Friday, May 6, 2011

The big problem with dual suspension bikes

There's a big secret going on. As the years go by and I learn more about the intricate workings of the masterpiece that is the bicycle, something bothers me more and more.
Don't get me wrong, I have been riding dual suspension bikes for over 9 years and I loooooove them so very much. I have owned many different bikes and ridden many more. I stand firm on my belief that life is too short to ride a hardtail. Every time I head out on my dually it puts a smile on my face.
Each year there is a flurry of activity as companies release their latest models accompanied by unverifiable performance claims. Still there has been one huge nagging problem that for some reason seems to be ignored. I really have no idea why it has not been addressed by bike companies so I'm just going to complain about it for a little bit.

A failed cartridge bearing pulled from the X-Ben after about 10 months of use.
Bike companies insist on using cartridge bearings for the pivot points on their dual suspension frames. Boy do these things like to fail in a hurry. Imagine being in the bike store drooling over new bikes. Sure you expect that in the course of a year or two you're going to have to replace the tires, drivetrain, brake big deal, we're all aware of this. But what about rear suspension bearings? Look at that 3, 4, 5, 10++ thousand dollar dual suspension bike. No matter the price or engineering genius, each will experience bearing failure.
As far as I can tell the problem is that these bearings are being used in such a way that they were never designed to be used. Cartridge bearings contained in the rear suspension components move only a fraction of a revolution as the suspension is compressed. The ball bearings don't get the opportunity to rotate through the races as pressure and wear get focused onto one very small part of the bearing unit. Obviously in a perfect world a bearing is designed to equally distribute load onto each ball. They are an engineering masterpiece. However we live in the real world, the fact is that cartridge bearings will wear inconsistently.
All of a sudden your formula one designed super efficient trail warrior has been reduced to a squeaking, clunking mess.
How do you deal with replacing the half dozen or more cartridge bearings when they fail? How will you know when they've failed?

The one saving grace is that the majority of reputable frame builders have moved away from nylon bushings. They wear even faster and are much harder to replace than bearings because they are bike specific. Cartridge bearings are easy to source, are not proprietary to the frame or company, and not astronomically expensive.
It is disturbing to me the amount of dual suspension bikes being sold every year and how few of them have their bearings replaced. People just aren't aware of what is happening
It's not something you want to think about when you selecting your next bike, but you should.

So what can be done about this? When purchasing a dual suspension bike you should keep in mind that the cartridge bearings that make up the rear suspension linkage should be replaced at a regular interval like many other things. I have found this interval to be about 5000km's which for most is 1-3 years but obviously depends on riding conditions.
How much should it cost? Look to spend between $100-$200 to have this done, which is the cost for parts and labour.
The unfortunate part is that there are not very many shops that have the tools or know-how to do this job properly. Even at Hardwood we're not currently set up for this. I am just hoping to raise awareness of this issue since no one else likes to talk about it.
What is the solution to cartridge bearings? I really have no clue. If you can figure it out then send me an email and I'll split you on the patent for the first maintenance free dual suspension frame.
For now I'll just replace my bearings every fall and enjoy my buttery smooth suspension performance. I am hoping to get the tools to be able to do the service properly and professionally so probably the next $500 I get will be going to buying a good bearing press and puller.
What are your experiences with dual suspension bearings??

Monday, May 2, 2011

So I just rode through an Arctic wasteland.

Or was it the back roads and concessions of Oro-Station? Either way it is good to be back. The roads are shitty, flat, boring, the weather sucks, and it's good to be back.
Seriously though I made it back alive from my adventures in SC. I unfortunately didn't get to ride my super epic mtb ride through the Foothills Trail. The timing just didn't work out for me. The drive home was uneventful save for the tornado wreckage for about 5 miles in Tennessee, that was intense. I tried to snap a few quick photos but they didn't really turn out. The Pulsar decided to try being a hybrid for little while, a few tanks I made 500km's which is roughly 200km further than I was getting while participating in some "spirited" driving in the mountains.
Was back at work today and it felt good. Lots going on at Hardwood which is nice to see. I now enter the season of perpetually dirty hands.
Stretched the legs out today after work and headed out on the TCR. Stopped by the post office and picked up my package of new Comply foam tips for my Ultimate Ears. Holy crap I must say that changing these out at regular intervals really does improve the sound of the headphones big time. Old ones were pretty sad and worn out. New ones show off the mad bass.
Dinner time.

Stu and I head up to Highlands and melt some rubber
Some tornado damage in Tennessee

Nice roads for the drive home

My smorgasbord. Beef jerkey, fruit punch, animal crackers, pineapple, cantaloupe, easter candy, grapes, strawberries.

I'll try not to drive in your blind spot for very long

Some vehicle LOL