Tech Tuesday: Wheel Bearings

NEWS May 15, 2012

Tech Tuesday: Wheel Bearings

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

(May 15, 2012) - This edition of Tech Tuesday focuses on the importance of wheel bearings and the different types available on the market. Wheel bearings are rarely checked by the average rider, but can be a very inexpensive modification that allows riders to save on fuel because of the decrease the rolling resistance of the motorcycle. With the increased price of fuel at gas stations, we know riders like to find an inexpensive way to help keep away from the pump as much as possible. When bearings get dry, old and/or dirty, they will start to cause drag that will reduce gas mileage and eat away at the ride-ability of a motorcycle.

The easiest and quickest way to check wheel bearings is to put the motorcycle on a front and/or rear stand. Next, take either the front or rear wheel you want to check and give it a spin. The wheel should spin freely with no binding or side-to-side motion. If there is drag on the wheel, ensure that it is not coming from the brakes or an over tightened axle.

If there is an issue seen in the preliminary check, then the bearing should be further inspected by removing of the wheel with the issue and visually ensuring the seals, races, and casings are in good condition. If the bearing shows any side-to-side play of the case or retainer, then the bearing will need to be replaced. It should also be remembered that each wheel has toe bearings, one on each side. While checking the bearings on the motorcycle, it is also a good idea to check for brake drag, bent rims, improper mounted tires and over-tightened wheel axles.

The stock bearings are usually sealed ball bearings that are very inexpensive and work great for their purpose. If the wheel bearings do need to be replaced or if you decide to upgrade the bearings, there are many other options out there, including roller bearings and ceramic bearings. Roller bearings are also metal bearings, shaped like small rollers on a conveyor belt system instead of metal balls. They work very well and are also fairly inexpensive. Ceramic bearings are becoming more popular and are more expensive, but have shown to dissipate heat faster and cause less friction. It is very important to have the bearings installed and removed by someone with proper experience and the correct tools to do the job.

When new bearings are installed in the wheel, the axle should be placed through the center of the bearing and rotated to check for friction on the axle before installing. This ensures no binding or drag before being installed on the motorcycle. Friction or drag at this point is a sure sign that the bearing is not seated correctly or the bearing was damaged during installation. If this is the case, it is better to uninstall the bearing and recheck it. Do not install the wheel if there is an issue with binding of the newly installed bearing.

The effects of installing new bearings in the wheels and on the motorcycle should be noticeable by just pushing the motorcycle around in and out the garage. With less friction on the bearings, the motorcycle’s functions like braking, suspension and acceleration will also be improved.


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