Updated: May 4, 2020
For years, since I first started playing roller derby around 10 years ago, I have been baffled by the wide range of choice available when it comes to bearings - which to choose?, is it worth spending more money?, why are there so many different types?
I decided to have a go at busting some bearing myths and clearing up some confusion as well as testing out a few different types.
Firstly what are they and what do they do?
Bearings are basically metal cylinders which fit inside your wheels and spin thanks to the balls inside them making the wheels turn on the axel.
They come in a huge variety of types for differing purposes so lets have a look at the basics.
What is the ABEC rating?
The majority of bearings are 'ABEC' rated. You can read some really useful information about this system on the Bones website to save me repeating it!
Basically it is very difficult to use this measurement for skating as it has very little relevance to the use of bearings by the skater.
Your choice of bearing will instead depend on the intended use of your skates.
The main types of ball bearings are:
Steel: Great for all around skating including outdoors and for rougher ground with softer wheels where you would be travelling at slower speeds anyway.
Good value for money, these are available from a whole range of brands.
Look out for - removable covers to make cleaning easier!
Ceramic: Higher quality and higher price. Probably a worthwhile investment for skaters who use their skates often and want a really smooth roll.
You will have a smoother ride and higher speed but this comes at a price!
Consider if you will be doing lots of skating on loose dirt/sand which could potentially damage the ceramic balls.
Tried and tested:
Low price bearings are great for starting out but eventually you will want to upgrade to improve your skate skills. If you're struggling to get enough speed, you can't roll without needing to push often or your wheels feel sluggish it may be time to upgrade your bearings!
Here are the ones that I have tested and loved:
Bones Reds - always popular with skateboarders and roller skaters alike. Durable and reasonably priced a good first upgrade from cheaper "standard" bearings.
Better Bearings Rock Solids - These served me well on a tour of California from outdoor skating, sand lined paths and rough and rugged outdoor pools to smooth indoor wood. Easy to clean and durable. A great value product.
Putting them in and taking them out:
Always use a bearing tool! These are reasonably affordable and will protect your bearings from damage (as I learnt the hard way!).
Cleaning your bearings:
Something people always seem to get confused about - when and how to keep your bearings clean?
As I am quite lazy I don't have a regular routine for this but clean them when I think I need to - this is - if they are dirty (see photo - ewww!), if they are sticking and not spinning freely, if they are making grating noises they may have dirt trapped inside them, or if I am bored!
Cleaning bearings is really straightforward. You will simply need a bearing cleaning solution or acetone.
Remove the cover from the bearing to reveal the spheres inside - pop into the cleaning solution (DO NOT USE WATER!!) and shake all the dirt out. Give them a spin, air dry and add a drop or two of bearing oil before replacing the casing.
They should spin freely again.
The Better Bearings cleaning kit has everything you need.
Check out our bearing cleaning guide for full details on how to do it!