Skateboard Bearings - The Truth!!!
Probably the number one thing we get asked about here in the shop is skateboard bearings.
There is a lot of rumour, marketing hype and misinformation out there - we call them "skateboard bearing myths."
Some of them are classic... from greasing bearings with vaseline to diamond-coated titanium bearings, we've heard it all.
So here, for your enjoyment and possibly education, is the Vandem Longboard Shop "Bearing Mythbusters" - all your skate bearing related questions, answered!
- What are the best skateboard bearings?
- What are the fastest bearings?
- Will new bearings make me faster?
- Stainless vs Chrome/Carbon Steel bearings - what's the difference?
- What's the difference between titanium skate bearings and regular bearings?
- Ceramic skateboard bearings - are they worth it?
- Do I need speed washers for my skate bearings?
- Do skateboard bearings need spacers?
- What is a "built in" longboard bearing?
- What is a "Swiss" skate bearing, and is it made in Switzerland?
- Are "Shieldless" skate bearings better then normal skate bearings?
- What are the best shields for skateboard bearings?
- How long do skate bearings last?
- When do I need new skateboard bearings?
- How to clean skateboard bearings?
- I like to skate in the rain... will my bearings be ok?
- What ABEC bearings should I get?
- What does ABEC 11 mean?
- Are ABEC5 bearings good?
- Can you take bearings out of wheels?
What are the best skateboard bearings?
Let's get the biggest one out of the way first shall we?
This is a question we get asked all the time, and the answer is not what you think.
Second - you know that "test" that everyone does to check your bearings? You pick your board up and spin a wheel with your hand and see how long until it stops? IT DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING.
A bearing with all your weight on it will spin way, way better than an "unweighted" bearing. Unloaded bearings also experience "skidding" - whidch is where the balls don't roll around the races, they skid or slide - which means that spinning an unloaded bearing is even more meaningless. So you can stop flicking your wheels and timing how long it takes them to stop.
Any decent skate bearing from a reputable brand (hint - the ones who DON'T try to fob you off with ABEC ratings) will be fast, as long as the bearing is clean, lubricated and aligned properly in the wheel core. So really, the best skateboard bearings in the world are the ones that stay clean the longest.
In other words, as long as you're not buying total junk, good bearing shields are the most important thing. We recommned a rubber labyrinth shields.(RU)
Also important is the amount of side-to-side play. Bearings with a lot of play wear out faster, especially for longboarding, slalom and downhill.
Will new bearings make me faster?
Yes - but not as much as you'd think. 95% of the time, your choice of wheel urethane will make way more of a difference to your speed than your bearings.
On the other hand, if your bearings are rusted and crunchy, then a set of new bearings will make a huge difference!
This question tends to get asked by someone in the shop who is thinking about buying new bearings anyway, and we almost always fail to convince them not to buy some. So if you are asking this question, stop putting off the inevitable, get yourself some fresh bearings, and go skate!
Stainless vs Chrome/Carbon Steel bearings - what's the difference?
There are three metal parts to a skate bearing - the inner race, the outer race, and the balls.
In most skate bearings all of these parts made from are Chrome Steel, which is sometimes called Carbon Steel.
Sometimes though, you will see bearings marketed at "Stainless." This means that the balls, and sometimes the races as well, are made from Stainless Steel rather than Chrome/Carbon steel. They're usually a little harder to find, and a little more expensive.
Stainless Steel doesn't rust as fast as Chrome Steel, so it's great if you skate in the wet or you can't be bothered with cleaning your bearings every now and then. However, Stainless Steel is also softer than Chrome/Carbon Steel, so Stainless skate bearings don't last as long. Bummer!
We recommend Chrome/Carbon steel bearings, and a semi-regular bearing cleaning regime. Or just avoid skating in the wet.
What's the difference between titanium skate bearings and regular bearings?
We see that you can now by something called a "titanium" skate bearing.
"Titanium" bearings are not actually made with titanium balls and races. They are steel bearings coated in Titanium Nitride ( "TiN", like a "Titanium" drill bit). This is great, except the coating will wear off in a few hours of skating, and you'll be back to reuglar old steel bearings.
Titanium is an amazing material - it's way lighter and tougher than steel. Unfortunately, it's very expensive as a raw material, and it's also savagely difficult to machine and form, due to its surface toughness.
If you could buy real 100% Titanium bearings, they would be amazing - super light and ridiculously long-lasting (and outrageously expensive!). But you can't, and the TiN coating doesn't any speed or durability, so don't be fooled.
Ceramic skateboard bearings - are they worth it?
Ceramic bearings use ceramic balls and/or races instead of steel.
Ceramic is a super-hard wearing material, that in theory just blasts all the dirt and crap out of the bearing as it spins round. It also never rusts!
Ceramic bearings come in several varieties.
- Cheaper ceramics have one ceramic ball, six steel balls, and steel races. The idea is that the single ceramic ball keeps the races clear of dirt and water, meaning that you have to clean them less often. This theory sounds great, but doesn't really work out in the real world - one ceramic ball out of seven just isn't enough to keep the bearing clean, and the steel components can still rust. Our opinion - don't bother.
- Most ceramics have all ceramic balls, and steel races - also known as a "Hybrid" ceramic bearing. These are much better, and much more expensive. They do need cleaning less, and therefore they do roll fast for longer - but it's not a bullet-proof solution and they do need looking after, just less often. If you have money to spend and you want the best, this is a good place to be - although ceramics are overkill for most skaters, and very few will really notice the difference. the races can still rust too, so you're not totally free from cleaning!
- Mega expensive and rare are all-ceramic bearing (or "Full Ceramics"), which usually sell for around £30 for a single bearing. With these, the balls and races are made of ceramic - no steel at all! They are obviously amazingly smooth but also a spectacular waste of money - we are certain that your longboard or cruiser will not feel over £200 better. Full Ceramics are also not as tough as Hybrids or Full Steel bearings - see Ceramic Bearing Truths below...
While we're here disseminating some Ceramic Bearing Truth, there's two claims that are sometimes made about ceramics that are patently not true:
Ceramic Bearing Myth #1: You need to use a special grease
No, you don't. Just use a regular bearing lube, same as everyone else.
Ceramic Bearing Myth #2: Cermic bearings are self-lubruicating
No, they aren't. You need to lube them with something, otherwise the super-hard ceramic balls will eat the softer steel races for breakfast.
Ceramic Bearing Myth #3: Ceramic bearings are lighter
Seriously??? We're into bearing weight now?? Well, we have actually been asked this, so we checked - and you save a little less than 0.5grams per bearing. We suggest you free yourself from the internet and Go Skateboarding instead of worrying about this.
There's also a couple of things about Ceramic Bearings that you might not realise:
Ceramic Bearing Truth #1: They're not very strong.
"Hybrid" Bearings with Ceramic balls and steel races have a problem - Ceramic is around 30% harder than steel, so if you subject the bearing to a really big impact, the balls can actually permanently deform the steel races, leading to slower roll speeds and much faster bearing wear. Full Ceramics are even worse - so prone to cracking, in fact, that in industrial situations they are rated to around 25% of the top speed of an equivilent steel bearing for fear of sudden failure by craking. If you like to jump down stairs - get some Bones Big Balls or Super Swiss Six Balls instead.
Ceramic Bearing Truth #2: Ceramic bearings are NOT faster
Sorry to bust your bubble, but really, they're not. In most bearings, about 60% of the drag is caused by the shield, and 30% is caused by the lubricant. Most of the rest of the drag comes from the cage itself - "ball deformation," which is caused by the balls microscopically defoming in the race (which is the very problem that ceramic bearings would solve), accounts for only 3% of the overall drag.
What can we learn from this? Well, for starters, even if ceramic ball resulted in 100% less friction than a steel ball, you'd still only loosing 3% of your overall bearing drag. Secondly, you can make your bearings a relatively whopping 30% faster by simply removing one of your shields, and probably at least 15% faster by using a lighter bearing lubricant.
So why would you bother with ceramics at all? Well in our minds, the major reason is for the placebo effect. If you spend a lot of money on your bearings, you'll feel faster, and feeling faster is the same as being faster. Having spent loads of money on bearings, you'd also probably also look after them, which makes way more of a difference than what the bearings are made of.
