SKF Bottom Brackets after 5 Years

SKF Bottom Brackets after 5 Years

It’s been five years since Compass Bicycles started selling SKF bottom brackets, and three years since we became the world’s exclusive distributor. At that point, we extended the warranty to 10 years, since we had great confidence in the quality of these bottom brackets. They have patented labyrinth seals, and their oversize bearings run directly on the spindle and shell. There was no reason to doubt the claim of the SKF engineers: These bottom brackets should last 100,000 km of rainy riding. Since most of us don’t ride in the rain all the time, they should last even longer in real life.
Now the first bottom brackets that we’ve installed are half-way through their minimum expected lifespan. I am happy to report that they have proven as reliable as we had hoped. Both on our own bikes and on most customers’ machines, they simply do their job. Mark and I installed ours four years ago, and then forgot about them. They still spin as smoothly as they did on the day we installed them.
Out of several thousand bottom brackets sold, we’ve had fewer than a dozen warranty returns. Some were due to grit getting trapped in the outer seals. The seals did their job, and the contamination never reached the bearings, but the grit could be felt when turning the bottom bracket spindles by hand. While this isn’t a defect, we replaced the units for new ones.
There were three fluke failures, with the most bizarre coming from the rider who overhauled his bike, reassembled it, and the next morning, he found both cranks lying on the ground next to the bike. The spindle had broken on both sides! Since this was an ISIS “Mountain” bottom bracket, we replaced it with the “Freeride” version, which has a smaller hole in the spindle, and thus much stronger spindle. Considering the huge loads a bottom bracket undergoes, this rate of warranty returns is extremely small. It confirms that the confidence we placed in these bottom brackets has not been misplaced. We look forward to the next five years of selling and riding with these bottom brackets.
SKF bottom brackets are available with JIS and ISO tapers, as well as for ISIS cranks. They come in BSC, Italian and French threading. Click here for more information.

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Comments (35)

  • Tom Scott

    After getting only 3500 miles on the original bottom bracket on my Rivendell Atlantis, I replaced it with an SKF and have been very happy with it. While price suggests it’s made of mithral and lubricated with unicorn tears, over the life it will cost a fraction of what replacing BBs every other year would have cost.

    September 11, 2014 at 7:34 am
  • cbratina

    I am using one on my DeSalvo dirt road bike. While the seals have a lot of drag, it is well worth it in this environment. Any chance of longer ISO tapers, so I can put them on our tandem?

    September 11, 2014 at 9:41 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      What feels like a lot of drag when you spin the BB in your hand in fact is only a couple of Watts. Once you are riding, you don’t notice it, and it won’t slow you down. The waterproof seals need some pressure on the spindle, otherwise, water and grit would force their way past the seals.
      Longer ISO spindles: There are no plans right now, but in most cases, you can use a slightly shorter JIS spindle. The taper is the same angle, just a little thicker. For example, a number of customers have replaced their worn Campagnolo Nuovo Record bottom brackets (114.5 mm ISO) with 113 mm JIS SKF BBs, and found that they fit very well. Basically, the JIS and ISO tapers are so similar that the tolerances overlap.

      September 11, 2014 at 10:22 am
      • Egil

        A big thank you for selling these BB, it’s far between quality bicycle components. Do SKS still make them?
        Sadly, I have still a well working Shimano UN-73 on my commuter, at least in few more years. πŸ™‚

        September 12, 2014 at 6:55 pm
  • Luis Bernhardt

    I’ve always had problems on my with longevity of bottom brackets in the wet, gritty Pacific NW (I commute EVERY day, plus ride every weekend). I would say that most bb’s will last about 10-14,000 km before they start feeling “loose,” or have obvious bearing contamination. Among tapered cartridge bb’s, Phil Wood are among the worst; I don’t know how riders get more than 10,000 km out of them. Most cheap cartridge bb’s fall within the 14,000 km lifespan. My Rod fixie typically gets a little over 20,000 km per year, so this represents one or two winters of riding. The external bb’s fare no better (although they are MUCH easier to work with), although I’ve used a Shimano Hollowtech 7400-series bb for over 24,000 km, and I’m currently running a Shimano 9000-series bb (3,000 km so far, but still good and logging). I’ve run an F.1 ceramic external bb, and it had to be sent back for service after about 10,000 km with roughness/looseness on the non-drive side. Does SKF make Hollowtech-compatible external bb’s yet?
    Luis Bernhardt
    Vancouver, Canada

    September 11, 2014 at 10:54 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Gritty conditions, like the ones you find here, definitely contribute greatly to BB wear – unless you have a front fender plus stiff mudflap that extends to within 10 cm (4″) of the ground. Keeping the grit off your chain and BB definitely will extend the lifespan of your transmission (plus keep your bike so much cleaner). That said, the SKF 10-year warranty includes bearings, and it does not require a well-designed fender.
      There are no Hollowtech-compatible SKF bottom brackets. Square taper and ISIS is all they offer. The standards change so quickly that it’s hard to keep up, and developing a product for something that is obsolete a few years later doesn’t make sense.

