Before you buy your next pair of roller skates or a new set of wheels, it’s important to understand what you need to look for to find the perfect set of wheels. Roller skate wheels are one of the most important parts of a skate. Here are 10 essential tips to help you make the right choice with that next important purchase.
Tip #1: Wheel hardness and the surface you plan to skate on are top priority
Wheel hardness is one of the most important attributes of a roller skate wheel. But why does the hardness of a roller skate wheel matter? Well, the hardness (or softness) of a wheel determines how you should best use that wheel and what surfaces you should skate on with that wheel. For example, a soft wheel (78A-89A in the picture to the right) is best used for outdoor use or slippery indoor floors while a harder wheel (90A-103A) is best used for indoor use on sticky floors. The lower the number, the softer the wheel. The higher the number, the harder the wheel.
With a softer wheel, you get more grip and a much softer ride – perfect for small pebbles and the normal bumpiness of an outdoor surface. Softer wheels can also be used indoors, too, if you are on a slippery surface and need more grip. If you are skating on asphalt, concrete or some other slippery surface that is uncoated, then you likely want a softer wheel in the 78A-90A range. If you are outdoors, go with a wheel in the 78A category. Softer wheels are also better for the beginner because they provide more grip. Grippier wheels usually make the beginner feel more secure as you will “stick” to the surface you are skating on better with a softer wheel.
On the flip side, a harder wheel is usually better for tighter, indoor, coated surfaces as these wheels provide less grip. Harder wheels are great for more speed and give more of a slidey feel to the wheel even when on tight floors. This is usually very advantageous to the more advanced skater as it gives you the ability to go faster as with less floor grip you also gain more speed. Very hard wheels are also used in artistic skating as they allow the skater to spin more freely on a tight, indoor surface.
Here is a handy chart that will help guide you to the right level of wheel hardness depending on your skating:
|78A-80A||These are really soft wheels that are super grippy and should be used either exclusively outdoors on asphalt and concrete OR on very slippery indoor surfaces.|
|84A-85A||Also considered soft wheels, these wheels are often considered a hybrid wheel that can be used either indoors or outdoors. These wheels are good for a beginner (even if you only skate indoors) as they give you more grip and control.|
|86A-89A||These are the softest wheels truly made for indoor courts like gyms, polished concrete or really slippery indoor wood that has not been treated.|
|90A-93A||These medium hard wheels provide a normal grip. They are great for medium grippy floors like polished concrete or sportcourt.|
|94A-96A||These are the first class of truly hard wheels. They have a low level of grip and are good for stickier floors.|
|97A-103A||These are super hard wheels only appropriate for roller rink floors and rubberized gym floors that have been treated and are sticky. Anything over 100A is so hard that it technically falls in the B category. This means the wheel is really hard and only meant for more experienced skaters on a sticky, indoor surface.|
In a future blog post, we will go into the specifics of how wheel hardness is actually measured (known as durometer – the 78A-103A numbers above) and the actual scientific differences between the various wheel types for folks who are interested. However, for the average skater, understanding the chart above is enough to pick out the correct skate wheels based on hardness without knowing all of the specific details.
Tip #2: A wheel’s diameter affects your overall acceleration, speed, stability and weight
Many people don’t realize just how much a roller skate wheel effects an overall pair of roller skates. The diameter determines the height of your wheel, the overall height of your skates and is measured in millimeters (mm). How tall your wheel is effects attributes like acceleration, roll time/top speed (how long you can roll without pushing), stability and the wheel’s weight. Let’s look at each attribute that wheel diameter effects in more detail below:
In general, smaller diameter wheels allow for faster acceleration because they take less effort to get you moving. A larger (taller) diameter wheel will accelerate more slowly and take more effort to get moving. If you think about this for a minute, it makes sense. A smaller diameter wheel has less distance to move to get a full revolution than a larger diameter wheel.
Roll Time / Top Speed
However, the opposite is true of the top speed and roll time of a wheel. A larger diameter wheel typically has a better overall roll time and can achieve top speeds over a smaller diameter wheel. A larger diameter takes more effort to get moving, but once it does get rolling, it takes less effort to keep it moving fast. This is one reason why long distance speed skaters prefer taller wheels because after they get the wheel moving, they don’t have to exert as much effort. You will also see that most taller wheels are made for outdoor use.
Acceleration / Top Speed Summary
So, smaller diameter wheels will get rolling faster, but take more effort to keep rolling faster. While larger diameter wheels will be slower at acceleration, but will take less effort to keep rolling.