The other reason to get ceramics is you don't enjoy cleaning bearings - fair enough, there's usually better ways to spend your time! If you're looking for a low-maintenance solution, ceramics could be worth a look.
So, all this considered, our recomendation for most skaters is this: just get a decent set of Chrome Steel bearings with good shields and look after them. Ceramics are nice, but they are a luxury that most will not notice. If you can afford ceramics, you can afford a really awesome set of steel bearings like Bones Swiss Bearings or Super Swiss Six Balls, both of which will outperform cheaper ceramic bearings all day. Spend your pennies on train tickets to the skatepark instead!
Do I need speed rings for my skate bearings?
Normal skate bearings need speed washers (or "speed rings") to stop the bearing from fouling on the axle nut or the hanger face.
Some trucks also don't have enough thread on the axle to tighten the nuts down enough if you don't have speed rings.
If you have normal skate bearings (ie not "Built In" bearings - below), then you really should have some speed rings. If you have BuiltIn bearings, then you don't need them. Hooray!
Do skateboard bearings need spacers?
Bearing spacers are little tubes that keep the inner race of your bearings correctly spaced and aligned on the axle.
The outer races are kept apart by the wheel core - but without a bearing spacer for the inner race, it's easy to overtighten your axles and put uneeded stress on your bearings.
This will slow your bearings down and wear them out super fast!
Skaters without bearing spacers might find it easier to just run their axle nuts a bit loose to keep the wheels spinning freely. This is even worse!
A wheel that is loose on the axle will give a noisy, chattery ride. Your bearings may roll faster for a session or two, but they will die way quicker as the side-to-side play becomes too much for the bearing to take.
In the end, you might well "explode" the bearing - the inner and outer races seperate, and your wheel falls off. Bad!
Bearing spacers are really worth putting in your wheels - they only cost a couple of quid, which is nothing considering that they make your existing bearings last longer and roll faster. And you can use them in any future bearings that you buy. What's not to like?
Need a better way to get your wheels with bearings spacers on your board without all the faffy alignment? Check this guide out!
What is a "built in" longboard bearing?
"Built In" or BuiltIn" skate bearings are just the same as a regular skate bearing - except that they feature an extended inner race on both the inside and the outside.
This means - no more speed rings or bearings spacers!
Speed rings are super annoying - They are really tiny and very easy to lose! Not needing them is insanely liberating, especially if you take your wheels off your axles at all often.
Equally, if you run bearings spacers you'll know how frustrating it can be lining everything up to get a wheel back on (although this technique for putting wheels on fixes that). Bearings with a built in spacer do hold themselevs in better alignment compared to bearings with seperate spacers, which helps prevent wear and therefore makes your bearings last longer.
What is a "Swiss" skate bearing, and is it made in Switzerland?
"Swiss" bearings are a special kind of skateboard bearing with a deeper bearing race, and this does not necessarily refer to the place of manufacture. That said, all Bones Swiss bearings are actually made in Switzerland.
The "Swiss" skate bearing was invented by George Powell about seven hundred years ago while he was looking for Animal Chin (still not seen him yet...)
"Swiss" bearings feature a deeper race than your average 608 bearing. This means that the whole bearing is better able to withstand sideloads, making Swiss bearings significantly longer lasting. Some other bearing brands call this type of bearing a "deep groove" race or similar.
If you've ever blown out a bearing, you'll know the value of a "Swiss" style bearing. If you are hard on your bearings, they're worth looking at - they definitely stay fast for longer.
Bones Bearings use the "Swiss" name to demote their high-end skate bearings that are made in Switzerland, to higher tolerances, better shielding and using higher-grade materials than their regular "Reds" range of bearings. All Bones Swiss bearings come pre-lubed with Bones Speed Cream, and are the bearing to beat if you are looking to get the best out there.
Are "Shieldless" skate bearings faster than normal skate bearings?
Some skate bearings now come without shields at all! Supposedly they are faster and noisier, and there is a trend for taking shields off of your bearings for a little extra speed. You can event buy shieldless bearings - check out the Bronson Raw Bearing!
If you've got this far, you'll know that we think the good shielding is way more important than bearing speed.
