I recently decided to buy a new set of wheels. Since I didn’t know anything about wheels and it was over 15 years since I got a new set, I decided to do some research. Well, my wheels didn’t last for 15 years, I just recently got back into skateboarding.
Picking the right skateboard wheels depends on your style, how often and where you skate. The hardness of your wheels, diameter, type of trucks and the surface you skate on to determine which wheels you need.
Wheels come in all sort of colors and sizes, but the most important thing is that they perform. First I’ll go into the wheels you need for your style of skateboarding and after that more into the technical details. Mostly because you’ve been already been bored to death about the technical stuff.
The best wheels in different circumstances
There isn’t a wheel that is good at everything. It really depends on where you skate. Street skaters need different wheels than cruisers. A Vert skater really shouldn’t ride soft wheels etc. There is some middle ground here. Don’t worry about having to buy different sets, unless you want to cruise and skate vert.
This article is rather beefy, if you want to skip right to the recommended wheels click here.
So let’s look at the different types of situations and the features you should look for. I’ll explain the features later on. I saved the technical stuff for last.
Skateboard wheels for street require smaller wheels, anything between 49mm and 53mm is fine. Street wheels have a smaller diameter which makes them more responsive and usually weigh less.
This helps you to perform tricks, like kickflips, varials, and heelflips. Larger diameters will cause your wheels to get stuck when you grind. You’ll also need hard wheels with a durometer between X and X. Softer wheels have more bounce and your skateboard will be all over the place when you try to land a trick.
For the best street skating wheels look for the following features:
- Wheels diameter between 49 mm and 53 mm.
- durometer A between 96A and 101A.
- Look for round lipped wheels and a conical shape.
Wheels for mini ramps
Depending on the size of your local mini ramp, it sometimes is a good idea to go with a slightly larger diameter like 54mm. You’re also fine picking wheels with a diameter of 53mm. This way you’ll also still able to skate transition and street, which is perfect. I personally ride 58mm because I have a dedicated deck for mini ramps.
Here’s what to look for when picking mini ramp wheels:
- A diameter of 53 mm or 54 mm, you may also go above if you prefer.
- Durometer 96A to 101A, or even 82B.
- Wheels with a soft texture and rounded lips, conical shaped.
Wheels for bowl skating
Bowl skating can be exhausting. You push using your body and after a while, you’ll start to feel your legs burning. In order to help you maintain speed, a larger diameter is usually necessary. Even more so if you’re a bit older and your knees don’t cooperate like they used to.
It also depends on the type of skateboard your ride. Old school decks usually support bigger wheels.
Lastly, just like vert skating, you will need decent bearings. Bones Swiss are the best bearings out there and still affordable. And if you’re nice to them they can last you for over a decade.
If you’re looking for skateboard wheels and solely ride pools or bowl look for the following features:
- Durometer between 96A and 101A
- Diameter 54 mm and 59 mm.
- Wheels should have a smooth structure and rounded lips.
- Preferably a larger contact patch.
Wheels for vert skateboarding
For the daredevils out there. When you skate vert you really need a larger diameter. Also look for wheels that have grip so your skateboard won’t slide when you weren’t planning for it. There are some great vert wheels out there just look for the following.
- Durometer between 96A and 101A
- Diameter 54 mm and 59 mm.
- Look for round lipped wheels and a smooth structure.
- Large contact patch.
Wheels for cruising
You’ll need something softer to enjoy a smooth ride you’ll need something over 60mm. A smaller diameter will make your cruise a nightmare. Smaller wheels will accelerate more quickly but won’t roll as long as a larger diameter.
So to keep your session enjoyable make sure to get larger wheels. You might also want to look for a couple of riser pads. Larger wheels often hit the bottom of your board when you steer and this can lead to nasty falls. So prevent wheel bite and look for some riser pads.
Look for wheel that have these features:
- A large contact patch
- At least 60 mm diameter
- Softer wheels with a durometer around 96a
- Look for square or round lip wheels, both work. Square offers more grip and makes pushing easier.
Also, taking out some of the urethane and replacing it with plastic makes the wheels weigh less. It also is supposed to prevent your wheels from breaking. I have never tried this myself to be honest so I’ll just go with what others say.
Wheels for concrete skate parks
There’s quite some difference between wooden en concrete skate parks. For once, wood doesn’t hurt as much as concrete when you fall. In general, you don’t really have to swap your wheels. Just go with something about 53 mm -54 mm with a durometer between 96A and 101A.
