The Roller Skate Bearings Show
In episode #3 of the Roller Skate Dad podcast, I talk all about roller skate bearings. I go into detail about the following topics:
- The anatomy of a roller skate bearing
- What is ABEC and does it really matter for a roller skate bearing
- Some bearing history
- And, finally, the bearings that I use when I skate
- I have 2 articles on skate bearings that I referenced for this show:
- I also discussed ball bearing tolerances and said there was a more detailed article that I used as a reference:
- I also referenced and quoted 3 different articles in this show. You can find them in the links above, but here they are again just for easy reference:
- If you want to see the bearings that I currently use, be sure to check out my Resources page. This page has all of the products that I currently use and recommend.
Episode 3 Transcript
Jeff Stone: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Roller Skate Dad podcast. This is episode number three, numero tres. Let’s get started.
Announcer: Welcome to the Roller Skate Dad podcast, the show that covers everything and anything in the wonderful world of roller skating. Now here’s your host, the Roller Skate Dad himself, Jeff Stone.
Jeff Stone: All right. Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Roller Skate Dad podcast. In the last episode, we talked all about roller skate wheels; that was in episode number two. And in today’s show, I’m going to be talking to you all about roller skate bearings. So today I’m going to be covering things like the anatomy of roller skate bearings. What are the different pieces that make up a bearing?
Jeff Stone: We’re also going to be talking about what is ABEC, and does it really matter for a roller skate bearing. We’re also going to be talking a little bit about history of roller skate bearings. And finally, I’m going to give you some tips on the bearings that I use when I skate every day. So we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s do this.Expand To View Full Transcript
Jeff Stone: So first, if you’re a beginner, let’s identify where the bearings are actually located. If you’re not in a car listening, which you probably are, but if you’re not you can grab a pair of your favorite skates. You turn that skate on its side, and if you look at one of the wheels close up, you’ll actually be able to see where the bearings are at. So as you look at one of the wheels, the silver metal circle that’s in the middle of the wheel is the roller skate bearing.
Jeff Stone: It’s actually held on by a axle nut, and you may actually see part of the axle sticking through the bearing. But the silver portion that is actually inserted into the wheel, that is actually the bearing. Every roller skate wheel has two individual bearings. There’s one on either side of the wheel. There’s one in the front of the wheel, and then there is one in the back of the wheel.
Jeff Stone: The bearings are usually inserted into the wheel usually just by pressing them in with your hands. Usually, I just use my thumb and I really press down hard to actually insert the bearing into the wheel. There also are some small bearing tools out there that you can buy that will actually help you insert and take the bearings out of your wheel. I’ll make sure to put a link to that in the show notes and also on the resources page over at RollerSkateDad.com.
Jeff Stone: Now if you were to take a wheel off of your skate and you were to just roll it across the ground, of course it’s going to roll on its own. It’s a wheel, after all, so bearings aren’t needed to make the wheel actually roll on its own. But what the bearings are needed for, and the reason why they’re there, is because your wheel is attached to your skate boot via the skate plate, and that axle is how it does that. So the plate actually has an axle on it, both on the front and on the back, and the wheels are actually attaching to that axle via the bearing.
Jeff Stone: Like I said before, the axle is actually a part of the skate plate. And on a quad skate plate, there are actually four skate axles, two in the front and two in the back. They are the thin, long metal where the wheels attach. The bearing fits inside of the wheel, and the wheel with the bearing inside of it slides over the top of the axle. The wheel is then secured to the axle with an axle nut, as I explained earlier.
Jeff Stone: Okay, now that we know where the bearings are actually located, let’s talk a little bit more about what makes up a roller skate bearing and how it actually works. So bearings are broken up into four main parts. You have the shield, you have the ball bearings, you have the inner race and the outer race, and you have the retainer. And the retainer is kind of optional. It’s on most bearings but it’s not on all of them. So let’s break down each piece of the bearing kind of in more detail.
Jeff Stone: The shield is usually a rubber ring that goes on the outside of a bearing. It protects the inside of a bearing from things like dirt and water and debris. And not all bearings have a shield, but most do just to help protect them. This is just to make sure that the bearing doesn’t actually get damaged. So without that shield, the bearing actually will make a lot of extra noise, so it’s actually … has kind of a twofold purpose. The main reason is to help prevent keeping dirt and debris and water from getting inside the bearing itself where it could actually do quite a bit of damage to the bearing. But the other reason why the shield is there as well is to actually help with noise prevention. It actually makes the bearing quieter.
Jeff Stone: Next we have the ball bearings, and these are the perfectly round balls that are really where the magic happens inside the bearing. The ball bearings are what are used to actually make the bearing roll. So typically in most bearings, you have anywhere between four and six ball bearings that are on the inside of the bearing that actually allow the bearing to move. The ball bearings that we just discussed, they roll inside a metal cylinder called the inner and outer race, and that is what allows the bearing to turn over and over again.
