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Ceramic Speed: A Pivot REVOLUTION!

Date Sep 13, 2018

Ceramic Speed gained a degree of notoriety recently by producing an outrageous and innovative concept bike with a unique shaft-drive. The company claims the system is 99% efficient because friction has been reduced. They suggest a traditional derailleur system has 8 points of 'sliding' friction while their new system has two points of 'rolling' friction which leads to a 49% reduction in friction. A weight reduction of 10-15% is also expected. Assuming this ever goes to production it seems unlikely to apply to mountain bikes considering the shaft drive likely depends on a stationary rear triangle. The point however, was to highlight existing technology Ceramic Speed produces, namely ceramic bearings that take up to 70 days to produce and are said to outlast anything on the market while reducing weight and friction.

Ceramic Speed Driven

You may have seen the Ceramic Speed Driven prototype... Well, anywhere really. This caught fire in the mainstream media where claims are lapped up like milk on a plate. Will it ever seen production? Who knows, but it likely won't ever penetrate the MTB world. 

Driven Drive

That does seem to make a lot sense however. Replacing sliding friction with rolling friction? Everybody wins!

Paul Sollenberger of Ceramic Speed told me about the ceramic ball manufacturing process the company uses, which requires up to 70 days to complete, I was told this results in a product that wears much longer, reduces friction, and costs a small fortune. Actually we didn't talk about that but it seems to be the case. The point Paul emphasized is that one company's ceramic balls might be entirely different than those manufactured by CS and that hardness, a key factor in both durability and friction, varied wildly. Not surprisingly Paul told me CS makes the hardest balls around. In fact it's demonstrated in the video below. 

That's kind of interesting but the real story was something CS designed for the pork industry. Chopping hogs up into bacon and chops is messy work and those chopping machines need to be cleaned frequently and intensively so people don't die horrible deaths related to contamination. The bearings often run submerged in fluids (what sort of fluids I'd rather not know) and the pressure washing and steaming that clean up the pig juice wreaked havoc on the bearings needed to keep things running smoothly. I was told bearings need to be changed twice a month, costing both time and money because production ground to a halt.

SLT Bearing

Imagine a bearing that was baked into a lubricating solid. It's virtually maintenance free and will resist contamination incredibly well. That white stuff isn't a seal. That is a solid lubricant that encases the balls, leaving no space for contamination to enter.  

The challenge was to create a bearing to contend with high loads and revolutions while dealing with fluids and vapours at high pressure drying out the bearings. Rather than re-examining the bearing itself, CS decided to approach the lubrication differently. Instead of traditional grease, which quickly washed out, CS developed a solid lubricant to completely encase the retainer and ball bearings within the cartridge. Solid bearings aren't new. They are produced by several other manufacturers, but CS was the first to recognize a logical and possibly ground-breaking application; mountain bikes. 

SLT bearings

A Ceramic Speed ball along with a sample of the solid lubricant molded without balls inside. 

The first application CS identified was pivot bearings. These take a beating, are inconvenient and often expensive to swap and don't need the sort of low friction required of drivetrain and rolling components. A downside of solid lubricant bearings is an increase in static friction. This is friction that resists motion when a system is at rest. Once rolling, static friction ceases to be factor. Because of the high forces involved, static friction shouldn't be a big issue for pivot bearings, which are almost always in motion when your suspension is needed.

SLT bearings

Ceramic Speed showed us evidence of one of their solid lubricant seals outlasting a conventional bearing by three times (600,000 rotations vs 1,800,000) and the SLT bearing still looked like new with little sign of wear. 

Headset bearings, which are also exposed to the elements but don't require low static friction, are another strong candidate for this technology according to Ceramic Speed. Test samples are currently in use. Because both headsets and pivot bearings only move through small portion of a bearing's total range traditional lubrication is generally pushed to the side relatively quickly, according to Paul Sollenberger of CS. Because hubs and bottom brackets continue to roll, the surface energy reciprocates the lubrication to keep things running smoothly. 

SLT bearings aren't yet scheduled for consumer delivery and the first way your re likely to see them is as original equipment from bikes manufactured by 'strategic partners.' 

jockey wheels

These SRAM Eagle compatible bearings are worthy much more than their weight in gold, but if you need something to make your bike special, these could be the thing. 

SRAM dub

Ceramic Speed also makes all kinds of bottom brackets, including several models for SRAM DUB. This PF30 version sells for 459 USD, or just shy of 600 CAD. You probably want one so here's the link...

Ceramic speed also makes bottom brackets, conventional bearings for hubs as well as chains and lubricants. Their most popular item however seems to be jockey wheels. Not just off the shelf replacements, I'm talking titanium replacements fro SRAM Eagle jockeys with ceramic bearings inside. These will likely last longer and reduce drivetrain friction some, but they better build you a house and bake you some bread as well because they cost 679 USD

Comments

Nils
+2 Absolut-M Darryl Chereshkoff
Neil Walker  - Sept. 13, 2018, 6:53 a.m.

In the words of the great Nigel Tufnel: "No, is this a joke?"

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+5 Absolut-M Endur-Bro delusional Zapp Mammal
Sanesh Iyer  - Sept. 13, 2018, 7:53 a.m.

Would love to see some static friction data for these, or anything similar. I did a quick google & scholar search which turned up only industrial case studies where, as mentioned, operating conditions are extreme. Friction in these applications is a relative non-issue compared to other energy losses in the system and wear life.