Features to look for:
- Diameter around 53 mm or 54 mm.
- Durometer around 96A or 101A.
- Round lip wheels, conical shape.
Wheels for cruising and tricks
If you just want to ride around and do some tricks now and then, there are options. You’ll need something between hard and soft which offers a smooth ride but still allow you to pop your deck. You’ll need an average wheel size anything between 54 mm and 56 mm.
The best wheels you could get for cruising and tricks should have these features.
- Durometer between 86A and 95A
- Diameter between 54 mm and 56 mm
Wheels for transition skating
The best transition skateboard wheels should have about the same features as skatepark wheels. Anything in the range of 53 mm to 54 mm is fine. The hardness should be around 96A and 101A. Your brand options are Spitfire, Ricta, and Bones. You need something that keeps a bit of momentum but still allows you to do some technical stuff.
- Diameter around 53 mm or 54 mm.
- Durometer 96A or 101A.
- Round lip wheels, conical shaped
Skateboard wheels for rough surfaces
You’ll need something softer. Skating on rough surfaces using harder wheels is a nightmare. Not only is it uncomfortable, people will hear you from miles away because of the noise your wheels will produce.
You’ll need something to reduce the vibrations because after a while your feet will start to hurt and you might feel a tingling sensation. You’re also more prone to fall as it’s hard to keep your balance. If you can’t ride smoothly it’s harder to do some tricks as your skateboard moves irregularly.
Take a look at Bones All-Terrain Formula (ATF), they might have what you need. Here are the features you should look for when you want the best wheels for rough surfaces:
- Soft wheels with a durometer between 78a and 87A.
- Look for square lipped wheels for more grip and an easier push.
- You might want to look into threaded wheels. The structure is perfect for rough surfaces.
- Large contact patch.
One wheel to rule them all
Is there actually such a thing as a wheel that can do anything you want? The best all-around wheel? Unfortunately not. There are a couple of wheels that take the middle ground, but it really depends on what you are looking for. There’s just no way you can grab your board, bomb the hills, tre-flip your way upwards, drop into a vert and ride home cruising the streets.
If you are a skater that likes to everything but don’t want to swap wheels every time (or bring along three skateboards) pick wheels with a diameter between 53mm and 55mm. Maybe take a look at Bones All-Terrain Formula.
Skateboard wheel technology
So let’s look at the technical details of skateboard wheels. The size of your wheels, durometer A and B (hardness), radius, contact patch, wheel lips, wheel core, shape, width, and texture. I was surprised to find so many details that I never thought of.
There’s a lot of science behind the wheels. They get tested rigorously before they hit the shelves.
- Wheels are tested for flat spots using a urethane flat-spot machine measuring at 1⁄1000 of an inch.
- Durability is tested by a wheel abrasion machine which simulates long time use.
- Smoothness and wobbles get tested by the wheel concentricity tester.
- The speed of wheels is tested by the wheel dynamometer.
When skateboarding was in its infancy wheels were made of steel (1955) and clay (1963). A few people attached roller skate wheels to a self-made wooden board and the skateboard was born.
In the 70’s Frank Nasworthy invented urethane, which is actually called polyurethane. Since the invention manufacturers have improved the recipe and are still experimenting to get the best mixture of plastics. Urethane is produced in different mixes of plastic, resulting in soft- and hard wheels.
Fast forward to today, we have quality wheels that are flat spot resistant (to a certain degree) allowing skateboarders to have more durable wheels. The technology allowed for wheels to last longer, roll faster, improved sliding and last a lot longer.
Choosing the right wheel height and diameter
The wheel’s diameter makes a huge difference. The larger the diameter the faster you can go. Smaller wheels are better for street skating, they accelerate fast and are lighter. This will help when performing flips and they won’t get stuck when you grind a rail.
Wheels diameter are measured in millimeters (mm), 10 millimeter is about 0.39 inch. The wheel’s diameter goes from 48mm to 60mm, and up to 75 mm for cruisers and longboards. So obviously small wheels have the lowest size in mm.
Small wheels between 48 mm and 52 mm
Smaller wheels are best for street skating. They are great for tricks and grinding without getting your wheels stuck. Not only street, they perform well in skate parks and mini ramps or smaller bowls.
