There are many ‘standards’ in the road cycling world but none that causes more ire than pressfit.
Cannondale developed the BB30 bottom bracket in 2006 as an open standard. It used a larger 30mm axle which allowed bigger bearings and a bigger bottom bracket shell, providing extra stiffness and lower weight. But it required a precision machined shell and crank, and was expensive to manufacture with an alloy shell bonded to the carbon frame.
Pressfit soon followed in 2009 and aimed to address the high tolerances of BB30 by housing bearings in nylon composite cups that are then pressed directly into the frame. It reduced the manufacturing costs, and this helped it to be swiftly adopted by frame manufacturers. It still offered all the same weight and stiffness benefits of BB30, but with more simplicity and lower cost.
However, while the use of plastic shells lowered the critical need for high tolerances, variations in quality control lead to a litany of creaking bottom brackets, a result of a poor interface between the bearing and frame. Internet forums are full of frustrated cyclists trying to cure noisy pressfit bottom brackets.
But something interesting is happening in the industry. We’re seeing new frames being developed with conventional threaded bottom brackets replacing pressfit, to the rejoicing of cyclists everywhere deafened by creaking pressfit installations.
Could it be that the love affair with pressfit is over and the tide has turned back in favour of the threaded bottom bracket? We spoke to two bike brands big (Specialized) and small (Bowman Cycles) to get their perspective the future of pressfit.
We asked these companies because Bowman’s updated Palace R frame has swapped from pressfit to threaded, and for its new Roubaix Specialized has used a threaded bottom bracket on the entry-level model and a pressfit on the top-end S-Works bikes.
I think the primary problem with pressfit is that an error at any stage can cause the most horrendous noise problems, and they are not easy to remedy without spending money. A threaded bottom bracket, on the other hand, can be taken out, greased, retightened and fettled far more readily, and the threading does away with the need for such accuracy during the manufacture, as by nature it will tighten (as long as the frame is faced properly).
The larger pressfit shells do allow for carbon engineers to do interesting things with layup and tube size, but for metal frames, the benefits from a frame manufacturing process are limited, if you can afford to research and develop any chainstay designs tyre clearance preference require.
In metal frames, I’d suggest they should be dead as every manufacturer makes a superb chainset that fits natively. Carbon is another matter as the customer seems to want to chase the smallest number of grammes as the latest must have. Bonding in a thread for a bottom bracket is not only adding a possible failure point down the road, it also adds weight in a world where people are spending a lot of money to save six grammes making a totally hollow dropout.
The customer just needs to realise that the high tolerances needed to make a pressfit bottom bracket work in a carbon frame cost money. It can be done - and people shouldn’t be fobbed off if their high-end composite bike creaks, but they also need to be realistic. There are solutions out there that companies can use to make reliable, light frames, Colnago’s C60 has an elegant solution and a frame that still builds up stupidly light. The T47 standard is another option that privately many product managers want too use, but the gram chasing mainstream does not permit it.
So, is it dead? Yes, kinda, maybe - not quite.
Without it sounding a cliché, Specialized is, and has to be, about rider first engineering; we have to look at the rider at every level and with every budget first to give them the bike and equipment that gives them the best riding experience and performance benefit.
So the easiest answer to this is, yes, for Specialized pressfit bottom brackets still have a future where absolute performance matters, given that they are stiffer and lighter than a conventional threaded bottom bracket.
The ‘but’ is that a pressfit system requires incredibly high tolerances and the highest standards in quality control in frame manufacture for it to function at its absolute best, and this realistically is achieved with high cost and low volume.
The other variable is the frame material and method of manufacture.
So, with the new Roubaix platform as an example, Pro and S-Works models have a press fit BB30 system, and Expert level and below use a conventional threaded bottom bracket.
We doubt pressfit is going to vanish anytime soon. For high-end frames developed for racing the weight and stiffness benefits trump all other concerns, and some of the issues are often down to poor installation. For professional racers, bikes are regularly cleaned and maintained. For cyclists that don't have a pro mechanic washing their bike after every ride, Park Tool has interestingly developed special compounds that it reckons helps to eliminate the potential for a creaking pressfit bottom bracket. We'll be testing those soon to see if they are the perfect solution.
But it's clear pressfit has lost many fans over the years. There's no denying the simplicity and ease of installation offered by a threaded bottom bracket setup., and the bearings appear to be less susceptible to British weather and infrequent servicing plans. So, we fully expect more bike brands to follow Bowman and Specialized's lead for bikes aimed at regular everyday cyclists rather than the pro racers, who don't have to pay for or look after their bikes, and spec threaded bottom brackets.
What do you think? Will your next bike have a pressfit bottom bracket or has the creaking driven you mad?
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.