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Reel Talk! January 2004

This month I’ll address a couple of common questions I get through Ifish.net or the ReelMeister.com web site. I think this may shed some light on some common myths and misconceptions about what makes our reels reely good or reely stinko.

Dear RM,
I am interested in a Shabu xr500. It has ELEVEN bearings and really felt smooth in the store.I bet that thing could cast a grasshopper the length of a football field! And it’s only fifty-nine bucks! Why would I buy a (abu, shimano, penn, etc) when I can get all those BEARINGS for less?

Razzled by Dazzle

RbyD, RbyD, RbyD.
You’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book. It’s marketing at it’s best. When a company makes a shiny reel that looks like the “other brands” and has more “features”, how can you go wrong? Plenty of ways, my friend.
First, let’s discuss what bearings do. Bearings are designed to allow surfaces to “bear” against each other. The idea is (generally) to create the least amount of friction between the surfaces, allowing for longer casting distances, and perhaps less wear on components that are in close contact with each other.

Any lubricant can be considered a bearing of sorts. It prevents the metal to metal contact from becoming too nasty. A thinner lube in the case of a plain bearing, such as those on the ends of many older Penn reels, gets you plenty of freespool, but you may be sorry later when you have a catastrophic failure when pulling in that barn door halibut. So a plain bearing (ie no balls) usually requires grease or a really heavy oil to both minimize friction and keep some freespool available.

Many reels have bushings instead of ball bearings. Look at some of the lower-end Abu Garcia reels. In the spool, you’ll find brass bushings. They’re cheap. They last forever and ever. And you know what, they work pretty darn well. But. Plain bearings and brass bushings DON’T give you that smoooooth retreive that can be so captivating in the tackle shop. They have looser tolerances by design, and if you switch out bushings for bearings in an Abu reel for instance, your retrieve will feel superb. Your casting distance may or may not be different, however. But that’s for another time.

So where were we, Grasshopper? Ah yes. The next step up in bearings is what most people imagine a bearing to be. A Ball bearing. It has a cage which hold the balls and they run around in the race. Cool! But balls do not a bearing make. Huh? What I mean is, not all ball bearings are created equally. There are differences in material. Are they cheap carbon steel ( found in many off brand reels) or stainless steel? What is their ABEC ( Annular Bearing Engineering Committe) rating?

Higher ratings mean more cost to the manufacturer because tolerances must be far tighter for each step. ABEC standards range from 1 to 9. Quality manufacturers use ABEC 3 bearings or above. At the ReelMeister shop, one of our more popular services is to replace standard bearings with those of a higher rating, usually ABEC 5 or 7. I called a company a while ago who offered me some cheap bearing(name brand) at a too-cheap price. The guy told me they are the OEM supplier for reel company “X”. I asked what the ABEC rating of the bearings he offered was. “ABEC one”, he replied.
Oh well. If it’s too cheap to be true... you know the rest.

Okay, let’s say you have a name brand reel, and it has a respectable amount of bearings, let’s say three or four. Where are they? And what do they do? I’ll leave that for a later Reel Talk column, but suffice it to say that some are there to suspend the spool with as little friction as possible away from other friction inducing surfaces, and others are mainly there to improve the feel of the retrieve. When you get in to 6,8,12 bearings, it sounds sexy, but it’s engineering overkill and presents another set of problems: Bearings require maintenance.

It’s not enough to just shoot some oil (hope you read the November Reel Talk on this subject) on to the bearings and expect them to last that way for years. Bearings fail for two reasons in my experience: Corrosion and Dirt. Bearings must be flushed once a season if in fresh water, and more often if you have a ball bearing reel used in the salt. Remove all old lubricant, dirt, grime and water. Refill with fresh lube. Go back and fish some more. Repeat. But you have to be able to get at the bearings, and that often means a complete tear down of the reel. Oh, and proper reassembly of course.

So, in summary my friend Raz, I suggest that you ask not what bearings can do for your reel, but what your reel can do with more bearings before you decide what to buy.

Dear RM,
I have an old Shakespeare Markhoff from the late 1950’s. I need the little screw that goes over the cover that latches on to the antireverse, you know the little threaded dealio that usually has a reverse acorn nut on the opposite end? I really need one by tomorrow, and would love to give you the business if it’s not too expensive....


Oh, Man. I get so many of these letters every day. Ted, I appreciate your need for speed, and am glad you appreciate vintage reels as do I. But we don’t sell reel parts. Period. And there is one simple reason. Most guys think that if they just get the right part(s), they’ll figure out how it goes in. Done deal. Well that’s as may be, but most of the time, finding the right dealio for your reelio is not as easy as it sounds. And you may order the wrong part. Or install it wrong. And poor old RM, who searched the parts bins and tracked down the item and shipped not the old version but the updated correct version as per manufacturer update number 341-11256G ends up getting blamed for a faulty part when in fact it wasn’t the right part you asked for to begin with and when you put it in wrong you created a new problem and never even solved the first problem to begin with.


So no, I don’t sell reel parts.

But I sure can figure out what you need and put ‘em in right.

Until next month,


Entire Contents of This Article Copyright ©2004 Al Chirinian/ReelMeister.com. All Rights Reserved.

[ 01-03-2004, 03:21 PM: Message edited by: reelmeister ]
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