There’s no denying that bicycles are very different from cars.
They are powered in completely different ways, cars through the burning of gas or diesel and bicycles through the rotation of the pedals by the user.
They are completely different shapes from one another, and on a mechanical level, they are completely different.
However, bicycles and cars do share some similarities. One of which is their parts. Despite operating in completely different ways, bicycles and cars do have some parts in common, namely the wheel bearings.
But what exactly are the wheel bearings? How long do they last? And how can you spot that damage has occurred to your wheel bearings?
If you want to find out all this, and more, please read on.
What Are Wheel Bearings?
Before we go any further, it is important that we establish exactly what the wheel bearings are.
Similarly to in cars, bicycle wheel bearings are responsible for the proper function of the wheel of your bike. The wheel bearing holds together the different parts that together make up your bicycle’s tire, including the tire, wheel, and hub, and allow the separate parts to operate as one.
The wheel bearing removes any friction from the construction and provides the tire with free movement. This allows both wheels of the bicycle to move freely in line with the pedaling of the user.
There are lots of different types of wheel bearings, all of which will be better suited to different types of bicycles. The main type of wheel bearing, and the most commonly used, is the loose ball bearing.
Loose ball bearings perform best when loose, however, if you are concerned about losing any of the bearings, you can buy a retainer which will contain the bearings and minimize the risk of losing any.
Another common type of wheel bearing is the needle bearing. These bearings used to be incredibly popular among bicycle users, however, they have started to become less common due to the price.
However, needle bearings are one of the best performing wheel bearings for bicycles. Finally, another common type of bearing is the cartridge wheel bearings.
In recent years this type of bearing has become very popular, outperforming both loose ball and needle bearings due to their ease of installation, ease of use, and ease of replacement when necessary.
The majority of bicycle wheel bearings are constructed using steel, however, you might encounter some wheel bearings which are constructed with ceramic materials. If you do encounter any of these, ceramic wheel bearings are usually marketed as ceramic so there is a limited risk of confusion.
But even ceramic wheel bearings will include steel in their construction, so all wheel bearings will be partly constructed with metal.
So now that we have a clear understanding of what wheel bearings are, let’s move onto the big question.
How Long Do Wheel Bearings Last?
We have established that wheel bearings are a part of the construction of a bicycle’s wheel/tire. They are an essential part as they hold the important parts of the wheel together and allow them to turn and the bicycle to move.
As the wheel bearings are such a vital part of your bicycle’s construction, you must understand how long they will last.
With a rough idea of the lifetime of the bicycle’s wheel bearings, you will know exactly when you need to watch out for potential problems and ultimately when they need replacing.
So how long do wheel bearings last? The answer to this question is not a simple one. Like with all mechanical parts of any vehicle, the wheel bearings are exposed to continual wear and tear, however, more damage can be done by certain circumstances.
But on average, the wheel bearings on your bicycle will last for more than 3,000 miles. With excellent maintenance, wheel bearings have been known to last for upwards of 9,500 miles, however, this is impacted by the type of wheel bearing your bicycle uses and the maintenance you perform on the wheel bearings.
Signs Your Wheel Bearings Need Replacing
With some mechanical parts, they will last for a set amount of time before they need replacing. With others, you will be able to tell that they need replacing due to common signs of wear. But which is the case with bicycle wheel bearings? Let’s take a look.
We’ve already explained that wheel bearings on a bicycle tend to operate properly for approximately 3,000 miles. In a car, it is easy to monitor the number of miles you are driving as the car has a built-in clock that does this for you, however, on bicycles it is not that easy.
Short of writing down the exact number of miles you travel every time you go out on your bike and calculating as you go along, it can be very difficult to monitor the number of miles you ride. So are there any warning signs that you can watch out for instead?
The best way to monitor the condition of your wheel bearings is by running your finger across the axle of the wheel. Your wheel bearings are supposed to remain covered with grease at all times.
The grease provides the resistance that allows the wheel bearings to do their job properly. If your wheel bearings are wearing, a common sign of this is that they have gone dry.
You can test this by running your finger across the axle. In normal circumstances, the wheel bearings will slow down the spinning of the axle with the resistance of the grease. However, if your wheel bearings are dry, the axle will remain spinning at speed.
If this occurs, there is a good chance that your wheel bearings will either need a replacement or an overhaul. The more appropriate fix will depend on how worn your wheel bearings are and how dry they have become.
So, in short, there is no exact time for which your wheel bearings will last.
Like all mechanical parts of any vehicle, they will be exposed to different amounts of wear and tear depending on how often you use the bicycle.
However, in most circumstances, the wheel bearings will last for upwards of 3,000 miles without needing replacing,