Every skateboard wheel is equipped with two bearings. If you want, you can fill the space between them with a spacer. This small metal cylinder prevents the bearings from being forced into the centre of the wheels when tightening the axle nut and getting damaged. Furthermore, spacers ensure that your bearings remain parallel with each other. Spacers are particularly prudent if you have soft wheels or so-called “non-core wheels”.
The bearings you’ll find in the Tribe Skate Shop fit in every standard wheel and work with every standard axle. When choosing your bearings, therefore, you don’t have to worry about the size.
Bearings are comprised of a large outer ring and a smaller inner ring. Between these rings are small steel balls. These are what enable the wheels to turn. On either side of the rings are covers, called shields, which prevent the bearings from getting dirty. In order to keep the balls in position, they are contained inside of a so-called “ball cage.”
You can also choose to skate with ball bearings without shields, which are open or semi-open. If you do skate with open or semi-open bearings, they will indeed be more susceptible to contamination, but they will be somewhat faster. Many skaters enjoy the slightly louder sound of a skateboard with open bearings.
„Dude, my ABEC 3 bearings are so lousy! It’d be so sick if I had ABEC 7s!“
The urban legend is that the higher the ABEC rating, the better and faster the bearings. But as is the case with most myths and legends, this one is for the most part nonsense.
The acronym ABEC stands for “Annular Bearing Engineers Committee,” and is a standard for how fine the rolling elements are. The higher the ABEC rating, the lower the tolerance for error in the manufacturing process. The rating does provide reliable information on the quality of the bearings. However, because the RPMs achieved when skating are so comparatively low, the rating is all but irrelevant. The full potential of a high ABEC rating would unfortunately never be reached because of the relatively low speeds achieved in classic skating.
To put it into more specific terms:
ABEC 7 or 9 bearings can reach 20,000-30,000 rpm at their full potential. For a 54mm wheel, this would correspond to a speed of over 200 km/h. For this reason, some manufacturers now renounce ABEC rating although it can still give a rough first impression of the quality of the bearings. As far as the relevance for skating and speed goes, the ABEC rating says quite little because skateboarding impacts bearings very differently than the traditional industrial uses.
For this very reason, we have “Skate Tested Bearings” or “Skate Rated Bearings.” These are usually more resistant and have been specifically developed to meet the demands of skateboarding; for instance, the impact on the bearings when landing tricks, or the lateral forces when turning.