When you think about what keeps your skateboard moving, the first thing that comes to mind are the wheels that carry you forward. Perhaps more importantly, however, are the bearings that sit within these wheels.
Since these bearings tend to be more of an afterthought, a lack of understanding and a lack of proper maintenance for bearings seem to go hand in hand.
To clear up some of the most common misconceptions regarding the performance of bearings, we dug deep into the factors behind them.
1. Handspin Equals Performance
NOPE! More often than not, the first instinct that many skaters have when getting their hands on a new bearing/wheel combination is to give it a whirl with their hand to see how long the wheel spins for.
The problem is, this method for testing the performance of the bearing is inaccurate, due to the range of other factors that impact the performance of the bearing when spun with no weight added to it. These factors are as follows:
Use of Lubricant
One of the most popular bearing lubricants out there, Bones Speed Cream is designed to last long and keep bearings flowing.
As most action sports bearings come pre-lubricated, it’s important to know what the role of that lubricant plays in the overall responsiveness of the bearing, especially when spinning it by hand. Essentially, the lubricant is in place to fill the natural imperfections in the bearing when put to use.
To accomplish this, the lubricant adds a layer of separation between the moving balls within the bearing. At the same time, the lubricant is also used to reduce the heat that would otherwise be caused by the friction of the moving balls within the bearing.
A fast handspin on the Fireball Scorches will only occur after the bearing has been thoroughly broken in.
The problem is that lubricant must get out of the way of spinning ball bearings in order for them to properly function. When you apply weight to the bearing, such as when you stand and ride on a skateboard, the lubricant naturally flows away from the path of the rotating balls in order to make way for the movement.
Without the weight bearing element applied to this movement, the lubricant has no where else to go but the path of motion, thus slowing the roll of the bearing.
Take this clip of Indiana Jones for example. Imagine Indy as the lubricant and the boulder as the ball inside the bearing. If Indy does not get out of the path of the boulder, the boulder will face extra resistance as it topples Indy over and squishes him. However, if Indy gets out of the way of the boulder, it is able to travel freely on it's path as intended.
Concept of Rotational Torque
Another important factor in understanding why hand spinning does not directly equate to the success of an action sports bearing is the concept of rotational torque and the role that this plays in the integrity of the bearing.
To determine the amount of torque needed to overcome the internal friction within the bearing, factors including the diameter of the bearing, coefficient of friction and perhaps most importantly, the weight of the load imposed on the bearing. When hand spinning the bearing, there is no load applied to it, compared to when using the bearing in something like a skateboard where the full weight of the rider and board are adding to the load weight atop the bearing.
A board with rocker like the Loaded Tarab provides the perfect demonstration of load weight imposed to the bearing.
That being said, the torque needed to overcome the friction of the bearing will be far greater when there is no weight on the bearing, compared to when there is weight applied to the bearing. As such, the bearing and the wheel around it will not spin nearly as greatly by hand as it would when you really put it to use in the streets. This is precisely why the idea of spinning a bearing by hand and judging the performance to be subpar is actually a misconception altogether.
2. Higher ABEC Rating is Better
NOPE! Another common indicator that may be instinctual for beginners to the action sports world or even experienced riders who do not know better is that the commonly marketed ABEC rating scale does not actually hold significance in determining the performance of a bearing.
The truth is that the ABEC scale was put in place as a rating of precision in controlled commercial environments where bearings are used. On the odd numbered 1-9 scale, the tolerances between each ABEC rating differ between thousandths of an inch. To show this visually, the list below demonstrates these tolerances:
- ABEC 1: 0.0075 mm (0.000295")
- ABEC 3: 0.0050 mm (0.000197")
- ABEC 5: 0.0035 mm (0.000138")
- ABEC 7: 0.0025 mm (0.000098")
- ABEC 9: 0.0012 mm (0.000047")
With this being noted, the presence of even one dirt or dust particle would completely void the ABEC scale at such a microscopic level. Being that everyday action sports bearings will naturally collect countless dust and dirt particles whether through riding in the streets or in skateparks, this scale immediately gets thrown out the window.
