As a kid I used to think that a higher ABEC-rating meant faster bearings, some guys at out local park used to brag about their ABEC-7 bearings and how much faster they could ride now. I guess that was some sort of placebo effect because in reality ABEC has nothing to do with the quality of your bearings.
Does ABEC rating really matter when considering skateboard bearings? The answer is two fold and isn’t a simple matter of yes and no.
I had an interesting conversation with David from skateceramics.com about ABEC rating (and ceramic skateboard bearings). He came across my rant about why I think expensive ceramic bearings are worthless and I asked him what he as an expert, thinks about ABEC. Let’s look a bit into what ABEC really means and when it does and doesn’t matter.
Does ABEC-Rating for Skateboard Bearings Matter?
ABEC rating doesn’t mean much when applied to skateboarding. A skateboard bearing should be able to deal with impacts from all directions, but ABEC rating is about ball precision and tolerance. It doesn’t consider side loading, impact resistance, or clearance between the balls and the races.
Using common sense, you can only push and pump as hard as you’re able to, with the exception of downhill longboarders of course. Most bearings can go faster than a human can skateboard, given it’s a quality bearing and won’t melt from friction.
Skateboard bearings don’t need high RPM’s to work. A typical skateboarder won’t go over 2000 RPM’s according to Bones, so a high precision bearing isn’t necessary. That doesn’t mean that you can completely outrule ABEC ratings though.
The other side of the argument that this idea of ABEC rating not taking seriously is that brands like Bones can get away with marketing their bearings as ‘Skate Rated’, which is convenient. Bones offers bearings which are less precise but deal better with impacts, at least that’s what they tell us.
Basically you need precise races and an overall bearing with a really precise internal fit. This translates to more feedback or “feel” from the wheels to your feet.
You can’t stop there though – different materials expand/contract differently when heated/cooled – so you can’t use a steel race with a silicon nitride ball and manufacture a really precise bearing. That’s why some bearing manufacturers don’t use the ABEC rating.
The Meaning of ABEC for Skateboard Bearings
ABEC ratings only consider the precision the ball is manufactured to. So, if you have inaccurate races, the ABEC rating of the ball becomes irrelevant. The bearings and races need to be looked at as a whole.
The ABEC rating system is a rating system used to measure the dimensions, precision and performance of bearings. ABEC stands for Annular Bearing Engineering Committee, and the rating system is managed by the American Bearing Manufacturers Association (ABMA).
The ABEC rating system categorizes bearings using odd numbers, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. the higher the number, the tighter the tolerances. So it reflects efficiency and the speed a bearing can handle, but since this is not really relevant it shouldn’t be the most important factor.
You see these cheap ABEC-9 bearings on Amazon, for example, but I wouldn’t trust them when ollying a set of stairs. It’s not about the rotational speed. Basic bearing like Bones Reds for example, they aren’t the most durable but a great, simple ABEC-9 bearing, pretty bomb-proof, gets quicker with age and not badly priced.
The ABEC scale has equivalent ISO 492 ratings, which are as follows:
- ABEC 1: ISO Class 6X
- ABEC 3: ISO Class 6
- ABEC 5: ISO Class 5
- ABEC 7: ISO Class 4
- ABEC 9: ISO Class 2
What About ABEC 11?
According to David from SkateCeramics there isn’t an official ABEC-11 rating though you come cross them occasionally. ABEC-11 is a term that means it exceeds the precision rating of an ABEC-9 bearing – there are no specific set of parameters it must adhere to, they are set by the manufacturer but they must all exceed ABEC-9.
It’s common in manufacturing – for example in IP protection ratings for water and dust ingress (the US uses NEMA), the maximum rating with parameters is IP68, but you can order an IP69K rated product for a special purpose (like deepwater subsea use for example).
Factors That Make a Quality Skateboard Bearing
Most brands use lightweight bearings which have a different expansion rate than steel and get slower in certain temperature conditions. If you live in a colder environment, your bearings will perform much better because they stay cooler and expand less.
The problem is that there aren’t many popular brands that offer high quality stuff. They also don’t mention the quality of the bearing other than throwing around confusing marketing mumbo jumbo. After digging around I’m beginning to believe that expensive bearings are not the best skateboard bearings.
Being able to pop of the shields of a bearings is one of the most important features. It allows you to clean and relube them properly. If you live somewhere really dusty, taking the seals (shields) out will mean your bearings are self-clearing. If they’re full of dust and gunk, the bearings and cage will end up in contact with each other and create friction.
Bronson Raw which I reviewed a while back, don’t even come with shields and are great for those who need self-clearing bearing.
If you’re a skateboarder that loves to skate big features, you need something realiable. Cheaper bearings (like really cheap) tend to simply break on impact. Sure, cheaper brands like Mini Logo can take a few beatings but will probably succumb to impacts sooner than later.
Price VS Quality
Spending more than $40 USD on bearings isn’t necessary. It’s better to ride cheaper bearings that last for 6 months than buying expenive bearings that harldy work for a year.
if you live in a dry and dusty area your bearing will suffer more. Over time bearings will collect dust and dirt resulting in those squeaky skateboard noises. We have a lot of rain over here and one of our local skaters managed to destroy his Bones Reds after 2 months. You can either choose to clean and relube bearings of just get a new set.
Sort of correlates with impact but let’s clarify this a bit further. For those that love to cruise around town you don’t need expenive bearings. Just get a setof Zealous bearings and you should be good. Ignore their ceramics, even though they aren’t that expensive.
if you do some basic skateboarding in a mini ramp or carve bowls, cheap bearings will work just fine. No need for Bones Super Swiss or Super Reds, standard Bronson G2’s or Reds will work just fine.
Street skaters that skate big features should get something that can handle impacts better. Bones Super Swiss or Bronson G3’s are a good option because they handle impacts better. Even then, bearings in the lower price range can still be considered.
So ABEC does and doesn’t matter, the key to a decent skateboard bearing is a balance between price and quality.
The ABEC rating system doesn’t always necessarily say something about performance or quality of bearings. Cheap bearings you find on completes often don’t perform as well as those with lower ABEC ratings. Picking skateboard bearings just from their ABEC rating is not the way to go.
Consider bearings that last for a while and can withstand impacts. A decent skateboard bearing should consist of quality materials and be able to handle side loading, not just spin fast.
I’m an aged skateboarder and I still shred responsibly. I started skateboarding 25 years ago but also love surfing, snowboarding, or anything that involves a board.