How to Choose the Right Skate Wheel
Re-inventing the Wheel
Choosing the right skate wheel can be a daunting experience. As a beginner skateboarder perhaps you find the idea of walking into a skate shop and getting caught in a space less gaze at all the different brands of wheels embarrassing. Maybe you’re buying as a gift and you’ll likely realize the wheel selection broadens as the shop employee spews out lingo you’ve never heard of before; durometer, size, color, Bones or Spitfires, Mini ramp or Street skating. What do these mean and why do they relate to wheels?
You might ask yourself “aren’t all wheels the same?” They’re not.
In this post, we’ll cover all terminology, their meanings, and uses so you have a positive buying experience and get the right wheels for you skill level and preference.
Science behind the Wheel
Skateboarding has come a long way since the 70’s. Steel wheels from ancient roller skates to clay wheels, the progress of skateboarding correlates entirely to the innovation of the skateboard wheel. In today’s industry standards, polyurethane is the most reliable material for skate wheels and skaters are happy about that. It’s the safest type of wheel that provides the right traction, speed, and durability to push the limits of skateboarding. Those three specifications are what you should have in mind when you buy a set of skate wheels. The next few points are slight modifications that enhance the performance of skate wheels. We’ll break it down for you in the simplest way.
It’s simple physics that the more surface area a skate wheel has the more friction and traction it will produce. With these parameters in mind, we’d assume that Legendary Physicist Issac Newton preferred a wider wheel in order to successfully skate down the slippery roads of England.
The surface area of skate wheels varies depending on brand, but you can differentiate between wheels by the width of the contact area to the ground and the shape of the wheels. Wider wheels have a more conical shape and a flatter surface compared to other types of wheels which will only have a few millimeters of a flat surface and will be more round.
If you’re wondering which surface area suits you consider what type of terrain you will be skating, whether it be ramps or street. Although the surface area has a minuscule impact on the riding experience, the size and hardness of skate wheels have a greater influence in your skating.
Durometer is the measure of the hardness of the skate wheel. This specification tends to be the most confusing even to seasoned skate veterans, but it’s a very simple concept to grasp.
When starting out as a beginner it’s not that important that you worry much about durometer, but consider the average durometer is 99d.
Durometer is read on a scale between 70d-101d. The smaller the value the softer the wheel will be. The softness determines which performance you seek out of the wheel. Rougher surfaces and slippery ramps will generally require softer values like 95d-98d. The higher values like 99d-101d will be best suited for smoother surfaces and concrete.
The higher values will feel faster and provide the right kind of slide when you need it. It may be confusing, but just consider what surfaces you will be skating on the most. If you don’t know what you prefer, we recommend you stick to the average 99 durometer reading. Keep in mind that the durometer scale tends to be different with the brand, so clarify with the skate shop employee on what is best for you.
The most important decision you’ll make when choosing the right skate wheel will be the size. In today’s skating, skate wheels tend to range in sizes 49mm -70mm. Like surface area, the size will depend on your terrain preference.
Generally, an average beginner skateboarder will be most comfortable on an average size wheel like 53mm-55mm. You might be wondering why does size matter? Size matters because the bigger the wheel the faster you will ride, but at the same time you sacrifice the ease of Ollies and Flip Tricks. On the contrary, the smaller the wheel the harder it is to ride a vert ramp or maintain your momentum in a concrete bowl.
Size directly correlates with surface area. Too big of a wheel can negatively impact the way you ride. If you prefer street skating, you will benefit with sizes 50-53mm depending on the surfaces you ride. The more extreme sizes 60-70mm are best enjoyed on long boards or longer distance skating.
Whichever wheel size you prefer to keep in mind that smaller wheels will tend to get caught in deep cracks and is less comfortable riding on uneven surfaces than bigger wheels will be.
Different Wheels for Different Terrains
The following is a breakdown of preferred wheel sizes by many skateboarders and our team riders, but in no way determine your own preference or ability regardless of size. Some make do with bigger or smaller wheels. One of the great things in skateboarding is that there are no rules and you are the leader of your own skateboard experience!
Transition: Mini Ramps/ Vert Ramps
If you followed our introduction to wheel size, you will generally benefit from sizes 55-58mm on mini ramps and vert ramps. The rule of thumb for bigger ramps like Vert, in which ramps can exceed 14 feet high, is the bigger sizes like 58mm to 63mm will have a better impact on airs and grinds. While on mini ramps the most comfort is met with smaller sizes like 55mm.
Bowl and Empty Pools
There is one clarification you should ask yourself ; wooden bowl or concrete bowl? These surfaces you’d be better off riding a low to average durometer and bigger size wheel.
Wooden surfaces at skate parks often have less traction due to their material and dust, therefore, requiring a softer wheel to keep you from slip-sliding around compared to concrete which will have more traction and sound like your wheels are barking against the surface.
Whichever durometer wheel you seek to think about what kind of skating you want to accomplish. Do you want to revert out of tricks, or carve with all your weight into turns? Still confused? Read all about Durometer above
Street skating requires responsive and faster pop in order to get certain tricks. The lower the board is to the ground the quicker it is to Ollie, therefore, shortening the time it takes for you to flip your board or hopping onto a ledge.
Therefore the smaller the skate wheel the better suited it will be for technical skateboarding. Many skaters question this logic, but with most products, it’s a matter of preference.
The average beginner will enjoy a medium wheel 53 millimeter -55 millimeter. These sizes cover a wide range of terrain and types of skating that will be done.