Just a side-note when it comes to bowls, 53 mm is fine but if you only skate bowls you better get at least 54 mm wheels. This way you will maintain speed and won’t get tired after 30 minutes.
Smaller wheels are great for acceleration but won’t go as fast as larger wheels. They also can’t maintain speed as much as wheels with a larger diameter. Perfect for street and skate parks, less so for vert and larger bowls. They are a bit harder to control when sliding.
Medium sized wheels between 53 mm and 59 mm
If you’re just starting out you should look for an average diameter. Although 59 MM is already a bit larger and more for tall people. There’s really a huge difference between 53 and 59.
As a beginner, you should just go for either 53 mm or 54 mm. Assuming you want to do some transition or street skating. You can’t go wrong. These wheels are most suitable for street skating, vert, bowls and ramps.
Large wheels 60 mm and up
Not a good idea to put these on your street deck. These wheels are specifically designed for long boards, old school boards, and daredevils that like to go down hill.
Takes some time to get up to speed but they have excellent momentum. The size also provides more grip and usually they are a bit lower on the durometer scale.
The pros and cons of small wheels vs large wheels
If you skated for some time you probably met some pebbles while rolling. I don’t particularly like these encounters as they can bring your skateboard to a halt without you realizing before it’s too late.
Smaller wheels have a smaller diameter so they won’t roll over rocks and twigs as easy as larger wheels. Harder wheels last longer you’ll have less control performing slides.
The bigger the diameter, the bigger the distance between your tail and the ground. This isn’t really a problem if you’re a tall skater but more so if you’re not the biggest guy on the block. It just requires more effort to pop your deck.
Lastly, larger wheels make it harder to flip your deck because of their weight, they also tend to bounce more.
Low, mid, and high trucks and the maximum wheel size
There are 3 different heights but most brands just refer to their trucks as low or high. To make it a bit more confusing, one brand labels their trucks as lows but this doesn’t mean they are actually low. A lack of standards in the industry is to blame here.
If you pick wheels above 53 mm, make sure to get some high trucks. If you ride low trucks you could get wheel bite meaning your wheels touch your board when you steer.
If you have low trucks your wheels shouldn’t be larger than 53 mm and when you own mid trucks you shouldn’t buy wheels above 60 mm depending on the brand. You also might want to tighten your trucks. Slap some riser on your high trucks can carry up to 65 mm wheels. Though I don’t really see the point in this, because you’ll also need a wider board.
Keep in mind that if you have loose trucks, the number change. If you do like to skate that way go for a smaller diameter to prevent wheel bit.
Picking the right wheel hardness (durometer )
Durometer, it sounds like someone just made that up, which is true by a scientist called Albert Ferdinand Shore. It comes from the Shore durometer machine which measures the hardness of materials. The hardness of your wheels has quite an impact on performance depending on the surface you skate.
The durometer A scale goes up to 100 and basically just means how soft or hard your wheels are. The lower the number, the softer your wheels are and vice versa.
Ok, so why can I buy durometer A 101a wheels? Checkmate blog poster! Well, to be fair, it’s just a marketing thing. I’ll go into more depth about why, just keep reading.
Difference between A & B durometer ratings
There’s also a durometer B scale in which skateboard wheels hardness is measured. While the durometer A scale is fine, it doesn’t cover the entire range of skateboard wheel hardness. Another problem is that anything over durometer A 95a is hard to measure accurately.
Shore durometer B is actually better. It covers the entire range of skateboard wheels hardness resulting in more accurate measurement. For measurement, they use a different spring which doesn’t cause the needle to puncture a wheel. This makes the results much more reliable. If only everybody started to use B, but you know they don’t take kindly to standards.
So why do most of the brands stick with Durometer A? Probably because skateboarders are used to it and know what it means. Changing the scale would only be confusing to skateboarders. I applaud you for actually reading this because most skaters just want to go out there and have fun.
There are also Durometer C and D scales, but skateboard wheels only use A and B.
Skateboard wheels durometer A between 78a and 87A
Wheels are considered soft when they are under durometer A 87a. this means 78a skateboard wheels are pretty soft. They have a lot of grip on rough surfaces and are more suitable for cruiser boards and longboards. Don’t slap these on your trucks if you skate street and parks.
Soft wheels – durometer A between 88A and 95A
These wheels are great for cruising but are a bit harder. You don’t have to worry about cracks and rocks as they don’t block your wheels. You’ll even be able to do a couple of tricks on the street. These wheels offer a bit less grip than the ones above.
