Everything There is to Know About Roller Skate Wheels
The first thing to know about roller skate wheels is that they come in different shapes, sizes, and durometer or hardness. Why? Because wheels are designed for specific uses and various surfaces.
Roller skate wheels may be used for park skating, aggressive street skating, recreational skating, roller derby, indoor skating, outdoor skating, and rink/ jam skating. They may be used for roller hockey or speed skating. The surface you skate on could be concrete, wood, asphalt, sports court or plastic tiles. Let’s get into finding the best roller skate wheel for you!
What type of roller skating do I want to do?
Before choosing a wheel, you need to know what type of roller skating you want to do. If you don’t know where you will skate, or you might skate on a number of different surfaces, then I would recommend this wheel for you: 78a-82a Hardness with a wheel size of around 56mm to 62mm tall x 31mm to 35mm wide. This softer wheel makes it more versatile for roller skating on different surfaces.
If you know where you will skate and want to get into the technical details of what makes one roller skate wheel better or different from another, keep reading below.
Roller skate wheels have four properties which are Roll, Wear, Rebound, and Grip. When a wheel chemist creates a formula for a wheel, if they want to increase the grip of the wheel they can usually be certain that it will decrease the roll. Similarly, if they increase the rebound it will decrease the wear. Let’s look at what these four wheel properties mean.
Roll – As you might imagine, when a wheel has more roll it is faster. To make a wheel faster, the wheel chemist can use a higher grade urethane or they can decrease the grip. Adding rebound can also increase the roll, but the wheel will wear out more quickly.
Wear – How fast the wheel will wear out. Unlike narrow inline skate wheels, roller skate wheels do not tend to wear out very quickly because of the amount of urethane touching the skating surface, but a soft wheel will wear out faster than a harder one if all other factors are the same.
Rebound – If you bounce your wheel on a hard surface, a high rebounding wheel will bounce back higher than a low rebounding wheel. A higher rebounding wheel is advantageous because it returns energy that you put into the push and turns it into speed. Low rebounding wheel feel sluggish. If a wheel chemist increases the rebound they will make the wheel wear out more quickly.
Grip – The name explains this one, so we just need to look at what effects grip. A harder wheel will have less grip. A wheel that grips more will wear out more quickly and be slower than a wheel that grips less.
Now we know all about the four properties of a wheel; which properties do I need in my wheel? Well, you want a wheel that grips well, is fast, has high rebound, and lasts a long time. How do you achieve that in one wheel? To answer that, we need to look at the quality of the urethane.
There is nothing worse than spending money on a $100 pair of skates and finding their wheels feel like they are made of stone. They don’t roll, they don’t grip, and they feel like they may not even be made of urethane. You generally do get what you pay for with wheels. Cheap wheels are made from cheap urethane and they feel like it. I would suggest going with a reputable brand for wheels, one with a pro skating team that knows what it takes to make a good wheel and make sure that the team skates on the wheels they are promoting. No-name wheels will almost certainly be made with low-quality urethane and be better suited to your wheelie suitcase than your skates.
Also known as the wheels duro. This is the hardness rating of the wheel, and you will want to know the durometer of the wheel to know what surface it is suitable for. A soft wheel sits at around 78A duro. A hard wheel at 92A and a very hard wheel at 100A. The ‘A” in 78A is the scale of measurement. Let’s check out a suitable surface for each duromenter:
- 78A wheels are suitable for rough surfaces such as concrete, skating by the beach, skating on rough roads
- 82A wheels are suitable for relatively smooth concrete, pavement, or asphalt
- 85A wheels are suitable for very smooth asphalt
- 92A wheels are suitable for indoor skating on slippery floors
- 96A wheels are suitable for most indoor applications and grippier floors
- 98A wheels are suitable for very grippy indoor floors
Remember, when you select a harder wheel, they will not ride the bumps as well and not have as much grip but they will be faster.
What about park skating?
