The History of Skateboard Wheels
Just like skateboard decks, the wheels that go on skateboards have gone through an amazing evolution as time has gone on. You may be surprised to find out that the original wheels were made of steel. After a while this changed to clay. Both of these options were of a much lower quality then the wheels that go on skateboards today. They are hard to ride on and could be extremely unpredictable.
Things started to improve in the 1970s when the first urethane skateboard wheels were introduced to the world. This made a huge impact on skateboarding which is still felt today. Steel and clay wheels did not last long, whereas urethane wheels are durable and long-lasting. In addition, urethane is capable of rebounding and gripping, which has made turning much easier. It also made skateboarders able to roll over debris and rough pavement without feeling every single vibration of the road in your feet.
The advent of urethane wheels moved skateboarding from a hobby of a few and into a true lifestyle and culture that millions are a part of. Nowadays, it’s uncommon to find any wheels on the market that aren’t urethane. The good new is that since the 1970s, tons of options have become available with urethane wheels. The two most important things to think about in terms of your skateboard wheels today are the hardness (durometer) and size of the wheel.
Selecting the Right Wheels for Your Skateboard Deck
We talked a little at the beginning of this article about the size of your wheels and how to choose the right option. That is one of the most important things to consider, but there are many others. It’s crucial to pay attention to the durometer of the wheel, the material your set of wheels is made from, shape of the wheel, and more. We’ll also go more in depth with the size of the wheels to give you a more comprehensive idea of which to select for yourself. Let’s jump back in to the wheel size and then go from there.
More About Skateboard Wheel Size
The diameter or size of your wheels controls the performance of your skateboard. Wheels that have a substantial diameter move faster and weight more than small skateboard wheels. Larger wheels also bring your deck off the ground more than a small wheel does. However, small wheels are easier to maneuvers, weigh less, and leave you close to the ground.
Most technical skaters choose small wheels for easier performance of flips, while a transition skater may prefer a large wheel that packs on extra speed. All wheels are measured in millimeters and range from about 50 to 75 mm. That might seem like a small difference between the largest and smallest wheel, but it really does matter. Once you’ve experimented with wheels of different diameters, you’ll notice a huge difference in performance. Here is what you can except from the various wheel sizes:
- 70 mm and more – Traditionally used only for downhill longboards.
- 65 to 70 mm – Mainly used for longboards and cruisers but also used by some transition skateboarders.
- 60 to 65 mm – Nearly all wheels of this size are used by transition skaters.
- 55 to 60 mm – This is the best option for all-around skateboarding when an emphasis is placed slightly on transition.
- 52 to 55 mm – These wheels are also for all-around skating option but are slightly better for street skating.
- 49 – 52 mm – This type of wheel is traditional used for technical street skating.
As an aside, if you are new to skateboarding, the best option is a wheel somewhere in the 52 to 55 mm size. It gives you the option to try different types of skating but also provides a great base for learning.
What to Know About Wheel Durometer
When we talk about durometer, that refers to the hardness of the wheel. This has a relation to how much shock it is going to absorb for you and how well it is going to grip onto the surface you are skating on. Essentially, when you select a softer wheel, it’s going to compress when it has pressure against it. That means that it is going to absorb a higher amount of shock and have better grip. A harder wheel doesn’t have as much compression potential so there is less grip and less absorption of shock. So, hard wheels are often used by those who care about responsiveness while soft wheels are much smoother.
If you choose a hard wheel, that means anytime you roll over something, you will feel it in your feet. This can be a positive because you’ll be aware of what’s happening when you roll over a transition at a skate park or skate through your town full of hills and bumps. These wheels also have the perk of responding quickly and well to any movement you make. As an example, when you snap an ollie, the pressure that you apply to the board is going to transfer to the wheels, which gives you a higher pop.
Those who want to cruise around the neighborhood may find soft wheels better. They are able to absorb massive amounts of shock, so you have a smooth ride, no matter where you are. However, these wheels aren’t great for transition or street skating. Rather than sliding or grinding across boxes and other obstacles, the wheels are more likely to stick you to them. The lack of responsiveness also makes it more challenging to do tricks.
Below are the levels of durometer and what they are best for:
- 78A to 87A – These wheels will be grippy and soft and ideal for a cruiser or longboard setup.
- 88A to 95A – These are somewhat harder and faster but will still let you cruise over minor bumps.
- 96A-101A – These wheels are even faster and harder. This is the common choice for park and street skating.
- 83B-84B – These are the hardest and fastest wheels of all and are traditionally used for professional park and street skaters.
As you can see, most wheel durometers are measured on the A scale, which is the same one that is used when determining the hardness of bushings. This sale is a set of numbers with an A after them. A wheel with a larger number is a higher durometer and a harder wheel. For example, a 78A is going to be quite soft while a 101A is going to be extremely hard. Most skateboard wheels have the durometer listed on it along with the size. Most transition and street wheels are 98A or harder while cruisers are about 78A but can go up to 90A.
The B rating scale applies to Bones wheels and measures things in a slightly different way. However, it is only used for harder wheels that are used by expert skateboarders.
If you’re new to skateboarding, a wheel of about 101A is going to give you the best results. You can go to 98A for a good experience in the park or street. If you go softer, you will notice that the ride is slower. Those who are more interested in cruising around instead of going tricks can go with a softer wheel. We recommend an option between 78A and 90A.
Types and Shapes of Skateboard Wheels
Every skateboard wheel is made for basically the same purpose, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many sizes and shapes that you can consider. There are numerous options out there, but we’ll be looking at some of the most common to give you an idea of what you can expect from each.
- Standard Wheel Shape – When you see a standard wheel shape, that means that there is a limited contact area which has slightly curved beveled edges. Just about every skateboard wheel company out there will have this style and it is the most common to find on a set of wheels. Some companies only use this style since it is the most well-loved and popular.
- Conical Wheel Shape – A conical wheel has a larger contact area and the sides cone inwards a limited amount. These sets of skateboard wheels are often used by those who skate a lot of ramps, since they can easily lock onto the coping.
- Radial Wheel Shape – When you think of a conical wheel, the radial is basically the opposite. They have a stronger bevel than a standard wheel with a large contact area. This means there is lots of surface between the road and wheel for a smoother ride, even when choosing a hard durometer wheel.
- Core Wheel Shape – These wheels are a bit different in that they have a core inside made of a different material that holds bearings. Often the extra material is plastic. The core can sometimes look like the spokes on a bike wheel or it may be a subtler look. In either case, these are generally for a softer durometer but without compromising the stability of the bearing. These can also be a lighter wheel than usual.
- Cruiser Wheel Shape – Cruiser wheels are the softest durometer of all in order to give an extremely smooth ride. These are not often used for trick riding and instead are place on longboards, vinyl cruisers, and old school boards.
Once you put all these things together, you have a good idea of what type of wheel is right for you. Style, size, durometer, and more are all part of what makes a wheel great for longboarding, street tricks, or skate park endeavors.
There are hundreds and hundreds of skateboard wheels on the market today and choosing the right one can take a lot of time and research. You have to think about what sort of skating you do and what features are most important to you because of that. You also have to look at the size of the wheels and determine if it fits your riding style. It’s also important to pay attention to the shape of the wheel, durometer of the wheel, and which skateboard deck you are going to add the wheels to.
It might seem like a lot, but it’s easier than you’d think and with our list of 15 wheels, you can easily find a selection that meets your needs. So, take a breath, think about what you like to do in terms of skating, and pick out the wheels that call to you. You can’t beat any of these options for quality, value, and durability. Good luck!