Knowing that riding in these areas (or any environment for that matter) is an integral part of the action sports experience, there should be a general acceptance that the ABEC ratings used on the bearings that get you there should not be considered significant indicators in the performance of the bearing.
One of the most trusted names in skateboarding, Bones Bearings assures their bearings are "skate rated, not ABEC rated"
Nevertheless, there have been countless examples of bearing companies in the action sports field who have sold ABEC Ratings to kids and unsuspecting patrons as a valuable point of differentiation that makes their product better than another.
To their defense, there are often more advanced lubricants or materials used in bearings of higher ABEC ratings that justify a more premium price point. However, the simple classification of an ABEC 3 Bearing to an ABEC 9 Bearing, for example, is not enough to justify a significant disparity in price or precision quality. This goes for any application in the skateboarding or action sports worlds in general.
3. Most Bearings are Just for Skateboards
NOPE! Though Dragon Bearings were created with the goal of keeping skateboarders and longboarders rolling, this does not mean that skaters are the only ones who can benefit from these bearings.
Instead, Dragon Bearings have been put to the test in the wheels of scooters, roller skates, freeskates and even fidget spinners. For different applications, the number of bearings needed to ride may vary (such as scooters using only two bearings at a time versus inline rollerblades that require the full set of 8 bearings at a time) but the properties of the bearings will not.
Stuck deciding between skate life, scoot life or blade life? With Dragon Bearings, you don't have to.
4. Bearings Are Pretty Much Built the Same
NOPE! Even for such a critical component to the performance of a skateboard, bearings do not get nearly as much consideration as other parts of the skateboard, such as the deck for example. This is especially true when it comes to the sizing department.
However, it should be noted that there are several different sizes and classifications of bearings that determine one similarly looking piece from another. The following are the most common types of differentiation:
The 608 is the standard size bearing for most applications within the action sports world. To break down it’s components the ‘60’ represents that it is a member of the 600 family of bearings. More importantly, the ‘8’ represents the 8mm core of the bearing, meaning the bearing is able to fit on an 8mm axle. These bearings are perfect for most all skateboard, scooter, inline and freeskate wheels and for some four-wheeled roller skate wheels.
The 627 is a slightly smaller and more specialized bearing from the 608. The main difference here is that the ‘7’ in 627 represents the 7mm core of the bearing. Serving a different purpose, these bearings are typically used for recreational, outdoor specific four-wheeled roller skate wheels.
The next classification you might notice between different bearings are the alphabetic combinations of RS, RSL, 2RSL, Z and ZZ. Though there are other classifications, these classifications are the most common for applications in the action sports world.
Essentially, these markings will indicate the material used in the bearing shields and the quantity of bearing shields present in the bearing. These classifiers are essentially important because of the role bearing shields play in the functionality of the bearing. Shields are responsible for keeping dirt and debris out of the bearings while keeping lubricant in. While most skateboard and other action sports-oriented bearings come with a single shield, the qualities for each of the aforementioned bearings are explained below:
RS Bearings - contains a single rubber shield
These bearings feature on rubber shield on one side with the other side open. Though they create a better seal than others like ZZ bearings, they cause greater friction when rolling.
RSL Bearings - contains a rubber seal labyrinth
These bearings are only available above 10mm and feature a channel along the inner ring and the contact patch of the seal lip of the bearings. This construction creates a better seal without increasing the overall torque needed to propel the bearing.
2RSL Bearings - contains two rubber seals
With rubber seals on the front and back of these bearings, they are designed to stay sealed and not let any particles in or any lubricant out of the bearing.
Z Bearings - contains a single metal shield
These bearings feature one metal shield and one open side, similar to how RS bearings contain just one rubber shield. However, the metal construction of these shields means that there will be less rolling friction at the expense of a lesser quality seal.