      September 11, 2014 at 10:58 am
      • Fred Blasdel

        Shimano’s Hollowtech II standard for a 24mm spindle has been exactly the same since 2003, and it will continue to stick around for at least another decade if not forever. SRAM’s GXP standard is identical except that the bore on the NDS is 2mm smaller, most aftermarket parts use a shim.
        The only standards that have been changing recently are for the bottom bracket shells on the frame side, the cranks and bearings have stayed the same, and really english threads aren’t going anywhere.

        September 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          You are right – I momentarily confused Hollowtech with Octalink. With Hollowtech, Shimano supplies the spindle, leaving little leeway in the design of the bearings – there is not a lot of space for them, so they must be relatively small. The whole idea behind the SKF bottom bracket is to use bigger bearings that last longer. This is achieved by running the bearings directly on the spindle and shell, rather than use pressed-in bearings with separate races like most other BBs.
          Several companies offer replacement bearings for Hollowtech and similar cranks – Chris King is the only one I know whose warranty (5 years) includes the bearings.

          September 11, 2014 at 1:08 pm
  • mark schneider

    I do plan on using a SKF BB on my new bike. I have a Rene Herse double crankset, Mike Terraferma thinks I’ll need a 115 width for my Corsa 650b frame because of the curved chainstays. What width do you think will work? You have a lot of experience with different bikes the cranks came with a recommendation of 112 or 113.

    September 11, 2014 at 1:54 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      On my Herse, also with curved chainstays, I use a 107 mm bottom bracket, but the chainstays are perfectly shaped. (I use a 107 instead of a 110 because I mostly ride on the big ring, so the chainline is biased toward that.)
      For your Terraferma, I recommend a 113 mm. That is 3 mm wider than the 110 we usually recommend, and should be sufficient. Worst-case scenario, you can chamfer the edges of the crankarms a bit. A longer spindle would move your chainline out too far, and your shifting would suffer.

      September 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm
  • Conrad

    I went through several ISIS bottom brackets that would last about one cyclocross season. 500 miles at most- not good. While not as expensive as an SKF, they were not exactly cheap bottom brackets either.

    September 11, 2014 at 2:52 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The problem with most ISIS bottom brackets is simple: The spindle is larger than those of square-taper BBs, which leaves less space for the bearings. Since most companies use ready-made bearing cartridges, you lose more space for the bearing races. By machining the bearing races directly into the spindle and shell, SKF bottom brackets gain valuable room, which is used for larger bearings. As a result, the bearings are almost twice as large as other ISIS bottom brackets. And the driveside uses roller bearings, which have even higher load ratings.

      September 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm
  • Michael

    Ahh yes, I remember having one bike with an ISIS bottom bracket. Didnt last long and I could see what the problem was. TINY BEARINGS. Moved to Shimano Hollotech 2 and have not looked back. The SKF ISIS BB does look the business though. From my experience, anything made by SKF is very good.

    September 12, 2014 at 4:27 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The ISIS version has the same bearings as the SKF square taper bottom bracket. It’s too bad that none of the companies who proposed the ISIS standard and made the cranks thought much about BB longevity. The ISIS standard actually makes a lot of sense otherwise…

      September 12, 2014 at 5:26 am
      • Conrad

        Its good that somebody made a decent ISIS bb for all the cranks out there. At the time I just gave up and went back to using a square taper bottom bracket and crank, because the new outboard bearing systems seemed to have durability problems too. The Shimano UN-72 was awesome and would last forever. I don’t think they make them anymore. I’m so happy that we have the SKF units now!

        September 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm
      • Michael

        The ISIS was a response to Shimano’s Octalink BB, which had much bigger bearings. Of course Shimano held the patent to Octalink and was not going to allow anyone else to use it.

        September 16, 2014 at 11:09 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    My Boulder All-Road 650B and Lenora’s Georgena Terry Randonneuse 650B are fitted with SKF bottom brackets. I have nothing but good things to say about these components. They are so, so smooth and give one a sense of confidence they will not let the rider down.

    September 12, 2014 at 3:49 pm
  • Michael

    By worlds exclusive distributor, do you mean that Compass is the only place in the world to buy an SKF bb?

    September 12, 2014 at 8:45 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Compass Bicycles Ltd. distributes all the SKF bottom brackets. Any bike shop can buy them from us, or you can buy them directly from us. The price is the same either way.
      SKF found it difficult to set up an effective distribution for the bottom brackets. They are a huge company with hundreds of thousands of employees, and this is the only bike part they sell. So their normal distribution channels did not reach cyclists or bike shops. We took over the distribution to solve that problem, so that these great bottom brackets continue to be available.

