Choosing the right bicycle bearings is an important decision for both competitive and leisurely cyclists. While many cyclists associate switching from steel to hybrid ceramic bearings as a performance upgrade, there is another party who simply believe hybrid ceramic bearings are based on clever marketing hype and a waste of money. Here Chris Johnson, Managing Director at SMB Bearings, explains the crucial difference between good quality hybrid ceramic bearings and cheap hybrid bearings.
As with all bearing applications, instead of primarily focusing on the mechanical component in question, the best place to start is by asking, ‘What are you expecting the bearing to actually do?’ Ceramic bearings are often selected to provide a short-term marginal racing gain, so would not satisfy a hobbyist looking for a low maintenance part with years of service.
Interestingly, some argue that hybrid bearings do not make any difference to cycling performance at all. While there’s no doubt that hybrid ceramic bearings run with less friction, some believe that cycling rotation is too slow to reap noticeable results.
However, a well-made hybrid ceramic bearing will roll faster, saving you energy and allowing faster cruising speeds compared to an equivalent steel bearing. This is because the properties of ceramic allow the creation of rounder, smoother bearings.
Of course, this competitive gain comes at a cost. Good quality hybrid bearings aren’t cheap. While the very top professionals are willing to pay for them, many hobbyist cyclists cannot justify the price - instead they sometimes resort to cheaper hybrid bearings believing they will still get at least some advantage from the switch.
The crucial difference is that cheap hybrid ceramic bearings are not manufactured to the same quality standards. This means that the desired performance advantage of switching from traditional steel bearings is lost.
These lower quality hybrids simply aren’t manufactured to the same high standard, which impacts the rollability of the bearing. Just because a ceramic bearing can be made ultra-round, doesn’t mean it is. In reality, the person who bought the cheap hybrid bearings would have been better off spending the same amount on good quality steel bearings.
EZO brand steel bearings for example, use high quality hardened chromium steel or 440 grade stainless steel for longer life and offer good smoothness and low friction properties. In these instances, a good quality steel bearing would provide the same, if not better, performance than a cheap hybrid, often at a lower cost.
When considering whether to compromise on quality for cost, it is important to recognise why certain bearing brands are more expensive. At SMB Bearings, we partner with bearing manufacturers from around the world.
To ensure high quality bearings, we look out for manufacturers that put significant onus on quality checking and consistency. This way, we can ensure every bearing we stock is the exact same quality and consistency customers have grown to expect.
It’s important that cyclists of all calibres to understand the crucial differences between the performance expectations and characteristics of good quality hybrid options and steel bearings. If a cyclist wants to maximise their performance, a cheap hybrid bearing is not the way to go.