Skateboard bearings are the small circular devices that allow your wheels to roll, and will determine how fast and smoothly they rotate. Skate bearings consist of 5 major parts: the shield, the inner race, the balls, the retainer, and the outer race. A skateboard requires a set of 8 bearings, 2 for each wheel. Almost every skateboard bearing is the same size and will fit on any skateboard wheel and truck.
When choosing your bearings, it is important to think about your experience level and riding style. Bearings with higher-quality parts will be faster and more durable. If you are a beginner, you may not need the fastest and toughest bearings on the market. If you are more experienced and know that you like to ride fast and hard, you could probably benefit from a higher-end bearing. Bearings of higher quality will be more expensive than entry level bearings, so take that into consideration as well.
Steel Bearings vs. Ceramic Bearings
As far as materials are concerned, there are two broad categories of skateboard bearings: steel and ceramic. “Steel” and “ceramic” refer to the material in which the balls inside the bearing are made of. Most bearings have steel balls and are, therefore, called steel bearings. The quality of steel and other parts used in steel bearings will determine how fast and durable they are. You can find both high-end and entry level steel bearings ranging anywhere from $10 to $80 in price. Check out Bones Super Reds, Andale Abec 5, Bronson G3 Bearings, and CCS Bearings for some examples of solid steel bearings.
Ceramic bearings have ceramic balls which are lighter and stronger than steel balls. Ceramic balls also roll faster due to less friction, and act as a self-cleaning mechanism knocking dirt off of the steel races as they rotate. Ceramic bearings are generally top of the line and can range in price from about $50 to $165. Bones Swiss Ceramics are possibly the most popular ceramic bearings in the world.
Bearings of all types come with what is called an ABEC rating. You can usually see this rating printed on the packaging a set of bearings comes in, or printed on the shield of a bearing itself. The ABEC system consists of five levels: ABEC 1, ABEC 2, ABEC 3, ABEC 5, ABEC 7, and ABEC 9. There is a common misconception that a higher ABEC rating means a faster or better skateboard bearing. The truth is that the ABEC system was created to rate the tolerances of bearings made specifically for industrial machinery and not for skateboarding.
The ABEC system rates a bearing’s ability to cope with changes in physical dimension, properties of a manufactured object, and temperature. The ABEC system does factor in the abuse a skateboard bearing will take, the speed at which skateboards travel, or any other criteria specific to skateboarding.
When choosing your bearings it’s best to completely ignore the listed ABEC rating. The quality of materials used in your bearings is what matters when it comes to performance.
NOTE TO BEGINNERS: If you are picking out your very first set of bearings, go with an inexpensive steel option. This will give you as much performance value as you’ll need, and won’t hurt your wallet. You can find decent steel bearings for under $25 anywhere skateboards are sold.