Workshop tales, trials and disasters.
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Bit late coming in on this thread, but thought I would share my experience.
non-sealed bearings (cups, cones and loose bearings) from old wheels (that have no real protection from water) or cheap modern wheels all need to be regularly cleaned and regreased, like every week if you ride in the rain, if you want them to last more than a few months. This is obviously not going to happen with most riders who have lives. If the hubs stay dry, no problem.
When the cones have gone, probably the cups in the hub have gone too, along with the bearings. Once the cups are gone, it is time to get some new hubs (unless they are campag hubs where you can actually buy cups and get them replaced, for a price), and unless you know how to respoke wheels, it is probably cheaper to pick up a complete set of wheels.
So, if it is a regular ride, get some higher-end modern hubs that have effective seals or sealed bearings. Otherwise, buy some good cone spanners, a cluster removal tool, and get to love your bike on a regular basis.
The same applies to bottom brackets and headsets.
Ahh! No, not if you use sufficient grease in the bearings, and ensure you don't put the hub under water! Rain should not be a problem for a well packed hub. I've ridden with these sorts of hubs for many years. In my 'anal retentive period' I would service the hubs every 2-3 months, even in winter. More recently my hubs have gone for a couple of years with no repacking. On servicing they are fine.
Way back in the 50s or 60s Australia Post did a survey of the bearings on some of their delivery bikes. It was full of comments like "No maintenance for past 10 years, bearings worn but still servicable" And these were bog-standard cheap bikes.
High end cup and cone hubs will run very nicely. Shimano still stick by these, as the ability to have the bearing setting exactly right, and keep it that way is much greater than for sealed bearings which have poor side-load performance and have the added friction of seals, as well as not being able to adjust for any wear that may occur
Agree that bottom brackets in particular are in need of TLC, more so than hubs. They are lower and much more likely to submerge in any fording of flooded roads and sit right in the line of fire from front wheel and rear wheel spray. One place where I feel that a sealed bearing is really a worthwhile thing. Headsets will be OK as far as dirt and water is concerned if you use mudguards. If not they can get pretty dirty in the bottom race. But you really should have cup and cone head bearings, to enable adjustment to avoid brinnelling from a loose headset.
Riding bikes in traffic - what seems dangerous is usually safe; what seems safe is often more dangerous.
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