The Ultimate Skateboard Wheels Guide
At first glance, a skateboard might appear a simple item, just a wooden deck with trucks and wheels. But in reality, these things have seen some serious technological advancement. Skateboards are now flaunting intricate and diverse innovation that has helped propel the sport (or, shall I say, lifestyle) into new territories of incredible progression.
Each piece of your board lends great effect to how it interacts with the other components of a skateboard and thus how it rides, and it was the skateboard wheel that allowed skateboarding to breach from a side hobby for surfers to a full-blown sport.
In this skateboard wheel guide, I'll break down everything you need to know about this highly influential board component, as skateboard wheels massively influence your style of skateboarding, where and how you ride, your speed, and the possibility of tricks.
Here's what I mean, my salty, shredding folk!
A Brief History of Skateboard Wheels
"They're made of urethane, man."
If you don't know my reference, then seriously, you've got to watch Lords of Dogtown. One of my favorite scenes is when the Dogtown boys first discover urethane wheels, and little did they know this would change the history of skateboarding forever.
Before urethane, In the 50s, skateboard wheels were manufactured with metal. As you can imagine, these wheels were heavy while providing little traction and grip to a concrete surface.
Basically, you could ride the board straight with little direction adjustments.
A decade later, in the 60s, we see manufacturers toying around with clay skateboard wheel production. A bit better than metal wheels in terms of traction, but not by much, clay wheels were renowned as the bumpiest, most uncomfortable ride imaginable.
It wasn't until the 70's that a group of friends tossed urethane wheels from their roller skates onto their skateboards, and everything changed.
Derived from oil, urethane skateboard wheels now allow skaters to grip hard and turn on concrete surfaces, granting them the ability to ride new terrain, such as drained-out pools, while performing turns and carves never before seen on such transitions.
To this day, not much has changed, and most skateboard wheels are still made of urethane, aside from some minor adjustments to certain companies' formulas.
Now, all thanks to urethane, skaters are flying high off vert ramps, launching off mega ramps, ollieing nine stairs, and grinding down handrails with wild hearts.
How Skateboard Wheels Affect Performance
There are a few riding styles typical of skateboarding. You have standard skateboarding, which features technical tricks (ollies, kickflips, grinds) in the skatepark and street riding, as well as riding half-pipes and other transitions commonly referred to as 'vert skating'.
Bryxton Shredding with Semi-Small Wheels, Ideal for the Park. Follow our Instagram for more Salty Shreddin'!
Then, you have longboarding, where riders bomb down big hills, flying with incredible speed while utilizing big, carving turns and powerslides to adjust their momentum and direction. There's also a more dance-like style to longboarding, where riders walk the nose, flip the board with their hands/feet, and dance back and forth on the deck as they ride.
Bombing a Hill on a Longboard? Opt for Big Wheels.
Last but not least, the newest skateboard style, known as a surfskate, allows for a surfing-like style on the concrete. Riders cruise, pump, and carve their board with motions that perfectly mimic the feeling of riding a wave.
Surfskates for Surf-like Skating. Visit our Guide to Surfskates to Learn More!
Your skateboard wheel has a massive influence on these types of riding, so it's important to know what kind of skateboarding you want to pursue to pick your wheels accordingly.
Two primary aspects of a skateboard wheel exhibit the most influence on the performance and abilities of the wheel:
- The Skateboard Wheel Size
- The Skateboard Wheel Hardness/Softness
These personalities will directly alter how much traction your board receives, how fast it might ride, and which tricks you can do. Understanding these effects is precisely how you determine the style and type of wheel that is best for you, your board, and your desired riding style.
Skateboard Wheel Size
Measured in diameter, typically a 50-75mm range, your skateboard wheel size directly alters your speed, balance, and technical performance abilities.
To summarize, you want a large skateboard wheel to ride longboards and cruisers and a small skateboard wheel to perform tricks. Here's why:
Large Skateboard Wheels
The larger the skateboard wheel, the faster and more stable your ride once momentum is created.
Think of it this way: a larger wheel covers more distance on a single rotation than a small wheel, meaning you'll maintain speed and momentum better once it's created, and it takes less energy to maintain this speed.
Essentially, they make riding fast and flowy a whole lot easier.
As well as speed, large wheels are nice and smooth, and they can move over difficult terrain (like a bump in the sidewalk or brick) far better than small wheels due to an increase in their point of contact with the ground, known as the contact patch.
Large skateboard wheels are best for longboards, cruisers, and surfskates where speed is your friend. For example, if you use a skateboard for transportation or bombing hills, you'll want a nice, big wheel for a fast, smooth, and effortless ride.
