My LBS recommended cartridge hubs to me. Here are my doubts.

Seeing as how I never ride in the rain or any such wet substances, I don't really need the "completely sealed" feature.

Sheldon Brown says that if taken care of, the body of a loose-ball hub will last indefinitely. (not the balls and cones). So if you maintain your hub, you should be able to indefinitely avoid having to re-spoke your wheel.

Sealed bottom brackets make sense, because it's easy to pull your cranks off and swap it out. But if you have a cartridge hub, when it wears out you will need to re-spoke your wheel. Am I right about that, or do cartridge hubs have a system for just replacing the bearings?

Also, is it possible that a cartridge hub would last as long as the rim? Then you would just replace the whole wheel once it started having problems.

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    "sealed hubs" presumably refers to "cartridge hubs", where you just pop in a new cartridge containing bearings when you want to replace them. – Batman Dec 24 '14 at 15:35
  • youtube.com/watch?v=fXAVK9cexM4 – paparazzo Dec 24 '14 at 16:18
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    Not answering the question, so comment. The sealed hub in rear wheel makes it much stronger due to less moment between bearings (where the axle attached to wheel) and nuts (where the axle attached to bike). This point is significant because many rear axles are breaking under load. So I see it, that rear sealed hub is more important than sealed BB. – Alexander Dec 25 '14 at 11:31

The tools are relatively expensive compared to cone wrenches, but all cartridge bearings can be replaced if needed.


You need both a puller and a press of some kind.

Cartridge bearings last a very long time with no maintenance at all.

Since installing fancy ceramic bearings is part of high end road cycling these days I would think most competent shops would have the tools and knowledge to replace a cartridge bearing. But if you don't ride in the rain or power wash your bike, it's unlikely you'll ever need to replace them during the life time of a single rim.

For road bike wheels, I don't have preference either way. It really depends whether you have the tools, skills and time to keep a traditional cone and ball hub working.

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  • I have an old puller/press set that I probably paid less than $50 for. The "puller" is simply a jig that fits in the axle hole and then you use a drift punch through the opposite side to drive the bearing out. The "press" is basically just a regular axle where the cones have been shaped to fit the axle holes. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 28 '15 at 13:05
  • Fred, I've found cup and cone to last a very long time with no maintenance at all, but I have no basis for comparison since I've yet to ride cartridge. In your experience, have your cartridge bearings outlasted your cup and cone? Have the cup and cone outlasted your cartridges, but you've put in the time to maintain them? – Codebling Mar 29 '16 at 20:10

Most hubs these days claim to be "sealed". This basically means that if you look the hub from the axle end you can't see the balls of the ball bearings, because there is, at least, a "dust shield" that leaves only a very narrow opening between rotating hub and fixed axle.

There are also "cartridge" hubs, which were the original sealed hubs popularized by Phil Woods, back when standard bearings had no dust shields and were pretty crappy. These use a (theoretically) replaceable cartridge on each side of the hub, where the cartridge is an industrial bearing cartridge similar to what's used in electric motors (and similar to what's used in bottom-bracket cartridges). However, replacing the cartridges requires special tools, and likely many bike shops would just give you a dumb look if you talked to them about replacing the cartridges.

Both of these schemes are a significant improvement over the original open bearing style, since, not only do they keep most moisture out, they also keep out dust and dirt. For the average rider, though, the cartridge scheme is probably not worthwhile, since it is not possible to simply rebuild the bearings.

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Both kinds of bearings are equally good for wheel hubs. Because of ease of replacing traditional loose balls bearing with standard tools, I would always go with those but recently I've got a set of new wheels with cartridge bearings only because I liked the wheels (and the price) and because I'm curious about how they will hold. Considering the length of time both kinds of bearings will last, the cost of hiring a professional to rebuilt them (if needed) is irrelevant. I like restoring vintage bikes and never had to discard a wheel because of the problem with loose balls bearings.

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Many trailers for Vehicles / ATVS use an "open bearing" design. This enables a person to do maintenance on them without completely replacing them out. This is cost effective at this size / scale but when it comes to a bicycle... I would highly suggest you stick with sealed bearings.

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  • Why cost effective at that size but not for a bicycle? – Codebling Mar 29 '16 at 20:06

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