Stop destroying your bottom bracket: How to maintain this key component

With some care and attention you can significantly extend the lifespan of your bottom bracket, which will save you money in the long run

Clock17:18, Monday 12th February 2024

The bottom bracket of a bike takes some abuse from both the rider and the elements. Sitting at the lowest point of the frame, right in the firing line of road spray from both the front and the rear wheels, it is susceptible to corrosion and dirt ingress that can require replacement sooner than expected.

Fear not, as there are some simple steps you can take to greatly improve the longevity of this key component.

Keep jet washers away

This might seem like a fairly straightforward thing to avoid but it can be easy to get drawn into jet-washing every millimetre of your bike, especially after a muddy ride. If you are partial to using a jet wash to clean down your bike, keeping it away from the more delicate parts of your bike is a must.

Pointing high-pressure water directly into your bearings is a surefire way to damage your seals and force water into the bearing itself. The water that gets inside a bearing will act as a breeding ground for corrosion and damage.

Using the lowest pressure setting you can and avoiding any direct contact with the stream of water and the bottom bracket will keep your seals in good working order for longer.

Ensure your bottom bracket preload is adjusted correctly

Most crankset and bottom brackets will have a way of preloading lateral tension onto the bottom bracket. This makes sure that the cranks cannot move side to side in the frame.

When setting the preload it is important to set it as light as possible whilst removing play from the area. Any additional tension will add load to the bearings and cause accelerated wear.

If you are unsure how to set the preload for your bottom bracket correctly we advise that you head over to the manufacturer's website for fitting instructions.

If you are still unsure, getting your bike looked over by a professional mechanic will ensure that you are not causing any excess wear to the bottom bracket in this way.

Use a reputable brand

It can be easy to get drawn into some online bottom-bracket offers that seem to resemble remarkable value. As the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it normally is.

Although there are some legitimate bargains out there, using a reputable brand will always ensure a certain level of quality. You also get the support of a customer service team if anything does go wrong with the component when in use.

It’s also worth noting that going for a top-spec ceramic bearing does not guarantee extended longevity. Often ceramic bearings take a lot more maintenance to keep them running in top condition. It is commonly thought that ceramic bearings are a fit-and-forget affair but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Make sure any dust covers are in place and clean

Around the bottom bracket area of your bike, there is usually an array of dust covers and protective grommets. It is worthwhile popping them off now and then and inspecting inside the frame. Over time, especially through winter months, grit and grime can work their way into the frame waiting to invade your bottom bracket bearings.

It is also important to ensure that all of these covers are present and fitted correctly as they are a crucial line of defence between the elements and your bottom bracket. These can become dislodged and go missing. If this is the case they can typically be replaced by contacting the manufacturer of the frame or equally can be replaced by some tape to close off the hole, if you’re in a squeeze.

What could be causing my bottom brackets to wear out so quickly?

If you find your bike repeatedly seems to be eating its way through bottom brackets there could be something else at play. Although unlikely, it is possible that your frame could be to blame.

Bottom bracket shell tolerance is out

The tolerance that frames are built to, especially around the bottom bracket, is integral to the functionality of the bike. For press-fit bottom brackets in particular, if the frame has been manufactured to an insufficient tolerance it will mean that the bearings can sit incorrectly in the frame. This will add unnecessary load and stress to the bearings causing them to wear.

The bottom bracket shell is offset

If you find that it is difficult to fit your cranks through your bottom bracket it could be that the two bearings are actually not sitting perfectly in line with each other. This will have the same effect as if the tolerance of the frame is out. The offset will put unequal and additional stress on the bearings, once again causing them to prematurely wear out.

The face of the bottom bracket shell is not flat

If the surface that the bottom bracket butts up to is not perfectly flat and parallel with the corresponding surface on the other side of the bottom bracket shell it will force the bearings to sit at an angle. This will have the same effect as the other two frame-related issues.

As all these issues have the same symptoms, so it can be difficult to narrow down which one might be the culprit. Taking your bike to a trusted professional bike shop for inspection is the best course of action here as they will be able to advise and potentially remedy the issue.

Do you have any tips for extending the life of your bottom bracket? Let us know in the comments below and make sure to check out all of our bike maintenance-related content.

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