Roller skate bearings are an important part of your roller skates and certainly impacts how much fun we have skating.
Without bearings you are not going to get too far. However, much of my writing in the coming months will show just how difficult and confusing it can be to find the best roller skate bearings.
There is a lot of marketing hoopla and spin (pun intended) that can leave the consumer confused about what to purchase your rollerblades, quads or inline skates.
I’m on a mission to research and provide to you everything I find so you can pick the best skate bearings for your next pair of skates! In today’s post, I’m going to look at one of those confusing bearing terms that you will see if you are looking to purchase new roller skates: ABEC ratings.
You will see roller skate bearings marketed with all kinds of ABEC ratings: ABEC-1, ABEC-3, ABEC-5, ABEC-7, ABEC-9 and even ABEC-11. Is ABEC-11 better than ABEC-3 or is 3 better than 11? Does the ABEC rating even matter when it comes to roller skate bearings? What does it all mean? Let’s go learn together.
What is ABEC?
First, lets understand what ABEC even means and where it comes from. ABEC is actually just an acronym that stands for the Annular Bearing Engineering Committee (ABEC). This committee was formed under a non-profit called the American Bearing Manufacturers Association (ABMA).
The ABMA started informally back in 1917 as a meeting of American bearing manufacturers to help the US produce better bearings for World War I. The group then became an official association in 1934. You can see the original bearing manufacturers group in the photo to right.
Their vision is simple today: to be the premier national association and voice of the American bearing industry. One of their biggest fights is to combat bearing counterfeiting working with US customs to insure fake products do not enter the country.
ABMA helps to provide bearing manufacturers with specifications so that all ball bearings in a specified class would meet a universal standard. Of course, roller skate bearings are used for roller blades, but they are also used in all kinds of other applications from lazy susan’s that hold your spices in your kitchen to giant engineering applications like jet engine turbines.
So, back to the ABEC rating.
ABEC created a standard known as the ABEC scale which measures the tolerances of a ball bearing. The ABEC scale is about how precise a manufacturer has to make a ball bearing in order to meet the ABEC standard.
The ABEC standard is then used as a way to ensure that the bearing being used for an application meets that standard and is therefore usable in the application (i.e. roller skates in this case). ABEC provides ball bearing dimensional specifications so that manufacturers of different parts can understand these dimensional tolerances and design parts that can accommodate the application in which the bearing will be used.
The ABEC scale is broken down into odd numbered categories starting with 1 and going up to 11. As you go up in number, the ball bearing gets more round and precise.
What does Ball Bearing Dimensional Tolerance even Mean?
ABEC measures the ball bearing tolerance, but what does that even mean?
There are a lot of things that go into ball bearing tolerance. If you want all of the details, check out this article that explains it in detail. However, in general, all ball bearing dimensional tolerance really means is how close the ball bearing is to the stated size required in the ABEC standard published.
For each ABEC rating, manufacturers have to stay within a stated tolerance in order for the bearing to be classified as ABEC-1, ABEC-3, ABEC-5, ABEC-7 or ABEC-9.
As you go higher in the ABEC number, the tolerance diminishes and the more precise the bearing must be to meet the higher standard number.
The Best Roller Skate Bearings
So, I know what you’re thinking:
“Jeff, I just want to go super fast on my new roller skates, so I guess I will go for the ABEC-9. They are the most precise so they must be the best. Right?”
And you would be right in that they are the most precise ball bearing, but they are not the best for roller skates. There are a number of things to consider about the statement above if this is what you are thinking:
- Cost: You are going to usually pay a lot more for ABEC-9 bearings vs. an ABEC-1. Save your money.
- Tolerance Isn’t All That and a Bag of Chips (for roller skates): How precise the ball bearing is doesn’t matter for roller skates. For jet engines, yes! For the space shuttle, yes! For roller skates, no. ABEC-1 or ABEC-3 bearings are just fine for roller skates and you are not going to notice much difference between that and an ABEC-9 unless you plan to go upwards of 240 mph on your roller skates. I don’t plan on going that fast anytime soon….though it does sound like fun!
