Similar to skateboard decks, skateboard wheels have evolved greatly since the dawn of skateboarding. The first skateboard wheels were made of steel, then clay, and were unpredictable and difficult to ride at best.
The first urethane skateboard wheels came out in the 1970’s and changed skateboarding forever. Not only do urethane wheels last many times longer than the primordial steel and clay wheels, but with urethane’s ability to grip and rebound, skaters could now carve turns without sliding, and roll over rough pavement without feeling the rough vibrations of the road.
Urethane brought skateboarding out of its early medieval period, and helped turn it from a simple hobby into a lifestyle embraced by millions. Now, almost 50 years later, virtually every skateboard wheel in production is poured from urethane.
Unlike the skaters of the early 1970’s, we have a ton of options when it comes to high-quality urethane skateboard wheels. The two most important variables in skateboard wheels are size and hardness (also known as “duro”).
The size or diameter of your skateboard wheels will noticeably affect your skateboard’s performance. A wheel of large diameter will go faster and weigh a little more than a smaller wheel. A large wheel will also raise you and your deck off the ground higher than a smaller wheel. A smaller wheel will weigh less, sit you closer to the ground, and will be easier to maneuver.
Technical street skaters will prefer wheels on the smaller end of the spectrum as the small wheels’ light weight allows street skaters to perform flip tricks more easily. Transition skaters will usually opt for something larger that will carry more speed.
Skateboard wheel diameter is measured in millimeters and the size range is generally 49mm to 75mm. 26 millimeters may seem insignificant if you haven’t experimented much with different sized skate wheels, but even a couple millimeters will make a difference to experienced skaters. To break down wheel size by general riding style, see the table below.
Note to Beginners: Try starting out with something in the 52mm - 55mm range. This is a very common size range and will be good for learning the basics.
The hardness or durometer of a skateboard wheel determines how much grip the wheel has and the amount of shock it can absorb. To break it down, a softer wheel will compress when pressure is applied to it, giving it more grip and allowing it to absorb more shock. A harder wheel will barely compress under pressure, giving it less grip, and less shock absorption. A soft wheel will create a very smooth ride, but hard wheels are preferred by most street and transition skaters for their responsiveness.
Riding hard wheels will allow you to feel everything you are rolling over. This awareness will be beneficial as you navigate through rolling transitions in the park or negotiate a collage of concrete and asphalt in the urban jungle. Hard wheels will also respond directly to your movements. When you snap into an ollie, all of the pressure you apply transfers directly to your deck and wheels, giving you maximum pop. Spitfire offers a number of hard wheels.
Softer wheels are great for cruising around and bombing hills at high speeds. They absorb a lot of shock from the road creating a super smooth ride. For some awesome cruiser wheels, take a look at the lineup from OJ Wheels.
Soft wheels are generally not ideal for street or transition skating, as their grippy-ness will cause them to stick to obstacles rather than grind or slide across them. They are also less responsive to your movements, which makes tricks like ollies and kickflips more difficult.
Wheel durometer is most commonly measured using the “A” scale, the same one used to determine bushing hardness. The A scale is a ranking system of numbers followed by the letter “A.” The larger the number, the higher the durometer, and the harder the wheel. For example 101A would be a very hard skateboard wheel, while 75A would be a very soft one. You can usually see the durometer listed in this manner on a skateboard wheel, along with the wheel’s size. Image of a wheel with size and durometer printed on it. Almost all street and transition wheels are harder than 98A. Cruising wheels are usually around 78A, but can be anywhere between 78A and 90A.
Bones Wheels uses a “B” rating scale to signify durometer. The B scale is a different way of measuring the same thing, and is mainly used for the hardest wheels on the spectrum. The conversion is simple, the B scale reads 20 values below the A scale:
- 101A = 81B, 102A = 82B, 103A = 83B, etc.
Note to Beginners: It is smart to stick with something around 101A. Anything above 98A will perform well in the street or in the park. Anything softer will probably slow you down. However, if you wish to cruise around on your skateboard and are not much interested in learning tricks, a softer wheel will work well for you. For a good cruising wheel, choose something between 78A and 90A.