In this feature I will address bicycle maintenance, especially cleaning and how to avoid damaging your bearings while doing this. Riding for decades in Belgium and The Netherlands and now living in the Southwest US desert, I understand that the level of cleaning is not only depending on the type of riding your bike is exposed to, but also depending on your geographical location. A CX bike in Tucson, AZ probably lives an easier life than a road bike in Oudenaarde, Belgium.
How much cleaning does your bike need?
As I brought up in previous posts, bicycle maintenance is very much about being honest with yourself. Think what your prized possession has been exposed to and choose a matching level TLC. If you are a roadie in Southern California, chances are good that your bike can do with a wipe down every week or two weeks and a drive train cleaning every now and then. If you live in a wet climate and your Sunday rides will happen rain or shine, you will probably need a bucket with some brushes, a large sponge and soapy water to restore the showroom shine. Mountain bikes live a harder life and might need some garden hose treatment after a muddy ride. I know cyclocross mechanics that drive straight from the race course to the car wash to get all the muck off bike and kit.
While we never recommend power washing bicycles, in CX there simply are no options. Since the bikes get several treatments during the race already, the one after the race probably cannot do a lot more damage. The result is simple: drive home from the carwash and take the bike apart in order to remove any stagnant water from the frame, hubs and headset.
Do the minimum, but make sure it is sufficient
Once you have determined the contamination level, it is time to determine the minimum cleaning level you can get away with. It is no secret that moving parts on bicycles are no fan of water. If you can avoid using it: good. One of my favorite cleaning products for years has been Pedros Bike Lust. It is a liquid that comes in a spray bottle, perfect for taking dust off a bike, and leaves a shiny residue on your parts that actually repels dirt. It’s a weird slippery goop, so keep it off brake surfaces of rims, disks and brake pads. The goal with this minimal cleaning approach is not to cut corners, the goal is to get the bike back to showroom condition with the least amount of work.
What if you have to use water for bike cleaning?
Again, the minimal cleaning rule applies: a bucket with soapy water is better than the garden hose and the carwash should be avoided when possible. Remember that the deeper you let the water penetrate, the more time you will be spending cleaning and drying the internals of your two wheel wonder.
How to protect ball bearings during cleaning?
Trying to keep water off your bearings is the first step. Avoid spraying water directly into the headset, bottom bracket and suspension pivots is next. There are some steps you can take if you know your next cross race is going to be sloppy. Pack the outside of your bearings with a water resistant grease. When I was a mechanic in Belgium, I would take the fork out of the every bike during service and literally cover the lower headset bearing in a marine grade grease. It was a given that my customers at one point or another would be riding in heavy rain. The same can be done with bottom bracket and suspension bearings. Simply take off the covers, apply a layer of grease on the outside of the seals and put the covers back where they came from. Typically this adds a bit of friction, but nothing close to the friction caused by rusty races.
The last step is to always think about stagnant water in a bike. Taking out your crank and cleaning the inside of your bottom bracket shell is a good one, but think of the water that can get trapped inside suspension pivot points, inside brake levers and derailleur pivots. This is where compressed air is your friend. If you are the lucky owner of an air compressor, get a gun with a long nozzleand blow every nook and cranny dry. As with pressurized water, I am always afraid that compressed air will actually force water underneath the bearing seals, but I have never been able to prove this. Keep a bit of distance when aiming directly at your rotating parts.
Most cyclists care more about their bikes than many other things in life. There is a good chance you dropped serious cash when you rescued yours from the shop. It deserves the best care you can give it. Remember minimal but sufficient cleaning and prevention when you know things are going to be bad. Washing your bikes frequently will help you build up a procedure to do it thoroughly and quick. The above video of team Tinkoff Saxo shows incredible amounts of muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. Something that can only be achieved after years of repeating the same exercise over and over.
Chandler is currently putting our bottom brackets through a hard endurance test in Chicago’s Chicross Cup. Three elite riders are pushing Kogel bottom brackets to the limit to see how they hold up to the Illinois mud, snow and sleet. Keep an eye on Wookie Approved to read the results after CX nationals in January.
Originally posted on Wookie Approved Nov 28, 2014:
The cyclocross season is long and arduous. You need your equipment to last the test of time and to be able to perform at its optimal capacity, all while being pushed to the limits every weekend.
A couple months ago I started a season long endurance test of 3 Kogel Bearings Bottom Brackets. So far the expectations have been met wonderfully. The BB’s are performing like the day they were installed, even after being put thru almost every element the cyclocross gods can throw at them, and the Illinois State Champs are still ahead, not to mention CX Nationals in Austin Texas in January.
