Saint-Gobain has worked with Norco, Cane Creek and Saracen. BikeBiz finds out why

Norglide composite bearings: lightweight and maintenance-free

MTB athletes Catherine Vipond and Andrew Watson are both no strangers to winning, Vipond the current champion of the Women’s Canada Cup cycling competition, while Watson has won the national Men’s Canada Cup series Under-23 competition three times. Both elected to ride Norco’s Phaser during the 2011 championship season.

The Phaser is one of a growing number of bikes that has made use of Saint Gobain’s lightweight Norglide composite bearings – in its rear suspension. BikeBiz picks up the story with Paul Humphreys, global market manager bicycle for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics (Bearings and Tolerance Rings SBU)…

How was behind the Norco/Saint-Gobain team up? 
It really started with a discussion between Norco and Saint Gobain – they were developing a bike that was relatively new type for them and we discussed how our composite bearings could be used for the suspension pivots on the rear suspension.

They found that Norglide bearings provide significant weight savings – they could save quite a bit of weight because the bearings weigh 1.2g each. I’d estimate the weight of a ball bearing to be around twelve grams each. With for or six of them on each frame that’s a significant saving.

So weight was one of the key reasons?
Definitely, we find that weight is either the most or one of the most important factors when we talk to bike designers.
The other advantage of Norglide for Norco was that we could provide a low friction alternative. With suspension, the bike provides a smooth comfortable ride and offers the traction at the rear end of the bike between the wheel and the ground through the suspension system.

In addition Norglide bearings are durable and reliable – they don’t have to be changed too frequently and also maintenance-free.

The other benefit is that the bike is sold mainly in Canada, where they have quite a bit of wet weather. It’s important that the Norglide bearing is durable in those kind of gritty and wet conditions that the MTB is used in so there are no bearing failures.

Has Saint-Gobain worked with any other bike brands?
Madison UK used Norglide bearings in the Saracen Ariel, that’s one of the most recognisable names. We’ve also worked closely with Cane Creek, where they use Norglide bearings in the AER headset – which I believe they call the world’s lightest headset.

How long have you been in the bike market?
Probably about ten years, since then it’s been building from year to year – especially over the last seven years.

How large is the range for the bike industry?
We have a whole range of products, but our philosophy in general is to have a custom-made bearing for the customer’s application. So we don’t actually have a catalogue range of products, we develop bespoke bearings specifically for the customer.

Is it the fastest bearing on the market? Is that the right term?
In terms of superlatives, I’m not sure fastest is the right one, but it might be the lightest – it’s certainly very lightweight and that’s why it’s been selected by our customers. It does have the ability to control and reduce friction in the bearing area, so that you have a very smooth, easy to operate suspension joint or fork. But fastest? I’m not sure I could apply that – maintenance-free, lightweight and reliable are the superlatives I’d use.

How would you summarise Norglide bearings for the industry?
Norglide bearings are small parts that a cyclist might not necessarily see on the bike, but it’s an important part which improves performance and the rider experience, whether that’s on a city bike, road race, folding bike or a cool MTB like the Norco Phaser. It’s something that helps the overall experience.

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