In our opinion, taking your shields off is pretty pointless - all that will happen is you will ruin your bearings faster. Yes, they will make a cool noise... but there is no speed increase over a "608ZZ", "608RS", "6082RS" bearing, and you WILL need to lube them ALL THE TIME.
On the plus side, cleaning couldn't be easier - no need to even take your wheels off, just dump some bearing lube in there every session and you're good to go.
We don't recommend shieldless bearings to most skaters, due to the amount of babying they need.
There's a reason that Bones Bearings, the world's best selling bearing company, don't make a shieldless bearing - they're not a good idea.
What are the best shields for skateboard bearings?
In as far as ABEC ratings are concerned, the seals have nothing to do with the quality of the bearing. However, for skateboarding, where we subject our bearings to all sorts of horrible Road Gunge, shielding is really important.
There are a few of different kinds of shield out there:
"ZZ" Metal Shields.Usually non-removable, metal shields are found on the cheapest skate bearings. Metal shields have a tiny gap between the shield and the inner race, which is usually covered by the nut or speed washer. Thanks to this gap, metal shielded bearings are very fast initially, as there is no drag from the shield, and they are surpisingly good at keeping dirt out - but they are also rubbish at keeping moisture out, so that speed doesn't last if you skate in damp conditions. We would only recommend 608ZZ metal shielded bearings to skaters on a budget who don't skate in the wet and are happy to buy new bearings instead of cleaning them. "ZZ" denotes two shields per bearing. Almost all metal shielded bearings have two shields.
Standard Rubber "RS" rubber shieldsFound on "608RS" or 6082RS" bearings. This is what you'll find in most skate bearings. Here, the bearing shield contacts the outer race, but like a "Z" metal shield, there is a small gap between the inner race and the shield to minimise drag. Rubber shielded skate bearings are definitely better at keeping dirt out than a "Z" Metal shield, but like their metal cousins, they do let water in so need regular cleaning if you skate in the wet. Happily, thanks to that gap, they are the easiest type of bearing shield to remove for cleaning. You simply slip the tip of a knife blade in between the inner race and the shield, and lever the shield off. We recommend 608RS or 6082RS bearings to skaters who want faster rolling bearings, and don't mind looking after them if they skate in the wet. A "2RS" bearing has two shields rather than one - we recommend a single shield like Bones Bearings for easier cleaning and less drag.
"Labyrinth" ShieldsFound on "608RU" or "6082RU" bearings. These are the same as the "RS" standard, but they have a bigger shield which contact the inner race as well as the outer race. For this reason they are also known as "Full Contact" bearing shields. The shield sits in a "V" or "U" shaped channel machined into the inner bearing race. So the shield is way better at keeping out not just dirt, but moisture too. The result? "Labyrinth" shielded bearings need a lot less looking after than "RS" or "ZZ" bearings. The first disadvantage of a Labyrinth shield is that there is a (hypothetical) speed penalty as the shield drags on both the inner and outer races (about a 35% speed loss), However, given that the top speed of your board is definitely not being held back by the theoretical performance of your bearings, you almost certainly won't notice it in real life. The second disadvantage of a Labyrinth shield is that they are a bit harder to get the shields off when you do eventually want to clean them. It can be done with a knife or engineers pick, but its easier to damage the bearing if you don't know what you're doing. We recommend Labyrinth shields to skaters who want their bearings to last, at the expense of a tiny bit in speed (which is unnoticable in our experience!). Bronson G3 Bearings are an example of bearing with a Labyrinth shield.
- You can also run your bearings without any shields at all - "shieldless"... which is exactly the same speed as a cheapo "ZZ" metal shielded bearing, except noisier, and without even the basic protection that a metal shield offers. You'll need a bottle of bearing lube for every session!
How long do skate bearings last?
Three things that will trash bearings are 1) Lots of water and 2) Jumping off stuff 3) Sliding.
If you don't skate in the wet, your bearings should last at least a year or two of cruising around, if not longer. If you do skate in the wet, make sure you clean your bearings regularly. For even better protection from the rain and road grime, pack your bearings out with a thicker grease.
