Skateboard whees have come a long way with much trial and error along the journey. The evolution of the skateboard wheel began in the 1940s with metal roller skate wheels, advanced the seemingly great idea of clay wheels in the 1950s-60s, then transformed to the urethane that we use today in the 19070s. Since the 1970s, wheel companies have evolved the wheel creation process with all sorts of advancements in urethane technology. Thankfully, this younger generation will never have to experience metal wheels grinding along on the pavement or the rock hard feeling of clay wheels.
Skate wheels has have turned into a bit of a science these days, so we are here to break that down for you. You’ll find different shapes, varying hardness, small to big and other combos that are made to match specific styles of skateboarding. This guide will guide you through the basic properties of a skate wheel so you will know exactly what to look for next time you are in the market for a new set of wheels.
The first thing you will want to narrow down in your search is what size wheel you are looking for. Most skateboard wheels will start around 49mm and go up to around 60mm. Once you cross over that 60mm threshold, you will be dealing with more longboard-style wheels. Checkout our guide on understanding longboard wheels if you want more information on cruiser/longboard wheels. Smaller wheels are lightweight, accelerate quickly and are closer to the ground and therefore are generally better for technical street skating. Larger wheels will give you more speed but are more difficult to control on flip tricks and technical skating. Here are some general guidelines on diameter and riding style:
- Street Skating / Technical Trick (48mm-53mm) – A small, hard wheel will be responsive and accelerate quickly while eliminating some wheel size that can get in the way of grinds and flip tricks.
- Transition / Vert Skating (50-60mm) – A larger wheel will be more stable at higher speeds and perform better on ramps and transition.
- Cruising/Transportation (60mm+) – A larger and softer wheel will allow you to go faster and absorb more shock when riding around. Hardness rating’s on skateboard crusier wheels will range around 80a-90a. This softer urethane will offer a smooth “cruising” feeling but is not desirable for technical tricks. You might also want to use risers if you are getting into the 60mm wheel range to prevent wheelbite.
- Beginner or All-Around (52mm-56mm) – Don’t go too big or too small until you know what you really want to do. Once you form your style you’ll develop a preference on what wheel size works best for your type of riding.
When you look at a set of wheels you will see one or two sets of numbers. Every wheel will list the size as the first number. Some wheels will also list their durometer, or how hard that particular wheel is, as the second number. Urethane can be tested for it’s hardness and different ratings can be applied. Most skateboard wheels are going to stay on the harder side, getting a 98a-101a rating. Some wheels like Bones will use the b scale rating which is 20 points higher than the a scale making an 84b = 104a. A harder rating will have less friction and drag making them ideal for trick/technical skating. The softer end of the spectrum will absorb more impact and give you a smoother feeling ride.
Some cruiser style skate wheels could have a softer durometer (say, 85a) and have a smaller diameter, which groups them into the skate wheel category instead of the longboard wheels category. Some brands also experiment with dual-durometer wheels. In a dual-durometer skateboard wheel, the inside and outside of the wheel are different hardnesses often allowing for more speed and durability.
Even more specifically, Bones Skate Wheels get super technical and have formulated categories for their wheels. These include Skate Park Formula, Street Tech Formula and All Terrain Formula to name a few. You can visit the Bones website to get more information on those formulas.
One might think all skateboard wheels look the same, but there are many different wheel shapes that affect how the wheel rides. The best way to narrow down the right shape for you is to get out there and skate different shape wheels. Here are some basic shape properties to look for.
- Narrow outline wheels have a smaller lip radius and less ground contact with which means more responsiveness, less friction and lighter weight. This can be great for street skating and technical skating.
- Wider wheels are sturdy and beefy for fast riding and great for hauling it around the skatepark or in big bowls. They may be slightly heavier so they might not leave the ground as quickly as a more narrow wheel but the stability factor is a big plus.
- Classic or cruiser wheel shapes are going to have a wide-round outer lip and will grip the ground better than all of the above. These wheels are not meant for technical skating but they cruise quite nicely.
Most harder urethane is going to feel very smooth in general. Some wheels may be smoother than others, some may feel slightly sticky and some may have some built in ‘treads’. Each has it’s benefits depending on what you want to do on your board.
- Smooth wheels will be great for all around skating.
- Sticky wheels will roll smooth and grip the ground for a comfortable ride. Hint – some skate filmers will ride a stickier wheel to roll more quietly behind the skater.
- Treaded wheels are great for crappier (rocky, cracky) streets or skate terrain. The built in tread will add grip help keep you on a straight track.
This little list should help you navigate thru the maze of skate wheels the next time you are on a search for a new pair. Again, we can’t stress enough the importance of just getting out there and trying as many different wheels as you can until you find the perfect pair for you. Take a look at our full selection of skate wheels at Windward then go skate!