Skateboard wheel specifications are a bit confusing when you just get into the sport. There are so many wheels and it’s quite intimidating when going through all the options. If you don’t know the difference between hard and soft wheels, or more specifically, what type of wheel you need when you want to get your first board, you’ve come to the right place.
Soft skateboard wheels are suitable for cruising and a comfortable ride. They don’t excel at tricks because they bounce a lot and stick to the surface. They deal better with small objects and rough roads. Hard wheels are more for skateboarders that like to perform technical tricks, but not suitable for cruising.
I’m going to explain exactly what it means; under which circumstances you want hard wheels, when medium wheels are applicable, and when to ride softer wheels.
Difference Between Soft & Hard Wheels
The rule of thumb is that softer wheels are for cruising and longboarders, hard wheels for popping technical tricks.
Let’s say you just got into skateboarding but don’t want to do any tricks. You might consider a bit cruising, hopping a few curbs, or maybe commuting on campus.
In this case, you’ll need a set of soft wheels because hard wheels aren’t made for cruising. Hard wheels make a lot of noise and vibrate a lot, not to mention you’ll have a hard time maintaining speed.
If you’re interested in learning how to ollie, do some stationary kickflips or basic beginner tricks? Go with harder skateboard wheels. Soft wheels aren’t made for this. There are even wheels that are perfectly balanced and deal with all sorts of surfaces.
One thing I need to address is quality, don’t cheap out on wheels! Go for a reputable brand like Bones or Spitfire. Sure they are a bit more expensive but they will last you a long time. Cheap wheels will flat spot and need to be replaced sooner than quality wheels.
Here’s a comparison table that should give you some guidance:
|Skateboarding Style||Recommended Hardness||Recommended Durometer||Recommended Diameter|
|Skateparks||Hard||99A+||52mm – 54mm|
|Bowl & Transition||Medium / Hard||97A – 104A (84B)||55mm – 58mm|
|Cruising & Commuting||Soft||78A – 87A||56mm – 65mm|
|Street Skating||Medium||92A – 99A||51mm – 54mm|
|Flat Ground Skating||Hard||101A – 104A||50mm – 53mm|
|Beginner||Medium / Hard||92A – 99A||54mm – 55mm|
Wheels are considered soft between Durometer 77A and 87A. Softer wheels are great for cruising around and comfy rides. Longboarders and cruisers often ride big and soft wheels. It requires less effort to push and it’s easier to maintain speed.
If you aren’t interested in doing technical street tricks this is the hardness scale you should look for. I’ll go into the Durometer scale at the end of this post. It’s not very complicated.
Softer wheels are safer to ride as they don’t have any issues with small rocks, cracks, or anything that your board runs into. Harder wheels tend to block when you encounter an object, resulting in you flying off your board. It’s part of the game, we’ve all been there and it will happen again.
Soft wheels aren’t suitable for skate parks and transition skateboarding. If you try to push your board in a mini ramp you’ll have a hard time gaining speed and balance. It just requires a lot of effort due to surface friction.
This also means less balance because if you push your board like a madman, it’s hard to focus on your target (50-50’s on a coping for example). They sort of stick to the surface, unlike hard wheels.
Cons of soft wheels:
- More likely to flat spot
- More bouncy harder to land tricks on
- Not for technical stuff
Pros of soft wheels:
- Great cruising experience
- Less effort when pushing
- Maintain speed
You could say that hard wheels are in between Durometer 96A (arguably) and 104A (84B). The hardest wheels are often used by experienced and professional street skaters.
Skateboard wheels between 96A and 100A is fine for regular street skaters, a safe choice would be 99A. Pro skaters for often skate wheels between 100A and 84B.
Very hard wheels are not comfortable on rough roads, they also tend to slide on slick surfaces. It requires more effort to push your board and make a lot of noise depending on the surface.
A beginner would have more issues balancing on a board with extremely hard wheels. Anything between 95A and 99A is a safe choice if you’re new to skateboarding.
Pros of hard skateboard wheels:
- Great for technical stuff
- Less likely to bounce in an unpredictable way
- Faster acceleration
- More control in closed spaces
- Less likely to flat spot depending on the polyurethane quality
Cons of hard skateboard wheels:
- Uncomfortable for longer rides
- Lots of noise and vibration on rough surfaces
Bones offers wheels that perform under many circumstances. They won’t excel at anything but are a safe choice when you’re not sure if you want to be a dedicated street skater or skate transition (parks, mini-ramps, bowls).
Check for Bones ATF (all-terrain formula) but the size is up to you, 53 or 54mm is usually a safe choice. A friend of mine has no issues riding them on the street, grinding a couple of rails, kicking a bunch of flips and then goes back into the bowl again.
Wheel Size and Hardness
Wheel size isn’t about hardness they do have some correlation. Larger wheels accelerate slower but are better at maintaining speed. So for you cruisers out there, get large soft wheels between 60mm and 70mm and pick Durometer 78A to 92A.
Make sure they fit the board, anything above 60mm often requires riser pads.
Smaller wheels accelerate faster. Often used for technical stuff, larger wheels get stuck behind ledges and rails and make it harder to land a trick.
Note that Spitfire Wheels rate their wheels with D, this is not the D-scale but stands for durometer. 99D Spitfire skateboard wheels are the same as 99A skateboard wheels.
Durometer Scale A and B
The durometer scale was invented by Albert Ferdinand Shore. It’s a way to determine the hardness of materials. Most wheel brands use the Durometer A scale and officially it only goes up to 100.
There are scales beyond that since the A-scale is limited but not all brands follow the official scale. Some brands make use of the B-scale to accurately describe the hardness beyond 100A.
Sometimes you see Wheels with durometer 101A or even 104A, this is inaccurate. You can subtract 20 points and it would come down to Durometer 81B and 84B, it really is that simple.
Rebound and Bounce
There’s more to it than just the hardness of a wheel. Rebound or bounce means how fast a wheel gets back into its original shape when it bounces off the ground. Wheels are made of polyurethane and some formulas are vastly superior to others.
Bones and Spitfire, for example, have perfected their formula resulting in high-quality wheels that bounce back into shape in no time.
Some wheels hardly rebound, it’s a sign of lower quality urethane. This isn’t something you can see from just looking at wheels, you actually need to drop them en see how they bounce. If they hardly bounce, it often means bad quality polyurethane.
Although this isn’t a topic for people who have a lot of experience and pretty basic stuff, it’s rather important. I hope I was able to educate you a bit on what exactly makes wheels hard or soft and under what circumstances you need them.
If you want to dig a little deeper into skateboard wheels I suggest reading my buyers guide or check out my best skateboard wheels list. There is so much more to wheels than just the hardness.
You’ll be surprised how technology has advanced over the year and what exactly makes the perfect wheel for your personal style. Getting the right wheels has a huge impact on performance and can actually make you more confident. After all, quality parts really can make the difference between landing a trick and landing primo.
Go to your local skate shop and tell them what you want to do with your first skateboard. Cruise, long rides, tricks or something in between. Think about it. They will be happy to help you to pick the right parts.
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.