Wheels! Wheels! Wheels!
Since lockdown started there has been a huge increase in the number of new skaters & requests for wheels advice, so I decided to do a handy blog post with all some basic wheel info to help guide you to the right wheels for you.
A lot of people say they feel silly for asking but don't, we have ALL been there. When you first get into skating you get your skates & think great I'm all set off I go, then you start thinking about upgrading to new wheels & looking at what is available the confusion sets in with all the info like; indoor wheels & outdoor wheels, numbers (we'll get to that), sizes (& that too) little letters after the numbers (& get to this too!) Your heads in a spin & no better off than when you started! So here's some info to help explain it all.
I'm purposely trying to keep it fairly simple rather than over explain or go into hugely in depth details to try & make it easier. There is a huge amount of personal preference with wheels also, what one skater loves another may hate, hopefully this will help you choose what's right for you.
I'm just starting out & I've just bought new skates but the wheels don't spin much & seem slow, what can I do?
Not to worry this actually has an easy fix, just take your skate tool (or a spanner/socket wrench) & loosen the nut off, not too much, a quarter turn of the tool or less will be enough. If they still feel slow its likely the bearings. A lot of new & beginners recreation skates bearings come with sealed bearings which are full of thick grease. This protects them from the elements but leaves them gunky inside & they don't tend to spin freely. You can help them with bearing lubricant dripped in via the tiny gaps in the shields. Pop a couple of drops on each bearing & spin/rotate them in your fingers (or even still in the wheels will work) to help it work its way in. They should roll/spin much better after doing this.
Surely wheels are just wheels? Aren't all wheels the same?
Not really no, most recreational skates generally come with outdoor wheels on they can be used indoors as well though.
Can’t I just pick by a colour I like?
Sometimes you can depending on the type of wheel & the wheel brand & if they make multiple duro wheels in multiple colours, for outdoor wheels this is definitely possible, but for a lot of wheel brands & especially harder wheels the different colour equates to a certain duro hardness. What you don’t want to do is choose a wheel based on a colour you like & then find they are totally unsuitable for the floor you skate on.
Ok great so what do the numbers & little letter mean?
The numbers & letter is referring to the hardness or durometer or duro for short. They are measured with either a D or an A after the numbers, the D rating scale is for wheels made from rubber & the A rating scale is for wheels made from urethane. Most wheels will use the A scale. The higher the number the harder the wheel & the lower the number the softer the wheel. Quad wheels generally start around 78a & go up to around 103a.
So what's the difference between indoor & outdoor wheels?
Most beginner skate set ups come with outdoor wheels as standard. Its generally skates like roller derby skates & higher end artistic skates that come with hard indoor wheels. Most outdoor wheels will be marked 78a, some are 85a, a nice soft wheel for outdoor is best as the softness & grippyness act like a shock absorber & will give you much smoother roll outside where you skate on rougher & bumpier surfaces. You can skate inside with outdoor wheels, they will just feel quite grippy/sticky & you won't have as much speed as harder wheels will give.
Indoor wheels are harder to give you more speed & slide & also to help with giving just the right amount of grip to do different footwork skills with ease, trying to do plow stops on outdoor wheels is going to be much harder than attempting them on harder indoor wheels, hard wheels will allow you to slide & grip where you need allowing you to stop with ease. Skating outside on harder wheels will be very bumpy as they won't absorb any of the vibrations from skating on a rough surface & also may not do your nice indoor wheels any good.
Ok great, so what about the sizes? Why are there different size wheels?
Standard wheel size is generally 62mm x 44mm. The 62mm is the diameter & the 44mm is the width. Smaller wheels may be 59mm x 38mm. You can also get some wheels in 62mm x 38mm, they'll usually be sold as a slim wheel. They are poplar with newer roller derby skaters who are doing contact for the first time & are concerned about wheels clashing with other close by skaters on track. Some outdoor wheels may be around 65mm. Wheels for skate park skating are usually around 55mm - 59mm. Some children skates come with smaller wheels to fit the frames so the wheels don't make contact with the sole of the boots, so its good to check what size your skates came fitted with before you buy. Most wheels are universal so you don't need to stick with the same brand.
There are advantages to either size & again its personal preference & what suits your skating style & needs. Larger wheels can give more stability as with the larger size they make more contact, they will give you more roll with least amount of effort as they cover a larger surface area. Larger wheels are preferable for very rough or uneven surfaces & will give you a much easier & smoother roll.
On the other hand smaller wheels are good for speed as the wheel makes more rotations than a larger wheel, smaller wheels are also good for agility.
Small & hard wheels are generally preferred for skate park skating as they are faster & slidier which enables you to ride the ramps easier, as they'll help you build your speed & get air between you & the top of the ramp.
So what about the wheel hubs? Why are some nylon & some metal?
The hubs are made from a different material than the wheel & hold the bearings in place. Some are made from nylon & some are aluminum.
Nylon hub wheels tend to be cheaper & will be lighter but they will also flex more as you put your weight on each skate, this is more of an issue for bigger skaters. Hub flexing means it can reduce your speed & feel more grippy than an aluminium wheel in the same duro might.
Aluminium hubs will be heavier but do not flex as you skate so you do not lose speed or have extra unwanted grip. Alloy hub wheels tend to be more expensive than nylon hub wheels, so they generally will be a better quality wheel.
