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I currently have loose ball bearings for my hubs and I am wondering if I can put caged ball bearings in there instead. Can anyone let me know if they are better or worse than loose bearings.

Also I thought of asking this because I noticed my front wheel was making quite a bit of vibration when spinning so I opened it up and added one more ball bearing to each side as there were only 9 in each side even though I surely remember taking out 10 from both sides when replacing an axle in the past. After this, the wheel would not move at all as each ball would rub on eachother so I left it with 9 balls each side, but I still don't feel right about the fact that there is some space between each ball in the hub. This is why I thought it might be a good idea to switch to caged ball bearings. Is the space between each ball a problem or am I overthinking it?

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  • You'll need some space between the balls for the bearings to work. I think the general rule of thumb is to add balls up to the point that you can fit anymore, and at least 2 balls next to each other are not touching each other (assuming you have the original size balls!). Did you actually find the two "missing" balls? Unless your cone is damaged, I would expect you would find the "missing" balls around the axle in the hub body. Otherwise, could it be that 9 were installed each side? Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 0:03
  • As to your question, I don't know if you can replace it with a caged ball bearing. I doubt it. But I don't see the advantage. Loose ball bearings is a well proven design for hubs. I expect you'd get better results servicing the bearings as they are (by checking the balls for pits/roundess and replace if necessary, check the cup and cone for pits, etc). Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 0:06
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    It's normal for a cageless bearing to have a odd number of balls -- typically 7 or 9. I'd be surprised if your bearings are designed for 10 balls. If I don't know how many balls were there originally my rule is "a full race, minus one". (And caged bearings are generally inferior to loose-ball bearings.) Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 0:20
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    (And be sure you are using the right size balls -- always mike an old ball to determine the size. And, except in desperate circumstance, always replace all the balls with new ones if you replace any of them -- new balls will be larger than worn ones and will make the bearing wonky.) Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 0:23
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    @Carel if you put the cage side into the cup, it’s normally the wrong way round
    – Swifty
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 8:21

4 Answers 4

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Yes, you can get caged bearings to go in the hub. RJ The Bike Guy seems to have several YouTube how-to videos (hint: they have to go the right way round)

No, they are not better than loose balls. Caged balls are spaced out evenly, but have fewer balls in total which means fewer balls sharing the load, so they are said to wear out quicker.

With loose balls, you need to leave a little bit of room for them to move, so you’d put in one less than fills the whole cup. Given that caged sets typically have seven balls, if you put nine in loose then you’ll still have more bearings (better) than using a caged set. I.e. if you’re concerned about the space between balls, 9 loose is still preferable to 7 caged.

Some front hubs can take 10 balls, it depends on the design. You need to figure out which size your hub requires - presumably the majority of your balls are still the original size. If you can measure that then figuring out, or asking the LBS, or asking here in another question with photos, how many to put in, should get the hub running smoothly again.

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I have 35 years experience as a professional mechanic. The old style 3-piece bottom bracket does last longer with cages, even if the number of balls is only 9. Of course 11 caged balls work better, but not all bottom brackets work with the flat 11-ball cages because the cage will be in contact with the bearing surface in the less expensive ones.

I believe the problem with loose balls in the bottom bracket is that the low rotational speed causes the balls to bunch up and wear the spindle more at the high-load area of the stroke during rotation. This area is noticeable at the next "overall." This is mostly relevant for vintage bicycles now. One can remove the cage and use loose balls in the lower stack of the head set for better loading and wear, but it's preferable to keep the cage for this, which will allow the head set to run freer.

If you have a very short stack, go loose top and bottom because the short head tube has a heavy load on the kitty (opposing) corners. Hubs almost always use loose balls. It's best to check the manufacturer if possible because the "remove one thing" doesn't really apply. With the headset it can usually work when the space left is about 1/2 of a ball (take one out) to a good 3/4 of a ball (you are usually good to leave it).

Grease

Calcium sulfate marine grease is the only type that holds up to salt water in the winter. The lithium soap stuff only repels water and is fine for the bikes that get put away for winter. Dura Ace (higher end) is a calcium sulfate based grease—real good stuff.

I've also found that Lucas Red and Tacky (generally my go-to) is pretty good stuff, too. It will make it through a winter or two and has a very low flowing resistance, high temp, withstands high pressure, plus it's a lot less expensive and can be found everywhere. It holds up very well for three seasons because that antisieze additive really works. I use the stuff a lot and been happy with the results. Lucas's marine grease is not bad, and I can't find the WD professional all-purpose calcium sulfate based grease. Too bad, because that stuff was good, especially in disk brake hubs.

WD's marine grease could take a lot of heat, salt, and pressure. Which brings up another point: pay attention to the heat range with the disk brake hubs. If the grease doesn't say "high temperature disk brake" don't use it, because it matters for bicycles, too. That 300°F stuff doesn't work, nor does it work with coaster and drum brakes.

I had access to any lubricants, and it matters for every application. For bearing grease, it always ended up being one of the products I mentioned.

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AFAIAA The main technical reason for cages is to reduce friction (and wear) between balls - in a loose ball bearing the balls have twice the rubbing speed between each other than between ball and cage in a caged bearing. Only really relevant in a high speed bearing (when the cage should be made of brass or bronze anyway) as the heat generated between balls in a loose ball bearing can become (locally) excessive, breaking down the lubricant and causing accelerated wear.

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  • Hi, welcome to bicycles. This is an interesting theory; do you have any references for it?
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 13 at 16:38
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    Welcome to the site - Good points - you're right about high speed bearings, but no bearing on a bike ever gets up to those speeds. A road bike doing 50+ km/h will turn its wheel bearings ~6 times per second or about 400 RPM which classes as "slow"
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 13 at 23:49
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    I think it's indirectly saying that cages aren't necessary with bicycle bearings
    – ojs
    Commented Jun 14 at 6:25
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    @Criggie If you pedal a 53t chainring at 120rpm, an 11t derailleur jockey wheel will rotate at nearly 600rpm. Maybe I should write a question about the fastest rotating and/or most heavily loaded bearing on a bike.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Jun 18 at 15:57
  • @MaplePanda good point - also consider that a jockey wheel is low-load, to the point many of them just have bushings because bearings are unnecessary there. I'd guess that a bottle dynamo would be the fastest spinning item on a bicycle.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 18 at 22:39
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I currently have loose ball bearings for my hubs and I am wondering if I can put caged ball bearings in there instead. Can anyone let me know if they are better or worse than loose bearings.

Why would you do that? The cage adds weight and takes space. It's a cost reduction device, allowing you to run the bearing with a smaller number of balls. I think you won't find any good cages for hubs, that allow running the bearing with the full number of balls, because the purpose for which these cages are made is to run the bearing with a reduced number of balls.

In principle, if you disassemble the bearing often to replace the contaminated grease with fresh grease, the cage could speed up disassembly. However, I prefer a full number of balls to the convenience of having a cage.

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    I think an additional (and primary) cost-saving feature of using caged bearings is that it speeds assembly of the hub. Again, these cost savings are for the manufacturer, not the user, and do not improve the hub function.
    – Armand
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 23:41
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    A cage would also reduce weight because it reduces the number of balls. But I agree that the main reason is to to have is to make things easier both for home and professional mechanics.
    – ojs
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 8:13

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