I have the XTR external bearing bottom bracket & cranks and have deformed (slightly squished) the plastic center piece that goes between the two bearings. Is this part important to the function of the bottom bracket? Should it be replaced?
Its actually quite important. If its not sealed right moisture will get inside and the spindle will rust. I had to deal with that with a friend who decided that part wasn't necessary. Removing the rusted crankset from the cups is no fun and will also damage the plastic cup cover caps. That said, if the part is squished it sounds like you are missing one of the spacers.
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