How To Tell If Bike Wheel Bearings Are Bad – Bicycles In Motion

How To Tell If Bike Wheel Bearings Are Bad

How To Tell If Bike Wheel Bearings Are Bad

Without a bike wheel bearing, your bike might not go anywhere, or at least anywhere fast so how can you tell if your bike wheel bearings are bad?

Bearings are an integral part of your bike, and you probably don’t even spare a thought for them. Bad bike wheel bearings can cause minor problems like wobbly wheels or more serious issues.

You need to regularly check and service the bearings to make sure the wheel on the bike will rotate smoothly. Looking at the way they move and performing simple tests like a valve test will help you identify bad wheel bearings.

With the wheel bearings being an important part of the wheel but a part that is also frequently overlooked, this guide is designed to make them a priority.

With regular maintenance, you can be sure your bearings are greased and tightened. Should you notice problems with the wheels or experience any wobbling as you ride, check the bearings. By knowing how to tell if bike wheel bearings are bad, you can stay on the road for longer.

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How To Diagnose A Bad Wheel Bearing

Valve Test

You can quickly check your bike wheel bearings by lifting the bike off the ground. Place the valve (which is the heaviest part of the wheel) at 3 o’clock. Release the wheel to check if the weight of the valve is enough to turn the wheel. The valve will rotate down to 6 o’clock.

If you have a tubeless wheel it can be more difficult to find the heavy portion of the wheel. In this case, you will have to try a few different places on the wheel, placing them at 3 o’clock, and then letting them go.

A wheel that turns from the weight of the valve or heaviest section of the wheel, is a sign that your bearings are not tight enough. It could also mean the bearings are not binding. You can also check to see if the wheel moves stiffly or will not stop on its own. This also indicates issues with the bearings.

Note that if a brake pad is dragging even the smallest bit from a slight wobble then this test may not work. You need to check first by spinning the wheel and inspecting for clearance all around.

This test does not always work well on the rear wheel because of the extra drag from the cassette bearings. But you can still try it.

Bearing Movement

Checking to see if there is any lateral movement is another easy way to check if the wheel bearings are bad. To do this:

  • Hold the wheel at the top while it is in the bicycle
  • Gently push and pull sideways to feel for movement

If there is little to no lateral movement, then the bearings and hub are properly adjusted. If there is movement, the bearings have likely come loose.

If you have sealed-bearing hubs, this movement means the bearings are worn out or that the grease within the hub has been used up. The grease in the hub cartridge takes up space and when it is used up, there is space for bearing movement.

Inspect The Bearings

You can also remove the wheel and take a closer look at the bearings themselves. When the wheel is off, it is easy to hold the axle to inspect the bearings.

You can also easily turn the axle and feel the bearings. Take each of the axle parts in your hands and using your fingers, make sure all components are tightened against each other on the axle.

There should be nothing that is loose. When everything has been tightened, turn the axle while holding it between your forefinger and thumb. Do not hold the quick release or axle nuts.

When you have wheel bearings that are in good condition, they will feel smooth as you turn the axle. This is because the grease inside the hub coats the bearings to prevent metal-on-metal contact.

If bearings are worn out, they will feel rough and dry. You may also hear a ticking noise as the wheel spins which is caused by dry bearings hitting against each other. Dry and worn-out bearings need to be replaced or re-greased.

How To Tell Which Wheel Bearing Is Bad Front or Back

The front wheel usually has both inner and outer bearings and they are close together on the spindle. The bearings on the back wheel have an outer bearing at the wheel and an inner end will track in the side gear. Typically, you can tell which bearings are bad by which wheel is wobbling.

Bad bearings can also cause a clicking sound. If there is no grease in the hub, the bearings hit each other as the wheel turns. Listening to which wheel has this sound will help you identify the bearings to fix or replace. With regular checking of both the front and back wheels, you can keep the bearings tightened and greased to reduce the chance they will go bad.

When bearings go bad there is more friction placed on the wheel. If you notice that your front or back wheel seems to be more worn, the bearings could be bad.

Unless you perform tricks, wheels get worn about the same over time, but if one wheel is balder, check the bearings. If either wheel is not performing efficiently, this will also tell you which wheel may have bad bearings.

What Causes A Wheel Bearing To Keep Going Bad

Using up the grease within the hub is one of the reasons wheel bearings go bad. In most cases you can just re-grease them. This can happen over time with regular use. There are also a few other factors that can cause your bike bearings to go bad much more quickly.

Uneven Surfaces

As you ride along, there is a great deal of pressure placed on the wheel bearings. With every bump or pothole you go over, the more worn the bearings will get.

For this reason, mountain bikes and bikes used frequently for tricks and stunts have bearings go bad much quicker. In most cases, these bikes are made with bearings that can handle more pressure, but they still get worn quickly with uneven terrain.

Uneven roads and bumps to the rim cause small imperfections to develop in the bearings and this can limit their ability to reduce friction. In this case, greasing the bearings will not help. They will need to be replaced.

Poor Quality Wheel Bearing

As with any part on the bike, quality is important to how long a part will last. There are many different types of bike wheel bearings and you can find some quite easily that are poor quality.

A lower quality bearing will be more susceptible to damage. This will mean you have to replace the bearings more often or risk damaging your wheels.

Final Thoughts

The bike wheel bearings may be small, but they are an integral part of the wheel. If they are damaged, worn, or loose, your wheel will wobble. You will not be getting an efficient ride, if you are able to ride at all.

You also risk damaging the wheel. Whether you cycle for fun or sporty, you need to know how to tell if bike wheel bearings are bad. This guide is the place to start, so you can keep going.

Brian Smith

Brian is the founder of Bicycles In Motion and an avid cyclist for 17 years. On the weekends, he enjoys exploring new bike trails and countryside roads to enjoy the outdoors.

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