Jeff Stone: The inner race is the innermost cylinder of the bearing, the part that the axle actually goes through. And the outer race is the one on the outside that actually touches the hub of the wheel. And then finally, as I said earlier, we have the retainer, and the retainer is actually optional. You do find it in most skate bearings, but it’s not in all of them. And so what the retainer actually does is, it’s a little piece of typically plastic that’s actually inside the ball bearing. And what it does is it actually ensures that the ball bearings are actually separated from each other in an equidistant measurement so that they’re all equally positioned around the inner and outer race of the bearings. So they keep the ball bearings basically in a nice equidistant measurement from each other.
Jeff Stone: All right. So now that we’ve located where the bearings are actually at and we’ve talked a little bit about the actual anatomy of a roller skate bearing, you probably have a better idea of how a bearing is actually constructed and where it’s located. So now I want to talk to you about something you may see written on your skate bearing, kind of on the outside, usually on the shield itself or that you may see online when you’re buying a bearing, and that’s the word ABEC, A-B-E-C. ABEC.
Jeff Stone: When you’re looking at roller skate bearings, you may see these bearings marketed with all kinds of different ABEC ratings. So it’ll be the word ABEC and then a dash, and then it’ll be followed by a number. And so these are things like you’ll see it say ABEC-1 or ABEC-3 or ABEC-5 or 7 or 9, and even a ABEC-11. And this leaves many skaters often, when they’re brand new and they’re looking at skate bearings, it leaves them with a lot of questions. They start asking questions like what does that ABEC rating mean? Is ABEC-11 better than an ABEC-3? Does the ABEC rating even matter when it comes to roller skate bearings? So I’m going to break down in more detail what ABEC is and demystify it a bit for you.
Jeff Stone: First, what does ABEC mean and where does it even come from? ABEC is actually just an acronym, and it stands for the Annual Bearing Engineering Committee, or ABEC, A-B-E-C. This committee was formed under a non-profit called the American Bearing Manufacturers Association, or A-B-M-A. And the ABMA has been around for quite a long time, actually. It started informally back in 1917 as a meeting of American bearing manufacturers, and they were really meeting to help the United States produce better ball bearings for World War I.
Jeff Stone: That group became an official association in 1934, and their vision is pretty simple. They just want to be the premier national association and voice of the American bearing industry. And one of their biggest fights and their biggest missions is to combat bearing counterfeiting. There’s actually quite a bit of it that goes on, so they’re working with U.S. Customs and other organizations in the government to ensure that fake products do not enter the country.
Jeff Stone: ABMA helps to provide bearing manufacturers basically with specifications so that all ball bearings in a specified class meet a universal standard. And of course, roller bearings are used for roller skates, but they’re also used in all kinds of other applications, from lazy Susans in your kitchen that hold all your spices, to giant engineering applications like jet engine turbines. So let’s get back to the ABEC rating.
Jeff Stone: The ABMA, they created a standard known as the ABEC scale, and that measures the tolerances of a ball bearing. Now this is measuring the tolerances of ball bearings not just for roller skate bearings. This is for heavy duty manufacturing like I was talking about before, for everything from lazy Susans in your kitchen to big, giant jet engines. So let’s get back to the ABEC rating.
Jeff Stone: The ABMA created a standard known as the ABEC scale, and that is used to measure the tolerances of one of those individual little ball bearings; the little tiny ball bearing that’s inside the roller skate bearing. And you know, the ABEC scale is about how precise a manufacturer has to make one of those little individual balls in order to meet the ABEC standard. And so the ABEC standard is then used as a way to ensure that that little ball bearing is used for an application that meets the standard for that application.
Jeff Stone: So for example in this case, roller skates. ABEC provides ball bearing dimensional specifications so that manufacturers of different parts can understand these dimensional tolerances, because they’re different based on the application. And so they design parts that can accommodate the application in which the bearing will be used.
Jeff Stone: The ABEC scale is broken down into odd-numbered categories. It starts with one and it goes all the way up to 11. And as you go up in number, that little bitty ball bearing gets more round and it has to get more precise. There’s a lot of things that go into a ball bearing tolerance. Honestly, too much to go into in a podcast, so if you want all the details, I’ll have a link to it in the show notes.
Jeff Stone: However, in general all ball bearing dimensional tolerance really means is how close is that ball bearing in its stated size to the ABEC standard that’s published? That’s really all it means. So for each ABEC rating, manufacturers have to stay within a stated tolerance. This is like a given range that they have to stay in with how precise that ball bearing is. In order for the bearing to be classified as an ABEC-1, or a three, or a five, or a seven, or a nine, each one has a actual range that the manufacturer has to stay within.