Its time now to get to know the man behind Kogel. Ard Kessels is a busy busy guy. Traveling all over the world promoting his passion for cycling and his passion for a better bottom bracket, as well as placing in super crazy hard MTB races in Mexico, Ard truly lives the cycling dream.
“Who” is Ard Kessels?
I was born in the Netherlands, my parents both came from a very rural area but moved to the city before I was born. As a result of that, I spent most of my youth going back and forth between city and farm.
As a son of Dutch parents, cycling has been a big part of my life since the day I could walk. I would commute to school and often turn down my parents’ invitation to go for a casual ride with the family, only to race off to the local BMX track two minutes later. I guess my love for adrenaline was always there.
Whats your background, and relationship, with cycling? How’d you get involved in the industry?
At age 16 I bought my first mountain bike with money borrowed from my parents, I have been riding and racing mountain bikes on and off ever since. The highlight of my racing career was finishing with the top 10% in the Transalp Challenge, a huge stage race in Europe with 1200 riders. Absolute madness.
In 2010 I left my career as a fashion product developer behind to open a bike shop in Antwerp, Belgium. In Belgium, being a bike mechanic is a protected profession. Everyone who wants to open a bike shop or plans to work as a mechanic needs to be licensed. I spent two years in evening school and taking internships at shops before I was actually allowed to open my own shop. During my years working for several fashion multinationals, I learned a lot about how to run a business, how not to run a business, international communication and the basics of logistics and marketing. It was a great learning curve that perfectly translates to the development process for Kogel Bearings.
Three years into my shop adventure, my wife was offered a job with the US government. She wanted to be a diplomat ever since high school. I knew I had to choose between shop and family. The decision was made in minutes. I sold the shop to one of my riding buddies and set sail for a new life in the US.
I started my American adventure with importing products from Belgian bike companies which I had done very well with in my shop. The main obstacles I ran into were communication with the companies back home. I guess their expectations of what one person can achieve in all 50 states was a bit optimistic. I learned that doing business in the US is similar but very different in the details to doing business in Belgium.
At the beginning of 2014 I decided that it was better to take matters in my own hands and Kogel Bearings was born.
Why bearings? Why not another aspect of the bike?
I could have tackled anything, but ball bearings seem to be a forgotten part of the bicycle. There are a few big players on the market, but nobody really seems to be bothered to make the best possible product. Seeing $10K bikes outfitted with $1 bearings has always confused me.
Besides the bearings themselves, bottom brackets are causing issues throughout the industry. Like with subpar quality bearings, it seems to be accepted that bottom brackets need constant attention. I wanted to change that.
What was the inspiration behind Kogel?
The name is taken from the Dutch word for the balls in a ball bearing, it is also a synonym for bullet. I liked how it represents speed. What I also like, is that the word looks totally foreign but can be pronounced in English.
What’s the major flaw with today’s BB systems?
In my opinion: lack of communication in the industry and quality control.
For the lack of communication, the best example is that we cannot even decide what to call that new middle wheel size on mountain bikes. I need to be careful what I say, though. The fact that there are a gazillion bottom bracket standards is keeping Kogel Bearings in business. Forget I ever mentioned it. I look forward to a new bottom bracket standard coming out soon (insert giggle).
As for quality control: the dimensions of bottom bracket standards are clearly defined, including the tolerances on each of them. When I use my caliper in shops to measure bottom bracket shells, the results are all over the place. On a PF30 bottom bracket one frame might be 0.2mm large, the next is 0.2mm under. With a 0.4mm variation it is close to impossible to make a bottom bracket cup that fits on any frame. At Kogel Bearings we try to compensate for this tolerance by following a simple 4 step design philosophy: use quality materials, move the bearings as close to the crank arms as possible, reduce the amount of parts, make sure it looks good. There are a few more technical tricks in our products that I’d rather keep to myself for now.
Common sense is another thing that sometimes lacks in our industry. If all the power of a rider goes through the cranks and is supported by the bottom bracket, why is this bottom bracket only 62mm wide on some frames? Would it not make sense to make it wider, more stable and stiffer? In that way more power can be transferred to the rear wheel. The same thing I see in wheel bearings. Mountain bike disc hubs deal with enormous forces in all kinds of directions. Why are the bearings so small that they have to use pinhead sized balls in some wheels?
What makes Kogel so much better than other options?
