Your skateboard’s wheels will impact your ride in several ways, including your speed, the way you feel your board, and your ability to control its movements. Clearly, wheel choice is a big factor in the resulting skate set-up, so use this guide to help narrow down your options and decide on a solid set that is perfect for you.
Almost all skate wheels are made from a hard composite material called polyurethane (PU). The introduction of PU wheels in the 1970s changed the face of skating forever, lending characteristics such as durability and resistance to abrasion to a sport that was in desperate need of more appropriate technology (finally, an end to using metal roller skating wheels!). In addition to their performance benefits, PU wheels are also relatively inexpensive to manufacture, so you don’t have to pay very much for quality equipment.
The durometer of a wheel is the measurement of its hardness, or resistance to penetration. Durometer ratings fall within several categories, with skate wheels listed in the “A” field along with other soft plastics. Therefore, the durometer measurement you’ll find on your wheels will read “90A” or “75A”, with higher ratings equating to harder wheels. Here are some suggestions for wheel hardness based on your type of riding.
If you ride vert: You’ll find that most vert surfaces are designed for harder wheels – they are smooth to combat the lack of vibration dampening and somewhat grippy to make the slick wheels easier to control. Go with a set of wheels at the higher end of the durometer scale: think 97A or above.
If you ride street: Skaters who enjoy the technical side of the sport need a wheel that will add pop and road feel to their set-up. Hard wheels – 97A and higher – are best for all of you park riders.
If you are an all-around rider: If you rarely go anywhere without your skate, you may fall into this category. All-around skaters like to cruise around town, but can also drop in on a pool any day of the week. You’ll need to compromise a little, so go for a medium-hard wheel, somewhere between 90A and 97A.
If you cruise/longboard: Pavement tends to be bumpy and cracked, so a set of wheels that will ease the rattle of the road will make your board feel and perform much better. Soft wheels are designed for just this purpose; with durometer ratings of 75A through 85A (78A is pretty standard), cruising wheels help dampen the vibrations to let you glide with style.
Bottom line, there is a significant range of durometers, so be careful to choose a wheel with a hardness that compliments the type of riding you prefer. Harder wheels, typically defined as those with a durometer of 90A or above, are designed for technical skating. Powerslides, ollies and other tricks are easier with hard wheels, so street and vert skaters tend to prefer these. Unfortunately, hard wheels don’t dampen the vibrations caused by rough roads, so if you enjoy cruising more than tricks you may want to opt for a softer durometer. Softer wheels are slower and wear out faster, but they make riding on bumpy surfaces more comfortable and fun.
The diameter, or size, of your wheels affects your board’s top speed, acceleration and ability to turn. Skate wheels are measured in millimeters and typically range in size from 49-75mm. Bigger wheels will give you a faster ride, because a single rotation will cover more distance. However, it’s more difficult to make sharp turns on larger wheels and they don’t accelerate as fast as their smaller counterparts. Small wheels are also more effective for street skating maneuvers such as powerslides and blunts, so take your style of riding into consideration, as always, when deciding on a new set of wheels.Here are some suggestions for wheel size based on your type of riding.
If you ride vert: You want faster wheels, so go with some biggies. Try out something between 55-60mm, but you may find that you want to go even larger down the line.
If you ride street: Think small if you like to do technical tricks. Smaller wheels equal a lighter board with a lower foundation, ideal for street riding. Pick out wheels with a diameter somewhere between 50-55mm. If you are an all-around rider: As discussed in the durometer section, all-around skaters will need to find a middle ground when it comes to wheel size. Select some mid-sized wheels – somewhere between 54-60mm – and you’ll find that you can tackle most terrain comfortably.
If you cruise/longboard: Longboarders and other riders who like to carve out sections of road on big, fat boards tend to require larger wheels to give them speed and stability. Longboard-specific wheels are generally about 64-75mm in diameter, but there are even larger wheels out there if you so desire.
Bottom line, the larger the wheels, the faster you go; the smaller the wheels, the closer to the ground you’ll ride and the lighter your board will be. It should also be noted that smaller people tend to do better riding on smaller wheels, while larger people might feel more comfortable on bigger wheels. This is all a matter of riding style and personal preference, so use these ranges as a starting-off point and determine the best fit for your own set-up.