Skateboard bearings are one of the most important components of a skateboard’s setup. They’re certainly the most technical component that a skater will deal with.
Most of the working parts of a skateboard take their fair amount of abuse. The deck gets kicked, stomped on, raked across rails and cement, and other harsh forms of impact. The trucks support the rider’s weight and withstand the strain of turning and other maneuvers.
The wheels deal with the friction of each skateboarding session and slowly get whittled away with each slide. However, what sets bearings apart is that they also take a high level of abuse but are designed to meet the demands that skateboarding subjects them to.
Bearings that are used in skateboard wheels were originally intended to spin mechanical devices. Theoretically, adding them to the mechanical design of a skateboard was a great idea. Still, the side-to-side thrashing they take doesn’t lend to the longevity of these parts.
Bearings undergo high amounts of impact, sudden side-to-side blows, plenty of dirt, and hopefully not much water. For some reason, this doesn’t sound like the recommended environment for a working machine part, but that’s just a guess.
Lucky for you, we’ve created a guide to tell you all about how long skateboard bearings last. We’re going to give you the signs to look for when bearings go bad, ways to clean your bearings, how to install new ones, and everything in between.
However, before we get into the specifics of bearing maintenance, it helps to have some background on these components. Continue to the next section to find out how skateboard bearings work.
Table of Contents
How Do Skateboard Bearings Work and Why Are They Important?
Skateboard bearings are tiny, complicated parts of machinery installed in a skateboard wheel core. Bearings are composed of five main parts that combine to form a complete bearing assembly.
The large metal ring that houses the entire bearing assembly is known as the outer race. Directly inside the outer race is the retainer, which holds the seven metal bearing balls that line the perimeter of the bearing. These ball bearings rotate around the outside edge of the inner race, and the entire assembly is capped off by rubber shields. The races are also known as speed rings.
Each wheel is designated with two bearings each. Every skateboard has four wheels, meaning that every skateboard will need eight bearings for an efficient ride.
Bearings are essentially designed to create a smoother ride for a skateboarder by allowing the wheels to roll instead of slide. The bearings work to create traction that stops the wheels from spinning when a rider pushes the board.
This is the basic mode of operation for a bearing. When the rider pushes the board, the seven balls inside the bearing roll, and the outer race rotates. Meanwhile, the inner race stays stationary, with no movement at all. Combine this with the force of the push from a skater, and the ride ends up being incredibly smooth.
Each set of two bearings designated for each wheel are separated by a spacer. This spacer prevents friction that would otherwise be caused when the bearings contact each other. By preventing this friction, the spacers avoid potential damage to your wheels.
Now that we understand how bearings work, it’s easier to maintain them and clean them. Use this next section as a guide for cleaning your skateboard bearings.
Types of Quality Bearings
Bearings are identified by size, ABEC rating, and materials used. This is how each category is broken down.
You will see a bearing identified by a three-digit number describing the size. For example, you might see a bearing with a size of 638. Each number signifies a different characteristic of the bearing.
The first two numbers of 63 indicate that the bearing belongs to the 600 family of bearings. The 8 at the end of the number identifies the 8-millimeter core of the bearing. Most skateboard wheels usually use a 7mm or 8mm bearing from the 600 family.
The next classification of bearings will either bring a label of RS, RSL, 2RSL, Z, or ZZ. These letters identify the materials used to make the bearing and the number of shields present in the component.
RS bearings contain a single rubber shield and an exposed side opposite of the shielded side.
RSL bearings contain a rubber seal labyrinth. This means that the bearing features a channel along the inner ring of the bearing that creates a better seal. These are only available at 10mm, which aren’t commonly seen on skateboards.
2RSL bearings contain two rubber seals that are highly efficient in keeping water out and retaining the lubricant within the bearing.
Z bearings contain a single metal shield on one side while the other side is open. This is similar to the RS bearing.
ZZ bearings contain two metal shields and are completely enclosed. This style of bearing is designed to keep large pieces of debris out.