Smaller diameter wheels on average are more stable than larger diameter wheels. With less distance between you and the ground, it’s easy to see why a smaller diameter wheel would give you more stability.
A roller skate wheel with a smaller diameter weighs less than a larger diameter wheel.
Here is a nice table that shows specific wheel diameters, their typical use and an example wheel:
|Diameter (in mm)||Typical Use||Example|
|45mm||Artistic, Freestyle||Sure-Grip Fo-Mac Mini Mac|
|57mm-58mm||Derby, Speed, Jam, Artistic||Sure-Grip All-American Dream|
|59mm-62mm||Derby, Speed, Jam||Sure-Grip Twister|
|65mm-70mm||Outdoor, Long-track Speed||Kryptonics Route Outdoor Wheels|
Tip #3: A wheel’s weight is a large percentage of your overall skate’s weight
Did you know that the weight of your wheels can be almost half of your skates total weight? That makes this an important consideration when purchasing a new set of wheels. Heavy wheels often offer you more traction, but they can also tire your legs out faster than lighter wheels. Lighter wheels can allow you to move easier and make faster, quick movements, but they can also make some skaters feel less stable. Most moderate to advanced skaters are looking for lighter wheels, but if you are a beginner, a heavier wheel can help with stability and make you feel more grounded.
Tip #4: Purse your lips, hit those edges and watch that contact patch
Whoa! What does all of that mean? Lets break it down.
The width of the wheel (also known as the profile) is the total size of the wheel when measured across. This includes the total width with any bevels.
However, the contact patch is the area of the wheel that is in contact with the surface you are skating on – the actual amount of the wheel that actually touches the ground not including any bevels, lips or edges. The contact patch can affect the grippiness and overall speed of the wheel along with the hardness of the wheel that we mentioned in Tip #1 above.
Typically, a wider contact patch equals more grip and more stability. However, it is also heavier, slower and harder to make quick movements on. On the flip side, more narrow contact patch wheels have less stability, are lighter and make it easier to make quick movements.
Here is a quick chart that shows the most common wheel profiles/widths:
|Profile||Description||Skater Skill Level|
|31mm||These super narrow wheels are amazingly light and offer a ton of agility, but they are also the least stable and offer much less grip than a wider wheel.||Advanced|
|35mm||These narrow wheels are light and offer agility, but give you a little more stability and grip than the super narrow wheels above.||Intermediate / Advanced|
|38mm||These slim wheels offer a good balance of agility, stability and grip.||Beginner / Intermediate / Advanced|
|44mm||These super wide wheels provide great grip and stability, but are heavier and provide less agility in your movements.||Beginner|
Lips and or the edge of the wheel effect the overall grippiness of the wheel. The lips are the very edge of the wheel and depending on their cut effect the total amount of contact patch that a wheel has on a surface.
Square lips have a straight drop and have the maximum contact patch and more grip than other wheels. There are not many wheels that have complete square lips, but there are some that are more rounded than others. In the picture to the right, it’s easy to see that the All-American Dream wheels have a more square lip than the Sure-Grip Motion wheels. The square lips are more common in artistic wheels.
Rounded lips have more give and less traction than square lips. However, there are various different rounded lip configurations. The most rounded lip wheels are usually found in outdoor wheels. They have less grip and provide more slide and cruise ability. These are common in outdoor wheels as it also punches out pebbles and other small obstacles you may encounter with greater ease.
On either extreme of the round and square lip spectrum, you will find a middle ground where most wheels live. Just remember that the more square the lips of a wheel, the more traction and less give. The more round a wheel’s lips, the less grip and more give.
Tip #5: A wheel’s hub and core materials affect the overall way that a wheel rolls
The inner portion of the wheel is known as the core or hub of a wheel. This is the hard part area in the center of the wheel where the skate bearings snap in place. Looking at the picture to the right, you can see that there are three main types of cores: Hollow, Nylon and Aluminum.
This class of wheels are light, less rigid and more affordable. These often come in a spoked pattern (as the Road Hog wheel in the image on the right shows). These wheels tend to be slower as they don’t transfer power to the wheel as well as an aluminum core. They also are softer because the core does not help to keep the wheel as round. This means more contact patch on the surface, and thus a slower overall ride.
These cores are the strongest and most rigid of the hub materials. They are also the heaviest and most expensive of the three core types. The stiffer core allows for the wheels to roll longer as it keeps the wheel perfectly round. These wheels also slip easier when you push because they are more round and don’t give you as much traction. Remember, that traction is equivalent to a decrease in overall speed.
