The Wheels Manufacturing Large Bearing Press is the last bearing press you'll ever need to buy. Just as well given the price.
The march of cartridge bearings into cyclists' lives started in the late 1990s, firstly with wheels and then in a big way with Cannondale's BB30 bottom bracket setup being widely adopted. Now – with a few notable exceptions – most hubs, bottom brackets and headsets use cartridge bearings.
For manufacturers the main benefit is being able to effectively wash their hands of anything to do with the bearing itself - they simply ensure there's a hole of a specific diameter in their product, and the market then provides specialist bearings for the purpose, ranging from a few quid for something you might also find in a roller skate, washing machine or power tool, right up to a few hundred quid for a bike-specific super-light ceramic model.
The ritual of regularly rebuilding hubs and bottom brackets has largely disappeared as cheap cartridge bearings have replaced cup and cone designs. And good riddance I say - taking an hour out of every month to rebuild a well-thrashed square-taper mountain bike BB with new loose bearings and grease is not something I miss.
While the parts of a traditional bottom bracket (spindle, cups and bearings) were replaceable at not much cost, cup and cone wheels are a different thing altogether - if you run a hub past its 'rebuild due' date you've knackered the hardened bearing face and it's new hub time - which used to mean a wheel rebuild. Nowadays, with labour costing lots and decent wheelsets available relatively cheaply, a knackered hub probably means a new wheel. Not good for your bank balance, or the planet.
The cartridge bearing goes a long way to solving this issue of the hub face wearing out - simply swap the entire bearing. However, this introduces a new challenge - how to do so without knackering the bearing bore it fits into. This is where tools traditionally only seen in garages have made their way onto bike workshop pegboards, in the form of bearing presses.
The bearing bore needs to be machined to a high tolerance, to perfectly fit the outside of the bearing and not allow any movement at all - which would translate into wheel play or creaking. If a bearing is removed or installed incorrectly, the bearing bore will be irreparably damaged and any future bearing will either creak, wobble or both. Also, the bearing itself can be damaged through incorrect installation - damaging the seals and introducing wear into the bearing prematurely. Using the correct-sized 'drifts' is essential, and applying force in a controlled, aligned way is critical.
At £300, the Wheels Manufacturing Large Bearing Press is probably going to be the most expensive bike tool you will ever own, unless you get into frame building. For your money you get the 'press' itself, which consists of a fine-pitch threaded rod and two handles, plus 16 different-sized laser-etched pairs of 'bearing adapters', aka drifts.
As this is the 'Large' bearing press, every adapter has an internal diameter of 10mm or more, to match bearings of the same or larger diameter. A small bearing press is available for - you guessed it - small bearings less than 10mm internal diameter, but sales of this model are declining as road axle diameters increase to 10mm or beyond, largely driven by the growth in disc brakes and the need to distribute the much more focused braking forces through the dropout while keeping the axle in the same place.
You also get three 'speed spacers', which greatly speed up the process of installing a bearing by reducing the number of handle turns to get to the point of contacting the bearing. Not so important for home use, but this is a shop-grade tool and time is money. You get four 'frame linkage standoffs', for use when replacing bearings in mountain bike suspension arms. These are for where you need to press bearings in, passing the threaded rod (with standoffs on it) through one pivot to reach the other side, and don't want to compress the suspension swingarm - the amount of force the Large Bearing Press can exert would easily bend or crack a frame.
This is all presented in a lovely engraved wooden plinth with 16 posts to keep each pair of bearing adapters in place. Again, keeping all the drifts in one place speeds up work.
The press itself is made of stainless steel (the threaded rod) and 6061 aircraft-grade aluminium (the handles), with the handle faces made of brass to ensure longevity.
