Fishing Reel Bearings 101

Fishing Reel Bearings 101

Fishing Reel Bearings 101

by March 12, 2016

When someone shops for a reel, they are bombarded by specifications and features that manufacturers paste in their ads, on boxes and the internet. One of the most important parts of your reel are the bearings. These little rings reduce rotational friction and support radial and axial loads as you use the reel.  There is generally confusion among consumers about what bearing count actually means and how to interpret specifications on the boxes of reels.

We’re going to try and break it down for you in a series of articles. This first article will cover the basics of bearing components and function. Our next article will cover bearing super-tuning and aftermarket bearings.

Bearing Construction

Ball bearings have balls inside them that run on raceways. A raceway is basically a ring with a groove on the inside where the ball rests and runs along. There are two raceways, an inner raceway and an outer raceway. To keep the balls evenly spaced so the bearing is balanced, there is something called a cage, inside the bearing. The cage is very thin metal and is simply there to maintain the spacing of the balls. Precision ball bearings must be used for the spool due to the low friction and minimal contact points. Ball bearings are used as opposed to other types of bearings because they can spin faster and achieve their maximum rotational speed quicker.

Roller bearings work on the same principal, but instead of balls, they will have rollers inside them. Roller bearings can withstand higher loads, but will have more friction because the rollers make much more contact with the races; contact is along the length of each roller. Reels use roller bearings for the handle because of the stress that is put on the bearing when reeling in a fish.

Fishing Reel Bearings - Shielded Bearing Component cross section

 Fishing Reel Bearings - Shielded Bearing Components

Fishing Reel Bearings - Bearing Components


Different types of bearings

Fishing reels use small precision ball bearings to allow parts to move. Roller bearings and ball bearings are the two types of bearings that reels use. Bearings, like most consumer goods, have different features and abilities. Common features are:

Shielded Bearings – These are bearings that have a disc on one or both sides to keep out contaminants from entering the bearing. As you can imagine, if sand or water were to enter the bearing it would not function very well. A shield will have a retainer ring that keeps the shield in place. A shielded ball bearing is not necessarily a corrosion-resistant ball bearing.

CRBB- Corrosion Resistant Ball Bearings are the type of bearings you, ideally, want to see on your reels. These bearings are either treated to resist moisture, or are made of materials that do so. Stainless steel ball bearings would fall into this category as they naturally resist corrosion. Shielded CRBBs are the best.

ABEC ratings

ABEC ratings are important to understand because they are a standardized unit of measure for rating the accuracy and tolerances of bearings. ABEC stands for Annular Bearing Engineering Committee. Although ABEC ratings are standardized, they are not used worldwide. It is not mandatory that all bearings have an ABEC rating, or that manufacturers disclose them. Many reel manufacturers don’t even know the ABEC rating of the bearings that they use.

There are 5 classes, which range from 1 to 9; 9 being the highest class providing the most precise tolerances. In most cases, the ABEC rating on bearings is not as important as the actual material the bearings are made of and weather they are shielded or not. The difference between ABEC 3 bearings and ABEC 5 bearing would be so minute that you probably would be better off keeping your reel clean and properly oiled. When reel companies refer to “standard bearings” it is understood that they are automatically ABEC 1 rated by default.

Is more better?

Yes, and no… More is better, but quality is most important. Reels that boast 10+ bearings need to be scrutinized and the quality of the bearings installed can be a factor. Reels with more Shielded CRBBs will last longer and put up with more abuse. The only downfall is price. Precision bearings with high ABEC ratings are not cheap and manufacturers usually leave it up to the angler to upgrade them. In some cases, bearing placement during design will dictate how well the reel performs. Some companies, such as 13 Fishing, focus on optimal bearing placement as opposed to the actual number of bearings on the reel.

Fishing Reel Bearings - Baitcaster Bearing Positioning

The typical 4+1 bearing positioning on a baitcaster is shown above. Of course, reels with higher bearing counts will have more bearings throughout the reel.

When you look at the bearing count on a reel sometimes it will be referred to as 4+1, or 5+1. Typically the +1 is referring to a roller bearing. If a manufacturer lists their bearing count as 5BB+1RB, they mean 5 ball bearings and 1 Roller bearing (typically a roller bearing is used to support the handle axle).

Researching bearing specifications doesn’t guarantee you will be a better angler, or help you buy a better reel for your needs, but it will help you understand just what the sales guy is talking to you about when he starts spitting out bearing stats your way. Knowledge is power and being able to sort through technical data without your head spinning will remove some frustration and help you make a better reel purchase decision with your hard-earned dollars.

Tight Lines!


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