Q: How much increase in performance can I expect by upgrading to ceramic bearings?

“Hi. I have now been told by 2 different bicycle mechanics (from 2 different bike shops) that total ceramic bearing upgrades will allow the average rider like me (62 years old, B- rider, 200 pounds (91kg), ride 100-120 miles per week, average speed 16-18 mph) a 2-3 mph increase. I don’t believe it, but if they’re even 50% right (heck, even 25%), then I’m going to start saving now for an upgrade. How much increase in performance can I expect?” – Pete

To respond to Pete’s question, I dug up some research from a few years ago and pieced together a watt saved table. For calculations, let’s assume Pete’s FTP (functional threshold power) is 184.

Watt Saved – Table 1

To create this table, I researched bicycle components and wheel manufacturer’s websites with their corresponding technical reports. This a summary of their combined findings, comparing watts saved using Chinese hybrid ceramic bearings vs. Chinese conventional steel bearings. Also included are drivetrain components to help save watts.

A FEW NOTES:

  • Riding 250-500 miles is required to break in most bearings.
  • A special lightweight grease (TPS SGB-32) is required for max watts saved.
  • All numbers are estimates, given that different manufacturer bearings and wheels will behave differently.
  • Average pricing was shown.
  • Full ceramics save even more watts.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

The following table shows different solutions to adding watts, along with corresponding dollar value.

Table 2

This table identifies many options for you, from making the drivetrain more efficient to weight loss and serious coaching/training. The more of these that you do, the more fit and faster you will be. It’s up to you how far to take this. Some cyclists like tinkering with cool new ceramic bearings, others prefer coaching and serious training. You can do a little, you can do a lot or you can do something in-between, the choice is yours.

OPTIMIZED BEARINGS & DRIVETRAIN (bearings, pulley system, chain) –You can expect to save a total of 14W to 16W at a cost of $565 to $990. These prices are dependent upon whose bearings you decide to purchase. In the example above, assuming you are buying low to medium quality Chinese ceramic bearings, you should expect to pay $40.36/Watt – and gain a maximum of 14W. Upgrading to the high-end Ceramic Speed oversize pulley wheel system and high-end bearings you can expect to gain an additional 2W.

With everything else being equal, using Andy Coggan’s/Hunter Allen’s Power Profile chart, $990 will move you from an untrained racer to a mid-level untrained racer.

Andy Coggan’s/Hunter Allen’s Power Profile chart.

OTHER COMBINATIONS TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE

WEIGHT LOSS – Losing weight can be an individual experience or, through the use of a licensed nutritionist. Losing 10-20 pounds bumps you up slightly in the mid-level untrained racer. It’s not until you lose 40 pounds that you bump yourself into a Cat 5 racer category.

COACHING + WEIGHT LOSS – General training with a USAC coach can raise your FTP from 184W to 230W. If you train seriously, you can expect to raise your FTP from 184W to 260W. If you couple this with your 40-lb. weight loss, you can expect to be as strong as a mid/high-level Cat 4 (and possibly a low Cat 3).

ALL THE ABOVE – If you choose the best from everything above, you can expect to be as strong as a mid-level Cat 3!

I hope this quick analysis provides you with some options that will help you decide which route you take.

Want more of the bike coach treatment? Visit Bike Fitness Coaching for more from Coach Rick Schultz.