The threaded rod is also internally threaded at one end to allow a standard QR skewer to thread in and be used in conjunction with Wheels Manufacturing's 'over axle bearing kit' (sold separately). This is for hubs where there's a high shoulder on the axle itself that acts as a stop on the inside race of the bearing, so the axle cannot move left or right once the bearings are in place. This means that when installing the bearing you have to press on both the outside and inside races at the same time, as the bearing slides along the axle itself. Tricky to envisage, but the Large Bearing Press handles it with ease by simply flipping the handle around and winding it outward against the axle/skewer, instead of inwards. It's a smart idea that means you don't need a separate tool for wheels with shouldered axles.
The 16 pairs of drifts cover almost every bearing size out there. In the last two years 15-26 x 7mm bearings have appeared, but you can use the 6000 drift for these as it has the same outside diameter. A few hubs - notably Novatec and Hed - require checking to be sure there's a drift available, as do non-driveside 22mm-inside-diameter SRAM GPX bottom bracket bearings, for which Wheels Manufacturing has drifts for purchase separately.
There's a lifetime's worth of reading on the possible permutations, bodges, adapters and fixes for the unholy mess laughably known as 'bottom bracket standards' out there. Chances are the Large Bearing Press has you covered.
Using the Large Bearing Press is a joy. The tolerances, the feel, finish, and having pretty much every possible bearing size covered makes for an enlightened state of Fettliness. A critical part of bearing installation is knowing when to stop - so you don't damage hub or bearing faces, or the bearing itself. The smooth action and tight tolerances of the Large Bearing Press mean you can feel the exact point at which the bearing seats fully, and can stop winding down. The speed spacers make the process quicker, particularly when doing bearings in narrow applications such as inside freehubs.
Wheels Mfr is at pains to point out you should always do first one side, then the other - never pressing in two bearings at once. Alignment is critical - hence why having an accurate press with the correct-diameter drifts is so important to ensure a perfect 90-degree angle to the bearing/bore.
Having a wide range of bearing adapter sizes to hand meant I was able to completely rebuild a bike's bottom bracket and rear wheel in one go - only the narrow 8mm diameter front hub bearings required a different approach. On a Fulcrum Racing 7 rear wheel I was able to replace the two bearings inside the apparently non-serviceable R5-020 freehub as well as the wheel bearings themselves - so all four done at a bearing cost of around £20 for quality dual-sealed bearings (cheaper ones are available). This meant that the freehub lived again instead of being binned and a £60 replacement purchased.
If you ride hard in hard weather you could be up for a new freehub/hub bearings every year or two. A shop is going to charge you probably £100 or more all-up for the new Fulcrum/Campagnolo freehub and hub bearings plus fitting, so you can see how, saving roughly £80 a time, the Large Bearing Press will pay for itself. Savings will come even quicker if you are servicing mountain bike suspension pivots or wheels, almost all using cartridge bearings now that thru-axles are basically standard.
Wheels Manufacturing has been around for 28 years, and prides itself on customer service. If you have a question on how to use the Large Bearing Press, the company promises to do its best to assist - which is bike-cartridge-bearing-specific expert help that you won't get from ebay, Amazon or most other places you could buy a bearing press for less.
To head off the inevitable comments listing the myriad ways of doing cartridge bearings without resorting to a £300 tool, yes, they exist and I've tried a fair few of them. Using socket sets, hammers, punches, screwdrivers, ring spanners, gas pipe, bits of 4x2 and god knows what else is to hand are all tried and tested ways of doing cartridge bearings on the cheap.
What advocates of these methods will not tell you is when they ruin a hub or frame through cack-handedness. It may not become apparent the first time a bearing is replaced by the wrong tools used wrongly, but eventually the law of averages will win and you'll render a frame/hub defunct due to excess play or creaking, not to mention probably damaging the bearing itself leading to premature wear.
The benefit of cartridge bearings is you dispose of both worn surfaces in one go. If in doing so you damage - even incrementally - the surface the bearing has to sit in, it's a false economy. For rim-braked wheelsets ridden year-round a cartridge bearing may well outlast the braking surface, meaning there's no point replacing them unless you're also up for lacing a new rim on. But with the rise of rim-wear-free disc brakes, rims should be expected to live as long as frames if treated nicely - making cartridge bearing servicing likely to be on your to-do list after a while.
