Wheels aren’t just wheels.
A set of wheels complimenting your riding style will significantly improve your skating abilities.
There are many different types, and among these types, there are different parameters. Each type of wheel suits a certain style of riding, whereas each parameter caters more closely to the individual need of the rider.
If you are confused about skateboard wheels and don’t know where to start, or if you’re a seasoned rider looking to learn more, you’re in the right place.
First, let’s cover…
What are they made of?
Skateboard and longboard wheels are made of polyurethane, a type of plastic derived from oil. Polyurethane has many characteristics similar to rubber and plastic, but unlike rubber, polyurethane has a higher rebound and hardness than plastic.
It is far more durable and is flexible to different hardnesses. Different brands have different urethane formulas. These formulas are what give a wheel the feel they have.
The formula can make the wheels harder, softer, grip better, and slide better. They do this by mixing the chemicals in different ratios and using different techniques in the pouring and curing process.
If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry this isn’t something you need to know. I just thought it was cool to include.
The main takeaway is that the formula of the wheel is everything.
There are formulas for sliding, carving, cruising, free riding, street skating, park skating, surfskates, and slalom. You name it, there’s probably a specific formula for it.
I’ll suggest some solid brands towards the end of this article if you’re curious. If you’re in the shop, read the packaging to get a summary of the wheel’s intended use, and it’s always a safe practice to research a wheel before you buy. Look up reviews, phone a friend. It’s better to play it safe and research than to buy a set of wheels you will never use.
The basics of durometer is the smaller the number, the softer the wheel. Softer wheels are normally 78-85a and are best suited for rough terrain and carving.
Harder wheels range from 85a-101a and are best suited for smoother terrain and slides.
Now, this is just a simple explanation.
More goes into the feel of the wheel than the hardness. Many soft slide formulas have a softer durometer like 83a, but slide more like a 100a wheel. There are harder wheels that work well for rougher terrains.
But when looking for a certain hardness for a specific type of skating, the durometer is the primary characteristic that will be advertised. So this is where you will start your assessment.
The core of the wheels is not usually advertised, but knowing how the core affects your riding will help you decide when choosing your wheels. In general, wheels with cores are slightly harder and have more rebound than wheels without cores. Harder wheels may or may not have them because the effect is not as pronounced, but softer wheels with cores have less flex and slightly more rebound than soft wheels without cores. So if you are looking for a softer slide wheel, then you are looking for a wheel with a large pronounced core, but if you are looking for a softer cruiser wheel with more grip and less slip, try to find one that does not have a core.
The larger the wheel, the slower it accelerates, but the longer it keeps the momentum made from a push. So with this in mind, smaller wheels do not keep momentum nearly as well as larger wheels when faced with terrain that has cracks or bumps; however, the smaller wheels will accelerate much faster if the terrain is smooth, or if there are ramps.
Personal preference above anything else, but below is a rough guide.
Best suited for street skating, street obstacles. Can be used in pools or bowls, and can also be used for cruising; however, not preferred.
Best suited for pool skating, mini cruisers, and technical slide.
Best suited for longboards, cruisers, and surfskates. These are a good size for commuting, slides, freestyle longboarding, and carving/pumping.
Best suited for longboards. This size is genuinely more reserved for commuting and downhill. Wheels this large are usually more difficult to slide at slower speeds.
Best suited for long-distance riding and commuting.
Best suited for long-distance riding, commuting, and electric skateboards.
Longboard wheel shapes are composed of…
Wider wheels will have more resistance than narrow wheels, but they have a few advantages.
- Work better for rolling over bumps and cracks.
- More grip for high-speed turns and carving.
Narrow wheels usually accelerate faster and slide better.
- Roll further than a wider wheel that is the same size and spec because of decreased resistance.
- Will be uncomfortable and will not roll as far on rougher surfaces.
The two most common are center and offset. If it sits in the center, that’s center set. And if it sits to the side, it’s either offset or side set.
Center set wheels are the most common.
- Center set wheels are rotatable, preferred for sliding, and long-distance riding to promate even wear on the wheels.
Offset wheels are preferred for carving.
- Allow more polyurethane to sit outside the bearing seat and core resulting in more flex for carving.
The only drawback is that you can’t rotate these wheels. You can, but you would have to flip them backward.
Wheels edge profile
Rounded lip or sharp edge (sharp edge is also referred to as race edge)
A rounded lip is generally better for slides.
- More mass and support above the edge of the wheel create more rebound.
- This is usually better for slides because the wheel is more likely to slip than to grip because of the increased support.
A sharp edge is better for carving.
- This is because there is not as much support at the edge making it more likely to flex under pressure.
- This creates more grip and will make it less likely to slide under pressure.
It’s best to try many different wheels to figure out what’s best for you.
If skating skateparks, go for a 50-55mm wheel.
If you are cruising around campus with a mini-cruiser, maybe find a 60mm wheel.
If you are going longer distances, 65mm and up is the way to go.
Just keep in mind that this is just a reference. You can commute on a 55mm wheel, but if it’s over several miles to your destination, you would probably appreciate a 65mm wheel.