What does a frugal cyclist’s bike look like? Most would guess his bike is designed around reliability and price. Good components that get the job done at the best value for the money. This way he can be competitive while not feeling paranoid that a broken component means a broken bank account. In the case of my cyclocross bike, it is pretty basic with Shimano 105 and FSA representing this frugal approach. Nothing fancy, just solid and reliable. So why would a frugal cyclist splurge on a Chris King bottom bracket, probably the most un-sexy and inconspicuous component on any bike? Believe it or not, it is for the reliability and price.
My Foundry Harrow cyclocross bike has seen less than half a cyclocross season. It was purchased new last November and was raced for five weekends and one gravel race. It was carefully cleaned every week after muddy and wet racing. It then hung on the wall for most of the winter until, while longing to ride my cross bike one dreary day in May, I was admiring my bike and tried spinning the cranks. They didn’t move. The bearings in my PF30 bottom bracket had seized up. I was able to force them loose and even ride them for a couple weeks, but the bearings were done. They felt and sounded like gravel, so I knew they needed replacing. At $55 for a new bottom bracket after only half a season, I started to wonder about alternatives.
As a frugal cyclist, I don’t usually consider an upgrade that is three times the price of my current component. In the case of my bottom bracket, my best choices were to replace the same $55 bottom bracket or spend $165 on a Chris King. If the Chris King were to last just as long as the original, or even twice as long, it would not be worth the money. So my instinct was to start the calculations and find the smartest choice both financially and in performance.
I was going to spend $55 plus $25 labor twice a year. Over the next five years, that comes to $800. Ouch! For many, their bottom bracket could last as long as a full year while racing cyclocross. Given this scenario they are still spending $400 over five years.
Enter the Chris King option. This bottom bracket costs $165. They are so confident in the quality and durability of their product that they offer a five year warranty. If it goes bad within five years, you get a new one. They are able to offer this due to multiple manufacturing advantages over a $55 bottom bracket. First, it has significantly better bearing seals to keep the system running smooth and clean. This includes an inner sleeve that seals out contaminants that may enter inside the frame. Next is the fact that every component is manufactured under the same roof at the Chris King facility. Even the stainless steel balls are manufactured right there in Portland, Oregon. This way they never have to compromise quality based on somebody else’s manufacturing process.
Then there is their industry leading angular contact bearing. Not to get too technical, most bottom brackets today use radial contact bearings. Radial contact bearings are subject to binding and wear whenever a lateral load is introduced. Because all crank arms must be installed with some lateral tension or “pre-load” to keep them from moving from side to side, radial contact bearings begin binding and wearing as soon as they are installed, leading to early wear and failure. With the Chris King angular contact bearing, this pre-load has no detrimental consequences. Additionally, angular contact bearings can be adjusted over time to compensate for any natural wear by adding more pre-load. The bearing is adjusted instead of being thrown away while at the same time rolling smoother than any radial contact bearing is capable. Wait, there’s more!
Unlike a standard throw-away bottom bracket, the Chris King is serviceable. It can be re-greased by using a grease tool that can be purchased separately. If you do your own wrenching and like to tinker, this tool can be purchased for $55 and can be used over and over to flush fresh grease into your Chris King. You must be confident, however, in your ability to remove and reinstall your crankset with the proper amount of pre-load and adjustment. If this sounds like too much work, it can be serviced at the shop for around $20 for a basic grease job and crank arm adjustment. The Chris King bearings are also housed in a solid alloy housing, unlike the plastic housing found on a standard bottom bracket.
Next is a feature most of us can appreciate. You know that annoying creek that you hear that can come and go and then come again? That is from a tiny bit of play between the bottom bracket bearing and your crank arm spindle. This is a metal-on-metal interface that can creek over time, driving you and your mechanic nutty because it requires regular re-greasing. The Chris King has solved this problem forever by using a “bottom bracket bearing spindle sleeve” which puts a permanent barrier between the two components. No more creeks, ever.
Apparently, the engineering is every bit as refined as the outward finish on these components. This bottom bracket comes in all of the Chris King colors seen on their legendary hubs and headsets, including nine standard colors and a periodic “special edition” color. The Chris King is available with standard English threading as well as PF30 and PF24, but conversion kits are available allowing these bottom brackets to be used with other popular cranks. Just ask your favorite BELGIANWERKX mechanic if your system is compatible with Chris King.
All of this engineering places the Chris King in a whole different category from a stock bottom bracket. Many would pay the difference in price just for the performance advantages alone. A frugal cyclist, however, can be “cheap” and stubbornly obsessed with the bottom line. So what is the bottom line? Here is the math over five years:
|Stock Bottom Bracket||Chris King Bottom Bracket|
|$55 + $25 install labor||$20 re-grease and adjustment per year|
|$400 over 5 years||$290 over 5 years|
|$800 if replaced 2x/year||$390 over 5 years if serviced 2x per year|
That pretty much settles it. It actually costs less to ride on a premium bottom bracket, even if serviced twice a year. If you are not overly abusive on your equipment and service it once a year, it is significantly less to install the Chris King.
Many times we find that component upgrades give us a bit smoother and lighter performance at a premium price. The frugal cyclist takes a pass on these components (but still dreams of riding them from time to time). Every once in a while the frugal cyclist finds a true diamond that is disguised as mere “bike bling”. The Chris King bottom bracket is all of that. Superior engineering that offers superior performance for many years, saving money and headaches, while looking as beautiful as it performs.