Hard wheels – durometer A 96A and 99A
These wheels are the hardest available on the durometer A scale. Most street skater and park skater use these wheels. Probably the most common durometer around. You see, it wasn’t that hard. Now it’s up to you which wheel you prefer.
Hardest on the A scale. It actually doesn’t even exist on the scale but you know, marketing. They are terrible on rough surfaces and slick surfaces. More for pros and extremely experienced skateboarders.
Wheels durometer B 83B and 84B
These are the hardest wheels available on the Shore Durometer B scales. More for pros and technical skateboarders with a lot of experience. They are great for the street and skateparks. Because of their extreme hardness, they allow for quick acceleration and high speeds. Horrible on surfaces that are slippery or rough.
Your wheels contact patch is rather important depending on the surface you skate. The contact patch is the area that touches the ground. So the larger your wheels, the larger contact patch in general.
The contact path distributes your weight, so a smaller contact patch means more weight on your wheels. This puts pressure on the urethane (the stuff your wheels are made of). More pressure means more resistance which will reduce your momentum.
This isn’t a problem when you skate the streets and do tricks, but cruisers and bowl vert skaters benefit more from a larger contact patch. This is also why you shouldn’t put your longboard wheels on your regular skateboard or your skateboard wheels on your longboard.
So why is contact patch important? If you have a large contact patch, your weight will be distributed over a larger area. This reduces the compression of the urethane in your wheels and decreases rolling resistance, which can slow down your wheel. The wider your contact patch, the more grip you have.
Shape and width of the wheel
There are a couple of basic shapes used for skateboarding wheels. Classic wheels have a more narrow outline where wider wheels are perfect for riding around skateparks. The hard choice of going with wheels that give you a bit of everything, because most of us can’t afford 4 sets of wheels, let alone 4 skateboards. Pretty awkward though to bring 4 types, poser alert.
Narrow outline wheels
Probably the most common wheel. Their lip radius is a bit smaller which means there’s less contact with the ground. This saves some urethane making the wheels weigh less. Narrow outline wheels are designed for more technical skating like on the street and in parks. They are very responsive because there’s less contact with the ground.
Great for skateboarding at speed. Because they have a larger contact patch they are great for skateparks, Verts, and bowls. They offer great stability but are less suitable for technical stuff. The weight of the wheels takes more effort to get off the ground.
Most suitable for cruiser boards. They offer speed and grip and keep their momentum. If you’re looking for a smooth ride, make sure your wheels have this shape.
Not for street skaters though, they are often bouncy and large and controlling them is a lot harder than narrow wheels.
Conically shaped wheels
Conical wheels get a bit wider from the core to the outer edge where the wheel lip is. This allows for the contact patch to be a bit wider while reducing a bit of weight. Conical wheels are great for tricks and street/park skating.
I never heard of it before I started my search but the lip radius. It’s the piece between the side of the wheel and the contact patch. Makes sense that they named that part.
So what does it do? A square lip will offer more grip and makes pushing a bit easier. These wheels are more suitable for people who like to cruise or longboard.
Round lipped wheels are more suitable for street, park, bowl, and vert skating. So basically most of the skateboarders need wheels like these.
Most wheels are made out of polyurethane but the texture can be different. Depending on the formula used to produce urethane, your wheels may feel smooth or more sticky. Smooth wheels are usually best for most skaters, like street, vert etc.
Sticky or gummy wheels will offer a smooth ride. They have more grip and sort of stick to the surface. They also don’t produce as much noise as smooth wheels. The downside is that they aren’t very responsive.
Last one are wheels made of a threaded structure. Threaded wheels are great for rough surfaces. You’ll easily ride over twigs and rocks without worrying about getting your wheel blocked.
Never thought about it but the core of a skateboard wheel actually has an impact on performance. There’s a couple of core types you should be aware of. Regular wheels allow you to insert bearings on both sides.
On the inside is a small ledge that prevents your bearings from moving any further. This way they won’t shift. These wheels are the most common but there are also plastic cores. Quality plastic cores make your bearings perform better because they just fit better.
Which wheel brand should you pick?
There are many brands out there and almost all of them make wheels of polyurethane, the ones who don’t should be avoided. They don’t all use the same formulas and there’s quite some science behind this.