These wheel cores fall between the nylon and aluminum types. They are fairly light wheels (much lighter than the aluminum core) and don’t have the same drawbacks as a nylon core. These are a good in-between wheel and can provide you with the acceleration you need along with the slightly stiffer core that gives you a long roll.
Tip #6: Don’t tread on me – the wheel tread myth debunked
Believe it or not, tread is one of those features of a wheel that really aren’t as important as you would think. We added this tip because so many people think that tread is what helps with grippiness of a wheel. That is false. Most wheels are made of urethane and as a wheel gets heated up, it will grip more to the surface you are skating on.
So, the tread is pointless? Well, not exactly. One place where tread does help you is when you have just put your skates on and you hit the surface skating. In this case, your wheels have not heated up yet, and so the extra tread does help keep you more stable for that short time period. Also, the softer your wheel, the faster it will heat up and the more grip you will get. That is why we said earlier that softer wheels have more grip than hard wheels.
Tip #7: A skater’s weight affects overall acceleration and roll time
Your body weight also has a huge affect on how your wheels will react and perform. If you are over 200 lbs, you will get more grip from a wheel than an average skater. Therefore, you may want to compensate for this by going two or three steps up on the durometer. So if you are skating on a 90A, you may want to go up to a 92A as your extra weight will automatically put more pressure on your wheel and cause it to sink more into the surface. If you are over 200 lbs., you also will want to look into getting a more rigid core as your wheel will flex more under your weight. An aluminum core will be best for you as it is very rigid and will better support you and the wheel.
On the other side, if you weigh less than normal (under 100 lbs), then you would want to do the reverse of what was suggested above. If you would normally buy a 92A wheel for the surface you are skating on, then you may want to go a little softer as your weight will not press down on the wheels as hard. You can also get away with going with any core type (nylon, hybrid or aluminum).
If you fall somewhere in between 100-200 lbs, then you should be good with using the recommended wheel hardness for the surface that you are skating on. You can also go with any of the three core types.
Tip #8: Cost is always a factor
Of course, the cost of roller skate wheels are always a factor. Wheels today come at a variety of price points. You can get a very cheap pair of wheels for less than $30, but you do get what you pay for in wheels just like anything else.
A good set of wheels will on average cost around $80. However, there are wheels that go as high as $150. It all depends on how you plan to use the wheels and how important the overall quality of the wheel is to you.
Tip #9: Color and style do matter (sometimes)
Depending on your intended skating use, color may be one of the more important characteristics of a wheel for you. I can see the experienced skaters among you laughing, but if you are in to jam or rink skating, color and look do matter.
Color really makes no difference in how well a wheel rolls, how fast it will go or how grippy/loose it is to the surface. However, the color and look of a wheel are important to many skaters. After all, many of us love to skate (and love our skates) because of how they look and how they make us feel when we wear them.
Based on the other tips, there is no way that style and color could not be included, however, it is the least important factor for how well a set of wheels will work for you from a performance standpoint.
Tip #10: Lastly, proper wheel choice is dependent on the type of skating you do
[*Full disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and do earn a commission if you choose to use my affiliate links (the links to Amazon on this page). I try to make it clear that they are affiliate links by making them look more like advertisements. I’m really proud of the products that I recommend and I use them often when I skate. I will never push you to use an affiliate link as my main goal is to just give good advice and help more people enjoy skating. I will only recommend products that I know well and use, so if you have any questions about any product I recommend, please let me know in the comments below and I will be more than happy to help you out!]
So, lets put together everything we have learned and pick out the best set of wheels for you. The most important part of picking the correct wheels is focusing on the type of skating you plan to do most often in your new wheels. How you plan to use your wheels should weigh heavily in picking out the perfect set.
Different wheels are made for different uses. Are you planning to skate outdoors? Are you into jam skating, speed skating, artistic skating, roller derby or just regular rink skating? There are certain wheels made for the particular type of skating that you plan to do and understanding all of the tips that we discussed above will help you to pick out the right set.
Let’s go over some of the main types of skating and what kind of wheels would be good for each use. Please realize that these are just suggestions. The best way to know if a wheel is right for you is to buy a couple of different sets and try them out. Only then will you truly know what kind of wheel you like best.
Outdoor Skate Wheels
If you are skating outdoors, then you definitely want to go with a softer wheel – a low number on the durometer scale – something in the 78A-88A range. As we discussed earlier, a softer wheel allows for more give in the wheel as it makes contact with outdoor elements like small pebbles and dirt.
A low durometer wheel will also last longer outdoors, will give you more grip and, most importantly, will give you a smoother ride outdoors. These lower durometer wheels are perfect for asphalt or concrete surfaces. If you are not a beginner, you also will want to go with a tall wheel as it will give you more roll.
