Bearings make your wheels spin. When wheels spin, you have more fun skating. When wheels stop or slow down spinning, you need new bearings or to clean your current set. Picking the best longboard bearings is much easier when you know what to look for.
Here's a breakdown of the different details to look for in a bearing, along with the basics of how a bearing works. If you are looking to clean your bearings, check out this article here.
Longboard bearings consist of just a few key components. The race's, retainer, balls (he said balls, haha) and shield. Not too complicated, so let's make it more complicated...
The races are the rings on the outside and inside of the bearing that hold the balls and retainer in place, and the shields are on the outsides to help block street crud from the bearings. These make it so your bearings last longer between cleanings.
All of these components are sealed tightly into place to a specific tolerance and lubed to keep them moving and help with heat dispersion. The first thing everyone says to look for in a good bearing is the ABEC ratings.
ABEC bearing ratings explained
ABEC bearing ratings are the standard that is used to identify the tolerances a bearing was built with. The ABEC or "Annual Bearing Engineers Committee," was established to set the specifications and tolerances for all bearings. This committee rates every companies bearings so they can market with the respective rating.
In longboarding, the most popular and commonly used bearing is the ABEC 7. But what does this specifically mean? ABEC ratings rank from 1-9 with 1 being the most loose performance, and 9 being extremely precise. ABEC 7 is considered very high performance.
There are many common misconceptions about what the ABEC rating really means. First off, it's not as big of a deal to have a lower rating as most skaters would believe. The axle and bearing interface is usually a little off in general, diminishing any gains achieved by a super high ABEC bearing.
The other important factor is how tight the bearing fits into the wheel. The idea with these ratings is that a higher one means the bearings are a near perfectly smooth fit. If your wheels and axle fits are loose all gains are lost.
What should skaters look for?
The average skater should focus the most on the materials used in the bearing, and what type of lubrication was applied.
It is said that Chromium bearings are the best for skateboarding based on durability and performance. When it comes to lubrication, there's advantages and disadvantages to both the main types.
The two types are heavy grease, or light oil. The light oil type was started by Powell and is the premier choice today. It spins faster and attracts less dust than the older grease style.
Grease attracts more dust but helps the components last longer. It also makes the wheels spin slower (especially at lower temperatures) which is a serious drawback.
How does this affect longboards?
First and foremost, anything above an ABEC 3 is not necessary for the average skater.
The high precision can be very important for downhill skaters exceeding 70 MPH, and they need a top of the line bearing. But the fact of the matter is that the axial load (side load from carving/turning on a board) actually damages the average skaters bearings over time.
A very precise bearing has little wiggle room, which causes them to perform far worse and at a faster rate than a lower rated bearing.
What ABEC longboard bearing is right for me?
So should you get a lower rated bearing for skateboarding if you aren't setting speed records? To be honest you won't pay much more for an ABEC 7 bearing, and it seems that companies use better materials in the higher rated bearings as well.
It makes sense to just go for the better bearing, but you need to keep them clean! Dirty bearings will slow you down no matter what ABEC you are rolling on.
That being said, an ABEC 9 bearing is really only necessary for the top speed skaters.
There's a reason ABEC 7 is the most common. It's just the right tolerance and made with the right materials for durability.
Hopefully this helps to clear up the ABEC system and makes bearings simpler to understand. Now go spread the word to all those kids that think they can skate faster than you because they have ABEC 9's....
Longboard Bearing Materials have a bigger effect on performance over time.
Materials are the most undervalued ranking since ABEC is so easy to quantify. Ceramic bearings are the highest quality available but the price point is much higher. These are for the most serious skaters.
Most bearings are built out of steel which will work perfectly for the average skater.
The reason to go with ceramics is if you ride a lot of downhill and high speeds, they dissipate heat better, last longer, and will have less friction.
There's a force at work called axial load for longboards that is not common in machines. It's the side force that causes the bearings to warp over time.
The way to combat this is by putting a spacer between the bearings, it's essentially an extra race that goes in the middle. You can buy these separately but they are commonly built in to the bearing now. The best longboard bearings feature a built-in spacer.
This also allows you to tighten down the bolt as much as you'd like while still allowing the wheel to spin because there's do gap that would normally lock the wheel up with friction.
What are the best longboard bearings?
This is where the community becomes very polarized and a lot of this is simply due to brand loyalty. The fact of the matter is that many of the bearings are even made in the same factories so realistically most ABEC 7's with the same type of components will be very similar.
Unless you are extremely serious about setting speed records or skating long sessions regularly, most ABEC 7 rated bearings for longboards will perform well for you.
Below are the ABEC 7 bearings we sell at Concrete Coast that have built-in spacers and are built to last.