      September 15, 2014 at 7:09 am
      • David

        I was also wondering why they are very scarce here in Germany. It is a bit unfortunate that such a great product is not available here, since it is made here.
        The german bike market (and the german companies) are a bit strange. There are many bicycle products which are made here but they seem to be targeted for a completely different market than things produced in the United States or in Japan for example.

        September 16, 2014 at 11:59 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I grew up in Germany, too. Cycling is different there – it’s a bit like cars in the U.S.: Everybody has one and uses one, but there aren’t that many truly knowledgeable enthusiasts. And for companies, it’s easier to make mass-market products than to cater to people who have very strong preferences and opinions!

          September 16, 2014 at 12:07 pm
  • Michael

    Looks like there are two Michaels here. I am the post above are different than the one just before your reply about ISIS bbs.

    September 12, 2014 at 8:46 pm
  • Richard

    I have two SKF bottom brackets and am amazed at how smooth they spin. Combined with a RH crank, they can provide a low q factor, which I like. Definitely one of the best bottom brackets on the market.

    September 13, 2014 at 5:27 am
  • Xavier

    Great reminder I had to order a new BB, thanks πŸ™‚
    You say:
    Out of several thousand bottom brackets sold, we’ve had fewer than a dozen warranty returns. Some were due to grit getting trapped in the outer seals. The seals did their job, and the contamination never reached the bearings, but the grit could be felt when turning the bottom bracket spindles by hand. While this isn’t a defect, we replaced the units for new ones.”
    Is there a way with SKF BB to clean outer-seals contamination as long as bearing are not affected?

    September 13, 2014 at 6:03 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The seals are very tight, and you cannot get in there easily… So far, this has affected only two or three bottom brackets, so it has been easiest to just replace them and have complete peace of mind.

      September 15, 2014 at 7:12 am
  • Anonymous

    Can you clarify the warranty situation with respect to “single” speed IGH setups like Rohloff. My local seller has suggested the 10 year warranty does not apply.

    September 13, 2014 at 11:55 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The warranty does apply to single speeds as well, but if the bearings are destroyed due to the chain tension being too high, that is not covered by the warranty. This was a problem mostly with riders of fixed-gear bikes, who used cheap cranks with rings that were significantly off-center. At all points during the rotation of the crank, you should be able to push the chain downward quite a bit, otherwise, the bearings are overloaded from the chain tension. That will destroy any bottom bracket in short order.
      Go through several rotations when checking this, since the rear cog spins out of phase with the front chainring… Tandem connecting chains have the same issue – we tested a tandem recently for Bicycle Quarterly with a late-1980s Shimano Deore tandem crankset that was significantly out of round…

      September 15, 2014 at 7:18 am
  • Andrew

    Jan, they look great! One question, could you please tell me how much they weigh? I am trying to build up a light and nimble randonneuse.

    September 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      They aren’t superlight – those oversized bearings are heavier than smaller bearings. The 110 mm spindle-version weighs 291 g.

      September 15, 2014 at 7:19 am
      • ted kelly

        Though 291g certainly isn’t superlight, I guestimate that’s only about an ounce heavier than a generic cartridge square taper unit. From the glass half full view, an extra ounce is not much of a penalty either. Of course everybody is welcome to their own opinion, and notions of how light is light enough and how heavy is too heavy are a bit subjective.

        September 16, 2014 at 8:04 pm
  • Charles Nighbor

    My personnel experience with bottom bracket replacement is getting size right for a new frame and crankset . I stick with the great original axle cups and ball bearings. Why? I can just install what I feel is the correct axle length and than install the crankset. I check clearances and if adequate I finish installing. If not I try another axle or two or three till it is correct. I do mismatch components manufactures items.
    therefore I don’t buy expensive BB assemblies has I am not sure of correct size. Yes I know if English, Italian or French threading but length, and amount of axle projecting beyond the cup face each side needed is a real hassle in buying one. I once got into figuring out before hand the correct Campagnolo record BB before installing. I found out Campagnolo sure made one heck of a lot of record BB’s in different sizes I finally used above method finally to solve it for a Richard Sachs 70’s road frame, stock
    Charles Nighbor

    September 15, 2014 at 1:34 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Quality cup-and-cone bottom brackets are a great solution if you have the time to overhaul them every 6-12 months. My old Campagnolo bottom brackets lasted almost as long as the SKF warranty, but these days, I have little time, and I prefer riding my bikes over working on them.

      September 16, 2014 at 7:07 am
    • David

      I think in nearly collapsed when i saw the list of all possible cups/spindle combinations by Campagnolo listed in the Sutherland’s Handbook. I use the same method as you to size bottom brackets.

      September 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm
  • Stephen Poole

    Jan, is distribution available to bike shops outside the USA/Canada? If so, what do we have to do?

    September 15, 2014 at 10:39 pm

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