I recently bumped into a skateboarder at my local skate park and he barely had any wheels left. Probably the worst condition I’ve ever seen wheels in, but he didn’t mind. There are a couple of signs to see it’s time to get new wheels.
It’s time to replace your skateboard wheels when they are irregular shaped, show signs of flat spots and your ride is a bit bumpy. Irregularly shaped wheels are very inconvenient and can make the difference in landing a trick or not.
Everything needs to replaced at some time, it’s the nature of things. The wheels’ diameter slowly decreases over time due to friction and they’ll lose rebound. Hard wheels wear down and develop pitting and tears. Softer wheels usually separate or show tears while the diameter decreases faster.
How long do skateboard wheels last?
Some wheels last longer than others and there are a couple of factors at play. Wheels hardness are measured by durometers the higher the number the harder the wheels. How long skateboard wheels last depends on the durometer scale, quality, how often you skate, diameter, and the type of skateboarder you are.
The surface you ride plays a big part in how long wheels last. I wrote an extensive guide about wheels which covers everything there is to know if you want to learn more.
If you skate smooth concrete all day your wheels will last longer than rough surfaces. If you only skate mini ramps made out of wood or still your wheels can last for a decade. If you have low-quality trucks your wheels can also start to wobble due to uneven axles.
If you’re a downhill skateboarder or perform power slides you need to replace your wheels more often than others. In extreme cases a downhiller can take of 10mm of a wheel in a day, using soft wheels of course.
Taking good care of your wheels will increase their lifespan. Think of swapping or flipping the wheels and make sure other parts of your skateboard affect wear and tear. At some point you got to face the fact that you need new wheels, I tried many wheels over the years and here’s what I recommend.
Why they wear down
Skateboard wheels are made of urethane, a material with many properties. Important properties that skateboard wheels need are hardness, compression set, tear strength and most importantly rebound. Rebound is probably the most important. As the wheel spins urethane compresses and expands (rebound). This requires energy and causes resistance when you’re riding your skateboard slowing down your wheel.
So friction obviously is the main reason why wheels wear down but there’s more to it. Your trucks could have bent axles which result in a-symmetrical pressure. This can happen with all trucks, but lower quality trucks can take less pressure. Low-quality bushings, bad bearings or the quality of the wheel itself. It could be the skateboard deck or have to do with misaligned base plates. Your weight and probably even the weather conditions play a part.
One other cause can be wheel bite. This means your wheels are too big and hit your board. You can either get some risers and put some distance between your wheels and board, or get smaller wheels. This problem is more common when you skate a longboard.
Tips to make your skateboard wheels last longer
Your board wheels start shaping after the way you take a turn, after a while, they get cone-shaped. It’s pretty common they wear down unevenly as you probably favor one side more than the other. You can swap your wheels around about every 2 or 3 months, depending on how often you ride your skateboard. Rotating or swapping your wheels will increase prolong lifespan and your wheels will wear out more evenly.
- Place your left rear on your right front.
- Your right front should go to your left rear
- Your left front wheel should go to your right rear
- Your right rear should go to your left front.
You can also just flip the wheel, meaning you put the print on the inside. Not everybody likes this because they are too fond of the pretty graphics.
Now there are theories out that like freezing your NEW wheels to make them harder and last longer. There isn’t any solid evidence that this actually works so I wouldn’t recommend it. It probably has something to do with confirmation bias. You could also try to avoid power slides, but where’s the fun in that?
Replacing your wheels in 5 easy steps
- Use a wrench or skate tool and remove hexagon-shaped nuts from your truck’s axles to make the wheels come off. I always try to put the nuts back on the axle they came from and clean both with a rag. This is because I messed up the screw-thread once so be careful. Also, keep an eye on your washers, they tend to disappear sometimes.
- If you want to keep the bearings remove them as well. Bearings are fragile so don’t force them too much. If you don’t have any the right tools you can use your truck’s axles to take them off, but a tool is better. I recommend a skate tool as it has all the features you need to assemble your skateboard. Remove the bearings with a puller and pull them out carefully. Grab the edge of the bearing a try not to touch the surface.
- Place a bearing in your new wheel and push them in using your skate tool or your truck’s axle. Try to get them in straight, aligned with the wheel’s surface. Don’t forget your spacer if you have them otherwise you have to take it apart again. Add the other bearing and push it down.
- Add the washer back to your truck’s axle and place the wheel. Add the other washer and screw the nut back onto the axle. They shouldn’t be too tight as your wheel will have a hard time spinning. Also make sure it can’t fall off, if the nut is too loose it can cause accidents.
- Repeat the steps above until all four wheels are attached to your trucks.
So is there any science behind this?
Yeah, wheels are tested in controlled environments to test wear and tear, smoothness etc. Here’s a couple of stuff they do to test skateboard wheels before they end up on your skateboard.
- A wheel urethane flat-spot machine is used to well, create flat spots and see how much pressure the surface can take. After the test, it’s measured by a dial indicator and they measure flat spots by 1⁄1000 of an inch.
- The wheel abrasion machine simulates long time use of skateboard wheels. It measures the wear and durability of a set of different tests. Once the machine has done its job, they weight the wheel and compare it to the weight before the test.
- The wheel concentricity tester tests if wheels run smooth and don’t have wobbles also to 1⁄1000 of an inch, Wheels that fail the test are recycled.
- The wheel dynamometer tests the speed of the wheel and the speed of bearings.
Once tested they give them out to pro skaters to evaluate the wheels and ask for their personal impression. After that, they hit the market. Check out this video which shows all the testing procedures, some of the science behind skateboarding wheels.
The best wheels come down to your personal preference
Picking the right wheels that fit your style can make a huge difference in durability. While softer wheels wear down more easily you’ll have a bad time using hard wheels on a longboard.
Harder wheels are better for regular skateboards as it makes it easier to land tricks. Nobody is able to tell you what wheels are the best for you, it’s something you’ll need to find out for yourself. Although I can give you a general direction, check out my complete guide to skateboard wheels
So the circumstances matter to pick the right skateboard wheels. Just to give you some direction. In general pick hard wheels when you skate concrete, skate park, bowls, verts and mini ramps. Pick slightly softer wheels when you’re a street skater and skate on asphalt. Pick softer wheels if you’re more of a cruiser and want a smooth ride.
If your wheels aren’t spinning properly this doesn’t mean you have to replace them. Your skateboard is probably slow because of dirty bearings and is easily fixed. Just take out your bearings and submerge them in acetone or soak them in nail polish remover. Spin them until the dust and dirt are gone and let them dry.
Once dry apply some silicon-based lubricant and you’re good to go. Don’t use WD-40, ever! It will attract dust and sand which is the opposite of what you want.
Just make sure you maintain your wheels so you don’t have to worry about buying a new set. If they start showing signs of pitting and tear you should get a new set.