So, Does the ABEC Rating Matter for Roller Skate Bearings?
No. That is the simple answer, and the world seems to slowly be catching on. As I did my research, I found a number of really strong articles that I wanted to share here with you along with some of my favorite quotes from them. Many of them are from skateboarding websites, however, most of the same rules will apply here to roller skates:
- ABEC vs. Skate Rated – What ABEC Rating are Your Bearings? – Link
- “However, a skateboard with 54mm wheels turning 20,000 RPM will be traveling about 127 MPH! Since virtually all skating is done under 30 MPH, the realistic maximum RPM your skate bearings will see is about 4700 RPM and probably 90% of skating occurs under 2000 RPM. Thus, very high precision is not required at skating speeds.”
- All You Ever Want to Know about Skateboard Bearings and ABEC Rating – Link
- “The most noticeable result (between ABEC 1s and ABEC 9s) is that you will end up with less money in your wallet and the people that sold you the bearings will be eating out at restaurants at your expense for a few days.”
- The ABEC Myth – Link
- “Steve Heplar is the national sales manager at Alliance Bearing Industries in Van Nuys, California, a major supplier of bearings to the skateboard industry. ‘It’s silly that ABEC ratings are what skaters are looking at,’ he says. ‘An ABEC 1 or 3 is all you really need on a skateboard. In skateboarding, you’re not using the precision of the bearing.'”
Some roller skate and skateboard bearing manufacturers are starting to test all kinds of things in roller skate bearings that do matter. Things like:
- Types of materials that the various bearing parts are made from. Not just the ball bearing but also the inner and outer raceway, the ball bearing, the shield and the retainer. The materials do matter.
- Axial or Side Loads matter in skates more than the radial load (or how fast the bearing can spin). Ball bearings in machinery uses mostly radial loads – machines spinning the bearings really, really fast (100s of MPH) in one direction. We aren’t doing those kind of speeds on roller skates even if we wish we could. However, with our turns, spins and jumps, we are putting more axial (or side) loads onto our bearings. This can cause them wear-and-tear and can put a different kind of load on the bearing than just the typical spinning (or radial) load.
- Last, and most importantly, lubricant and keeping dirt out of your bearings is the number one thing you can do for your bearings once you’ve purchased them. More than anything else, a clean and lubricated bearing is one of the most important things to keep a bearing rolling well and for longer longevity.
- I have a whole article on how to clean roller skate bearings that should help you out. I also have an article about how to remove bearings from roller skate wheels if you are having trouble getting those bearings out of your roller skate wheels (or just have never done it before).
How Do I Choose the Best Roller Skate Bearings?
I know what you’re thinking:
“If the ABEC rating doesn’t matter, then why are some roller skate bearing manufacturers and retailers putting an ABEC rating on bearings for roller skates and skateboard use?”
In my opinion, the manufacturers and retailers that are using ABEC to market roller skate bearings are doing their customers a disservice. It’s just a marketing gimmick to make you feel better about what you are purchasing.
A higher number means a more precise bearing and higher tolerance, so that must mean it’s better. It’s not. Not for what you are using the bearing for – roller skates.
As consumers, we are geared to think that higher numbers, scales and ratings mean something and make it better. In this case, it’s total bunk because we are roller skaters. If we were aerospace engineers, then the ABEC rating would be very important (as well as I’m sure many other things, too).
The way I have chosen the best roller skate bearings for me is I try them out or I ask friends what they are using and what they like. I always stick with very reputable companies that exclusively making bearings just for roller skates and skateboards.
I really pay little attention to the ABEC rating. I have had a set of ABEC 3s that “roll better” than ABEC 9s, so in my book ABEC never has mattered to me. It’s not that the rating is wrong, it just doesn’t matter for roller skates or skateboards.
The Roller Skate Bearings that I Recommend
The roller skate bearings that I use the most are called Bones Super Reds*. I like them because they consistently always give me a really good roll and they are made by a bearing manufacturer that I trust to have good materials.
Are they the best bearings on the market? No. I’m sure there is another out there that I have not tried yet. However, they are best for me based on the type of skating I do (mostly indoors at a roller skating rink) and they are pretty affordable – about $50 for a set of 16. I use them in all of my skates and really have never had any issues.