Shorty notes for aggressive street skating you want a wheel that can take quite a bit of vibration but is not grippy, as the ability to slide and grind is essential. So a wheel duro of about 89a, like the Street Flow is a good compromise. Also, if you are new to park skating, starting on 89a duro is recommended before switching to a harder wheel, as too much speed and not enough grip can cause you slip out and fall.
For skating at a skate park or vert ramps, more experienced skaters prefer using a harder wheel about 98a, like the Park Flow, to about 101a for the speed. The main goals are to go fast and minimize any wheel bite if the wheel does touch the flat when sliding or grinding.
Wider wheels are more stable, but you sacrifice agility. So, the narrower the wheel you choose, the less stable the wheel will be. For example, speed skating wheels tend to be wider at 42mm, allowing for more grip for high-speed turns. Roller derby wheels are about 38mm, which is a happy medium between stability at speed and fast agility. Outdoor wheels are generally used for cruising around, so wheel width can vary from wheel to wheel depending on the type and surface of outdoor skating you are doing. Skate park wheels are about 32mm as agility for tricks and minimizing wheel bite is more important than stability.
Taller wheels are faster but take more effort to get them up to speed. They are also heavier than smaller wheels, but once at top speed, larger wheels will maintain their roll better than smaller wheels.
- 62mm height wheels are typically used for outdoor wheels and speed skating and are considered tall
- 57-59mm height wheels are considered medium and suitable for roller derby wheels
- 55mm height and below wheels are considered to be small
Skate park wheels are typically between 55mm – 58mm, but some skaters will ride smaller 52mm – 54mm skateboard wheels for the lighter weight and being closer to the ground.
The lip of the wheel is the shape of the area that typically has the graphics printed on the wheel. This lip shape can affect the way the wheel feels when you skate on it. When you push to the side, this lip is the last part of the wheel to leave the ground, and it will affect how this part of the push feels. There is no right or wrong lip, it is more a matter of preference.
Amount of Urethane
Some wheels have a lot of urethane and other wheels which may be exactly the same size, may have less urethane because they have a larger hub. The more urethane, the more rebound, which is a good thing, but it also adds weight. Some wheels can get away with having less urethane and use a bigger hub because they either use a higher quality urethane or an aluminum hub that offers more rebound.
For example, let’s look at roller derby wheels vs outdoor wheels.Roller derby wheels have a larger hub to reduce weight but also use better urethane so that the rebound isn’t affected. Outdoor wheels have a smaller hub, making them quite heavy, but they have great rebound for long-distance skating on footpaths.
Wheels are usually made with no hub, a plastic hub, or an aluminum hub. Plastic hubs save on costs and are generally considered to be inferior to aluminum hubs. Aluminum hubs with spokes cost more to produce than ones without spokes and have a higher rebound rating. Wheels with no hub or a tiny insert are usually used for street/park skating because they absorb impacts better than wheels with a hub.
skate park wheel - no hub
outdoor wheel - plastic hub
roller derby wheel - plastic hub
roller derby wheel - aluminum hub
Lighter skaters can use a softer wheel and heaver skaters tend to use a harder wheel when skating on the same surface. To give an example, if you are skating at an indoor rink that has a wooden surface with medium grip levels you may see skaters of these weights choosing these duro wheels:
- 50kg/110lbs : 94A
- 75kg/165lbs : 96A
- 100kg/ 220lbs: 98A
A wheel for every occasion
If you like roller skating and skate on different surfaces, you may want to consider using a few sets of wheels. For example, you may want a set of smooth-rolling 78A wheels for skating along the beach and a set of 96A wheels for rink skating. Having a set of bearings already in the wheels makes chancing them a sinch, if not, owning a bearing press will make your life easier. If you want to choose one set of wheels and skate everywhere on them, I would recommend a set of 82A wheels. Indoor wheels will just be too hard for outdoor skating but outdoor wheels will still be okay for indoor skating.
Alexander Bont has been skating since the age of two years old. He was part of the Australian national short track team for 7 years. He has also competed on quad roller skates, long track ice skates, and inline speed skates. Alexander has won a number of Australian national titles including national records in short track and state titles in inline speed skating. He is the owner and CEO of Bont Skates and has a passion for skate design.