Speed and control are a combo that every skateboarder is looking to maximise. Regardless of terrain, you can make an informed decision to get a perfect ride that doesn’t suffer in durability - and it quite simply comes down to price. The higher the price, the faster and more durable the bearing typically is. This isn’t a hard and fast rule though - there are some nuances with purchasing that we will break down in this article.
Most bearings designed for skateboarding will be the same size and fit your setup without issue - this is known specifically as the 608 bearing. Your options vary in terms of materials used, unique design features and an ABEC rating to denote the level of performance offered.
ABEC is a rating system to determine the quality of your bearings, almost always appearing on marketing materials. You’d be correct in thinking the higher number correlates to higher quality, but this will not always guarantee that your setup will actually roll faster or last longer for your specific use case.
The term is an acronym for the Annular Bearing Engineering Committee and specifically rates how precise the tolerances are of the product - for skateboarding use, an ABEC 1 or 3 bearing is arguably sufficient. Any higher ABEC rating will indicate a greater level of quality and potential, although the felt improvement may only be marginal. If you are looking to strictly bomb hills, then an ABEC 7 or 9 bearing will show some benefit, but if street skating is your thing then it may not be worth paying more to unlock speeds that you don’t consistently ride at.
A standard bearing features a selection of shields, spacers, washers and retainers. These parts, paired with quality design and construction materials, can provide greater benefits than a higher ABEC rating. With proper maintenance and skateboard-grade lubricants, your selection should work for months or even years to come.
The biggest differentiator in price and quality comes from the construction material of the bearing balls. Steel is commonplace for most designs, but this will be upgraded to titanium or ceramic in high-end options. Titanium offers a smoother and more durable ride, while ceramic does this again to an even greater degree. These harder materials will reduce friction and increase longevity, while ceramic additionally doesn’t rust when exposed to water. Maintenance is almost unnecessary altogether with ceramic bearings also.
Shields do exactly as you might expect - they protect your bearings from external dust and contaminants. These have been grouped with spacers and washers here as they all are somewhat optional. You may even see professional skateboarders pop their shields off on purpose. This is usually an aesthetic preference, and/or to hear the bearings as they roll - a profoundly pleasant sound to some. Similarly, spacers are often omitted from professional setups and even from bearing packs altogether. The benefit of installing a set though, is to hold the internal shape inside the wheel in high-impact situations and ultimately increase the lifespan of your bearings. Washers are another optional extra to reduce friction and usually come bundled with your trucks.
Ultimately, unless you have an endless supply of bearings, it would make sense to keep the shields on.
Retainers effectively hold the individual balls into evenly spaced grooves to stabilise the interior, increasing the lifespan of your bearings. This comes at the expense of adding friction, but ultimately with the amount of impact and torque that skateboarding can apply on bearings, it is a worthy trade. You will find these almost universally on skateboard-specific bearings.
The majority of bearing brands will offer a few options at increasing price-points based on ABEC rating, as well as premium titanium or ceramic packs. Some brands also provide a six-ball option, with the balls being larger than stock. This increased size leads to greater speed and durability.
Bones are a brand who have been at the forefront of skateboard bearing manufacturing for decades. They have become a household name and provide a staple go-to product with their “Reds”. Bearing-focused manufacturers provide fair game, with the likes of Bronson Speed Co., Andale, Hard Luck, Modus and Vallet keeping up with unique technologies and manufacturing. Increasingly fast and robust variants are available, with your budget being the main limitation.
Inversely, if you are looking to roll fast on a budget, you have options too. Many deck, truck and griptape manufacturers provide a core option - brands such as Spitfire, Independent, Shake Junt and Enjoi. These are just as trustworthy, although they usually only provide simple features. (Having trouble choosing the right decks and trucks for you, check out our helpful guides on how to choose your first skateboard deck and the best skateboard trucks for beginners.)
Your choice of bearing should come down to purpose and price. Ultimately, if you are not planning to take your setup down tall drops, then you may not have to stress about durability. Similarly, if you are in full transportation mode and want to maximise speed, then you’ll find higher rated options will benefit this purpose better. In either case, you’ll also have to decide if a higher quality material is worth it also - replacing bearings less frequently may be the deciding factor for you. If you are planning to ride in dusty environments often, then it would be a no-brainer to spend the extra for a more bespoke product.
A dent in the pocket with no noticeable performance benefit may be disappointing, which is why it is worth reiterating that you should buy for your individual needs. You may find similar disappointment investing in cheap unknown bearings - make sure you buy from a trusted brand, like those listed above. Those extra few dollars may be the difference between a product that actually functions properly.
It would also be beneficial to educate yourself in maintenance, as a few simple steps can multiply the lifespan of your bearings. Firstly, all removable parts should be taken off. Then the bearing can be flushed with a non-water-based solution like isopropyl alcohol or acetone. Coating them with a skateboard-specific lubricant will get them running smooth again, which is the last step before reassembling. Cleaning should be performed regularly, especially if you are noticing an inconsistent or slow ride - some brands offer a washing kit to simplify the process.
Hopefully that covers all the questions you have when selecting and maintaining skateboard bearings. Roll on.
Bearings are only a single element of a skateboard. If you're interested to learn more, check out our other helpful guides on how to build and assemble a skateboard from scratch and how to choose your first skateboard wheels.
Looking to buy a new skateboard? We have included everything you need to know in this complete skateboard buyer's guide written by our skateboard pros. Check it out now!
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