For outdoor roller skates, I have used the ceramic version of the Bones product called the Bones Ceramic Reds. I will do a more in-depth article in the future about the difference between steel and ceramic bearings, but for now, know that the Ceramics are often a smoother roll and do a bit better with moisture.
They are considerably more expensive – about $100 for a set of 16 – so your wallet is a bit more impacted by these bearings, but I do like them.
I do notice a smoother roll when I have them in my indoor roller skate wheels, however, I often don’t buy them as I can’t justify the larger cost. I can buy 2 of the Super Reds for the prices of 1 set of the ceramics. However, some people really feel the difference on ceramics, so if you feel the difference, then maybe the cost is justified for you.
So, there it is. The ABEC rating is useless when it comes to roller skate bearings. I hope the information was useful and that you have a great time skating! Roll on!
Do you use something different? If so, leave me a comment and tell me what you are using. I’d love to hear from you!
Want to Learn Even More About Skating?
Want more reviews on roller skates? Check out my Best Roller Skates page for a list of all of the quads I recommend. I also have pages for roller skates for men, roller skates for women and roller skates for kids where I recommend the best skates on the market today for each group. Or, check out my roller skates for beginners if you are completely new to roller skating.
Or, if rollerblades or inline skates are more your style, then check out my rollerblades for men, rollerblades for women or rollerblades for kids pages. Or, if you are completely new, check out my rollerblades for beginners page.
24 thoughts on “Do ABEC Ratings Matter for Roller Skate Bearings?”
Exactly. Find a retailer telling the simple truth. I knew.. Now we educate the rest of the skate world. How bout best plates set up for dynamic soul dance type skating. .. and best angle…
Hi William – Thanks for stopping by and offering your thoughts on future topics. I appreciate it. I will add it to my list of future topics to cover here. Thanks again. – Jeff
Can I make my own bearing cleaner solution?
Hi Don – Yes. You can make your own cleaner. I usually buy mine via a bearing cleaning kit, but a citrus-based cleaner, 90% pure isopropyl alcohol or acetone will work. The citrus-based cleaner would be the safest one to use.
I think it definitely matters. I used the Chinese Reds for my quad skates for roller dancing and they were perfect. Once I upgraded to Super Reds I had lots of problems. The Super Reds are wayyyy faster and it was a lot harder for me to do moves in a little space. Sometimes more expensive is not better. Super Reds are better bearings though. They’re just a little too fast for my preference for roller dancing.
Thanks, David, for the comment and for stopping by. I will have to disagree with you on the ABEC rating itself. I don’t see it mattering to roller skate bearings. As I mention in the article, ABEC is all about the tolerance of the bearing, which has very little use in a roller skating application. However, I do agree with you that there is a bit of a preference depending on your style and what you are after. That is always true in everything you buy. It’s awesome that you have tried out a few different bearings and found what works best for you. I like to go fast and want speed, so that’s why I go with Bones Super Reds. I feel like it is the best overall bearing for what I do (freestyle, session skating and a little bit of speed skating). You should always buy what makes you feel right on your skates. Thanks again for taking the time to come by and drop a comment. I always love a good discussion!
I hadn’t roller skated in 25 years until my kids got invited to a birthday party… then i got the bug again…. i used to dance and do tricks (when i was 10-18!) at 43 i’m not looking to break a hip…. but i went on Amazon and bought a cheap pair of skates to see if i would stick with it…. 6 weeks later, the bearings (marked abec 1) are garbage…. actually, the entire skate is…. BUT… I had been looking at Bones reds, and team bones wheels actually… since i remembered the Bones name from my roller skate/boarding days…. so i went to my local skate board shop and picked up a full set of Reds (2 boxes, 16 bearings) and just installed them. I haven’t rolled on them yet, but i can feel the difference in quality. The wheels roll a lot easier (don’t get me started on these axles…. the cheap skates named after a town in Illinois are junk) 4 of the stock bearings had dented shields…. from the factory! I haven’t done anything to them since removing them 10 minutes ago….