Jeff Stone: The important thing to understand here is that as the ABEC number goes higher, the tolerance range diminishes. And the manufacturer has to be even more precise with the bearing and its roundness to meet the standard.
Jeff Stone: I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “Jeff, I just want to go super fast on my new roller skates, so I’ll go with the ABEC-9. They’re the most precise so they must be the best. Right?” Yeah, you would be right. They would be the best. They are the most precise, but you’d be sacrificing two big things if you did that. The first thing you’d be sacrificing is your money. ABEC-9 bearings, they cost more than a cheaper ABEC-1 or ABEC-3 bearing do.
Jeff Stone: The second thing that you’d be sacrificing is the fact that how precise the ball bearing is doesn’t really matter for roller skates. For jet engines, yes. For the Space Shuttle? Yes. Those are applications where that precision of that individual ball inside that bearing, it’s really important. But for roller skates, no. It doesn’t matter. So what that really means is an ABEC-1 or an ABEC-3 bearing are just fine for roller skates. You are not going to notice much difference between that and an ABEC-9 unless you plan to go upwards of, let’s say 240 miles per hour on your roller skates. I don’t think most of us are ever going to go that fast on our roller skates, so I don’t think we really have that much to worry about. And that’s what an ABEC-9 is really made for. It’s made for speeds of that type. I don’t plan on going that fast anytime soon, but it does kind of sound like fun.
Jeff Stone: So do ABEC ratings even matter for roller skate bearings? No, they don’t. As I’ve done my research, and I’ve done a lot of it, I’ve found a number of really strong articles and videos and other material that’s out there. Many of these are from skateboarding websites, however most of the same rules apply to roller skates, too. And so I’ll have links to all of these articles and resources in the show notes for you so that you can actually go check them out for yourself, and you can read the same stuff that I’ve read.
Jeff Stone: But I did want to read to you a couple of quotes from a few of these articles to help you understand a little bit more about why this doesn’t matter, why ABEC doesn’t matter. In an article entitled ABEC vs. Skate Rated, What ABEC ratings are your bearings? I quote: “A skateboard with 54- millimeter wheels turning 20,000 revolutions per minute will be traveling about 127 miles per hours. Since virtually all skating is done under 30 miles per hour, the realistic maximum RPM your skate bearings will see is about 4,700 revolutions per minute, and probably 90 percent of skating occurs under 2,000 revolutions per minute. Thus, very high precision is not required at skating speeds.” Again, evidence you don’t need an ABEC-9 skate bearing to do roller skating. It’s just not needed. That precision is not needed, and that is all that ABEC measures is the ball bearing tolerance precision.
Jeff Stone: In another article entitled All You Ever Want to Know About Skateboard Bearings and the ABEC Rating. I quote: “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.” That’s a pretty good line.
Jeff Stone: And then from the very last article, this one’s called The ABEC Myth. I quote: “Steve Heppler is the national sales manager at Alliance Bearing Industries in Van Nuys, California, a major supplier of bearings to the skateboard industry. He says, ‘It’s silly that ABEC ratings are what skaters are looking at. An ABEC-1 or 3 is all you really need on a skateboard. In skateboarding, you’re not using the precision of the bearing.'” And the same is true for roller skate bearings as well.
Jeff Stone: So if ABEC and bearing tolerance precision don’t matter for roller skates, then what does matter? Some roller skate and skateboard bearing manufacturers are starting to test all kind of things in roller skate bearings that actually do matter. These are things like the type of material that the bearing parts are made from. So not just the ball bearing, but also the inner and outer raceway: the ball bearing, the shield, and the retainer. And the materials do matter.
Jeff Stone: They’re also testing things like axial or side loads to the bearing, and this matters more in skates than the radial load. The radial load is how fast the bearing can actually spin. Those are pretty important applications for, again, like jet engines, right? So ball bearings in machinery use mostly radial loads, so these are machines spinning the bearings really, really fast, hundreds of miles per hour in one direction, and we aren’t really doing those kind of speeds on roller skates, even if we wish we could.
Jeff Stone: However, with our turns, our spins and jumps, and our pushes we’re putting a lot more axial or side loads onto our bearings than a lot of that machinery is actually doing. And 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.
Jeff Stone: And then the last and most important thing that a lot of these skate manufacturers are also looking at is the lubricant and keeping dirt out of your bearings. Because that’s the number one thing that 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 to have it for longer. And so the number one thing that I tell most people is, if you’ve got bearings more than likely they’re okay bearings. What you need to do is clean them and make sure that you’re keeping debris out of that bearing.
Jeff Stone: So in my opinion, the manufacturers and the retailers that are using ABEC to market roller skate bearings are really doing their customers a disservice. ABEC is not a gimmick, but in the roller skating and in the skateboarding industry, it really is just a marketing gimmick by some to make you feel better about what you’re purchasing. They think you will believe that a higher number on that bearing means a more precise bearing, and therefore you’re going to buy it because it has a higher number on it.
