The headset that won’t die? CeramicSpeed rolls out SLT bearings

CeramicSpeed brings its solid lube bearings to headsets and suspension pivots with claims of lab-test-defying durability.

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CeramicSpeed has quietly rolled out what could be a significant update for headset and suspension pivot bearings. SLT (Solid Lubrication Technology) bearings are said to offer staggering levels of durability, potentially offering some light at the end of the tunnel for painful headset replacements on frames with internally routed wires/cables and hoses.

The Danish brand has already partnered with Factor (and several other manufacturers yet to be announced) to include its SLT headset bearings as standard for some models.

Durability, you say? Tell me more

CeramicSpeed says SLT is “the secret ingredient behind our toughest bearings to date”. At the heart of the solid lube technology is a solid oil-infused plastic polymer. This polymer is injected into the cartridge and fills the cavity between bearing and race. Microscopic pores allow the oil infused in the polymer to lubricate the bearings and the polymer itself becomes a second seal, ensuring any contaminants that penetrate the outer seal effectively have nowhere to go. 

What does this mean on the road? In theory, the design means a lack of lubrication, dirt ingress, and grease contamination – the main causes of bearing failure – are no longer possible. CeramicSpeed even claims attempts to kill its new bearing proved unsuccessful. Emil Dahl Mathiasen of CeramicSpeed told CyclingTips several colleagues had tested the bearings for two and a half years with zero maintenance yet the bearings showed zero signs of wear.

Furthermore, the Danish brand’s in-house testing found a “market leader full ball pivot bearing failed at 600,000 pivot oscillations”. CeramicSpeed claims it shut down its testing on the new SLT bearings at 1.8 million repetitions as the bearing was showing zero signs of wear and was still fully functional.

So confident is CeramicSpeed in the new SLT bearings it is covering those bearings with a lifetime warranty. Such lifetime warranties usually carry some requirement to adhere to the ongoing maintenance requirements; not so here. CeramicSpeed claims the new SLT bearings require zero maintenance. 

The bearing looks just like any regular bearing, but all the magic is hidden inside.

Déjà vu?

Solid lube bearings such as this are not exactly anything new. This self-lubricating design was first patented in the 1970s and is commonly used in the food manufacturing industry, where constant cleaning processes would quickly destroy standard greased cartridge bearings, potentially contaminating machinery and food in the process. 

The cycling industry has long understood the potential benefits of solid lube bearings. CeramicSpeed itself first announced SLT bearings for suspension pivots as far back as Eurobike 2018Enduro debuted its ultra-durable solid lube bearings earlier this year, and Cane Creek briefly offered its Hellbender Neo bottom bracket with promises of care-free durability, although that’s seemingly discontinued now. 

There are a few differences here, though. Enduro and Cane Creek both offered bottom brackets, and despite Enduro planning further applications, we were warned not to hold our breath for solid lube headsets. CeramicSpeed’s own launch back in 2018 only included mountain bike suspension pivot bearings. Now the Danish brand has seemingly cracked the formula for a solid lube headset bearing.  

Given we have already seen SL bottom brackets, it is perhaps somewhat strange then that CeramicSpeed says SLT bottom brackets and hub bearings are currently not possible in its bottom brackets. A major factor in developing suitable solid lube bearings is getting the polymer right. Too stiff and the bearing can’t move freely; too soft and the lube can break down.

The SLT bearings’ staggering durability claims likely come with the caveat of some increased friction. Perhaps the brand synonymous with decreased friction drivetrains is not yet ready to do a 360 on its hubs and bottom brackets, even if it does mean increased durability. 

Take my money

So how much will all this increased durability sting your wallet? Well, nothing at the moment. CeramicSpeed says because of the huge number of sizes and standards, it cannot currently offer the SLT bearings to aftermarket customers. Instead, it will focus on partnering with OE brands and manufacturers to include the bearings as standard with new bikes. As it builds up this portfolio, CeramicSpeed could then look at offering these bearings to aftermarket customers. When pushed for a price, CeramicSpeed said it could see SLT bearings being priced similar to its coated options. 

Factor has included SLT headsets on all its bikes as standard since August. While CeramicSpeed couldn’t give us any further names just yet, it did say that “In addition to Factor having chosen CeramicSpeed’s SLT Headsets as standard on their bikes since August 2021, from spring 2022 we will see the headsets as a standard feature on a renowned road bike brand whilst the SLT pivot bearings and headsets will also feature as standard on a new full-suspension mountain bike from a major bike brand.”

Should the SLT headsets prove to do as they say on the tin, and with so many bikes now featuring internal cable routing, let’s hope more manufacturers start including the headsets as standard on such bikes. Even then, a bearing can’t solve all internal cable routing concerns. Any complex cable routing or internal cable rub issues will remain. It’s worth noting also, that while these bearings may well solve the issue of having to replace the headset bearings, they don’t at all fix the issue of the bearing and frame interface becoming dirty/mucky/rusty/dry and so some maintenance will still be needed.

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