Jumping off stuff on your skateboard is fun and we're not about to stop you doing it. You're probably aware that decks snap and trucks bend after a few big hits - but bearings take just as much of a beating. If you're a heavy hitter then you'll need new bearings more often - check out the Bones Big Balls and Bones Swiss Six bearings.
Sliding on a longboard, especially on grippy race wheels, puts a lot of sideload through a bearing. Over time you might find that your bearings slow down as the finely-polished races and balls wear in. We recommend some Built In skate bearings if you are doing any skating like this - they last a lot longer.
When do I need new skateboard bearings?
You need new skateboard bearings if your bearings feel rough or crunchy, or if you can feel them slowing you down when you push, even after you've cleaned them. Top tip - bearings are unlikely to slow you down at all unless they are really destroyed! Check your axle nuts aren't overtightened, and be sure that you're running bearing spacers and speed washers first.
You need new skateboard bearings:
- When your bearings have totally rusted because you didn't clean them after skating in the rain
- If your bearings feel rough and you can't be bothered to clean them
- If you already cleaned your bearings and they still feel horrible
- When you feel like spending some money on something you don't really need
When it's time for some fresh bearings - we've got what you need right here.
How to clean skateboard bearings?
Cleaning skateboard bearings is super easy. You need to strip all the old grease out, then clean the bearing, then grease them back up again. Check out our How To Clean Bearings Guide for a full step-by-step!
I like to skate in the rain... will my bearings be ok?
Dry your bearings out as soon as you get home, and clean them often, and you will be fine. When you do re-grease them after cleaning, use a thicker grease to keep the water out.
If you skate in the rain a lot, it might be worth having a spare set, so that you can have a set on ice if you don't have time to clean them straight away. Although if you leave a bearing wet for a few hours or overnight, it'll rust solid - so dry them out ASAP!
What ABEC bearings should I get?
ABEC ratings are pretty much meaningless for skateboarding. Get some proper skate bearings by a good brand instead!
The ABEC rating is designed to measure quality in industrial bearing applications - where the RPM is often very high, vibration is very low, and in a relatively clean environment. On a skateboard, we are spinning our bearings much slower, vibrating them to oblivion, all in very dirty environments!
The ABEC scale has five points - ABEC1, ABEC2, ABEC3, ABEC5, ABEC7 and ABEC9. As far as skateboarding is concerned, the shielding of the bearing is probably the most important single feature - and the ABEC scale doesn't cover shiedling arrangements.
Most quality skate brands don't even have an ABEC rating. For example, Bones Bearings identify their bearings "skate rated" in a deliberate attempt to emphasise the irrelevance of the ABEC rating.
Are ABEC5 bearings good?
They're as good as any other ABEC rated bearing. The ABEC rating isn't really applicable to skateboard bearings - how good a bearing is for skateboarding has little to do with it's ABEC rating.
When you are buying a skate bearing, pay attention to the quality of the shields over the ABEC rating.
A decent rubber shielded bearing by a proper skate brand will stay faster for longer than as no-name bearing with a high ABEC rating.
Rubber shiedls are also much easier to remove for cleaning, which is really the secret to keeping your bearings fast. Some skate bearings have rubber shields one only one side so you don't even need to remove any shields for a quick clean. Perfect!
If you want the cheapest bearings going, check out our ABEC 5 "Vandem Value" Skate Bearings!
Can you take bearings out of wheels?
Yes! And you don't need a special tool or bearing press to do it. Just use your axles as leverage, and apply twisting motion as if you are opening a bottle of beer. Check our guide here - how to change your wheels really fast!
There's no need to take all this advice to heart. Skateboarding and longboarding are "touch and feel," how your board feels TO YOU is more important than anything else.
So if you spend a load of money on some super-swanky bearings and it makes your board FEEL faster, then that's really the same as if your board ACTUALLY IS faster.
The #1 thing that makes you enjoy skating more is you and your confidence on your board. If having posh bearings in your setup helps your confidence and stokes you out - then you'll probably skate faster.
It can be very counter-intuitive to ignore the marketing and the hype sometimes. But in our experience, spending on really good bearings doesn't really do much for your overall speed. Buying decent wheels or cleaning your existing bearings almost always makes a bigger difference. But hey... we're a shop... if you want to buy some rad fresh bearings, we've got what you need!