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How To Choose Skateboard Bearings

how to choose skateboard bearings

When choosing your skateboard bearings, there are several factors you need to consider.

Make sure that your bearings are skateboard-specific, as there are options that look almost identical but aren’t compatible with skateboard wheels. The right material and ABEC rating are key, as this makes all the difference to how your wheels perform.

What Are Skateboard Bearings?

Skateboard bearings are the round metal pieces that go inside the wheels to mount them to the axle. They are what allow your wheels to roll and are key in determining how fast and how smoothly your wheels spin. Skateboard bearings consist of five major parts:

  • Shield: Covers that prevent the bearings from getting dirty.
  • Outer ring: The outermost ring, which all the other parts fit into.
  • Inner ring: The smaller ring, which sits inside the outer ring; this is what the axles fit through.
  • Balls: What allow the wheels to rotate.
  • Ball retainer: Keeps the balls in position.

what are bearings

Each skateboard requires two bearings per wheel, so eight in total. It may all sound a bit complicated, but the great thing is that almost all skateboard bearings share a universal size – meaning they’ll fit on any skateboard wheel. That’s one less thing for you to worry about.

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ABEC Bearing Rating

ABEC is a system used to measure bearings. It includes the ratings 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9; the higher the ABEC rating is, the more accurate and precise the bearing.

ABEC 1 The least expensive and the least accurate, with low-quality steel.
ABEC 3 Inexpensive bearings that do not roll as smoothly or fast as higher rated options.
ABEC 5 The standard choice for most types of skateboarding; fast speed and affordable.
ABEC 7 Very fast, smooth bearings at a higher price point.
ABEC 9 Extremely fast, perfect for downhill skating at high speeds.

Despite the ABEC system measuring speed and quality of bearings, skateboarding can be a high-impact activity where durability of materials is just as important for overall performance.

What Are Skateboard Bearings Made Of?

While most skateboard bearings are made of steel, they can also be made of ceramic, titanium-coated, or even a hybrid of materials.

what are bearings made of

Steel Skateboard Bearings

  • Industry standard, both durable and economical
  • Quality can vary, opt for higher-grade steel for faster and more durable bearings
  • Can be prone to rust if exposed to moisture, so keep any steel bearings well-oiled and avoid overly wet terrain

Titanium Skateboard Bearings

  • Traditional steel bearings with a titanium-coating to reduce friction
  • Improve rust-resistance, and increase durability
  • Last longer and withstand high-impact tricks better than traditional steel bearings
  • Like any bearing, they should be kept lubricated and clean to work optimally

Ceramic Skateboard Bearings

Full ceramic bearings, where both the balls and the rings are ceramic, do exist but are not commonly used in skateboarding.

  • Harder than steel and heat resistant, so they expand less and create less friction at faster speeds
  • Don’t rust when exposed to moisture
  • Ceramic is more brittle than other substances, so these bearings are more susceptible to breakage
  • Better suited to low-impact cruising, but not so suitable for high-impact tricks

Hybrid Skateboard Bearings

When someone says they are using ceramic bearings they are generally referring to hybrids.

  • Combining materials allows manufacturers to optimize the strength and performance to give you a strong set of bearings
  • Most ceramic bearings are hybrid bearings as the balls are ceramic but the rings are made of steel which is more resistant to impact

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Extra Skateboard Bearing Options

When you purchase a set of bearings they will often come with a couple extra bits of hardware that are important for a smooth ride. They are designed to secure the bearings to your axle by only allowing pressure on the inner ring to reduce friction. Do not throw them away when installing your bearings.

skateboard bearing spacers

Spacers

Bearing spacers go in between the two bearings on the inside of the wheel. They are cylindrical metal pieces that sit against the inner ring and essentially link the two bearings to one another inside the wheel.

Washers

Washers either come in the box with your bearings or are included with your new trucks. They are the same diameter as the inner ring and ensure that the bearing spins smoothly. When the wheels are tightened, the washers ensure that no unnecessary friction is applied on the shield or the outer ring.

Ball Retainers

Ball retainers are the piece inside the bearing that holds the balls in the racetrack where they rotate. They are generally made of nylon in skateboard bearings. They should be inspected when cleaning bearings to ensure that the bearings can spin optimally.

When To Replace or Repair Skateboard Bearings

No one likes taking a spill, so knowing when to replace your bearings and how to keep them fully functional is crucial. Some of the key signs to look out for include difficulty in pushing, wheels that don’t continue to spin or that make squeaky noises.

when to replace bearings

If you’re experiencing any of the above, give your bearings a clean and relube them – if they still aren’t spinning after that, it’s definitely time for new bearings.

You should also replace your bearings if they’re missing any balls or shields. Bearings can also “blow out”, where the retainers break and balls scatter - another good sign that bearings are ready to be replaced.

Maintenance is key is prolonging the longevity of your bearings. For more information, check out our guide on "How To Care for Skateboard Bearings".

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