So yes, ignore the ratings and go for known manufacturers who use quality parts…
I’m going to see how the reds improve these skates, and when they frustrate me again, i’ll drop money on the skates that start with “R” and end with “eidell”
And i’ll put reds in those too 😉
Hi John – Thanks for stopping by. You can’t beat a good set of Reds bearings and a pair of Riedell skates. Some of the best on the market. I’m glad to hear you are back skating again after many years away. You and I are almost the same age and it’s funny how our kids bring us back to things like skating again. I hope you have a great time out there skating. Keep on rollin’.
You are right in saying Jeff that ABEC doesn’t matter in case of roller skating. But businesses are still making people fool in the name of ABEC when they don’t even know the actual meaning of ABEC.
People often ask me about bearings and always tell them that they don’t need to buy ABEC and I always search before answering to my customers. In India people are still not much aware about these kind of differences and skating material ……
Thanks for stopping by Shaishav. ABEC doesn’t matter for roller skate bearings. I’m sure if you are making jet engines or rockets, it matters a lot. Have a great time out their skating and thanks for rollin’ by.
wonderful guide about bearing i had many confusion before reading this
Thanks for stopping by.
Thank you for sharing and explaining! I think it does matter, and some consider ABEC ratings for roller skate bearings. I like reading other’s opinions though. Again, thanks for sharing!
Thanks for rolling by, Ryan.
Excellent web site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours these days.
I honestly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!
Thanks for stopping by Magdalena.
Hello, looking for inline skates for my 9yr old grandson. I too was getting caught up in the bearing thing…since I know nothing about skating. So, I was wrestling around with types of bearings then BAAM confused by ALL the brands on Amazon. Noticing that many of the brands didn’t even have websites. Seems fishy and maybe I should be aware! Then I noticed the brand Rollerblade (seems only one that has website..good sign?) has a bearing system that is SG3. Great, load more confusion. I think I need to focus more on a reputable middle range brand rather then bearings….GREAT even that is confusing nowadays! Thanks for settling my one issue…wanna settle both?
Thanks for stopping by Bridgett and for your question. Yes, bearings are like many technical products on the market. They know most people don’t pay attention, so it’s easy to fool folks with marketing and rating numbers. I tend to recommend sticking with reputable, well-known roller skate bearing manufacturers. Most bearings are made for machines, not skates. Bones is my favorite manufacturer. You can find their website here. Almost all skate packages automatically come with bearings, so if you are buying a new pair of roller skates, you don’t need to worry about buying bearings separately. Your new skates will come with them already. However, the bearings do get dirty…and after awhile, its best just to replace them to get a nice smooth roll. For rollerblades, Rollerblade (the brand) is the king. You can’t go wrong with them for a new pair of rollerblades for a young child. I’m sure your grandson will love them. Thanks again for stopping by.
I have recently started roller skating at my local indoor rink again. I purchased a set of Riedell R3 skates. They are comfortable but, I was not pleased with the ride or speed. The bearings were an ABEC 5 rated bearing. I also did some research on ABEC ratings and can to the same conclusion as this article. The rating just didn’t matter.
I used Bones Reds in the past, and went to a local skateboard shop and priced the various Bones bearing versions. I went out on a limb with my decision and went for a set of the Bones Big Balls. Installed them in a set of Wicked Wheels I have from previous years that I liked.
My first night out on those wheels, with those bearings was a very noticeable difference; smoother and faster than the ABECs.
As an added bonus the dust shield on the Big Balls is Teal and the lettering on my wheels was Teal. ?
In the end, known quality worked for me.
Keep on Rolling
Thanks Dave for rollin’ by. Sounds like a nice setup. I also have tried Bones Big Balls and they are also a nicely made bearing. Keep on skatin’!
Jeff, you have really cleared my doubts about the ABEC ratings in the roller skate bearings. Thank you so much for taking time out and sharing all this here! Keep up the good work.
Hi Zhimin – Thanks for rollin’ by. I’m glad the article was useful.
Thank you for sharing and explaining, very useful. You have a wonderful website, keep up the good work.