How to Tell If Bike Bearings Are Bad

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Estimated reading time: 2 min

Bikes use bearings in the front and rear hubs for the wheels to reduce friction. As long as your bearings are good, your wheels will roll and spin easily. The bearings are a group of balls that are attached to a metal ring. The entire system is contained inside of the hollow metal area of the wheel, also called the wheel hub. This is the part that your tires are bolted onto.

The bearings help to keep your wheels spinning smoothly because they reduce the friction on the wheels. They can also increase the speed of your wheels. They are subjected to wear and tear over time. The weight and use puts stress on the bearings. Eventually, they will wear out and need to be replaced, but you can take note of some warning signs. Continue reading to learn how to tell if bike bearings are bad.

Perform the Valve Test

One way to check your wheel bearings is to perform what some call the Valve Test. You can raise your bike up so that the wheel you want to check isn’t touching the ground. Then, find the valve. This is usually the part of the wheel that is the heaviest. You should place the valve at the 3:00 mark and hold it. Then, when you let go, the wheel should rotate so that this portion moves down to the 6:00 position.

If your wheel turns as expected, then your bearings are still fine. However, if you find that the wheel is stiff when it turns or stops on its own before it reaches this position, then there is a good chance that the bearings are going bad. You will want to consider replacing them.

Check for Side-to-Side Play

For this test, you will check to see whether the wheel has side-to-side movement. Start by taking the top of the wheel, and push it from one side to the other. You want to feel to see if the wheel is able to move sideways. It should not do so. If it does, then the bearing could be worn out or the hub bearing adjustment has become loose. It usually means that the grease has been used up because when there is grease inside, it will prevent the bearings from having this kind of play.

Use Your Fingers to Feel for Bearing Issues

One of the best tests you can do is to use your fingers to feel the condition of the bearings. First, you should remove the wheel from the bicycle. This way, it will be easier for you to hold the axle and turn it to feel the condition of the bearings. Take the axle parts and try to turn them. They shouldn’t be loose because this is what leads to play in the bearings. It can also lead to damage to your hubs.

Once you are sure that the axle parts are in good shape, you can turn the axle. Keep it between your forefinger and your thumb. The hub bearings should be smooth as long as there is still grease inside the hub that prevents them from rubbing against the metal of the hub. If they are worn or need to be replaced, they will feel rough and dry. You can often hear the ball clicking against the metal as well, especially if the grease is worn away.

It is important to know when your bearings are going bad so that you can replace them or add grease to your wheel hubs. This will keep your ride smooth and help make your bike function well. If you notice that something sounds off or feels funny, it is a good idea to check to see if your bearings are bad. Sometimes you simply need to add some grease to keep using the bearings, but if they have gone bad, you have to replace them.

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