If you buy a used frame or wheelset and the owner says they've replaced the bearings themselves, ask what tool they used. Be wary if the reply is 'Acme Finest socket set, a bit of 4x2 and some welly...'
Wheels Manufacturing advises that 90 per cent of Large Bearing Presses go to shops, but it is seeing an increase in sales to home users - probably driven by disc brakes making larger-diameter cartridge bearings pretty much standard on new road bikes. This trend will only accelerate as disc brake and thru-axle technology trickles further down the groupset chain.
If you have cartridge-bearing-equipped bikes and ride them often, like the idea of DIY and saving yourself cash in the long run, not to mention time spent schlepping your bike to/from your local bike shop, then the Wheels Manufacturing Large Bearing Press should be on your to-buy list. Buy once, cry once, then wait for the beers to roll in as your clubmates come to you for quality bearing work.
The Pro Mechanic View
Sean Lally of Dorset-based bike mechanic tutors Cycle Systems Academy knows a thing or ten about cartridge bearings:
Q: What would you say the benefits are of a shop-quality tool like the Wheels Manufacturing press over something off ebay for maybe a tenth of the price? Ultimately it's just a bit of threaded rod with a handle, right?
A: The handle and threaded bar part of any bearing press is not the important part, it is the bearing 'races' which sit snugly into the required bearing. Shops obviously need a whole selection of these, whereas an enthusiast may only need the ones for their particular BB. Cheaper tools press bearings in at an angle and are not worth bothering with.
Q: Shimano has stuck with cup and cone while almost everyone else has moved to cartridge. Why do you think that is, and do you think Shimano will change at some point?
A: Shimano claims that as wheel bearings have to deal with side loads the cup and cone system works better than the cartridge bearing setup everyone else favours. People who know Japanese culture well have suggested the big S may just not want to admit it is wrong here and so 'saves face' by continuing down this road. So no, don't expect it to change anytime soon!
A tool to last a lifetime, which you'll revere as your holy of workshop holies
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Wheelsmith Large Bearing Press
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Wheels Manufacturing Large Bearing Press (Press-1) is a shop-quality tool for the installation of many different sized sealed bearing on road and mountain bikes.
Wheels Manufacturing say:
Wheels Manufacturing says: "Gone are the days when shop mechanics grabbed whatever socket was close enough to the sealed bearing size and just tapped it in. The Press-1 Sealed Bearing Press replaces that archaic installation system, providing the right tool for the job. Press-1 installs 16 bearing sizes including 3 different bottom bracket bearings. Also includes linkage offsets for full suspension bearing installation. Installs sealed bearing sizes: 2437, 6000, 6001, 6002, 6003, 6801, 6802, 6803, 6804, 6805, 6806, 6900, 6901, 6902, 6903, 6904"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The Press-1 installs 16 bearing sizes with an inside diameter of 10mm or larger, including 3 different bottom bracket bearings. It also includes linkage offsets for full suspension bearing installation.
The finish of the tool is a work of art.
The Press-1 is very nice to use – effortless. The quality of the threaded rod, the handles and the drifts makes installing a breeze.
The laser etching on the drifts means there's no chance of ever mis-identifying the right part to use.
The Press-1 is at the high end of bearing presses. But when you factor in that you're getting 16 different sets of drifts, the price isn't so bad.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Excellent. Can't fault it.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Everything in one place, nice and tidy.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It's almost too pretty to be given a good thrashing in a greasy workshop.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
At £300 RRP this is a seriously pricey tool. But when you factor in the 16 different sets of drifts, what you have is a set likely to be able to do anything you need it to, even with a family or club-load of road and mountain bikes.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 183cm Weight: 71KG
I usually ride: Charge Juicer My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: club rides, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, and Dutch bike pootling