There are a lot of opinions on what is the best number of ball bearings in a spinning reel.
You may be shopping for the best spinning reel for you and are confused by the number of ball bearings, or bearings in general are best in fishing reels. You may have seen expensive spinning reels with five ball bearings and inexpensive reels with many more.
In a spinning reel there are what we might call essential ball bearings for the must have bearings and optional bearings that may add to small increments of smoothness or durability to the fishing reel, but you could live without them. Just like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.
Spinning Reel Ball Bearing Location
A best practice here would be to look at where the essential fishing reel ball bearings are. There are two ball bearings that are located on either side of the crank gear. They are typically located in the body of the reel where the handle shaft goes through. Those play a big role in cranking smoothness.
There are two main shaft bearings located within the reel body and as the name suggests, the main shaft rides on them. They are essential for the stability of the spinning reel. The main shaft transfers the cranking power to the spool.
A spinning reel bail wire should have a good quality ball bearing where the fishing line runs off the spool. This bearing can see a lot of stress because of side loads exerted on it by the fishing line. It is however interesting to point out that some very fine surfcasting reels use a bushing at this location due to the corrosive nature of saltwater and saltwater spray. Other bearings that are inside the fishing reel are protected from the elements. These is a reason why the KastKing Sharky III Spinning Reel, although it is a sealed reel, uses a sleeved busing in the bail wire for more saltwater fishing durability.
These locations represent five ball bearings – two crank handle bearings, two main shaft bearings, and one bail bearing. You may see reels expressed as 5 + 1 BB. That means there are five ball bearings and one anti-reverse bearing. Although the anti-reverse bearing is a roller bearing and not a ball bearing it is a must have bearing (it keeps your spool locked up when you set the hook).
How Many Bearings are Needed In a Good Spinning Reel?
As you can see, and as you may have experienced, five bearings are pretty much the starting point for a good spinning reel. Are there reels with less ball bearings? Yes, there are. Those spinning reels are typically much less expensive because bushings are substituted for ball bearings. It is substituting quantity for quality.
What about spinning reels with eight, ten, twelve or more bearings? As mentioned, ball bearings can be added to give a reel a smoother cranking feel, for example in the handle (a Shimano Stella spinning reel, which is among the most expensive fishing reels, uses eight ball bearings in the handle knobs!), added for stability, or assist the drag washers in letting the spool spin smoothly under load.
In the end, the more bearings a fishing reel has the smoother it will be. As long as the bearing are in the right place, and they are good quality ball bearings, the answer is buy a spinning reel with as many bearings as you can afford.