ZZ Bearings - contains two metal shields
Similar to 2RSL Bearings, ZZ bearings are also completely closed off to outside particles and debris on both sides. However, their metal construction is designed to repel potentially larger debris than what could be defended by a single or pair of rubber seals.
5. Spacers Aren't Necessary
NOPE! Since they are one of the few parts of skateboards or other action sports products that are almost completely unseen, many people tend to forget about and disregard the role of bearing spacers in providing a smooth ride.
However, just because you cannot directly see bearing spacers does not mean they do not play a huge role in the performance of the bearings and wheels in general. In fact, they are so important that will only sell our skateboards with spacers included. As a necessary component to keeping the bearings in your wheels parallel and aligned, the role of spacers are sure to drastically increase performance.
As you can see from the side angle of a deconstructed wheel, bearing spacers sit right in the between the inner races of each bearing. With these spacers proper aligned with the inner races of the bearing, they will keep the balls and outer races of the bearings straight as well. With the proper sized spacer, the entire wheel will be sure to be kept in correct alignment, thus leading to decreased friction and higher performance.
Aside from proper wheel alignment, there are several other difficulties with bearing performance that using spacers can help mitigate. These problems may include:
Without spacers in their wheels, many skaters hesitate to tighten their axle nuts down as much as they could and should. This allows for the wheels to shift and slide left to right especially when doing slides. Not only is this a noise problem but the added vibration and inconsistency in riding style could potentially throw unsuspecting riders off their game.
Not only are loud wheels a side effect of bearing spacers but similarly, exploding bearings could become an issue that occurs in tandem with the side to side movement of wheels that do not go fully tightened. When the bearings in those wheels are subject to repeated slides when not fully tightened, the increased friction is enough to break down the bearing components.
With time, the bearings could seize and unscrew an axle nut or wear down enough for the ball bearings to no longer be secured in the races. Either one of this situations is no fun.
As you could imagine, the differences in the types of bearing sizes and shields across the action sports spectrum means that bearing spacers too come in different sizes with different properties that make them unique to each sport. The following differences in bearing spacers are as follows:
Skateboard Bearing Spacer
The standard bearing spacer for skateboards is the most simplistic of them all and is designed to fit an 8mm axle. This spacer only holds the bearing axially and needs to be positioned in the middle of each bearing for proper alignment.
Inline Bearing Spacer
These bearing spacers are typically used by inline skates and also accommodate to fit an 8mm axle. With these spacers, the bearings are machined with a small lip that keeps them in place for when the axle is eventually pushed through.
These bearing spacers are designed to fit 8mm bearings on a 6mm axle. To do so, the these spacers slide through the inner race of the 8mm bearing. Spacers like this support the bearing in all directions.
Built In Bearing
The most convenient of all bearings are built in bearings, such as Dragon BUILT. These are bearings that come with half of a spacer a full speed ring built into each bearing.
With half a spacer on each bearing, the two sides meet in the middle to provide the stability of a full spacer without the worry of needing to acquire or attach spacers separately. This means riders do not need spacers or speed rings to get all the benefits of spacers. Changing wheels is faster and easier as a result.
6. All Lubricants Act the Same
NOPE! A resounding misconception that gets lost in the marketing of different selling points for action sports bearings is the differences of certain bearing lubricants as compared to others. Many would venture to assume that all lubricants are designed to make you roll as fast as possible for as long as possible. As logical as that may seem, that isn’t the case. There are distinctions between common lubricants like grease and oil that need to be clarified:
Grease is commonly used in bearings such as our ENDURE series have the distinct properties of being longer lasting as compared to bearings with lubricants like oil. However, this longevity is sometimes undermined by the fact that bearings lubricated with grease will actually perform slightly slower than bearings lubricated with oil.
In turn, the oil used as a lubricant in bearings such as our RACE series provides the upfront benefit of feeling faster than grease-lubricated bearings. At the same time, however, the oil in these bearings is unfortunately more prone to wash out and can require more maintenance.
Still got questions? If we missed something or you still have bearing or general skate-related comments, questions or concerns you’d like us to clear up, feel free to shoot us a message here.