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Post-Rain Bearing Maintenance: Checking and Cleaning Inline Skate (Rollerblade) Bearings After a Wet Skate

skatey-mark's picture

If it weren't for the hassle of cleaning bearings, skating in the rain would be pretty fun.  However, knowing that you have a pretty big chore ahead of you when you get done takes a lot of the enjoyment out of it.  Still, if you're training for an event like Tour to Tanglewood or Athens to Atlanta, I do recommend getting at least one "rain skate" in if you've never done it.  You don't want your first time in the rain to be the day of the event!  The specifics of skating in the rain is a topic for another time, though.  What I want to talk about now is what to do *after* you've been out in the rain.

Without maintenance, most bearings will be ruined after a skate.  I've heard of some bearings that claim to be waterproof, but I'm fairly skeptical that they really could be.  If you know ahead of time that you'll be skating in the rain, there are a couple things you should do:

  1. Use greased bearings (instead of oiled).  The heavier grease will keep more water out of the bearings and keep them spinning better, longer.  The downside to grease is that it makes them harder to clean, and the bearings spin marginally slower.  (Most people will not notice a difference in speed though.)
  2. You should switch to softer wheels, or even wheels designed specifically for rain.  You'll have better grip on the pavement.

Regardless of what wheels & bearings you're using, you need to take action as soon as possible after the skate is done.  The quicker you act, the less damage will be done to your bearings.  Ideally, you would clean & re-lube them immediately.  But this is usually not practical.

The next best thing to do is to simply immerse the bearings in oil...  Even baby oil can be used for this.  The idea here is to displace the water from the bearings and also keep them from being exposed to air.  After being in the baby oil (or other type of oil) for a while, you can transfer them to a Ziploc baggie until you get home.

A final, last-resort, method is to submerse the bearings in water.  Yes - water.  If you have no better alternative, this will at least keep the air out and limit rust from forming.  You'll need to keep them submerged until you're ready to clean them.

During the 24-hour race in Montreal last year, we got rained on during the beginning part of the race.  My wheels felt like they had enough grip, and were spinning okay, so I did not stop to change them out.  When I finally did stop, I decided to try a "quick fix" instead of swapping out wheels & bearings.  I had a can of teflon-based spray lubricant that I bought from a bike shop.  It comes in a can like WD-40, with a little "straw" to direct the spray.  Without even taking the wheels out, I sprayed the lube into each bearing while slowly spinning the wheel.  I used up most of the can in the process, and got slightly high off the fumes, but it did work.  I was able to complete the 24-hour skate on those same wheels & bearings, without additional maintenance.

Anyway...  So now it's after the skate.  You may or may not have been able to take any immediate action on your bearings.  It's time to try to salvage them.  I've tried many different methods of cleaning bearings over the years.  My current method is as follows:

  1. Take a mason jar (or any glass jar that can be sealed) and place the bearings in it.
  2. Add enough mineral spirits to cover the bearings, and then some (I like having maybe 1/2"-1" liquid above the bearings)
  3. Shake gently.  (You don't want to break the glass.)  I alternate between "shaking" and "swirling"...
  4. Drain mineral spirits into a container (for later recycling -- don't dump it down the drain or in the grass.)
  5. Add 99% isopropyl alcohol to the jar to rinse away any remaining mineral spirits.  Shake & swirl, then dump the alcohol out.
  6. Remove the bearings and do a "spin test".  Odds are, they will still need some more cleaning after the first round.  The color of the mineral spirits & alcohol is a good indication -- if it's mostly clear, then there probably isn't any more cleaning required.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6 until your bearings are spinning well, or until you decide to give up.  Sometimes you'll get some of the bearings that just won't spin again no matter what you do.  You can try to free up "stuck" bearings by forcing them to turn, then clean them again.  Sometimes that will work...
  8. Once you're done cleaning & rinsing, the alcohol should evaporate within a few minutes.  Now it's time to re-lube them.
  9. Lubing with oil is easy -- just add 3 drops of oil to each bearing, give it a good spin, and set it aside.  Repeat for the remaining bearings.  My current lube of choice is a teflon-based "dry" lube I bought from a bike shop.  (Not in the spray can, just in a small squeeze bottle.)
  10. Lubing with grease is a pain, but necessary if you're making a set of "rain bearings".  In this case, I have a can of white lithium grease that I got from Home Depot.  (It's pretty cheap.)  I use a toothpick to scoop a little at a time and pack it in the bearing.  This is pretty time consuming, and I'm sure there are more efficient methods to do it.  (Please share them if you have them.) 

That's it...  I also usually clean all the crud off my wheels before putting bearings in them.  Just fill a sink (or bucket) with warm soapy water and use an old toothbrush.  Rinse the wheels off and let them dry completely before putting bearings in them.

