Choosing bearings is much easier than many think who are new to longboarding. Bearings only come in a few styles and can be deceiving to the naive. It is very easy to be misled when it comes to bearings.
Bearings share a similar construction (see figure below) between all styles, an outer and inner race that holds a retainer with generally 7 ball bearings capped off with a removable rubber shield to protect them, some bearings are sealed with a metal shield that is not removable.
Bearings use a different material for the balls of the bearing, most common of which is steel and ceramic balls; there have been some other materials including tungsten but they haven’t been proven to be any better than steel.
The battle between steel and ceramic bearings can get heated every now and again and it is still on-going. Ceramics are known for heat reduction making them able to spin fast at higher speeds, but generally the ceramic ball bearings are encased in a steel outer/inner race. One of the only downsides to ceramics is that they have the potential to blow out easier than steel, they’re much more fragile and ceramics are generally extremely expensive which is why steel users are heated about the discussion. Steel bearings have the potential to perform at the level of ceramics and for the most part, riders are not generally sponsored downhillers that need every ounce of speed they can get. Steel bearings are going to fit the majority of the longboarding community, they are cheap, they spin fast, and they are disposable. Ceramics may have that extra speed factor due to their heat reduction, but paying nearly $100 for bearings that don’t accelerate faster or maintain speed better just isn’t worth it for many.
The ABEC rating system is probably the most misleading quality of the bearings market. The scale is simply used to describe the tolerances of a bearing, it does not go into if the bearing is able to spin faster or accelerate faster. The ABEC scale at first glance seems that an ABEC 5 bearing is worse than an ABEC 7 bearing because it has a smaller number; when in fact the difference these bearings would have in a skateboard is absolutely nothing, no difference whatsoever. Even if you have quality ABEC 3 bearings in a skateboard you should feel no difference.
Most bearings require a spacer inside the wheel between the bearings. Spacers are a key part to keeping your board safe and increasing the life-span of your bearings. Spacers keep your bearings’ races parallel to make sure the balls stay inside the races’ grooves. It removes stress that may hurt your bearings and wheels, which stress could potentially blow out your bearing if you do not have spacers.
There are some bearings on the market that have built in spacers, the bearing’s inner race is elongated to be a spacer as well. This elongated race makes life easier when removing and cleaning your bearings, changing wheels, or general maintenance on the longboard.
So when it comes to choosing bearings think simple. If you’re going to spend the money on a ceramic set of bearings keep in mind they can break easy and make sure you have spacers. If you’re going with steel, get it from a reputable company like Bones, Zealous, and Seismic. Keep them clean and dry and they should last you a long time, don’t forget spacers. Getting the cheapest bearings doesn’t always mean they’re the worst. Here is a list of bearings that are great for any longboarder.
- Zealous Bearings
- Bones Reds
- Seismic Tekton
- Churchill China Reds (and US ceramics)
- Daddies Ceramics (and steel)
Also watch this super informational video on bearings: