Tag Archives: bearings

Ball Bearings

Sometimes, the most important part of something isn’t the one you can easily see. For example, anyone can understand why wheels are very, very important on roller skates, but there was a time when they didn’t roll all that well. It made skating more difficult, which meant fewer people did it.

The first boom in the popularity of roller skating came with the addition of ball bearings—or just “bearings”—to the wheels of roller skates. They made skating easy, and therefore fun, for people of all ages. In this post we’ll cover what bearings are, why they matter, and the types you can put in your skates.

What Are Bearings?

A bearing is circular with flat sides—a short cylinder or thick disk—and they usually come in sets appropriate to what they’re needed for. They are what make it easier for you to move fast and do some tricks. While you could still do those things without bearings, you’d find it quite difficult and much less fun than it currently is.

How Do Bearings Work?

It's good to know how the ball bearings in your skates work, especially if you need to clean them.To start with, it’s important to know what friction is. “Friction” is the resistance between two objects; generally, the more surface area something has the more friction it experiences when it contacts something else. Sometimes, such as with the fingerprints of your hands, that’s good—the resistance caused by friction helps you grip things. But if you want movement, friction is the enemy.

Ball bearings consist of a number of spheres spaced evenly apart in a “cage” arranged between inner and outer “races.” They turn around the axle as the wheel turns around them. The fewer and smaller points of contact that exist in a bearing mean less friction is created, which means you can move faster much easier than if the wheel was in direct contact with the axle.

What Kinds of Bearings Are There?

For roller skates, there are three types of bearings you should know about:

Steel Bearings

These might be termed a “normal” or “traditional” bearing. This is a bearing that will have an “ABEC” rating, ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineering Council) being the governing body that determines the rating of normal steel bearings. The ABEC rating system is more about quality than speed, but it will give you an idea of what you’re looking at; put simply, a bearing rated ABEC 7 is better than a bearing rated ABEC 5. However, the testing is so brutal it would be impossible for any human to match, so you aren’t likely to notice a difference.

Bearings that have a rating that includes the acronym “ILQ” (InLine Qualified) have been engineered and trademarked by a single manufacturer.

Swiss Bearings

Most Swiss bearings are no longer made in Switzerland, but they’re still called “Swiss” because of how they’re made. What differentiates Swiss bearings from other types is the casing, the outer shields, and the inner race. A bearing that has all or even just some of these technologies qualifies as “Swiss.”

Swiss bearings are notably more expensive than normal steel bearings. In the past, this meant you were buying a higher quality bearing made with better technology, but there is a debate as to whether modern Swiss bearings really match up to the Swiss bearings of the eighties. If you really want Swiss bearings, your best bet is to look for the brands that are known for making them. This is a situation where brand does matter.

Swiss bearings don’t have an ABEC rating and are identified as just “Swiss.”

Ceramic Bearings

Ceramic ball bearings don't rust so they essentially last forever, but you can expect to pay a premium price for them.You may have heard at some point that certain sports and racing vehicles have ceramic brakes. This is because ceramic brakes are lighter, harder, and much more heat-resistant than traditional brakes, allowing for harsher handling at higher speeds. It’s the same way with ceramic bearings for your skates.

Ceramic bearings are made of a compound called silicon nitride, which means that they’ll pretty much last forever. No human could hope to harm them. They’re much harder than steel, self-lubricate, and are capable of withstanding powerful physical impact. Since they excel at reducing friction, they’re faster than steel bearings, too. They’re also a little more than one-third the weight of traditional steel bearings.

All of this means that ceramic bearings are incredibly popular. When it comes to bearings for your skates, there is currently nothing better than ceramic on the market. But you will pay for them. Making ceramic bearings is much more difficult than making steel bearings, so you’ll be paying for the time someone put in to craft them for you.

Ceramic bearings have no ABEC rating, as they far outstrip any normal steel bearing out there.

Do Bearings Need Care?