The statement made in the article, "_Because of the high forces involved, static friction shouldn't be a big issue for pivot bearings, which are almost always in motion when your suspension is needed" is pretty contrarian as one of the majour complaints about DU bushings, sealed dampers, and other bushing systems (which is all this is, just with balls to bear the load) is that static friction ("stiction") is an issue. Not sure when the last time I complained about a greased bearing in a properly toleranced bike is.

Interesting idea, not sure I'd buy it just on the hype. If anyone wants to try it out, NSK, Timken, and SKF all make the product (in bike sizes) and have excellent distribution in the lower mainland and Canada.

Reply

mammal
+1 Absolut-M
Mammal  - Sept. 13, 2018, 8:54 a.m.

Great comment Sanesh. My eyebrow definitely raised when reading static friction not being an issue in pivots. We both have a lot of experience with Rocky bushing pivots, which is a perfect exaggerated example.  Those things were OK once in motion, but until then...

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+1 Endur-Bro
Sanesh Iyer  - Sept. 13, 2018, 11:02 a.m.

How are paths are yet to cross "IRL" is beyond me.

Agreed, and other brands too. That said, I stand by my claim that bushings are the right thing for the job from a performance point of view but people aren't willing to support the cost of tolerances that make them perform as well as they would in theory (and other industries). Maybe in pressing in a rigid race you solve those problems... 

Interesting and there's a reason they exist but as far as this article goes they may as well be trying to sell me on SubBoost135 optimized for wide range 9spd cassettes, reduced weight, and maximized duck footing.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+3 Paul Lindsay Absolut-M Mammal
Sanesh Iyer  - Sept. 13, 2018, 11:08 a.m.

Also, by God, the complaint about Inertia valve (brain), E:I, and even some comments on perceptiblity of LiveValve very clearly indicate your suspension is not necessarily moving when you need it thanks to static friction (analagous to any other sources of lag).

I suppose this was a paid ad as there's no author and no data. 

I'm turning into a crusty guy apparently. Steel is real.

Reply

mammal
0
Mammal  - Sept. 13, 2018, 12:51 p.m.

Keep it up, I'm just agreeing and laughing along... 

Good point about the lack of author. I didn't clue into that, and was wondering which contributor was making these claims.

And yes, bushings are a good idea until you need to manufacture a system around them under a budget.

Reply

cooperquinn
+1 Sanesh Iyer
Cooper Quinn  - Sept. 16, 2018, 10:23 p.m.

Late to the party here, but agree with everything you said, basically. 

Stiction is a huge factor for pivot bearings. This whole press release was just... yeah.

And, yes, while bushings may be the appropriate item on paper (high load, light weight, low rotation) for pivots, its just not spectacular in the real dirty world of mountain biking. And cost.

Reply

alexdi
+1 Cam McRae
Alex D  - Sept. 13, 2018, 8:02 a.m.

From the Velorama museum in Nijmegen. Circa 1899.

There's some mixed terminology in this article. While solid lubricant is more resistant to leakage and contamination, it still benefits greatly from conventional bearing seals.

Reply

morgan-heater
+1 Merwinn
Morgan Heater  - Sept. 13, 2018, 8:51 a.m.

Both BMW and moto-guzzi motorcycles feature a spline shaft drive with rear suspension.

Reply

Captain-Snappy
0
Merwinn  - Sept. 13, 2018, 9:37 a.m.

True, but the MTB mkt is a few grains of sand to the Moto mkt's sand box, comparatively. And how many LBSs are going to stock parts for a $3-5K (a guess based on a $600 CAD PF BB) MTB drive trains? UCI XC pros want efficiency and have easy access to those parts (Lefty Otcho, CS bits, etc.), while Joe Average MTBer primarily wants durability, affordability, and availability.

Reply

morgan-heater
0
Morgan Heater  - Sept. 13, 2018, 9:48 a.m.

Yeah, I don't think it will happen, but the article implied it wasn't feasible technically.

Reply

JVP
+2 Skyler Velocipedestrian
JVP  - Sept. 13, 2018, 10:37 a.m.

Don't ceramic bearing balls just crack in half or seize up as soon as grit gets in there? Hardness is not a good thing, which is why they're not recommended for MTBs. In the real world, for those of us who actually ride hard and aren't supported by personal mechanics, pivots bearings don't need to roll well, they just need to stay lubed and not freeze up. Maybe this conventional wisdom about ceramic is wrong, I'd like to hear from people who test (and by that I mean abuse) their stuff in our winters and go 6-12 months between bearing service.

Only one thing matters in pivot bearings: resisting gritty, nasty, wet contamination. If this new technology can do that better, then sign me up.

Reply

nouseforaname
0
Nouseforaname  - Sept. 13, 2018, 3:59 p.m.

The best system for MTB is Greaseguard, but we're all too lazy.

Reply

Holgerfromgermany
0
Holger Baer  - Sept. 15, 2018, 8:47 a.m.

SKF MTRX is also something to watch out. no ceramic balls but some kind of non liquid lubricant (if that makes any sense, haha). they call it "solid oil" technology. 

Its already available in Germany but quite expensive. But if it lasts longer than two seasons (years for me as I also ride in the winter) I´m sold on it.

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