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All About Bearings: Bearings 101

What are bearings?

Roller skate wheel bearings sit inside the wheel hub and are what allows the wheels to roll. Each wheel has two bearings in it; so for a pair of quad skates you need 16 bearings total. 

In the past bearings were always rated on an ABEC rating scale, and many still are. ABEC ratings were designed for high speed applications like high speed motors and precision measuring instruments. Now, most bearings are considered above the ABEC rating scale. The result is many bearings made today are not rated on an ABEC scale. Bearings rated on an ABEC scale are not "better" than bearings not rated on an ABEC scale.

A higher rated bearing will NOT make you “go faster”, but the quality of a bearing does affect your roll out. The roll out is how long your wheels will continue spinning after you push off. A better bearing will keep you rolling longer, so you can put in less effort to cover the same amount of space.

In the past bearings were actually put in by the skater with loose balls. This is very rare now. All ball bearings for roller skates made today come put together, and have the same 5 components. 

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The 5 components of a bearing:

Shield: the shield protects the contents of the bearing from debris. Some bearings will have a shield on each side of the bearing, and some will only have a shield on one side. If your bearings only have a shield on one side, always face the shield outward and the open side of the bearing toward the wheel hub. This will help keep them as clean as possible.

Shields are either metal or nylon. Shields made of metal are sometimes sealed, which means the bearing cannot be opened. This makes it difficult to maintain the bearing through proper cleaning and lubrication. Usually shields that are sealed are only found on lower priced bearings that are not intended for long term use. Some metal bearings will have a shield on just one side so that they can be cleaned, or a removable metal shield on one or both sides. The down fall of metal shields is they can get bent when maintaining your bearings, and once that shield bends and gets in the path of the balls it can slow down the roll of your wheels. Most bearings will have a removable nylon shield allowing the bearings to be opened for performing maintenance. Ideally a nylon shield on each side of the bearing will keep it the cleanest and make it the easiest to maintain.

Inner race: the inner race is the only part of the bearing that comes in more than one size; 7mm or 8mm. What size you need is determined by what size axle you will be putting the bearing/wheel on. Most axles made recently will be 8mm, with older versions being primarily 7mm.

Balls: the balls are what gives the bearing movement 

Retainer: the retainer keeps the balls from coming out of the bearing if the shield is removed.

Outer race: the out race is the outside of the bearing, and what is actually making contact with the wheel once installed.

What size bearing do I need?

This is decided by what size axle your skate has. If you are not sure, there is a super awesome cheat. If you take a number 2 pencil and put it through the inner race (the inside hole) if it fits then you have an 8mm axle, if it does not fit, you have a 7mm axle. Most skates made today use 8mm axles. 

How do I clean and lubricate my bearings?

In order to keep your bearings spinning freely and lasting longer, they must be maintained on a regular basis. Cleaning and lubricating are not the same thing. There are bearing cleaners and bearing lubricators, and it is important to be aware of the difference.

Bearings must be cleaned first and lubricated second. Why? If you lubricate your bearings before cleaning them, it will trap the dirt and particles and make it really hard to clean those bits out, and those particles are what destroy bearings.

If you do not have cleaner specifically formulated for bearings, Orange 409 cleaner will work. Spray the bearings and use newspaper to remove any dirt particles or grime (newspaper is preferred as rags will leave lint behind). Clean them until no more dirt is expelled. Do not rinse with water, as this will cause rust to form. Let the bearings air dry and once they are completely dry proceed to lubricating.

Once your bearings are cleaned correctly, it is recommended to apply lubrication to your bearings. The heavier the lubricant the longer it will last and you won't have to clean and lube your bearings as often. An example of a heavy lubricant is Bones Speed Cream.

Browse our available cleaners and lubricants here

When do I need to replace my bearings?

If your bearings have become rusted, are noisy when they spin, or are caked with grime even after cleaning, you will want to replace them. Bearings should always spin freely and quietly and be free of grime or rust. 

What are the benefits of ceramic and Swiss bearings?

The benefits of ceramic or Swiss bearings are that they do not rust, and have been known to last upward of 20 years. They are self cleaning, are much lighter than metal bearings and are more durable. They also can withstand higher speeds & acceleration capability. With ceramic bearings there is less heat friction, and they have a higher spin rate. We recommend ceramic or Swiss bearings for advanced skaters that require durability and quality in a skate bearing, and are willing to invest in order to get long term use out of their bearings.