Small Skateboard Wheels
Notice the Small Wheels On Our Tye Dye Grom Skateboard Complete? Perfect for the skatepark and their first tricks!
Small skateboard wheels, best for street/park skating and advanced tricks, do not maintain speed as well. It is easier, however, to create your initial momentum quickly.
This helps when a skater only has a small runway to set up for a trick requiring speed.
Small skateboard wheels don't get in the way of the board, allowing skaters to grind rails and hit obstacles without the wheel interfering.
They feature a smaller contact patch, meaning you can easily adjust your weight and board direction, and they make the board deck easier to control during flip tricks and ollies.
In fact, the wheel size allows for these maneuvers in the first place.
Because the wheel is small, it gives the tail of the skateboard room to quickly hit the concrete to generate the 'pop' needed to lift the board off the ground. This also allows the skater to drop into half pipes and quarter pipes.
A large wheel creates too great of an angle between the tail and the coping/concrete, and popping the board/dropping in is essentially impossible.
To summarize, small wheels are far more responsive and do not inhibit your control over the board as large wheels do, making it to where you can perform the crazy tricks we now see today.
What Skateboard Wheel Size is Right for Me?
- 60 mm+: Ideal for longboarding and bombing hills.
- 56-60 mm: The perfect size for cruising longboards (not meant to bomb big hills), cruiser skateboards, and surfskates. If you plan to skate vert, like a bowl, on a standard skateboard, you might enjoy a larger wheel in the 58 mm range.
- 54-56 mm: Ideal for a mix of street skating, park skating, and vert skating.
- 50-53 mm: The smallest wheels, meant for street and park skating for technical tricks.
Skateboard Wheel Hardness/Softness
The size of your skateboard wheels isn't the only thing that alters their performance, and choosing the perfect skateboard wheel will require a delicate balance of size and the wheel's hardness/softness.
The measure of a wheel's hardness and softness is known as the durometer. Softer wheels are better for cruising and longboarding, and harder wheels are better for park and street skating.
Soft wheels help absorb the concrete's impact and ride over rougher surfaces, making for a mellow, smooth ride without vibration onto the feet. Soft wheels also promote grip, making these better for skateboarding styles that require grip, such as cruising, surf skating, and bombing a hill.
Hard wheels are much better for skateparks and street riding, as they work well on smooth surfaces and generate speed with quick bursts. Hard wheels do not grip surfaces as well, allowing the skater to perform progressive tricks.
What Skateboard Wheel Durometer is Right for Me?
- 75a-87a: An ideal wheel durometer for longboards and cruisers. These wheels are soft, smooth, provide grip when carving down mellow hills, and are great for beginners/those who use their board for transportation. For the most grip, go for the lower end towards 78a.
- 87a-90a: A bit harder than the prior but still on the soft side, this durometer is an excellent wheel for freeride longboarders and those who like to powerslide to control speed when bombing hills. This is also a nice wheel for surf skating, as you can grip the transition when needed, but you can still push the back foot hard for surf-like powerslides and laybacks.
- 88a-95a: This is a pretty happy medium of hard and soft, ideal for a little bit of cruising with a few tricks thrown in here and there, like a small ollie up a curb.
- 96a-99a: Heading towards the harder side of the durometer, this is the perfect all-around wheel. This is the way to go if you like to do a little bit of everything, such as ride the park, hit some ramps, ride the street, and cruise around. The upper end of this spectrum is a great choice for vert skating, as you will still need a bit of grip to keep you locked on the ramp when entering transitions.
- 100a+: For the hardcore street skaters, these are the hardest wheels you can find and the best type of wheel for progressive maneuvers. Most professional skaters ride hard wheels.
Skateboard Wheels: Putting the Pieces Together
Now that you know how the diameter and durometer of your skateboard wheels play a part in your skating, hopefully, you can use this information to piece together the best style of skateboard wheel for your preferred skating!
Essentially, you will have to mix and match this information and learn through experience to enhance your knowledge of personal preference further.
If you enjoy longboarding, you'll opt for a large, soft wheel. If you enjoy some powerslides and freeriding, stay in this diameter range but increase the hardness a bit.
Enjoy a bit of everything? Find a wheel in the middle-end of both diameter and durometer.
And the more hardcore your skating, the smaller and harder the wheel you'll eventually seek.
Get out there, start skating, and test things out! Eventually, you'll have a skateboard setup for every possible need and desire, and you'll know exactly what equipment to choose for a particular shred session.
Are you stoked yet?
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Live rad, stay salty.
- Ash, Dev & The Salty Shreds Fam.