New Greaseless Bearing Design Could Keep You Rolling Further

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Bearings are awesome. We love them. That’s how we roll – man. (oof!) But the humble bearing may just be about to get a redesign that will not only improve their efficiency a lot but could actually make them cheaper.

No grease on these balls!

The bearings in your wheels consist of a string of ball bearings in a metal ring, usually separated by a plastic collar (or retaining ring) that prevents the ball bearings from coming in to contact with each other. It’s this contact between the ball bearings that increases friction and the collar is used to keep them apart. Of course the collar itself introduces an element of friction and it’s for this reason that you have to grease your balls, so to speak.

So, if only there was a way to keep the ball bearings apart without using little bits of plastic we’d be able to do without the need for regular greasing. Well, now there is.

It turns out that all you need to keep the individual balls separated inside the casing ring is to engineer a few dimples around the surface of the bearing face that the balls run along. At first it sounds counter intuitive that instead of a smooth surface for the balls to run over you should actually have one that includes a bump. The way it works is that as a ball encounters a bump it slows down a bit and then accelerates. It’s this slight change of speed that allows a small gap to be maintained between the balls. With a carefully placed pattern of dimples it’s possible to have a bearing where none of the balls ever come into contact with each other and the results can be seen in this video.

Now theoretically at least, these improved, greaseless bearings without a ballbearing retaining collar should be very easy to make and should be as cheap as existing bearings. But we won’t hold our breath on that. But wheel bearings that roll better and need less maintenance may not be too far away.

The full story and more details can be read on the Popular Mechanics website.

Comments (14)

    Hmm, wonder how good they would be once full of Essex’s finest clag?

    Classic Pop-Science bollocks example with no load on bearings.

    Surely it’s going to feel a bit ‘notchy’?

    And the small matter of fact that wheel bearings (and especially suspension pivot bearings) have to carry full load at ZERO speed!

    Does this mean that I can sell all my pitted cup and cone hubs as the new wonder products?

    When loaded it would be different though? Also, grease prevents corrosion I thought. The wee slots would also fill with cack, so allowing the balls to rub again… #dontbuyit

    absolute toss, any bearing with no grease in it spins like mad but wont last two seconds when in proper service conditions

    I remember as a kid I popped the seals open on the cartridge bearings on my skateboard and then squirted WD40 inside them until all the grease had been blasted out.

    In your hand the de-greased bearings would then spin as if they had perpetual motion. Once back in the wheels though with my weight on top of them they felt like sh1t. Grease was soon forced back in them.

    If this really works then it’s considerably bigger than the bike industry. But I suspect that Brant is right.

    dimples in a bearing race………sounds great in theory but i fail to see the advantage in the real world, no grease = no lubrication, no lubrication = quick pitting formations, quick pitting formations = a ruined bearing, its more or less that simple, we could drone on about how the steel is constructed and heated but at tis point were better at thinking up magic wonder seals that can keep out even the smallest of contaminants as it only takes a tiny tiny thing to cause surface damage and as a result kill the bearing. a nice idea but for bikes that cope with UK conditions, i think not.

    Bearings already work ace

    I can see how this would be interesting under extreme conditions (atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, etc) where a grease may be ineffective. Similar effects regarding friction modification are gained by texturing (e.g. dimpling) of the surface. Having a variable texture pattern could achive similar results with regards to the acceleration of the balls.

    Isn’t the trouble that bearings aren’t actually point contact so while there may be one point which is stationary between bearing and race at any moment, there’s always somewhere else on the contact arc that is sliding? Hence the need for grease to lubricate the surfaces.

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