Oh yes. Steel (and Swiss, because they’re typically made of steel) bearings need regular drying, cleaning, and lubricating to protect them. Without these the bearings will heat up and may become malformed, or they may rust and either lock up completely or roll very roughly.

Even ceramic bearings, for all their being sent from heaven to make our lives easier and more fun, need care. While the bearings themselves are in no danger of rusting, surrounding parts are still made of metal and are vulnerable—particularly moisture, humidity, and grit. So a little bearing oil will make your life simpler and protect the considerable investment you’ve made by buying ceramic bearings.

How Many Bearings Do Wheels Need?

Roller skates and rollerblades need two bearings per wheel. So one roller skate needs eight bearings, and a pair of roller skates needs sixteen bearings. A set of rollerblades with three wheels apiece will need twelve bearings. The quick math is to simply count how many total wheels you have (that is, on both skates) and then multiply by two.

Rollerblades also need a “spacer” between the bearings of each wheel.

Which Bearing is Best?

That depends entirely on you. If you’re a casual, infrequent skater and regularly take time to care for your skates, plain old steel bearings with pretty much any ABEC rating are going to be adequate and especially cost-effective for your needs. Steel bearings have been around for ages and are used daily in a variety of industries, which means it’s hard to go wrong with them.

Bearings keep your roller skates moving smoothly, so it's important to keep dirt and water out of them whenever possible.

If you skate more often or are otherwise rough on your skates, Swiss bearings are made in such a way and with such technology that they’re usually better able to handle the increased friction of extra wear. Treat them well and they can last for decades. With how the global market is these days there’s really no need for Swiss bearings to cost what they do, but you may consider the expense worth it. Just realize you may be able to do just as well with traditional steel bearings if you made sure to maintain them.

Ceramic bearings are long-lived bearings for hardcore skaters and generally require minimal maintenance because they don’t rust. Professional speed skaters are likely to use them because they handle friction so well, and some trick skaters find them worth the expense. But ceramic bearings are the most expensive bearings available to roller skaters (usually over one hundred dollars), so you need to think hard about whether you really need them.

Time To Get Rollin’!

If you’re a really, really casual skater and only ever skate at a rink, the bearings that come with your skates are likely to last for either a very long time or until you buy your next pair of skates. If you skate a lot more often and especially if you skate outdoors, you can expect to need to regularly check your bearings for wear and damage. Make sure you know what bearings you have and keep them clean so you can keep skating.

Inline Skate Care

Like roller skates, it’s important to carry out regular maintenance to extend the life of your inline skates (rollerblades). Fortunately, you don’t need much in the way of tools and supplies, and—bonus!—as you gain experience with doing maintenance you’ll be able to do it faster and take less time away from other things.

You won’t need to remove your wheels or bearings every time you do maintenance, but it’s good to be ready, in case you notice a problem. We’ll pretend they do need to be removed to give you a thorough idea of rollerblade maintenance. We’ll also pretend you have hard-shell skates (the stiff plastic sort), since there are a few more parts involved. Here’s a list of items you’ll need:

  • Allen tool/all-purpose skate tool/manufacturer’s tool(s)
  • toothbrush, or a craft brush that’s small and stiff
  • cloths, tissues, or wipes (lint-free)
  • bearing oil (light)
  • cleaning solution for bearings

Remove the Wheels and Boot Liners

Removable boot liners make rollerblade care much simpler.Use the Allen tool (or skate or manufacturer’s tool) to remove the wheels. Open all boot fasteners and/or loosen laces and remove the boot liner. Doing these will make it easier to see and clean all areas of your skates. Look first for anything that needs repair or replacement; those things won’t need cleaning, so you shouldn’t waste time with them.

Wipe Down the Shell and Frame

The frame or your rollerblades holds the wheels apart and in a line.Roller skates usually have soft boots. The typical rollerblade is more likely to have a “hard shell” (stiff plastic), but there are “soft shell” varieties. Either way, you need to wipe down the shells and frames (what the wheels attach to) with a damp cloth. This will help keep them looking new, but also help keep dirt away from areas that might be harmed by it.

