Archive for December, 2009

Wheels, Wheels, Wheels

December 16th, 2009

Way back in 1970, a small plastics factory called Creative Urethane began experimenting with urethane roller skate wheels. In the meantime, avid surfer Frank Nasworthy moved to California and realized hoards of kids were riding skateboards and attempting to carve empty pools in the area.

Creative Urethane was owned by the father of one of Nasworthy’s friends. Frank saw the urethane wheels and soon realized that they may have tremendous value to skateboarders. Up until this point the only options for skateboarders were steel wheels and wheels made of a clay composite – a combination of plastics, clay, paper, and finely ground walnut shells. Skateboarders went through wheels weekly, and a slalom skateboarder could wear down a set of wheels in less than 8 hours. Frank tried a set of the urethane wheels and noticed an incredibly smooth, controllable ride. He soon started the company Cadillac Wheels (on account of the smooth ride). Skateboarders around the world went crazy over the new technology, the second wave of skateboarding began, and the days of clay skateboard wheels were put to rest. Steel wheels are now obsolete, used primarily for performing 360 spins.

Thanks to Frank Nasworthy and good ole’ capitalism, there are a wide variety of urethane wheels available in today’s marketplace. Wheels vary in color, shape, size, core construction, and durometers (hardness); all of which affect the performance of the wheel. The exception is color, though many riders jokingly assert that color is most important.

Often times riders have questions about which wheels are best for a specific purpose. Below is a list of features found on today’s skateboard wheels with a brief explanation of each ones function.

Size: Skateboard wheels typically range from 55 to 90 mm, with a few freak exceptions. Smaller wheels accelerate faster, but larger wheels tend to top out at higher speeds. Smaller wheels slide slightly easier while larger wheels provide a smoother ride

Durometer: Durometer is a measure of how hard a wheel’s urethane is and is usually measured on the ‘a’ scale. The ‘a’ scale ranges typically ranges from 0a to 100a, and most wheels are between 70a and 100a, with 100a being the hardest. Some wheels have their own rating system, like Earthwing’s slide A’s, which are rated on the ‘d’ scale. Soft wheels provide a smoother feeling ride with more grip and rebound. Harder wheels slide easier and tend to roll faster on smooth surfaces. Many slalom racers ride with harder wheels in the front because the front does not need as much grip.

Outer Lip: The outer edge of the wheel is often referred to as the lip. The lip of a wheel affects grip and determines how easily the wheel will begin sliding. Wheels with rounded lips will break traction easy and are good for sliding. Wheels that have 90 degree lips are harder to break traction and the wheel tends to ‘chatter’ a little bit when sliding. There are also some cone shaped wheels that have triangle shaped lips. These will be the grippiest and hardest to slide.

Core: The core is the center support of the wheel and is the piece that touches the bearings. If they have been used equally in both directions, they will wear the most over the core. There are many different shaped cores, each with a different purpose, but the most important factor is whether the core is center set or offset. Center set wheels typically slide easier while offset wheels provide more grip and rebound in corners. Offset wheels also protrude further from the hangar.

General Shape: Some wheels, usually offset, have a conical shape to them. These wheels typically have more grip and rebound through corners, but are a little slower for straight bombs. Some wheels also have rippled edge, which supposedly provides more rebound.

Contact Patch: The contact patch is the portion of the wheel that actually makes contact with the pavement. Other things equal, wheels with larger contact patches have more grip and wheels with smaller contact patches slide easier.


Downhill: Lime Bigzigs (75mm, 80a) are my favorite. Anything 75 to 80 mm, 78-83a will work well. The more turns, the more of a cone shaped wheel you want, in my opinion.

Tight Slalom: 66mm wheels between 78a and 86a. I use 66mm zigzags, orange(86a front)/lemon (83a rear). Lemon/lime is also a good combination for beginners.

Hybrid Slalom: 66mm to 70 mm depending on the steepness of the hill. I use the 66mm zigs above, 69mm 84a hotspots, or 70mm 86a/83a split zigs.

Giant Slalom: 70mm – 75mm, 78a to 86 a. I use 73 mm seismic speed vents 80a rear/84a front.

Sliding: You can use any skateboard wheel, but hard works best. Earthwing slide A’s are unmatched in my opinion.

All around: There are too many good all around wheels out there to recommend just one. I like something 66 to 75mm, 80 to 86a, center set, with a rounded lip, and fairly small contact patch.

Remember, the main thing is using the wheels!

Get out there and skate!

– Derek