The Great Debate
It’s a familiar discussion. It’s something you’ll hear people argue about on racing circuits, in RC clubs, on online message boards, and at the hobby shop where you buy parts. What you won’t hear is much consensus.
Everyone, it seems, has their own indisputable expertise or experience that defines their position. And everyone has an opinion.
But what is the REAL truth? Is there a way to end this endless debate once and for all?
First, there should be no doubt that ceramic bearings are objectively superior to steel in most ways. That’s not really a point worth arguing.
Ceramic balls are several times smoother and less porous than steel, giving them a much lower friction coefficient that allows them to spin with less heat, and with less lubrication. In fact, full ceramic bearings often perform best without any lubrication at all.
Ceramic balls are also significantly harder than steel. This makes them capable of handling heavier loads, and standing up better to the force of shocks such as crashes. Ceramic races, however, are not quite as durable as steel, and can break under sudden stresses. Hybrid bearings, which place ceramic balls between stainless steel races, do not have this issue.
Ceramic bearings are also lighter than steel. However, unless you are dealing with flying RC vehicles like planes, drones, or helicopters, this is not a significant issue. This weight difference is also virtually negligible between steel and hybrid ceramic bearings.
The Case for Steel
The argument for steel bearings usually hinges upon two distinct points.
The first is the durability of ceramic races, as mentioned above. This is a valid concern for many of the bearings on a typical RC vehicle, but not all. Transmission bearings, for example, are very unlikely to face the same kind of shock as wheel hub bearings, and the difference between steel and ceramics can be significant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dzP99OO7UI
However, the existence of high-quality ceramic hybrid bearings (like our Orange Seal Series https://www.bocabearings.com/products/bearing-applications/rc-car-truck-bearings/manufacturer-model-by-series/ceramic-orange-seal-abec-7-off-road ), effectively negates this argument. Ceramic hybrid bearings are simply stronger than steel.
The other argument comes down to price, and this is where everyone’s opinion of “worth it” comes into play.
The Value Conundrum
Being of a higher quality, it only makes sense that ceramic bearings are more expensive than their steel counterparts. The question is whether or not the quality difference is worth the cost. Unfortunately, there is no objective way to answer this question. Every driver needs to determine their own cost-sensitivity threshold.
This is, of course, complicated by the fact that not everyone drives RC the same way. Some push their vehicles to their limits driving grueling off-road courses or performing high-impact jumps or stunts. Others may race infrequently, or not race at all, instead putting their vehicles through paces on smooth roads or indoor tracks. Speed may not be as important as skill or it may be the most important factor there is.
That’s up to every driver to decide for themselves.
Doing Our Part
Of course, Boca Bearings is no more satisfied with this answer than you are. That’s why we keep doing our part through innovation. For example, to address the issue of cost, we recently introduced our new “GO Series.” https://www.bocabearings.com/rc-car-and-truck-tips--tutorials--and-articles/go-series-bearings-cross-reference-guide
These bearings are high quality ceramic hybrids, but they are more affordably priced to make it easier for steel bearing users to switch.
Will they put an end to the debate? Probably not. But we have noticed that even hard-line proponents of steel bearings tend to swap sides in the debate after giving them a go. Perhaps you should try them yourself and see.
Got any ceramic stories of your own to share? Don’t be shy! Send them to us at Info@bocabearings.com. We want to hear from you. It’s a great way to earn free bearings, swag and more!