balls
I think the reason bicycle manufacturers use caged bearings is because they are so much faster to assemble than a bearing system with loose balls. Hardened steel bearing balls are cheap. Cheaper than caged bearings. It all comes down to labor expense.


Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
Thanks all. I'd thought I'd read several postings in another thread, don't remember which one now, where guys said they use loose balls in a headset because you could add two more bearings, thus providing more support and, they also mentioned a headset will last longer that way. I thought Grand Bois was one. Maybe it was Tom. At any rate, doesn't seem like it will work in a bottom bracket however. Can't imagine 12 will fit in there. Well, I might be beating a deceased horse here... thanks to all for the input.
I'm still not quite clear on your problem. If you have 22 1/4" bearing balls, I suggest installing them. Get rid of the cages. Dollars to doughnuts it'll give you a proper, smooth bottom bracket.

Alternatively, clean and reuse the caged bearings. They're Campagnolo and probably the best caged bearings made.
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Old 12-20-10, 02:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Grand Bois View Post
Curiouser and curiouser. The only Campy BB I know of that takes undersize bearings is the titanium Super Record.
Super Record took 3/16". 1990 Record took 7/32". I believe C Record also took 3/16", but not positive.
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Old 12-20-10, 02:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Old Fat Guy View Post
Super Record took 3/16". 1990 Record took 7/32". I believe C Record also took 3/16", but not positive.
There was also a short-lived "Con Sfere da 3/16" pista bottom bracket back in the early 60s:


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Old 12-20-10, 02:27 PM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
Are those 1/4" balls (which is typical for loose ball in a BB)? I'm guessing they're not.

Neal
Campagnolo at least used 11 1/4" balls in their retainers:

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Old 12-20-10, 03:34 PM
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yeah John, that's what I have exactly. Not really a problem Colonel, just wondering about folks' opinions on caged vs. loose balls and the efficiency of both, etc. I just installed some Campy caged bearings in an old Record BB and was pondering. I was amazed, they looked flawless for having been in there for almost 50 years, so I just cleaned them up and put them back in. Then I got to thinking of the loose ball theory...
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Old 12-20-10, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by rootboy View Post
yeah John, that's what I have exactly. Not really a problem Colonel, just wondering about folks' opinions on caged vs. loose balls and the efficiency of both, etc. I just installed some Campy caged bearings in an old Record BB and was pondering. I was amazed, they looked flawless for having been in there for almost 50 years, so I just cleaned them up and put them back in. Then I got to thinking of the loose ball theory...
The only person who'll know whether or not there are cages in the bottom bracket is you. This summer I restored a Raleigh Competition GS with a Campagnolo BB. The bearing balls and cages were so shiny and smooth after I cleaned them I put them right back in. I'd do it again.
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