Jeff Stone: So you now know that it’s not; not for what you were doing with the bearing, which is roller skating. So what’s my advice for finding the best roller skate bearings? Well, the best way I have chosen the bearings for me is I try them out. If I’m trying to save money, I ask friends what they’re using and what they like for the type of skating that they’re doing. And I always stick with very reputable companies that are exclusively making bearings just for roller skates and skateboards. I think that’s really important because they’re actually looking at a lot of these other issues that roller skates have with bearings that a lot of other machinery doesn’t.
Jeff Stone: Again, more axial and side loads versus just a radial load. So I really just steer clear of anything that’s labeling itself as ABEC this or that. I really pay no attention to the ABEC rating. I’ve had a set of ABEC-3s before in the past that roll better than ABEC-9s, so in my book ABEC never has really mattered to me. And so I typically tend to go towards manufacturers of roller skate bearings or skateboard bearings; people who are actually making bearings just for those two communities because they’re actually looking at the important things like side load and different things like that, that actually have an impact on the roller skate bearing itself.
Jeff Stone: Okay, so enough about ABEC. I think we’ve talked that one to death. Let me talk to you a little bit about the roller skate bearings that I use and the ones that I recommend. The number one bearing that I use in almost all of my wheels, especially for indoor skating, is called the Bones Super Reds. I like these bearings because they consistently give me a really good roll, and they’re made by a bearing manufacturer that I trust to have good materials.
Jeff Stone: Are they the best bearings on the market? Honestly, I don’t know. But they are the best ones that I’ve used and they’re pretty affordable. They’re about $60 for a set of 16, which is what you need for a pair of roller skates. I use them in all of my skates and I’ve really never had any issues with them, so I continue to use them.
Jeff Stone: For all of my outdoor skating, I use a different bearing. It’s very similar to the Bones Super Reds. In fact, it’s by the same manufacturer, Bones. And the name of that product is called the Bones Ceramic Reds. Ceramic bearings are often a smoother roll, and they do a bit better with moisture getting into the bearings because they’re made out of ceramic versus metal, which can rust. However, they have one big downside, and that’s that they’re expensive. They’re about $100 for a set of 16, so your wallet is a bit more impacted by these bearings. But I do like them and I use them regularly in a lot of my outdoor wheels.
Jeff Stone: All right. Wow, that was a lot of information. Another episode in the books. I want to thank you guys so much for being here. If you want to know more about the bearings that I use and recommend, you can check out my resources page at RollerSkateDad.com/resources. I list all the products there that I use and that I recommend. You can also check out the show notes, where I’m going to post links to all the articles that I talked about here in this bearings podcast, as well as links to articles that I’ve written on the website about bearings. There’s a couple of them out there for you to look at.
Jeff Stone: And the show notes are also a great place to leave me a comment or ask me a question about that particular episode. So you can get to the show notes for this show at RollerSkateDad.com/3. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the podcast. Please leave me a rating and a review, and let me know what you think of the show. I’m here for you, so I really care about what you think, so drop me a line.
Jeff Stone: And finally, you’re going to want to be a member the Roller Skate Dad Club. Signup is free and it’s easy. All you need is a valid email address and you’re in. The club’s a great way to keep in touch with me and learn more about what is going on with the show and with the podcast. So if you haven’t already signed up, head on over to RollerSkateDad.com and join the club today.
Jeff Stone: Okay everyone, that’s a wrap. Another episode in the books. So until the next time, get on out there and skate.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Roller Skate Dad podcast at www.rollerskatedad.com. If you liked what you heard today, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you’re listening.
Thanks again for rollin’ by. If you have a question about the podcast or just want to leave me a note, please comment below.
I hope you will join me every week for a new episode of The Roller Skate Dad podcast.
Please subscribe to the podcast on whichever podcasting platform you listen on. And, don’t forget to join the Roller Skate Dad Club. You can do that easily with just your first name and email address from any page on this website.
Did you like what you heard? Do you want to hear more? Check out these additional episodes:
- Episode 1 – Get Out There & Skate
- Episode 2 – The Roller Skate Wheels Episode
- Episode 4 – Teaching Roller Skating to Others
- Episode 5 – Roller Skating Injuries & Protective Gear
- Episode 6 – An Interview with Avid Roller Skater Alberto Quinones
- Episode 7 – Rollergirls: The Story of Flat Track Derby
- Episode 8 – The Roller Skate Boots Show
- Episode 9 – Starting a Roller Skating Rink
- Episode 10 – United Skates Documentary with Tina Brown and Diana Winkler
Until the next episode, get on out there and skate!