When you first start looking for wheels you see skaters mention wheel formulas like STF, Formula Four, SPF, and ATF. It refers to what they are designed for and sometimes to the mixture used producing the wheels.
I’ll all become clear in a minute. I’ll mention the more popular brands to give you some direction. I might even make it harder for you, sorry.
The most popular skateboard wheel out there are Spitfires. I personally ride formula fours (Link to Amazon), which are great wheels for not only street but also park skating and I love them in my local mini ramp. They come in durometer range of 99a and 101a.
One of the most important features is that they don’t flat spot, or so they claim. Meaning when you slide the wheel won’t show signs of wear and tear. Some wheels literally get flat spots which are very annoying when you skate. It’s like standing on one of those weight loss vibrating machines that we’re a fad some time ago. Ideally, your wheels should keep spinning when you slide.
Spitfire Formula four classic
The classics are all-around wheels and feature the standard narrow profile you see in most wheels. This means a small contact patch which increases responsiveness and speed.
Spitfire Formula four classic full
Slightly wider profile than the classics, hence the name full. They feature a larger contact patch which helps stability and makes sliding easier at higher speeds.
Spitfire Formula four conical
These wheels feature the conical shape I talked about earlier. The shape allows for more responsiveness and because some of the urethane is removed, they are lighter. Conicals are designed for street and park skating.
Formula four conical full
Just like the classic full, this wheel is also designed to provide more stability. The wider contact patch is great for street skaters who aren’t shy of skating mini ramps.
Formula four radials
Finally a wheel just for transition skateboarding! These all-around wheels have a wider contact patch (only a bit) but don’t compromise speed because of it. Very slide friendly without worrying about flat spots.
Formula four radial slim
Almost the same as his brother but with the contact patch is narrower. They are a bit faster and lighter than the radials.
Formula four lock-ins
Another conical shape wheel but the difference is in the edge of the wheel. It features a straight edge cut instead of rounded. This helps you lock-in when you grind and offers more control.
Up there with Spitfire when it comes to quality and durability, Bones produces the best wheels for every type of skateboarder. Unlike spitfire Bones has a wide variety of wheels. The brand is pretty popular and their high-end wheels are called Street Tech Formula (STF’s).
These wheels are obviously for street skating and have durometers up to 100a hardness. They also have wheels designed specifically for street and parks, the Skate Park Formula (SPF) with durometers of 83b and 84b.
Bones wheels are also great when it comes to flat spots. Their formula is pretty solid and they don’t show signs of flat spots. They also keep their shape and size for a long time. Keep in mind that they use durometer B.
Bones STF wheels – Street Tech Formula
- Bones STF V1 (link to Amazon) wheels are designed to be an all-around wheel. These wheels are meant for street skating. Very sturdy and last for a long time.
- Bones STF V2 are lightweight wheels. Because they slide and lock in easily they are perfect for curbs and rails.
- Bones STF V3 is also a lightweight wheel. They are great for sliding and feature friction reduction tech. Many pros skate these wheels.
- Bones STF V4 are also all-around wheels but have a larger surface patch and are a bit wider. They are very flat spot proof!
- Bones STF V5 wheels are great for keeping momentum which makes it an ideal wheel for vert and bowl skaters. Not only are fast and light, they also were designed specifically for longer grinds and slides.
Bones SPF wheels – Skate Park Formula
- Bones SPF P1 wheels are perfect for technical skateboarders that like to skate parks. The wheels are narrow which makes them very responsive.
- Bones SPF P2 wheels feature a wide contact patch which is perfect for bowl, mini ramp and vert skaters out there. The larger contact patch surface allows for more stability.
- Bones SPF P3 wheels are a bit wider than the P2. This allows for maximum stability (as for as wheels can provide). If you skate at high speeds and looking for something to keep you stable you could consider these wheels.
- Bones SPF P4 wheels are like the P1’s designed for technical park skaters. They also provide excellent support for bowl and vert skating so a great all-around transition wheel.
- Bones SPF P5 wheels are specifically designed for the hardcore bowl and vert skaters. Great for locking your grinds and slides.
Great wheels when you’re on a budget. Although they don’t last as long as Bones or Spitfires, still they are perfect for beginners. They sell A-cut and C-cut wheels. A-cut is for bowl and vert skateboarding and the latter for the street.
Another great brand on a budget. Ricta Clouds, for example, are very popular. While not as good as spitfires they are perfect for beginners and more experienced skateboarders.