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Choosing the right skateboard bearings is essential in maintaining the quality of your daily ride. They play a vital role in how your whole set-up feels. The last thing you want is your skateboard to feel slow and sluggish, you need it to be free and fast! With so many bearing companies and lots of jargon in today’s market, it can be a pretty overwhelming choice. Here’s our take on picking out the right set of skateboard bearings for you.
First off let’s clear up what ABEC actually means - Annular Bearing Engineering Committee, which is part of the American Bearing Manufacturers Association. These guys measure the tolerance and precision of bearings from a range of ABEC 1-9. This is for use in engineering machinery. So to put it plain and simple terms, nothing to do with skateboarding!
Skateboarding as you can imagine uses different forces and places strain on bearings in other ways. Engineering machinery does not jump off curbs or try and grind handrails. In skateboarding, the weights placed upon the bearings and strengths they need are far different.
Skate bearings are seated within a urethane wheel, that is then sat on a truck axle. This is far different than a bearing placed within engineering machinery that is needed simply produce a high RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). So please take each ABEC rating with a pinch of salt. Yes, a higher rating of ABEC will be a better (faster) bearing, but that will not necessarily mean a better skate rated bearing. The speeds generated in skateboarding are relatively low in comparison to the RPM of certain machinery.
Choosing the Right Bearings
So, where do you start? Well, it pays to do some research into the various brands of bearings, some offer information on their websites so it's wise to check there first. Before we review a selection of leading bearing brands out there, we’re going to get a little technical. So read on as we completely breakdown the build of a bearing.
To kick this off, all bearings are virtually the exact same build, they mostly have seven steel ball bearings (some eight and made of ceramic and some six in the case of Bones Six Ball), which sit around an 8mm core ring. This core ring sits on the axle of your truck. The actual steel balls are then sandwiched between this 8mm core ring and an outer 22mm ring. All bearings are 7mm wide. This collectively is a standard size they'll all fit every skateboard wheel.
The steel balls take all the load and impact from skating. To keep these balls in place and to help with spreading the load, the balls sit a plastic or nylon retainer that does not touch either side of the rings. This, therefore, does not create any drag, the balls are free to roll. Usually, a protective shield is applied to one or both sides of the bearing, many skaters pop these off and expose the actual steel balls to the open, which could attract dust and dirt but it offsets the notion that the shields create unwanted drag. Your choice.
So, the difference between them is measured by the quality of materials used in all of these parts. For example, a cheap plastic ball retainer can break, leaving your balls to roll around too freely in between each ring and if all rolled around to one side, they create a weakness on the other side, which causes the bearing to break apart.
Similarly, the quality of steel and how polished or finished each ball is, and the inner of the bearing ring where the balls make contact, are key areas where quality makes a difference. As you can imagine with so much steel to steel contact, this is where the need for lube comes in. A small amount of the right lube (just get Bones lube) lasts a long time, too much and it will actually have a negative effect and will slow the bearings. Never use oil!
You have probably heard and read the term 'removable shields' - what is this? Every bearing comes new with a thin metal bearing cover, this is called a shield. It acts as a protective shield to the raw exposed ball bearings behind the shield. Many skaters take off this shield, as they believe it hinders the free-rolling nature of the bearing. This is a personal choice, but since 99% of all skateboarding is done in dry conditions, the real need for protection is less so. If you didn't already know, do not skate in the rain! It's not fun and your bearings also do not like it, nevermind your wooden maple deck. To pop-out, your shields just use a blade to prise it open. They can't really be popped back in, so it's kinda a one-time gig, so think about it. But the majority of advanced skateboarders using Swiss pop the shields off on day one.
The Different Brands of Bearing
We could end this conversation right away by simply stating that Powell Swiss are the be-all and end-all of skate bearings. Bones bearings are rated highly amongst skateboarders, whether pro or not. They don’t subscribe to any ABEC rating, for the reasons we covered above. Bones Swiss have been made since the early ’80s and are said to be the longest-lasting of any bearing. They are so popular that the counterfeit market has jumped on them and fake Powell Swiss bearings are available on Amazon and eBay, so please buy from a reputable source. When it comes to Bones Swiss, you really get what you pay for.
Swiss come in three different styles, Standard, Ceramic and Super Swiss. Each is a slightly different build quality, whether made with ceramic bearings (Ceramic), slightly larger balls within the bearings (Super). It will come down to your budget, but for us, you can’t go wrong with a set of standard Bones Swiss bearings. We highly recommend these.
Bones also produce fives different sets of Reds bearings. Bones Reds are the most popular skateboard bearings in the world. They are more affordable than Swiss and use partial technology taken from the higher tiered Swiss. Although the Reds are more affordable, the line has expanded to include its own version of Red Ceramic's, which aren't cheap. Basic Reds are still a great bearing, and if your budget can’t stretch to Swiss these are a very good option.
Bronson is a relatively new company within skateboarding and promises a new approach with a next-generation product. Coming out of the NHS camp, their sister brands are Santa Cruz, Independent Trucks and OJ Wheels. Their top-tier Bronson RAW bearing is the first to be sold with no shields attached. They have a host of practical technology that applies to today’s skateboarding. There are three levels to Bronson bearings; the G2, G3 and RAW, which ascend in price and quality in that order. They’re worth a look if you want to try something different and Bronson has a growing team of next-gen pro skateboarders that back the quality of the bearings.