Best Bearings Cleaning Method
Proper maintenance and regular cleaning are crucial for wheel bearings to operate efficiently. Tiny pieces of dirt and debris and a lack of lubrication can cause big problems for these small components.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid getting skateboard bearings dirty. Some things are unavoidable, and we understand this. However, always remember to avoid any prolonged periods of moisture exposure on your bearings. Standing water and other sources are a death sentence for your bearings.
You will need a few simple tools and supplies to clean bearings. These are the tools you will need to perform the routine maintenance and the steps involved in this task.
Supplies Needed to Clean Skateboard Bearings
· A wrench or one tool that comes with bearings or wheels
· A razor
· A cloth rag and tray for washer and nut pieces
· Solvent/cleaner (isopropyl alcohol works)
· A bowl for the solvent
· Lube for your bearings and nut pieces
Best Idea for Cleaning Process
1. Remove the wheels of your skateboard first. Take off the axle nut with the wrench or skateboard tool and slide the wheels off the axles. Use a trap to keep track of all the washers and nut pieces.
2. Remove the bearings and the bearing shields. The easiest way to remove the bearings from inside the wheels is by using the axle as your assistant. Slide the wheel halfway to the end of the axle, so only one bearing remains on the axle. Make sure the axle securely holds the bearing by slightly pulling the wheel to one side. Twist the wheel outward and around while you pry the bearing out. Repeat this on the other three wheels.
3. Pop the bearing shields off with your razor blade. Slide the razor blade in the tiny space between the shield and the outer race. Gently pry the shield off, being careful not to bend or damage them.
4. After the bearings are out of the wheels, use a cleaner or solvent that is not water-based. Acetone or alcohol are both good options. Soak the bearings in your desired cleaner for fifteen minutes. Use a toothbrush to do a good job of scrubbing the bearings while they’re submerged in the cleaner.
5. Pull the bearings out of the cleaner and scrub them well with the cloth. Make sure you remove all the gunk and debris from small crevices.
6. After you’re satisfied with the level of cleanliness, dry the bearings as quickly as possible. Place them on a dry towel and pat both sides. Make sure you get the crevices and other small spaces inside and around the bearing dry as well.
7. Alternatively, you can use a hair-dryer or an air compressor to assist in the drying process. This will make the process faster and dry the bearings more efficiently.
8. You need to lube the bearings before replacing them. Make sure to complete this process on all eight bearings. Specifically, use an oil designed for skateboard bearings. Failure to lube the bearings will lead to dry bearings that are susceptible to rust.
9. Replace the shields on the sides of the bearings and insert them back into the wheels. Mount the wheels back onto the axles and replace the washers and nut pieces.
Maintaining your bearings can significantly extend their lifespan. However, normal elements and wear eventually lead to all bearings being replaced. What causes bearings to wear down?
What Causes Skateboard Wheels and Bearings to Go Bad?
As we mentioned earlier, prolonged exposure to water is the kiss of death for skateboard bearings. Exposure to water will cause oxidation, which leaves bearings useless. If bearings rust you will need a whole new set.
Dust and sand can also end a bearing’s life prematurely. This is why it’s so important to perform routine maintenance on your bearings. Any trapped sand, dust, or other debris can get into the bearings and make them stick.
Besides possibly sticking, which makes the wheels slide, they also cause stress on the inner rings. This stress is caused by the friction created by the sand and dust rubbing against the moving pieces of steel.
Now that we know what causes bearings to go bad, we can identify signs that could mean it’s time to replace them. Use these tips to help you identify signs of a worn-down bearing.
Related: How to Clean Skateboard Wheels
How Will I Know It’s Time for Replacing Bearings?
Several motion-related signs can tell you when it’s time to replace your bearings. Pay attention to how the board behaves, and diagnosing a faulty bearing should be relatively easy.
1. Loss of Acceleration
A good skateboarder treats their skateboard like an extension of themselves. They will be in tune with every element of the skateboard, including how it feels under their feet and how it behaves and moves.
You should have a pretty good feel of how far your board should go when you push it. If you feel like your normal strength of pushing isn’t propelling the board as far as it used to, it might be time for new bearings.
2. Listen to Your Bearings
One of the most obvious signs of a worn-down bearing is the sound it makes. These noises will be obvious when the wheel is spinning the fastest.
