Let’s start with the wheels themselves. When you go looking for skate wheels, you’ll notice that there are various durometer, diameter, and profile options. What the heck does that mean?! At this point, you may decide to throw in the towel, but wait! With our help, you can decipher this new language.
“Durometer” usually ranges from 78-103A and refers to how hard or soft the wheel is. The smaller the number, the softer the wheels. Your desired durometer will depend on several factors including the skate surface and your weight. Softer wheels are more grippy: They’ll give you a lot of control on the track, but you won’t go as fast as you would with harder wheels. Softer wheels are preferred for outdoor use and to improve control on very slick floors. Harder wheels are less grippy, but are faster and may make some stops easier (ie: hockeystops). Another factor to take into account is your weight. Larger skaters will want to select wheels on the harder side, while lighter skaters will want softer wheels. Atom Wheels created the matrix below to help in picking a wheel durometer. As a jammer, my favorite wheel is the Rollerbones Turbo. It comes in various durometers, but I use the 97A.
A wheel’s “diameter” refers to its height, and typically ranges from 54-70mm. Shorter wheels require less effort for acceleration while taller wheels take a bit more but then are easier to keep going. Wheels larger than 62 mm are better for outdoor use than for roller derby. Most derby skaters use 59 or 62 mm wheels. My Rollerbones are a 62 mm wheel.
A wheel’s “profile” refers to its width, and typically ranges from 31-44 mm. Wider wheels are more stable, allowing for better grip. Since they have a better roll, they are also great for speed. Narrow wheels are lighter and thinner, allowing more agility. Newer skaters would benefit from wheels with a 38-44 mm width. My Rollerbones are 38mm. Of note, more narrow wheels will typically wear down faster.
While we’re at it, might as well hit on “hubs”. Hubs are the inner part, or “core”, of the wheel. Hubs made from stiffer materials stay round when you push off therefore keeping you rolling longer but also making “slipping” more likely. Aluminum is an example of a stiff material. Nylon hubs are lighter and less stiff than aluminum. This makes them less likely to slip, but not able to keep rolling as long. The Rollerbones wheels I keep mentioning have an aluminum hub.
Woo hoo, so we have wheels all figured out, right? Well… not quite… We also have to talk about bearings. Bearings go inside your wheels and help them to roll. Each derby wheel uses 2 bearings (16 total). Many bearings are classified by their “ABEC” (Annular Bearing Engineers’ Committee) rating, which rates how fast the bearings are. If you were to hold a bearing, and spin it, bearings with a higher ABEC rating would spin faster and longer. You can get bearings that are ABEC-1, 3, 5, 7, or 9. Bones bearings (Bones Swiss, Bones Reds, Bones, etc) are “skate rated” rather than ABEC-rated. According to their website, this means that they take into account other factors such as side loading, impact resistance, materials, etc that are not addressed with an ABEC rating.
Phew, that's it for now! Tell us in the comments about what you're rollin' on! Coming soon, tips on choosing new gear!