Squeaky noises, wheels that don’t spin for longer than a few seconds and pushing like a madman in your local skatepark. These are all signs that our skateboard bearings are on their last legs.
So when should you replace your bearings? Replace your bearings when they still don’t spin after cleaning and relubing. Immediately replace them when bearing shields and or ball bearings are missing to prevent them from blocking and causing accidents.
You might still be able to save them though. Proper maintenance and cleaning them can save you a few bucks to here’s what you should do before you go buy a new set.
Why replacing bearings is important
Once your bearings start to degrade pushing will take a lot more effort. It can mean the difference between nailing a trick or bailing.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that faulty bearings can be dangerous. If a shield bearing comes off and your bearing shift this can block your wheels and cause a nasty fall. It can also damage your wheel because of sharp metal shrapnel piercing the core. Bearings aren’t that expensive but having to replace a set of wheels and bearings can be pricey.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy bearings individually, you have to get a whole new set. Ask around if someone has a spare in case you only need one replaced. Saves you 20 bucks.
How to make bearings last longer
The number one mistake people make is skating in wet conditions or skating in the rain. Moist is devastating to bearings and causes oxidation. It’s not just rust, water is bad for the silicon lube that keeps your bearings spinning. Once the lube devolves friction will increase and this means your bearings will wear down.
Another problem is dust and sand. If you live in an environment with lots of dust (due to cold and heat) your bearings will run down faster. Dirt and dust will get into your bearings and stick to the silicone lube. The bearing balls don’t particularly like dirt and will cause a lot of stress to the inner rings of a bearing. When you live in environments like this, you need to clean your bearings a lot more often.
Decent bearings for a decent price
I’m sure you heard of ceramic bearings. Those fancy $200 bearings that last a lifetime. If you’re looking for something that last for a few decades this could be an option. Ceramic bearings aren’t necessary at all, these high-end bearings are more for adrenaline junkies that bomb hills. You don’t want your bearing to fail on you at extreme speeds.
A better option is not go for the cheapest and not the most expensive. The best bearings are made by Bones, Bones Swiss are superior and can last you for a decade if you properly maintain them. These are made of high-grade steel and probably the best investment for a regular skateboard. They’re fast, reliable and with proper maintenance you won’t need to replace them anytime soon.
I’ve heard people say they lasted them 15 years. This seems a bit long though, it also depends how hardcore and how often you skate. Often you can get a decent deal on them and get some spacers and Bones speed cream included. I found a great set which I described here.
Bones also has the standard reds which cost about 15-20 bucks, they will last you for a while but are of lesser quality, Still these are fine is you’re on a limited budget and don’t want to spend 50 bucks on bearings.
However, I would advise transition skateboarders and people who like to cruise go for better quality bearings. The Swiss bearings are just of better quality bearings. You can really feel the difference in performance and it will save you a ton of pushing.
How to maintain and clean bearings
It’s easy to clean your bearings, be prepared to get your hands dirty. Also I used to relube my bearings with oil but later learned this isn’t the best idea. Dirt will stick to oil more than silicon lube so try to avoid using anything like the olive oil that you use to bake your potatoes.
Also, keep in mind that once you cleaned your bearings you have to keep cleaning them regularly, preferably every 3 months if you skate all year. Skateboard maintenance is often overlooked but can save you quite some money.
Never apply oil to dirty bearings to make them spin faster. This is counterproductive and will push the existing dust and dirt deeper into your bearings. At first it might seem like the spin faster but it will ruin the performance in the end (been there).
Let’s see what you need fist before you start cleaning your bearings.
You will need:
- A razor blade (to pop off the shield bearings) or rubber shield (depends on bearing type_
- Nail polish remover or acetone or isopropyl alcohol
- A cup or plate to soak your bearings in
- Tissues or paper towel
- Bones speed cream
- Skate tool
Step 1. Remove the bearings
Remove the nut and speed rings from the axles of your trucks. Once the wheels comes off either use a skate tool to pop them out or use your truck axle as a lever. Getting them to pop out is easy and shouldn’t take much strength.
Make sure to put away the nuts and speedings safely and try to keep in mind on which axle they go, same goes for your wheels.
If you have metal shields bearings make sure to remove them using a razor blade or something that can get between. Rubber shields are a lot easier to remove.
Step 2. Soak the bearings in a cup
I recommend using a metal or plastic cup or jar, fill it with your cleaning solution of choice and let your bearings swim. Ideally, if you have a jar with a lid you can stir them a bit the get the dirt out. Depending on how dirty your bearings are, you might have to repeat this process.
Step 3. Dry your bearings
Wrap your bearings in an old towel or anything that’s available and give them a good shake. If you see a lot of dirt you might still want to repeat step 2 and clean them again.
Shaking will remove the cleaning solution and the remaining dirt. Once you think you’re done lay them on a few paper tissues and leave them to dry for an hour or so.
Step 4. Lube your bearings
Now that you’ve (hopefully) successfully cleaned your skateboard bearings it’s time to use some Bones speed cream or other silicone lubrication if you have any lying around. Don’t put too much lube on your bearings a drop or two is fine.
Remember if you use oil your bearings are going to get dirty faster, it’s possible but it will require more maintenance in the end.
Step 5. Re-attach your bearings
Getting your bearings back into your wheels can sometimes prove to be a bit tricky. Some bearings hardly resist but others just won’t get into your wheel core. If you’re having a hard time getting one of your bearings back into a wheel apply some lube on the inside of your wheel will make all the difference.
If you have to really force bearing in you run the risk of crushing the inner parts (depending on the quality). This would be a waste after going to all that trouble of cleaning the.