As I mentioned in the beginning, bearing maintenance is a real pain, and now you can see why.  If your bearings sit too long after being wet, they may not be salvageable at all.  So quick action is key to being able to get them in working order again later.  Having a small bottle of baby oil in your skate bag can really help a lot.  A spray can of Teflon lubricant is another way to go, but it's more expensive and I recommend doing a thorough clean anyway...  So your results will probably be better if you simply immerse the bearings in oil, then do a proper cleaning when you get home

- SM -

Comments

Bryan's picture

It's even worse if you're a

It's even worse if you're a late night skater like I tend to be... recently I did my first full rain skate (unexpectedly) and got home at 3:00am; it was almost 5:00am by the time I got to bed. That meant I spent most of the next day on my bike with less than five hours of sleep. And I'm still not sure if the bearings truly survived. Okay, they survived, but I kinda think their ABEC rating might be less than 1.
MikeB's picture

rain rain go away

Thank you Mark for posting your bearing cleaning procedure(s). Quite a few of us got caught in a steady rain for the last 2+ miles of a recent skate so your words of wisdom are right on time. Once home, I removed the bearings promptly, cleaned them half heartedly (mistake) and put them in the oven to dry out on a low temp. By the time this was done 3 hrs had gone by. The bike shop lube you mentioned is really good. Tri-Flow I believe it's called and has a teflon additive but remember to shake the bottle well before applying. Unfortunately my initial cleaning job wasn't so great. I can hear debris in the bearings, clacking of the steel balls, and the spin is rather pathetic. They may still be salvageable but will need the shields removed and a thorough cleaning and re-oiling. At the moment I opted for the easy solution and ordered new bearings from Richard Nett at www.nettracing.com , and they s/b to me in a couple days. Richard also has stainless steel bearings for better wear in wet conditions. Bearing prices are all over the map from $1/per to $10+/per for ceramics. I took ceramics in grade school and didn't feel the need to "go there" again - although as I recall, I did make Mom a nice ashtray.

I’m skaaaaaating in the rain lala lalalala

After reading your comment on the rain-skate, I have a feeling that I really should  make an effort and go out next time it rains, and get soaked…YUCK… I was all ready for it today, but all I got was WIND so strong that I had to push down hill.

When it comes to cleaning bearings I soak them in BSB Citrus Bearing Cleaner, (I will try your way next time) shake the container like a Martini and let them dry on a paper towel over night. Add a couple of drops of the BSB Speed Lube, put them back together…all like new. If the bearings are very dirty I take a toothbrush and scrub, scrub, scrub…until they all sparkle. Whenever I am in a rush I take the SFR Lube spray and SCHHHHHH…it works but is only a fast fix.  I have to admit that I have 2 set of bearings and wheels. One (Swiss Race Bearings) I only use for hill training or if there is rain in site, the second set  (Micro) for HWY distance and intervals.  

Safe skating 

Take care

MikeB's picture

good advice

That sounds like a good procedure too Marianne.

The problem for me is the dirty bearings are Powerslide Abec 7 and I don't know how to get the shields off to clean them as thoroughly as they probably need to be.

I'll give it a better try this weekend (but eagerly await my new Swiss Race Bearings).  But I won't waste too much time on them, and at the very least will put some of your good words great use (e.g. citrus, dry, sparkle, martini, stir.........repeat)

What advantage do the Micro bearings give you?

 

The only reason why I do

The only reason why I do have a set of micro bearings, they came with my Salomon skates. I never had to clean them so far. I don’t think you actually have to. That would be one advantage. They are also much lighter then regular bearings, not that I would notice that. :)  You will love the Swiss Race Bearings; I too just ordered a new set. They are easy to clean and are faaaaast. Put them together with new wheels and you just got your wings. :)
roadskater's picture

Swiss Sounds Good...Microbearings Indoors or Long Dry Distance

Hey Marianne, can you tell us more about which bearings you are using, like specifically what is on the packaging, where they're made, who they're packaged by, where you bought them and about what they cost? I had some favorite bearings that I believe were Swiss but who knows!? I do know they had red bearing races and shields. They may have been some kind of "Bones" but I'm not so sure! The ones I have now were squeaking like hamster wheels today.
roadskater's picture

They Were Boss Swiss Inline Skate Bearings, Not Swiss Bones

OK I looked around and found some photos and the ones I had were Boss Swiss bought when I was a member of Empire Skate Club and Empire Speed (you don't have to be fast, just pay). I kept coming back to those bearings after trying others. I think I might just buy me some. Any other recommendations? By the way, good old Richard Nett has a little treatise on just what I was wondering...BSB Boss Swiss or Swiss Bones? He mentions grease in the former (low-temp, not high) and oil in the latter. Sounds right to me. Also one wetting and the game's over he seems to be saying, outdoor fans! Check out this article...good stuff even if you might not agree (let us know)... http://nettracing.com/bsb.htm Thanks, Richard, for writing about things and sharing strong opinions! Another thought comes to mind from Richard's comments, and that is perhaps removing the outer shield and "pasting" it back on with something waterproff like vaseline or silicone or something else? Can you guys think why we could not just put circles of silicone (a very small one) on the outer face of the bearing shields on the inner circle and outer circle where water would get in, especially if maintenance will be done while the bearings are out of the wheels? Does that make sense?
timv's picture

Strong Opinions About Bearings and Grammar

Just throw out your $70 bearings after a year and buy a new set? Someone must be in a different tax bracket than we are.