This long-running Australian brand was created by local legend Brett Margaritas, over time Modus has developed a range of quality bearings. The Modus bearings selection consists of entry-level Blacks, then ABEC 3, 5, and 7 models before Titanium and Ceramic versions. They don’t make any claims of one being better than the other, just rely on the fact that an ascending price means better components and quality of build.
Modus is backed by a heavy team of rippers including Daan Van Der Linden and Oksi Rozenberg Hallberg, and longtime legends like Grant Taylor and Rune Glifberg. There’s plenty of bearing info on the Modus site, so be sure to have a read.
Cortina Bearings is another new brand on the market. They are backed by some heavy pros in Na-kel Smith, Elijah Berle and Kyle Walker, with each of them having their own signature bearing model. Cortina also offers a 004 Presto and 005 Gran Turismo model - the 004 being the entry-level version. Information regarding their technology is thin on the ground so unfortunately, it’s a case of trying these out or relying on message boards to see what the general consensus is.
Having been around the block for a while, Shake Junt can take care of all your grip, bolts and bearings needs - as well as all things green and yellow! Their bearings come in Low Riders, O.G.s, Triple O.G.s and Andrew Reynolds signature versions. Similar to Cortina, no information about the build or the individual differences to each version with only the O.G.s coming as ABEC 5 rated. People love the ‘Junt and if Hi-Jinx and the Baker Boys are your thing you’ll want to rep these guys.
Originally part of the well respected DLX camp, Lucky now has different owners, the same guys who do Hubba Wheels. Zero information can be found about the quality of these bearings so we’re going to struggle to really trust them. They’re available in the simple ABEC 3, 5, and 7 versions with a small difference in the cost between each, which we have to say, raises far more suspicion than it does stoke.
Started by Joey Brezinski and Paul Rodriguez in 2010, Andale has steadily risen up within the bearing world and has attracted some serious firepower to their team. Guy Mariano, Marc Johnson, Daewon Song and Paul Rodriguez have their own ‘Pro Rated’ signature models, each coming with some unique item based around the rider's personality. In the case of Mariano and Daewon, they come with Hot Sauce and Doughnut shaped wax, which is pretty handy and saves that extra purchase.
Other versions they offer are Blues, ABEC 5, ABEC 7 and Swiss. Although real info on whether or not these are made in Switzerland (like Bones Swiss) is hard to gather. All bearings apart from their entry-level Blues model state they’ve been tested with crushing forces of over one ton, so expect these to withstand impact well.
Independent Trucks Bearings
Since Independent are so dominant in the Truck market, they may as well offer branded bearings to compete with everyone else. Their range includes Independent GP-S, which are basic, entry-level bearings with a relevant price point. Then GP-R (RED) and GP-B, (Black), which feature removable shields and micro-polished steel races.
Whilst the GP-R & GP-B will give slightly better performance than the basic GP-S bearings, don't expect a huge step up. Overall we'd recommend these if you love Independent Trucks and won't accept any other brand. But we feel that both Bones and Bronson bearings offer more features in their range, alongside a more trusted product.
Spitfire Wheels Bearings
Similar to Independent, it makes sense for Spitfire to offer a bearing collection, since Spitfire Wheels are considered one of the best out there. They offer three tiers to their range, the entry-level Cheapshots, Classics and top-level Burners. If it helps, Burners are self-considered as a Bones Red alternative. So the highest spec of bearing Spitfire produce is the equivalent of an entry-level Bones.
Plenty of features are listed with a 'Designed specifically for skateboarding' tag given to the Classics and Burners. Impact-resistant nylon cages and super polished races amongst others. We'd place these bearings on a similar level with Independent, Lucky and Shake Junt. They will do the job but we feel there are better-trusted brands out there that will make your purchase decision a lot smoother.
We’re aware there are many other bearing brands available and we've not covered them all. This is because we feel that at the entry-level and lower-tier end of the market that many of the brands offer a very similar level of quality. Cutting to the chase and being completely honest with you, we believe that Bones Bearings lead the way. Their wide-range and price points cover every type of baring you would need and they are simply better quality giving a longer-lasting bearing. But of course, it’s all down to your personal choice and opinion.
When it comes to bearings you really get what you pay for, you’re buying an engineered steel product so the price and information the brand supplies should be a good indication of their overall quality. For example, Bones Swiss are worth it and they will last due to this level of quality.
Keeping your bearings clean, lubed and free from excess dirt is also key to their consistency and longevity. Skating in the rain is a big no-no for your wooden board, this also goes for your steel bearings too. Just don’t do it! Take some care, clean your bearings by giving them a wipe every now and again with a clean cloth to free up any dirt, this will be enough to keep you rolling free for a while. Dab in a drop or two of skate lube, such as Bones Speed Cream, every month and you’ll greatly extend the bearing life span. Do not use the same oil that a car would use, this is too thick and sticky, it just attracts more dirt and clogs up the bearings. Also, a product like WD-40 is not really suitable to use consistently, but if your bearings do seize-up then this is great to free them but a lighter lube is preferable.
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