Just to keep you on your toes, so to speak! You can get some wheels that are a mix of the two. Some brands have a nylon hub with a aluminium insert at the front for reduced flex, this gives you the best of both wheels! (ba-dum-boom-tshh!) (sorry! Terrible pun I know)
I keep seeing 'hybrid wheels' what on earth are those?
Hybrid wheels are wheels you can use indoors & outdoors. They won't be as smooth as a 78a wheel but they can be skated on outside unlike an indoor wheel. Hybrid wheels are also very good if you need a little more grip in your indoor wheels set up. You can just add one wheel to each skate, two wheels or go for the full set up, its very much about personal preference. The only thing that matters is your wheels are the same size. Another way to get extra grip inside is to opt for a 'pusher set up'.
Say what now?? What on earth is a pusher set up?
A pusher set up is when you have 4 wheels of a lower duro & 4 wheels of a harder duro, the grippy/softer wheels are usually on the left side of each skate & the slidy/harder wheels are on the right. This is generally used in roller derby where you skate anti clockwise around a oval shaped track. The grippy wheels in the left wheels of each skate will give grip on the turns to stop you from sliding out. This picture demonstrates the various wheel set ups you can use for whatever your need may be.
(Apologies I don't know who the artwork is by, if anyone knows please let me know s I'd love to credit them.)
What about double duro wheels?
Double duro or mixed duro wheels, for example the Reckless Morph wheels, are poured with two different durometers in the same wheel. They have an advantage over a traditional set up in that all the wheels are identical with half the wheel side softer & the other half harder, so if you are skating clockwise then the wheels won’t be working against you like a pusher set up might, as a traditional pusher set up the wheels are positioned on the skates to aid with anti-clockwise skating.
Ok its my first wheel upgrade & I want something harder, what a good duro to go for?
For first time upgrades a middle of the range duro around 91a - 93a is generally a good place to start, depending on the type of floor you skate on. Weight can affect it somewhat, as a smaller skater using very hard wheels is going to have a harder time getting grip than a bigger skater would. Different brands can also affect the overall feel of the wheel depending on the quality of urethane they use.
What? Even the floor makes a difference?
Yes it does, indoor sports floor can vary quite a bit.
Some floors have a fairly similar feel & will be fine for various harnesses of wheels. Some floors, like wooden floors, can tend to have a more slippy feel so a grippier/softer/lower number duro may be better. In the summer the weather can also affect the stickiness of the floor, if it's humid it will feel hella grippy. If you’re not sure don’t be afraid to ask other skaters what wheels they use & their preferences for particular venues.
Cool so are more expensive wheels better? Are they really worth paying more for?
As with a lot of things, with wheels a higher price tag generally does mean better quality. More expensive brands use higher quality urethane to pour their wheels. Because of the urethane quality, some high end wheels will still give you a better level of grip & slide with a much higher duro wheel than you might usually skate on. With lower quality urethane wheels a higher duro rated wheel might be too slippy & give very little grip for your needs. A decent quality wheel will last longer & be less prone to flat spots, something which is the bane of skate park skaters lives as concrete will destroy cheaper wheels.
Some skaters might have a several sets of wheels in a range of duros of a certain wheel brand/model to suit different floors, whereas with some of the high end wheels you don't tend to need a range of wheel duros as the high quality urethane will adapt to various floors, so really in the long run it will save you money. Its worth investing in a good set & always buy the best quality items your budget will allow. Like your grandma says (ok & me) "if you buy cheap, you buy twice".
By George I think I've got it! So talk maintenance to me? How can I look after my wheels?
Looking after your wheels is pretty easy & straightforward, you'll need to check them now & then & clean off any signs of dirt & grime, particularly if you skate outside a lot. Indoor floors seem to be incredibly hairy places for some reason - literally I'm not kidding! Hair will wind its way from the floor onto your skate axles (& even into your bearings) as you're whizzing around the room so needs removing as it can gather more debris & eventually slow you down.
Just a damp cloth will do the job. Really the bearings will take more maintenance than the wheels will. You'll need to check your wheels are spinning freely & rotate them around every so often to reduce flat spots & encourage them to wear evenly. If you skate outside a lot then cleaning off any debris will prolong the life of your bearings & reduce the amount of dirt that gets under the bearing shields. You can also get Bones speed cream (other lubricants may be available) which will revive even the crunchiest of bearings! Just a couple of drops in each bearing will keep them rolling for a long time.
Do I need to buy new bearings for my indoor/outdoor set ups?
No its not strictly necessary, though it does make life a lot easier & quicker when you want to change your wheels. Just cheap bearings will do for outdoor skating, you don't need anything fancy for outdoor skating, then you can save your nice bearings for indoors where they're less likely to get as much grime in as they would outside.
Cool, so when I've changed my wheels, how tightly should I do the nuts up when I put them back on?
You don't want to tighten them too much or it will reduce the amount of roll your wheels have. Equally you don't want them too loose or you won't be stable at all. A good rule of thumb is to tighten the nuts all the way until you feel it 'catch', then turn the tool back to loosen approx a quarter turn. If you hold the wheels between your thumb & forefinger & try to rock them on the axle you should feel a slight clicking (& I really mean slight), this is the right amount to allow your wheels to roll/spin freely without being too loose & unstable.
I hope this has helped, if you needing more advice please drop us a message & we will get back to you.
Happy skating & stay safe!