My Recommendation: Atom Pulse Outdoor wheels.
I use these wheels a lot when I skate outdoors. They are soft and easy to skate over rocks and small pebbles which I have a lot of on the roads around me. I’m not a huge outdoor skater as I live in Texas where it is usually 100 degrees Fahrenheit most of the summer, but when I do go outside I use the Pulse. The biggest reason I purchased these is because most of my indoor wheels are super hard and they just don’t work well on the road. You may be able to get by with a harder wheel if you are on a tennis court, outdoor basketball / sport court, but if you are on a road or sidewalk with potential small pebbles, you need a soft wheel or you will face plant.
Jam Skate Wheels
Jam skating combines dance, gymnastics and skating and started out as a throwback to the 1970s roller disco scene. If you are in to jam skating, then you know the popular styles like shuffle skating, footwork, power and ground breaking. To jam skate, you need the right kind of wheels. Most jam skates have wheels in the 93A-96A durometer range. This provides a medium-hard boot that allows for some grip, but not too much. This allows for a great agility and quick turns, which are hallmarks of the jam skater.
Jam skating wheels also come in all different types of colors and styles – both important to the jam skater. The vast majority of jam skate wheels fall into the larger wheel profiles – usually in the 40-44mm range. They also are in the larger wheel diameter – in the 62-65mm range. I personally don’t do a ton of jam skating, so I can’t recommend a wheel. If you are new to this space and want to start doing jam skating, then I would steer you towards Vanilla (VNLA) Jam Skates product line. They specialize in Jam skating and have some low cost options under $200 that can help you get started.
Speed Skate Wheels
The best wheel for a speed skater depends on whether you are after rapid acceleration or long roll time. Most speed skaters want a long roll time, so they tend to go for slightly harder, taller wheels.
Speed skating wheels are commonly 62mm and fall anywhere from 80A-101A in hardness. As we stated in previous tips, it really depends on the surface you will skate on and your weight that will determine what the correct wheel hardness is for you. However, most speed skate wheels are wider, have a larger contact patch and provide enough traction, stability and agility to allow the speed skater to cut corners and get the most roll from every push.
My Recommendation: Hyper Cannibal Speed Skate Wheels
By far my favorite speed skate wheel. I love the aluminum core of these wheels and the durometer. They are perfect for speed skating on a hard wood floor with plastic. A lot of the competitive speed skaters at my rink swear by these wheels and use nothing else for competition. I personally have a pair and love them. My pushes never slip with these wheels and I can both hug and crossover on the turn without sliding too much while still getting a solid hard roll. Remember, you want as hard of a wheel as you can handle on your pushes and around the corner to help you maintain a top speed.
Artistic Skate Wheels
Artistic skating consists of doing special jumps and spins on roller skates – much like you see during the Olympics on ice skates. Artistic jumps include the axle, loop, flip, lutz and salchow (pronounce sol-cow). There are also special artistic spins like the sit spin, camel and inner/outer one legged spins.
With all of this spinning and jumping, the artistic skater needs a narrow wheel that does not stick to the surface they are skating on. Artistic skaters need wheels that have a lot of give and will allow them to quickly turn and spin without much friction from the surface. Therefore, most artistic skate wheels are extremely hard – in the 100A+ range. They also are usually very narrow. This allows for the most agility and movement of the feet.
My Recommendation: RollerBones Art Elite 103A Skate Wheels
I really love these wheels. They are my go to wheels for most of my regular rink skating. They are super thin and hard. I’ve even speed skated during sessions and some speed skate practices in them – although they are super loud if there is no music playing :-). They are super slick (which I like) making it very easy for me to spin and slide. Again, they are not for everyone, but they are one of my favorite sets of wheels that I have ever used.
Roller Derby Skate Wheels
If you are in to roller derby, then most of the wheels you will be using will be in the 59-62mm diameter range. Derby skaters use all different profile sizes, but the most popular is definitely in the 38mm size. The wheel hardness for derby skates is pretty varied, but most people buy derby skates in the 90-96A range, though that does vary based on the surface you are skating on and how grippy you like your wheels. I personally don’t play roller derby, so I can not make a recommendation here. However, I do like the look of the Atom Savant roller derby wheels and may snag a set just to try them out. I’ve heard they are super light. [Full disclosure: not a recommendation as I have not used them]
We hope that you learned a lot from our top 10 tips on buying the perfect roller skate wheels. What do you think about the tips we presented? Did we miss one? What are your favorite wheels and why? Drop us a comment and let us know what you think!