And it would be sad if in fact they're just totally gone the first time they get wet.

Also, Microsoft Word does a fine job of flagging those "your"/"you're" and "there"/"their"/"they're" problems. Richard might want to give that a try. Made my hair stand on end reading that...

NOW, I don’t throw my

NOW, I don’t throw my bearings out after one year. I had them for 5 years without any troubles, skated hundreds of miles and now I am using them for the wet days. As a matter of fact mine are still without any rust on the inside just the outer shields have some specks.  Maybe English is not their first language and like me mix up things. Also if this person is a pro skater, he/she might have to change bearings more often. I just wanted to let you know about the differences of the two bearings.
timv's picture

The Two Bearings

Thanks for posting that link, Marianne, and don't get me wrong. I was mainly having some fun with Blake's comment about "strong opinions" by posting some strong opinions of my own. No criticism intended. I'm pretty forgiving about grammar, typographic errors, etc., on foums like this where hobbyists are chatting with each other about shared interests. MikeB just used "heal" when he meant "heel" and I didn't make a peep. :-)

However--for whatever it's worth--I do think that someone who runs an Internet business and is posting an article for the public on his company's website should think seriously about proofreading it, or having it proofread, or using some proofing software. Why give your customers an opportunity to think less of you? As a profoundly monolingual native English speaker, I can say that I catch myself mistyping those words all the time too! And if English isn't his first language, he ought to be even more aware of that. I sure would be if I was posting something important in French (the only other language that I can remotely comprehend.)

Anyway, back to skates and skating...

 

BSB Swiss Race Bearings

I bought the BSB Swiss Race Bearings at the SpeedCellar in Calgary, but unfortunately they have closed there doors last spring, now I have to get everything over the internet.  The price is about the same everywhere. The only deals you can get are on ebay. I just bought a new set of 10 Hyperformance +G for $25.00 plus $10.00 for shipping.  I found a good article on the net. This is better then me trying to explain things. http://www.nettracing.com/bsb.htm  check out their web page they have lots of cool stuff. http://www.nettracing.com

 

roadskater's picture

Remove Inline Skate Bearing Shields with a Safety Pin

Hey MikeB: If they're like most, the bearing shields are held on with a C-clip. That's a clip shaped like a big letter C of the sans-serif sort, or maybe more like a circle with a little gap in it. I'm sure you know but some may not.

Anyway, the C-clip is springy and flat and fits in a ridge on the outer side of the shield. With good eyes or cheap reading glasses and maybe contact lenses too, ha, you can look to find that little gap in the C-clip.

You can use a map pin or better still an open safety pin inserted into that gap to try to wedge that C-clip out far enough to spring out. Be careful of course not to injure your fingers or eyes or anything else.

Sometimes the C-clip will just spin around, but usually you can hold the bearing and shield well enough to reduce that. Once the C-clip is out, it's usually easy to get the shield out. If not easy, then I just drop the sucker on the table or floor and that usually jars it out.

I don't put the shields back on. I install the shieldless side on the inside next to the spacer as I figure why keep dirt that got in through the outer shield in the bearing. Let it hang out with the spacer if it will.

Those are my quick thoughts on this, except to say:

  • I tend to use the quick spray method much more than I used to and I'm happy about that.
  • Some people have used Vaseline on the outer shields on rain day just to try to keep a bit more water on the outside. I don't know if that works.
  • I know a great skater that swears by 3-in-1 oil for skate lube. Of course he's such a great skater that peanut butter would probably work.
skatey-mark's picture

watch your eyes!

There have been many times when I've come close to putting an eye out with those stupid c-clips!  You get the pin in there, and you're trying to be careful, and it suddenly pops out and comes flying at your face!

 

One thing to note is that the end of the c-clip is beveled.  So it will be easier to get your safety pin (or whatever) under one end of it and nigh impossible to get it under the other end.  Once you get one out, you'll see what I mean...  ;-)

 

Getting the shields off one side is critical to proper cleaning.  Many bearings now only come with shields on one side.  As Blake mentioned, the unshielded side goes to the inside and is protected enough that it doesn't really need shields on it anyway.

