Skateboard How To's
Shopping for a set of wheels can
be a frustrating experience for beginners and advanced skaters alike because wheels
are often marketed in a deceptively simple way. Skateboard catalogs often omit important
product information and consumers are expected to make purchases based solely on
graphics or brand trust. Furthermore, even if you did see detailed product information,
would you know how it affects performance?
Contrary to popular belief professional
skateboard wheels are made from polyurethane, not urethane. Urethane is a compound
made from isocyanate and ammonia and is mostly used in pesticides,
medicines, and other chemicals. Polyurethane, on the other hand, is made from polyisocyanate
and polyol. Polyurethane can be found almost everywhere, and its uses range
from adhesives, foams, sealants, etc. The hard-plastic form of polyurethane used
in skateboard wheels is called a polyurethane elastomer.
Pure polyurethane is clear and transparent
but it is often mixed with different plastics and dies to achieve the wide range
of colors found in skateboard wheels. Therefore, opaque colored wheels wear out
and perform differently than transparent or lighter colored wheels because
they are less pure.
There are many factors that contribute
to performance loss. Uneven wear, development of flat-spots, and decrease in size
are likely the biggest contributors to decreasing speed and performance. In addition,
over time polyurethane loses its rebound properties, causing the bearings holes
to expand and lose the tight bearing fit. Over time, polyurethane also reacts with
light and becomes clouded and yellowish, but such discoloration does not seem to
degrade the performance beyond noticeable levels. Considering the purity of the polyurethane,
how you skate, where you skate, and how often you skate, your wheels could last anywhere from a few minutes to many decades.
It is very vital that you choose
your wheels considering the type of terrain where you will be riding. Once you have
determined where you will be skating most often, you can then consider the following
- Durometer (hardness)
The number/letter rating used in the polyurethane industry is a bastardized version
of the Shore® durometer rating. The Shore® rating
is defined and controlled by a testing organization called CCSi (www.ccsi-inc.com).
It goes from 0 - 100 / A, B, C, D, O, or OO. So a 99A wheel is also sometimes referred
to as 99 Shore A.
Skateboards do not require a high level of precision so more often than not the
durometer is merely estimated by the wheel manufacturers. In the early 90's when
wheels formulas started exceeding 100A ratings, instead of using B, C, or D letters,
many manufacturers started marketing their wheels with a 101A rating (which technically speaking does not exist).
Now with the growing popularity of super hard and dual-durometer wheels, some manufacturers
are marketing their wheels with random Shore® letter ratings. Worse
yet, many manufacturers feel the rating confuses people and have stopped mentioning
Table of Shore® Conversions
Advantages of hard wheels (ex: 100A, "101A"):
- go super ultra fast in super-smooth surfaces, such as marble, shiny-smooth cement,
linoleum, wood, metal, half-pipes, and mini-ramps
- enable you to perform sliding tricks, such as blunts, lipslides, and grinds
Disadvantages of hard wheels:
- wear out and develop annoying flat-spots before you have any fun
- do not absorb impact and vibration
- not suited for your average street surface
- make noise like you wouldn't believe
Advantages of medium-hardness wheels (ex: 95A, 97A, 99A):
- perform and go acceptably fast in both smooth and not so smooth surfaces
- suited for a wide range of terrains, from street asphalt to linoleum
- absorb some impact and vibration
- make an aggressive "fart" noise when performing slides or slide tricks
- grips more than hard wheels on very slippery surfaces like dusty linoleum skateparks
Disadvantages of medium-hardness wheels:
- slide ok, but can't quite make blunt or nose-blunt slides; need to cheat by waxing
- can never go super ultra fast at smooth skateparks
- lose rebound and start going slow sooner than hard or soft wheels
Advantages of soft wheels (ex: 80A, 88A, 90A):
- go super ultra fast on rougher terrains, such as asphalt and cemented sidewalks
- absorb impact and vibration
- do not make much noise
Disadvantages of soft wheels:
- do not slide at all (grip can sometimes be a desirable thing)
- do not go fast in super smooth surfaces
- Suited mostly for cruising and longboarding, not for performing tricks
Both the width and the diameter are very important considerations when choosing
a wheel. However, the only measurement likely to be mentioned is the diameter (in
millimeters). If purchasing through a magazine or online catalog the width is usually
left to the imagination even though it severely affects weight and durability.
Thin wheels develop flat spots very easily and feel inappropriate on wooden ramps.
The average wheel diameter found in most skateboards is between 50mm and 60mm. For
street you might want to consider a wheel between 52mm and 55mm because you don't
want it to wear out and become small too fast when skating rough asphalt. Bigger
skaters tend to prefer bigger/faster wheels, but the drawback is added weight and
height (especially the latter), which severely affects flip tricks and ollies.
In the mid 90's extremely small 39mm wheels became popular for some time. Smaller
wheels provide a super low center of gravity, which is horrible for ollies, but
excellent for flips (especially pressure flips) and tail scraping tricks, such as
360 flips and impossibles. The major drawback is that small diameter wheels are
agonizingly slow because they have to rotate many times more than larger wheels
to cover the same distance.
Longboarders and Luge Riders are often equipped with soft (88A or softer) and huge
wheels (70mm and up). Dirt skaters need special rubber wheels (100mm and up) with
traction treads (tires).
Some wheels combine the benefits of different durometer wheels with an inner-core.
The theory is that if you have a hard outer-core and a softer inner-core, you have
a wheel that can do sliding tricks and absorb some impact. On the other hand, a
softer outer-core and a harder inner-core allows for a more durable soft-feeling
wheel which has a good bearing fit.
Some companies make some obnoxiously hard wheels with super ultra hard outer core
and an even harder (or metal) inner-core and the result is something that is almost
unrideable in anything other than high gloss marble. This is not funny.
Transparent wheels have the purest polyurethane and they outlast any other colored
wheels by far. The drawback is that they grip a little much for some, so the most
popular choice are white wheels. White wheels seem to have the perfect mixture of
plastic and polyurethane to provide controlled slides and still be fairly durable.
In my experience, the least durable wheels are wheels with multiple colors, strong
fluorescent colors, or black.
In the mid 80's using each wheel of a different color became a common practice which
looks really cool. However, this is not a good idea because each wheel wears out
and performs differently.
When buying wheels be aware that
many manufacturers and retailers leave out important wheel properties to make the
catalogs more appealing to beginner skaters. Indeed, sometimes the only thing not
left to the imagination is the brand and the price (which is usually the same for
every wheel on the same page). This can be a frustrating thing because there are
much more important characteristics to consider when buying wheels than just brands
or graphics. To get the most speed, performance, and durability, you must select
a wheel that is appropriate for the type of terrain that you will be riding.