Push the deck with a high level of force. Bearings that are losing quality or not working will make plenty of noise. New bearings or well-maintained ones will be completely silent.
3. Side-to-Side Movement
Your bearings should never move from side to side. Stationary bearings will lead to stationary wheels so that you can use the wheels for this test.
When we say movement, we mean lateral movement. Attempt to move your wheels from side to side. Give them a try at least four to five times before making a diagnosis.
If the wheels had a high level of play and noticeable side-to-side movement, it’s probably time for new bearings.
How Often Will Skateboard Bearings Need to Be Replaced?
How often you replace the bearings on your skateboard is determined by several factors. These factors could alter the timeframe of bearing replacement substantially.
The overall use of your skateboard is a primary factor. If you use your skateboard on rare occasions, you probably won’t need to replace the bearings for a long time.
It’s possible that if your skateboard is only used for occasional trips through your neighborhood or the occasional joyride, you may never have to replace them. We’ve seen skateboards that barely get used and have routine skateboard maintenance performed on them that keep the same bearings for their entirety.
The second factor is the quality of bearings that were installed initially. If you used a good quality bearing from the start, you’d get a much longer life out of said bearings.
As a general rule, the more you plan on using your skateboard, the higher-quality of bearing you should purchase. Moving parts like bearings should be splurged on because you need good quality
The third and final factor that determines the life of bearings is the ride conditions. If you live in a damp area that’s prone to rainy conditions, you’ll need to replace your bearings more frequently.
Places like San Francisco with high fog levels and Seattle’s frequent bouts of rain are not the ideal locations for bearing maintenance. However, you’ll have to work around this and make adjustments according to the weather patterns in your area.
As a general rule, good bearings should be replaced every one or two years. Great bearings might make it a little longer than two years. If you’re a frequent rider who skates more intense disciplines like freestyle and vert-ramp, you’ll be closer to the one year-end of the spectrum. Longboarding and cruising can probably stretch this more to the two-year side of this estimate.
Now that we’ve covered bearing operation, maintenance and replacement, and signs to look for, you need to know some other dynamics about bearings. Since bearings are a technical component, there’s a lot of disinformation that goes around from faux-mechanics and wannabe skateboard gurus.
Here’s a list of common skateboard bearing myths and other relevant information regarding skateboard bearings.
Things You Probably Didn’t Realize about Skateboard Bearings
In this final section, we’ll cover common skateboard-bearing myths that you should be aware of. There are also some fun facts and relevant information, and history about bearings.
· The balls on skateboard bearings start as large pieces of wire. These wires ended up being ground and polished down into the final product we see in bearings.
· Early skateboard bearings used by Tony Alva and other skateboard pioneers were very inefficient. The force of carving and slashing would cause the bearings to explode from inside the wheels of their skateboards. It took some testing and several years to develop the perfect design of bearing with the proper shield.
· Richard Novak developed the modern-day skateboard bearing through motivation from Xerox copy machines his dad sold. They used bearings from inside copy machines and sealed them into the wheels to be installed on skateboards.
· The first company to produce skateboard-specific bearings was Richard Novak’s NHS. His company purchased defective bearings from IBM that were not used on copy machines because they made a loud whizzing noise. These defective bearings were used for skateboard wheels.
· You may have heard people claim soaking your bearings in gasoline will make them perform better. This has never been proven or backed scientifically and is most likely untrue.
· Many skaters claim that spacers are not necessary, which is mostly true. The only time spacers are highly relevant is when you are downhill skating at extremely high speeds.
· Bearings use an ABEC rating system that explains how fast the bearings rotate. These ratings are included on skateboard bearings; however, they are irrelevant. These ratings describe speeds these bearings could hit but will never be attained on a skateboard. The rating system was originally designed for the speed of revolutions on industrial machinery. The steepest mountain in the world would not allow the bearing on a skateboard wheel to rotate at speeds these industrial machines allow.
Bearings are extremely intricate, technical pieces of equipment. However, their maintenance and installation don’t have to be nearly as complicated or technical.
With regular cleaning and a little TLC, your bearings can run efficiently for up to two years. When it’s time for replacement, installing the new set is just as easy. Remember to keep your bearings oiled regularly and free from wet conditions to avoid rust.