A guide to choosing the right bearing
Updated: Jan 26, 2018
Every component on a skateboard or longboard is important, but you might not notice if most of them are in poor condition. Not so for the bearings. We can clean and oil our bearings to help them last longer, and we can avoid water so they never rust. Eventually, though, all bearings wear out. So, what do you do when it’s time to replace your bearings? Here’s what you need to know.
The Parts of the Skateboard Bearing
A bearing consists of steel balls that roll along curved tracks, called races. The inner race is on the cylinder (ring) that installs directly over the axles on the trucks. The outer race is on the ring that seats in the wheel. Between the races, the steel balls are separated by a nylon ball retainer, sometimes called a Delrin crown. Metal shields enclose the steel balls and their retainer, keeping out dirt and holding in lubricant.
It’s important to note that the shields do not make a perfect seal around the bearing. They allow contaminants inside the cage, and they will allow excess lubricant to seep out. As the wheels spin, overly lubricated bearings will spew lube all over the wheels. Besides being a mess, the lubricant makes the wheels slippery. Go easy with the lubrication, but do not allow bearings to go unlubricated, which leads to rust.
What are those ABEC Ratings?
The ABEC number associated with a bearing is based on a scale developed by the Annular Bearing Engineering Committee, which is part of the American Bearing Manufacturers Association. The ABEC scale goes from 1 to 9, in odd-number increments. The committee established tolerances for how much each component can deviate from perfectly smooth for each ABEC rating. Higher numbers have smaller tolerance windows for acceptable deviations.
Bearings with ABEC 9 ratings are intended for machinery that spins at much higher rates than skateboard wheels, while ABEC 1 ratings are for much slower-spinning equipment. Most skateboard bearings fall between ABEC 3 and ABEC 7 on the scale. There are a few things to consider before deciding to go with a higher rating, which may not necessarily be suited to your style of skating.
Skill Level Considerations
Just like many other product designs, especially in skateboarding and longboarding, there is a quality range to bearings. A beginning skater might not want or need faster bearings. Riding a cheaper bearing and wheel setup makes a lot of sense for those riders who haven’t yet learned to control their boards. Using lower rated bearings makes speed control easier, because their added friction means they slow sooner.
As new skaters progress, they inevitably want to upgrade their bearings in an effort to go faster. Higher speeds require more durability, as well, and high ABEC ratings typically supply both. Using lower-rated bearings at first allows that room for growth. You’ll appreciate the added speed much more when you can control it. Still, improving skills don’t necessarily mean you have to go all out on bearings with higher ratings. There’s still more to consider.
Street skating versus the skatepark
The modern concrete skatepark is a beautiful thing. Silky-smooth concrete and flowing transitions are the norm at skateparks. Under these conditions, lower-rated bearings will more than suffice. Brand-new bearings will groove with the ideal conditions at a concrete park, getting faster and faster with use. The added cost for ABEC 7s may not be worth it for a park setup.
For street skating, the best bet is to get bearings with higher ratings. Under the rougher, dirtier conditions of the street, bearings tend to wear quickly. Grit and grime work their way into the bearing cages, and the steel balls pulverize the contaminants as the outer race spins. High rated bearings are soon no better than new mid-grade bearings. Because of the abuse they endure, the most expensive bearings are likely a waste of money for street setups.
Longboarders face a similar dilemma to skateboarders. Beginning riders normally benefit from starting out with lower-rated bearings. If they are still too fast, you can overtighten the axle nuts a bit to slow them further. Beginners usually learn pretty quickly, though. Many longboarders eventually find themselves standing atop a hill, steeling themselves to bomb it. In that situation, you don’t want to be questioning your equipment.
Using highly rated bearings on downhill isn’t just about going as fast as possible. At the upper limits of heat and friction that come with downhill speeds, bearings become much more prone to failure. A broken bearing can spell catastrophe at these hyperactive speeds. The bearing is the most complex component on a skateboard. Higher ratings are insurance policies against high-speed malfunctions.
There are those skateboarders who say that the ABEC rating is a myth, or that it is at least a marketing gimmick. This is untrue. These ratings are industry-standard in machining, where high-speed bearings are a necessity. Engineers design their machines around the intended bearing’s tolerances, and skateboards use those same precision bearings. The skateboard wheel wobbles much more than most of those machines do, though, so extremely high ratings are a waste.
Yocaher’s Ritalin bearings are a great choice for beginners and experienced riders alike. Our ABEC-5 bearings will suit beginning longboarders and skateboarders well, without imparting the icy feel that bearings with higher ratings can produce. They are also perfect for the park, breaking in quickly and maintaining their speed well on the smooth concrete surfaces.
For downhill longboarders, it’s best to go with higher ratings. Yocaher ABEC-7s are built to exacting tolerances. They can take more abuse, and are also a popular choice among experienced street skaters. These are our premier bearings, and they are a direct OEM Yocaher bearing replacement for all our completes — be they longboards or skateboards.
On that note, check out the bearings we offer HERE