At Kogel Bearings we back up our products with exceptional service. Having owned a premium level bike shop, I understand that the most important thing is to keep our customers on the road. Any frown can be turned into a smile if you handle customer’s issues instantly. For this reason I have installed our ‘very few questions asked’ warranty policy. I want retailers to be confident when they promise their customers that their expensive bottom bracket is good for at least two years of use.
For the same reason, we do pick up the phone after business hours, return missed calls and reply to emails. It’s a cliché to say we treat our customers the way I would like to be treated, but that’s what we strive for.
We are not the only company making good or great bearings, but that is not the entire buying experience. I want customers to buy a Kogel product and know that they’re buying a good looking product that is dipped in service and technical support.
Do you discount your products online vs in store?
Kogel Bearings makes a premium product that is not seasonal. Bottom brackets do not expire, like frame colors do. I see no reason why anyone would discount our products.
We handle our own distribution and shipping. This makes it easy to track shops that do not follow our pricing strategy, speak to them directly and put them back on track.
Where’s Kogel heading? Anything exciting on the horizon?
With my wife’s next posting being outside the US, we are working to decentralize the business. She will be working and living overseas and I will spend my time commuting between the US and our new home for two years. In the end, it is not so much different from what I do at the moment: splitting my time between working from home and traveling around the country to visit customers.
With all the modern technology available nowadays, it is very easy to run the administrative side in the cloud. I can make my telephone ring anywhere on the planet. With that in mind, I can hire people that serve a double function between brand ambassador and any other tasks. Our guy in Texas can handle logistics and sales in his area, while our New York ambassador can visit local shops and work on marketing.
This set up allows us to find the best people anywhere and not require them to relocate for the job. Or allow them to relocate anywhere if they so choose.
On a brand awareness level, we have signed some amazing sponsorship deals this year:Helen Wyman is doing a very good job promoting our bottom brackets in cyclocross. The United HealthCare team will be racing with our bottom brackets too. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder how we pulled that one off as an unknown company in its first year of business. It seems unreal how fast things have gone since we started this.
Where do you think the industry is headed?
That’s a hard one. There are so many things going on in the bike industry. Many brick and mortar stores are looking for ways to balance between their traditional business model and online presence. The big brands are killing it: I have never in my life had the urge to buy a Trek, but caught myself going to their website the other day, looking at their new cross and road bikes. Specialized knocked the XC full suspension category out of the park this year with a bike that has built in storage and room for two water bottles. On the other hand, small custom builders are selling five digit bikes like hot cakes. I see gravel riding become a lot bigger, it offers the go-anywhere-freedom of a mountain bike with the cover-lots-of-ground-easily aspect of a road bike.
I am not sure where the industry is heading, but I sure know it is going to be exciting. In my 25 years as a bike nerd, I have never had a dull moment. I would love to discuss this more over a few beers.
How can someone interested in trying Kogel Bearings get more information?
We are on all the big social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our website has a lot of product information.
We just started a blog on our website called Ball Bearing Adventures, which will be very interactive. The blog will cover technical aspects of our products, but will be mixed with cool things that I find on my travels: the best coffee shops and group rides, product news, amazing hacks found at shops and interview with industry people. A large portion will be dedicated to answering questions from our customers. Kogel Bearings is a very open company and we do not shy away from many subjects. As long as they are relevant for our business we will answer them.
We always appreciate calls from our customers, because that’s how we get to know them. Please reach out to us, I promise we will be nice.
Where can you buy Kogel Bearings currently?
We have a network of about 100 dealers in the country. I understand that is just scratching the surface of where we need to be, but not bad considering we have only started this at the beginning of this year.
For consumers we have a shop section on our website with a very easy product selection tool. As long as you know the bottom bracket standard of your frame and what crank you are running, you can pick the one product you need in a couple of clicks.
Our business model is set up really well to serve the retailers. We offer good margins, no order minimum and a $5 flat fee for shipping. If riders want to buy a product and have it installed at their local shop, we are very happy to send it to the shop directly so they can make their margins on it.
Coffee or Beer?
Now that is not a fair question. It’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.
Thinking of it, I could not name ten different types of coffee, but I have no problem giving you a top three in every beer category. I guess that is your answer!
There you have it, straight from “The Man’s” mouth. The 3rd, and Final, part of the season long test will be out after Cyclocross Nationals in January. Ill weigh in with my thoughts and experience as a mechanic taking care of the bikes, and you’ll get to hear opinions from the riders themselves. Stay tuned for that article as it should be super fun to read.
Words by “The Wookie”: Photos by Kogel Bearings
An entertaining view on the bicycle world. Always professional, rarely scientific.