 

If you have *really* stubborn bearings, taking the shields off both sides will really let you clean them thoroughly.  But I think if the bearings are that far gone, you're probably not going to be able to save them anyway.

 

I tried the vaseline method once at A2A when I knew it was definitely going to be raining at the start.  I don't know if it really did any good or not.  It didn't seem to hurt.  As a side note, I smeared it all over my legs too (to try to keep them warm, since it was also cold outside.)  I think that did work somewhat, but my legs were absolutely coated with dirt & crud by the time I got done...  And it took forever to wash all that crud & vaseline off...

 

- SM -

MikeB's picture

to C or not to C (clip)

Thanks for the advice Blake / and Mark.

I'll give it the ol' college try this weekend.  It sure would be nice to save them.  After looking more intently last night I did not see a C clip.  It seems to me that they are sealed on each side, but one side does have a very tiny slit along the rail where I may be able to insert a pin and pry it off. (safety goggles in place of course).

Richard Nett said he tested all kinds of oils and greases and found Pedro's Ice Wax grease to be far superior since it very closely mimicked the specs of BSB grease.  Don't know where to find that but I'm gonna try.

The new BSB's came yesterday and I put them on 1 skate to compare.  WOW!  The new ones truly spin 10 times longer than the old rain damaged ones, if not 15 times longer.  Marianne is spot on - they are going to be faaaaaaasst.

timv's picture

Cleaning's the Thing

Odds are, they will still need some more cleaning after the first round. The color of the mineral spirits & alcohol is a good indication -- if it's mostly clear, then there probably isn't any more cleaning required.

I think that's the key there. It doesn't take a lot of doing to get the water out and prevent rust, but bearings also fill up with road grit when you skate in rain. That stuff is murder to get out and I would expect it to abrade the bearing races pretty badly.

I wasted a set of bearings (pretty old, and one of the $2 sets of True bearings from the closeout sale when K-Mart dropped skating gear, so no big heartbreak...) last spring when I got stubborn and insisted on doing our Tuesday night park skate despite the pouring rain. I soaked them in a bucket of carburetor cleaner for a couple of days, agitating the basket they were in a few times along the way, and this was with shields on one side only. But I realized later that I hadn't gotten anywhere near all of the grime out, and I was never able to get them to roll comfortably again after trying to skate on them without getting them completely clean.

I'll also add in passing that I'm pretty convinced that bearings don't matter nearly as much as the people who sell them want us to believe. At any reasonable speed, the only resistance that matters is wind resistance. Rolling resistance is tiny by comparison, unless you're talking about old, rough "gatorback" asphalt and/or really bad, cheap "penalty" wheels. And even there, rolling resistance is more about wheels than it is about bearings.

MikeB's picture

viva la bearings!

I did it! The C clips are off, shields too, now for the mineral spirit bath followed by the alcohol bath. Cool thing is I stopped at the ABC store yesterday and loaded up on all kinds of spirits and alcohol, (running short of rum and flavored vodkas) Once I took the thimbles off my fingers it was much easier to hold the bearing and pry a pin into the C clip gap. Of course that cost me a few finger pricks but I don't think a trip to the Urgent Care will be necessary (see spirits comment). These bearings look to be salvageable as long as the grit comes out......kind of exciting. Blake mentioned not putting the shields back on but not too comfortable with that. I think TimV is right on though - wind resistance and wheels are more key to better rolling with bearing choice being secondary.
roadskater's picture

What Gunk Do Inner Skate Bearing Shields Block...From Where?

MikeB that's good stuff. Glad you're having fun in bearing land. I understand your concern about the inner shields, and they might block gunk that came from the other side of the wheel, through that other bearing...or they might keep in gunk that might otherwise drop into the spacer area. But that's just a lazy man's theory!

SNOW !!!???

OMG, forget all the bearings and wheels I need chains! It is SNOWING! ****************
MikeB's picture

saving bearings is worth the effort

(I really do mean this, but decided to have a little fun with TimV): Thanks awl, four awl you're help an assist stance inn my baring delemma. Eye gots them sparkly clean, re-grease, an back toogether without two much trouble. Now I has too sets of barings. Good stuff. SkateStrong, Skate safely. ;-)
eebee's picture

Awful Spelling Productions

So you're the one who's been posting all those illiterate memos around my workplace...

Seriously, one hallowe'en at my previous employment I went to work dressed as a Chick-Fil-A cow, carrying a sandwich board - like the cows used to have in their ads - containing repeatedly misspelled words from the office that used to bug me to death. One side said something like 'need mor ordurs', the other said 'Get manufakters certz', since all the aircraft parts needed the manufacturer's certificate and chemical & physical test reports.

Well I won 2nd place in the dress up competition but nobody noticed I had misspelled the words. Sigh.

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