HSC Ceramics BB86 Bottom Bracket Review
HSC Ceramics BB86 Bottom Bracket Review
HSC Ceramics are a Chinese company that manufactures ceramic bearings. I just installed one of their BB86 press-fit bottom brackets in my Giant TCR. These are hybrid bearings, which means they have steel surfaces and ceramic balls.
First impressions are that they look a lot like the standard Shimano bottom bracket that I took out several years ago. Unfortunately, I haven’t still got that oe bottom bracket to make a direct comparison in looks or weight. Because they are press-fit the units are mostly plastic on the outside. The only clue to their pricier nature is ‘ceramic’ written on the outside ring of the shell. HSC’s outboard bottom brackets come in a range of anodised colours, so they’re a bit more fancy-looking.
A bit of research tells me that ceramic bearings are rounder and harder than steel bearings, as well as being more resistant to corrosion. Ceramic bearings also deal with heat better and weigh less than their steel equivalents. Easy choice isn’t it? Less drag on the bearings means free watts, and lighter is always better. There’s also lots written that tells us we don’t need ceramic bearings. People say it’s all hype, the benefits are negligible if you aren’t a racer, and that good quality steel bearings will last just as long.
Even the best bearing can perform badly if it’s been installed badly! Both sides of the bottom bracket need to be at the correct angle or the force won’t be distributed evenly, leading to premature wear from the hard ceramic bearings and causing gaps in seals that leave the bearings exposed to contaminants. In fact, one of the main differences between a good bearing and an average or poor bearing is the quality of the seals. The seals keep dirt out, but can also cause friction. The better the seal, the better it keeps dirt out without causing too much friction.
With all that in mind, I installed the HSC Ceramics Bottom Bracket with great caution. The Shimano 105 crankset that I’ve now put back in was a very tight fit and needed a gentle tap with a mallet to get the axle through the bottom bracket. As you would with any new install, I checked the tightness and ended up turning the preload cap just a few millimetres after the first ride had bedded everything in.
The cranks certainly pass the spin test. Under load the cranks also feel very smooth. As I mentioned, the BB86 version of bottom bracket looks very similar to the original equipment, so you get no style marks and no knowing looks from cyclists to acknowledge your discerning choice in bottom brackets.
In short, is it worth buying a ceramic (hybrid) bottom bracket? The answer isn’t a simple one. If you’re racing and you need to consider every gram and watt, then yes certainly it is. If you aren’t racing, then maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. In either case buying a cheap bottom bracket, ceramic or otherwise, will mean you have to change it fairly regularly. A poor installation will have poor results too.
The difference with the HSC products, despite being at the lower level of the price range for ceramic bearings, is that Handsling Bikes have been fitting them as standard to their bikes for a while now. Handsling supply bikes to various disciplines, including cyclocross, and their bikes have been ridden hard by top level cyclists, including some national champions. The HSC bottom brackets have been tested to extremes and had very few issues.
Personally, I’d buy a HSC ceramic bottom bracket over a standard steel one for the same reason I buy better quality brake and gear cables. My bike deserves something a bit special. I know I’m less likely to have mechanical issues if I put parts on that are proven to be reliable. I might not throw away whatever is in my bike if it’s working fine, but when it needs replacing I’ll always try and upgrade parts slightly. This HSC bottom bracket definitely feels like an upgrade.
Compare prices and buy components from: