Picking up Nickels

Friday, February 09, 2007

Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt

By now, everyone has heard about the infant car seat safety report that Consumer Reports retracted after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found problems with the way these tests were conducted. While I do believe that Consumer Reports does have the best interests of the consumer in mind, this retraction is a good reminder that they do get it wrong sometimes.

I experienced this first hand a few days ago, when the freewheel clutch broke on my NordicTrack SL 728 exercise bike, a
Consumer Reports Best Buy in February 2006.

I tend to depend on Consumer Reports reviews when I am buying something that I don't have much experience with, as was the case with this exercise bike. My wife and I ended up buying the NordicTrack bike at Sears last year primarily based on the thumbs up from Consumer Reports. I didn't have a problem with it until recently though, since a couple of injuries (and general laziness) limited my use of it until last month.

Once I started using it regularly (3x per week), my bike broke down in 4 weeks. This breakdown surprised me since I am not terribly fit and am far below the 250 pound weight limit specified in the users manual. I started doing some online research and quickly found that I am not the only person to have this problem with a NordicTrack excercise bike. This excerpt from an
epinions.com review explains the problem in great detail:

The problem is that the freewheel clutch bearing is extremely weak and cannot sustain the torque of pedalling the machine and the inherent transient loads that it is subjected to as you turn the pedals (as each leg "strokes", load is applied to the freewheel device and then released, with the maximum at approximately half your leg's extension.) It WILL fail, and when it does, your machine is dead.

Mine survived originally for a week of daily aerobic workouts, about an hour's worth a day. Then with a loud "CRACK!" the freewheel bearing failed and the pedals turned with more "crack" noises - but no drive to the flywheel. This happened originally in one of the pre-set programs at resistance setting "9" - pretty heavy work (maximum is "10").

I called ICON, and they sent out a new crank assembly. Disassembling the bike's covers and parts to get to the bad assembly required a pair of snap-ring pliers and a gear puller for the crank arms - which I had, but many home users will not. Replacement was a 15 minute job with the proper tools; without them you'll be going back to Sears to buy them, or waiting for their "home service."

Unfortunately, the replacement crank assembly lasted TWO DAYS, and failed in EXACTLY the same manner as the original, in EXACTLY the same place on the SAME program!

Since my bike is out of the 1 year warranty period, I have decided against spending money to repair a problem that is likely to occur again and have chalked it up as a lesson learned. I have been able to jury-rig the problem so the bike is somewhat usable at low speeds, which I believe will at least allow me to get some aerobic exercise until it is warm enough for me to ride a real bike outside.

This $400 lesson taught me that I shouldn't weigh the opinions of Consumer Reports as heavily as I do, and hopefully I will remember that the next time we are planning on making a large purchase. :)

Update: Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt


  • That's too bad to have a $400 machine go bust. Did you buy the bike with a credit card? Sometimes the credit card will extend your warranty for one more year.

    By Blogger TFB, at 2/9/07, 12:38 PM  

  • If you bought the bike with a platinum credit card (mastercard or visa) then you should have an extra year of warranty on it. Just find the receipt and call the mastercard or visa number that handles these things. More than likely they'll just give you money for it.

    By Anonymous kupony, at 2/9/07, 1:05 PM  

  • This story illustrates that you are more likely to get good information from websites than from looking at Consumer Reports, or at least you should look at both. CR will buy 120 different models of printer and test each of them two or three times, at best, and rate them in order, with virtually no difference between the 20th model and 80th. On the internet, you will find results from hundreds of people each of whom have tried brand n. There is more statistical power, although response bias means that many more negative results will be posted than positive. But that's good,you want to hear those negatives. A malfunction rate of 1 in 100 may be good enough for brand n's business model, but CU has only a one in 100 shot of discovering it-- maybe one out of the 120 brands of printer will have that unlucky hit. But the internet will out the problem.

    By Blogger Bill, at 2/12/07, 7:42 AM  

  • Thanks for the cc extended warranty idea, I have to admit that I never thought of that. I would rather have cash than a free repair though, since I think it would only be a matter of time before the bike would break down again.

    My first place to research any purchase or repair is always a google search, but I didn't really come up with much when I went looking for information on exercise bikes. In retrospect, I probably would have been better off if I had waited a few months for the poor reviews to trickle out there.

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 2/12/07, 10:26 AM  

  • thanks for the post - i have just experienced the same on a bike that just went out of warranty. i don't currently have gear puller or snap ring pliers - can you give me specifics on the what sizes i might need to remove the crank arms? it would be greatly appreciated!

    By Anonymous dw, at 2/13/07, 1:40 PM  

  • dw,

    My NordicTrack model SL 728 bike must be a slightly different design from the NordicTrack model TRL 610 posted in the epinions review, since I was able to get at the damaged part with a couple of wrenches.

    To get at the broken freewheel clutch on my bike, I had to loosen the nuts on the idler (belt tensioner) to remove the drive belt. Then I was able to remove the flywheel clutch by removing the nut and washer that were holding it in place.

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 2/13/07, 2:15 PM  

  • I have a bike with the same exact problem, is there a way to buy this bearing without getting the whole flywheel also? Seems like a waste since all I need is this one part.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/29/08, 1:06 AM  

  • Sorry, I haven't bothered tracking down the part since I figure that would end up breaking too.

    If I knew of a place where I could pick up a few replacement bearings for a reasonable price (< $100 total), I would do it in a heartbeat.

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 1/29/08, 9:21 AM  

  • http://www.amazon.com/Torrington-RCB-081214-Drawn-Roller-Clutch/dp/B000MNC5Q2 is the roller clutch (bearing) that is in the center of the black cast metal pulley. Problem is I'm guessing when the roller clutch went it heated up and I have a crack in the pulley. I've been trying to find the pulley but it doesn't seem to be a stock part the way the other parts are. I may wind up JB Welding the pulley and then putting a new roller clutch in. I talked to Icon Fitness and they only sell it as part of the flywheel or $80.xx. More than I want to spend on something that might break in 10 minutes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/30/08, 11:44 AM  

  • Okay, so I pounded out the roller clutch (Bearing) and I've ordered a new one. I'll let you guys know how well it works once it arrives & I install it. It would be nice to figure out a $20 solution (With shipping) to a problem that Icon Fitness wants to charge us $80+shipping for.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/2/08, 7:54 PM  

  • Wow, that's an interesting development. Thanks for the update!

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 2/2/08, 9:11 PM  

  • A new rcb-081214 bearing will also break. That bearing is not designed to take the torque needed and breaks (It's used in copy machines!). You can fix the bike, but it requires you to purchase two sprockets and a chain.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/4/08, 5:26 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Greg, at 2/5/08, 1:57 AM  

  • I suppose I should finish off my budget fix saga.

    It worked, though not as clean as I had hoped. As I expected, the crack in the cast metal pulley wasn't making a good fit with the roller clutch so I had to do a little monkeying to get it work correctly. Nothing a little Dremel time & some cold weld compound (Loctite's version of JB Weld) can't handle.

    So it's installed & working. Total cost including shipping was $20.13. As for longevity I can't make any promises...I did regrease the roller clutch a little before I installed it to see if that helps any but on the whole if it lasts for a few months I think I got my money's worth. The bike's previous owner (Who got rid of it on craiglist free pages to me) used it for 3 years almost daily on the original roller clutch....they can last, they just don't always seem to do so. It is an odd choice of parts but as I said, I don't expect a whole lot for $20.14.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/22/08, 3:24 AM  

  • Anonymous,

    Thanks for the update.

    Any pics of the finished product? I actually took my bike apart for a second look based on your previous posting.

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 2/22/08, 3:41 PM  

  • I'll put up a pic here but it won't be very exciting. I have the side covers off (Just in case it seemed prudent to give the bike a "Beta Test" period) so I'll take a pic of the black cast pulley when it's on the bike but the washer & snap ring are blocking the roller clutch & the cold weld. You can plainly see the crack in the pulley, though.

    http://img214.imageshack.us /img214/1381/bikegj0.jpg

    Sadly this blog won't take the whole url so take the space out of the address (After the .us)& then paste it into your browser to see the pic.

    Speaking of which, I noticed the blog cut off my amazon url as well. Just search for RCB-081214 in amazon and it comes right up.

    If I can be of any more help just let me know.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/23/08, 12:21 AM  

  • Thanks anonymous, your break looks just like mine.

    If I'm following you correctly, it sounds like you used epoxy to bind the broken pulley to the new roller clutch from Amazon, right? I'm assuming that means a compromise between a usable bike and the loss of the freewheel capability though.

    I'd certainly be willing to give that a shot for $20...

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 2/24/08, 11:58 AM  

  • No, no, I didn't affix the roller clutch to the inner spindle, I affixed it to the black cast metal pulley that it is pressed into. I can still pedal backwards or stop pedaling without having the flywheel stop.

    Since I have a crack in the pulley when I put the new roller clutch in it wasn't pressed it so I had to adhere it using cold weld compound. I did have to make grooves in the inside of the pulley & the outside of the roller clutch to give the compound something to adhere to but outside of that it was pretty painless.

    I am very curious how long this thing will last, I do one of the programs nightly and so far so good. We'll see how it does long term.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/25/08, 6:18 PM  

  • Thanks. I'm going to order the part and have a go at fixing it myself.

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 2/26/08, 7:53 PM  

  • Nothing I did in fixing the bike could be considered hard or technical, the only problem I could see someone having is if they don't own snap ring pliers it would be a little harder.

    Good luck in your repair quest.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/27/08, 11:54 AM  

  • Can someone who's done this post how long the replacement part has lasted and some instruction on how to remove/insert the bearing?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/8/09, 9:52 AM  

  • Hi,

    I followed up on my fix here, with a basic overview of how I did it.

    It is also still working fine 1+ years after the fix, although I only use it when bad weather makes riding outside a no-go.

    By Blogger Frugal Frugalson, at 11/8/09, 10:05 AM  

  • Took awhile for the TRW part to come, but worked like a charm. Thanks!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/25/09, 10:50 PM  

  • I'd like to thank Frugal Frugalson and everyone who contributed ideas to this thread.

    I too experienced the roller-bearing failure on my Noridic-Trac R400, but thanks to the step-by-step repair instructions, I was able to replace the bearing and get the thing up and running again.

    I was actually able to remove the right side of the housing and pull it down over the pedal shaft to get at the bearing and friction-motor assembly. I removed the old bearing (easy, because the pulley was cracked), scored the inside of the pulley with a file, and cut criss-cross grooves into the outside of the new bearing, and then JB-welded it in place. Granted, it'll probably die again, but if I get another 6-months or year out of it, I'll be happy.

    Thanks again for the repair advice!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/29/09, 12:18 AM  

  • I purchased the replacement bearing from Amazon, and it lasted less than a week.

    I'll be taking my NordicTrack to the county landfill tomorrow.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/10, 10:59 PM  

  • Hi
    I bought Nordic Track SL 728 bike.
    Also had the same clutch bearing crack (RCB-081214). Their only fix is to buy a complete new flywheel for $128. Then take off the bearing. I say it was probably a Chinese product that was built poorly. I am going to try the fix with a Torrington bearing bought from Amazon for $15.46 and then use the lower settings on the bike and not the higher 9 and 10 settings.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/1/10, 2:20 PM  

  • I have had the same problem with my Epic version of the same bike. it is a torque bearing manufactured in the USA! The part # on the bearing is RCB-081214 it can be purchased for about $16.00 but one must take it to a Machine shop to have the old one pressed out of the pulley and the new one seated. If some one works in a machine shop I would think they could make a nice profit selling just the pulley with a new torque bearing installed in it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/9/10, 2:33 PM  

  • I have just broken the second RCB-081214 One Way Needle Bearing/Clutch 1/2 x 3/4 x 7/8 Inch on my NordicTrack SL528. I knew it was the clutch bearing the first time but NordicTrack ( ICON Health and Fitness ) doesn't just sell the bearing assembly, you have to get the whole flywheel assembly (~ $150.00). This one only lasted me another 1000kms.

    The casing around the bearing is NOT cracked, that's the way it's built. The bearing does not slip inside that casing but the pin needles inside the bearing are breaking out of the plasitic retainer. THIS BEARING IS NOT DESIGNED FOR THIS MUCH FORCE. This is your typical designed point of failure for home equipment and I am really tired of companies that do this.

    I think I am going to key the shaft and bearing assembly and basically turn this into a spin bike. HA HA, I win.

    By Blogger Dave, at 1/28/11, 6:38 PM  

  • I have encountered this exact problem with a Nordic Track SL710 recumbent bike. I've gone through three roller/clutch bearings in just a few months of use. I also developed the cracked pulley that was described above.

    Based on what I've read here, I won't be spending any more money repairing this bike. The design flaw is now obvious.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/21/11, 9:11 AM  

  • We have a Nordic Track SL728. After only 680 miles the clutch broke.

    After reading these comments we have decided it might be prudent to drill a hole through the clutch and insert a pin to lock it in place. At least the bike will continue to work and it will basically cost us nothing to fix.

    It's an option, but it means the pedals continue to move when you are done pedaling so be careful.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/4/12, 9:41 PM  

  • I have the same problem with my bike. I was able to buy the bearing at Central Bearing for $17.00 dollars. The main problem is that the Cast pulley surrounding the bearing cracks allowing the bearing to exceed its specs to function properly. I took the pulley and bearing to a local machine shop and they made a new pulley out of STEEL. My bike has worked flawless under all loads. Total cost was under $100.00

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/28/15, 9:41 AM  

  • I experienced this first hand a few days ago, when the freewheel clutch broke on my NordicTrack SL 728 exercise bike, a Consumer Reports ... nordictrackbike.blogspot.com

    By Anonymous Nordictrack Bike, at 9/25/15, 2:50 PM  

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