Fishing reel bearings make your reel go around.
No matter what brand of reel you have whether it’s a Shimano or Daiwa, without fishing reel bearings inside them, the word smooth wouldn’t exist in reel vocabulary.
If you have never serviced a reel before, you might not have seen one of these ball bearings. I hadn’t until I fully opened my Shimano Tiagra reel due to a weird noise it was making, and once I fixed the bearing, it was working smoothly again.
Knowing about bearings is key to ensuring the performance of your reels, and I’m here to tell you all you need to know so you can keep your reels running smoothly.
In this article...
What Are Fishing Reel Bearings?
They are ball bearings and they look a bit like a donut.
They come in various types from ceramic to stainless steel and you find them in all spinning, trolling, and baitcaster reels.
What do fishing reel bearings do?
This includes knobs, the spool, gears, and even a level wind.
The ball bearings reduce friction in the rotation of a reel.
So when you wind a spinning reel, for example, ball bearings are ensuring that each rotation
has minimal friction so you can wind quickly and smoothly without much force against you.
This also applies to casting a baitcaster reel.
They serve to let the spool spin as unimpeded as possible ensuring you get the maximum casting distance possible.
Are more bearings in a fishing reel better?
It would be common sense to think that the more ball bearings in a fishing reel the smoother and better quality it will be.
This is true, as the higher the number of ball bearings there are, the less friction, so every wind, cast, or gear movement should technically be smoother.
Quality Over Quantity
The problem with this theory is that it all depends on the quality of the ball bearings.
5 high-grade quality ball bearings will create less friction than 12 low-quality ones.
So a reel with 12 ball bearings might not be as smooth as a reel with 5 in it.
How many ball bearings should be in fishing reels?
The minimum number of ball bearings in quality fishing reels should be 4 or 5.
A reel with 4 or 5 high-quality ball bearings will have enough reduced friction to operate smoothly and under pressure when fighting a fish.
Parts Of Fishing Reel Bearings
If you imagine a donut, the races would be the crust on the inner and outer circle.
On ball bearings, the inner race goes around the inner circle and the outer race around the outside.
Each race contains the balls and creates a raceway from them to move around in.
In the raceway are cages that consist of linked collars.
They look a bit like the plastic that holds beer cans together.
They are either made of plastic or stainless steel and are there to hold the balls, evenly spaced apart, within the raceway.
Inside the cages go the balls.
These are what let the bearing turn with limited friction for smooth performance and you’ll usually find 8 balls in a single bearing.
The balls can be made of ceramic or stainless steel and take up to 50-75% of the bearing weight.
The number of them inside the bearing affects its smoothness – the more there are the better the friction and energy are dispersed for smoother performance.
The shields are discs found on the side of the bearing that shield them in order to protect the balls from rust and dirt.
They can be sealed, or unsealed.
Sealed bearings last much longer and perform better as corrosive elements have a harder time getting in there.
Shields can be permanent or removable so you can clean and lubricate the bearing.
Types Of Bearings
There are 3 types of bearings used in fishing reels and you should be aware of their tolerances so you know what you’re dealing with.
Something we should get straight now is that all these bearings are the same in their build and made of stainless steel, as mentioned above.
The only thing that differentiates them is what the balls are made of.
Stainless steel ball bearings are made with a stainless steel ball in each cage. These are the most common standard bearings on the market and are relatively inexpensive to produce.
A stainless steel bearing is quite durable but the stainless steel ball may cause some surface wear even if it’s well lubricated.
They are quite corrosion-resistant but the heat treatment each ball goes through does weaken the bearing’s resistance to corrosion, which is something to note if you fish in saltwater.
A standard or low-quality reel may use chrome steel ball bearings as they are less expensive to produce.
Chrome steel is harder than stainless steel but it’s far more susceptible to corrosion and wear than stainless or ceramic, and if you fish in saltwater they are best avoided.
Ceramic bearings use ceramic balls cased inside a stainless steel housing.
Each ball can either be 100% ceramic or stainless steel with a ceramic coating, known as a hybrid.
Ceramic balls have much higher tolerances to wear, rust, and are much smoother than stainless steel, even as a hybrid.
They have much higher performance, last up to 5 times as long, and you’ll find them in high-quality reels.
A hybrid ball is around the same weight as a stainless steel one, but a 100% ceramic ball is up to 60% lighter.
This means a reel with 100% ceramic bearings will be a lot lighter, smoother, perform better, and resist corrosion a lot better too.
This kind of precision and quality doesn’t come without a price though and these kinds of bearings are expensive to produce and buy.
The ABEC Bearing Rating Scale
ABEC stands for Annular Bearing Engineers Committee.
This committee came up with a standard rating system for bearings to categorize their dimensional precision.
The rating system goes from ABEC 1 (lowest) to ABEC 9 (highest).
The better the rating the closer each ball is to dimensional perfection which translates to better rotation and a higher speed.
This rating system only touches on one point that affects how well a bearing will perform though.
It does not take finish, material, corrosion resistance, lubrication, or the number of balls into account which all affect overall performance.
Bearing Terms To Get Your Head Around
If you went shopping for ball bearings today to upgrade your reels with, you’d be open to a load of acronyms around the products which are a bit mind-boggling.
Here is some free knowledge to help you understand them.
CRBB stands for corrosion-resistant ball bearings. These are Daiwa’s bearings and they are sealed, specially treated, made of stainless steel, and are said to last up to 12 times longer than standard stainless bearings.
If you go fishing in saltwater, these are the bearings you want on your reels.
HPCR or high-performance corrosion-resistant bearings are made by Abu Garcia.
They are shielded, stainless bearings that have been made from a special rust-resistant reel. They say the steel works better dry, runs at a higher RPM (revolutions per minute), and if contaminated will run better than a normal bearing.
These are good for freshwater reels.
AR-B bearings are stainless ball bearings that are open and not shielded.
They are said to be 10 times more resistant to corrosive elements and a normal bearing and turn at a higher speed thanks to the open design.
How to maintain your reel bearings
You should maintain your spinning, baitcasting, or trolling reel at least once a year to ensure it keeps on going, no matter what size it is.
A key part of keeping them alive is looking after the bearings.
To service your bearings you’ll need to first clean them and then lubricate them.
Cleaning them is easy – just submerge them in some degreaser for 2-3 hours ensuring you have removed the seal if it’s made of rubber or plastic.
Once soaked, remove the bearings and dry them completely either with an aerosol or by leaving them out for 24 hours. Once completely dry it’s time to lubricate.
You can use either grease or oil as your lubricant.
Oil is good for casting reels, while grease is best for trolling reels, especially if used in saltwater as grease provides more protection than oil.
You’ll need to remove the seals or shields, add the oil/grease, and re-seal.
Do not over-lubricate or you risk dumbing down how well it spins.
You should now know everything about bearings so you can shop with confidence and service your reels at home.
It’s always worth having some spares at home, and checking what type of bearings are in your reel so you can upgrade them if they are under-par.
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