Use the brush to knock grit from holes, crevices, wheels, and wheel spokes. As with wiping off the shell, you don’t want the dirt to ever get into your bearings. Keep in mind that it’s better to do this easy cleaning than need to disassemble your bearings and clean those because you didn’t do the easy cleaning (sometimes, the type of seal on bearings means they can’t be cleaned and have to be replaced, which can get expensive).

Keep Dirt and Grit out of the Bearings

Bearings keep your roller skates moving smoothly, so it's important to keep dirt and water out of them whenever possible.Once you have the other parts free of dirt, wipe down the bearings with a lint-free cloth dabbed in light oil or bearing cleaner. This will help remove dirt without adding water, which will cause the bearings to rust if it gets inside.

Spin each wheel to check for an even and quiet roll. Adding one drop of light oil to each bearing on each side of each wheel will make them last longer, but don’t add more than that because a buildup of oil will attract more dirt and possibly shorten your bearings’ lifespan. If after all that the roll is rough or there’s a scratching noise, the bearings will need to be removed and cleaned with bearing cleaner.

Double-Check Brake Pads

Brake pads help you stop, so you always need them to be in good shape.Always make sure it’s firmly secured. An unsecured brake pad could come loose when you need it most and you or someone else might end up hurt; at best, the brake housing—if not the entire frame—would probably be damaged and need replacement. So give it a wiggle and tighten it if necessary.

After every skating session, check the wear. Most brake pads have a wear line, which will help you decide whether the pad needs to be replaced. Exactly when the brake pad should be replaced is a little flexible; for safety and comfort replacement should be done no later than the time the wear line is reached. Wait much longer than that and you’ll find you’re tilting your foot back at a steep, possibly painful angle. Eventually, the screw that holds the pad in place would damage and be damaged by whatever surface you skate, and it might catch on something and cause you to fall. So change your brake pad by the time it’s worn to the wear line.

Keep the Wheel Bolts Properly Adjusted

Wheel bolts keep your wheels in place and help prevent too much play. Keep them well adjusted!This is very important to your wheels’ performance. When you put your wheels back in the frame and have the wheel bolts tightened to what’s approximately correct, check each wheel for excessive play (a lot of rocking on the axle). Too much play will lead to increased wear, which will prematurely age your wheels. So you’ll want to tighten each one to the point where the wheel spins freely but the play is minimal.

If you find yourself tightening the bolts a lot, there are solutions you can buy that act sort of like glue that will help keep things in place. Just keep them away from the wheel bearings or the bearings might lock up.

Buckles and Laces

Buckles and laces keep your rollerblades on your feet, so don't let them break.Buckles, laces, and other fasteners keep your rollerblades on your feet, so they’re very important for safety and stability. Check them frequently for wear, or loose or missing parts. These are easily replaced, so be proactive if something doesn’t seem right.

Inspect the Boot Liners

Dirt loves to hide in and around your liners. This might not do any harm to the equipment, but think of how painful it’d be to skate with a rock digging into your instep! So when you’re doing maintenance on your rollerblades, give the liners a shake over a garbage can or a plastic shopping bag you’ve spread over the floor (to catch anything that falls). Wipe both sides of the insole and the bed inside the skate where the liner or insole sits.

Check the Skate Boots

You may not skate outdoors, aggressively, or play roller hockey, but your boots (that is, the shells), can still be damaged by falls and scrapes. So check that the boot structure, fasteners, and supports haven’t been weakened or broken by routine wear.

Wash Liners and Other Fabric Parts

A net bag can help if you choose to wash washable rollerblade parts in a washing machine.Your feet probably sweat when you skate, so after every skating session you’ll want to open the liners wide and let them air dry to reduce the presences of bacteria and odors. Still, not everything will shake out, wipe off, or air out. At some point, some parts of your rollerblades are going to make you recoil and pinch your nose.

Fortunately, certain parts of your rollerblades are washable. The best way to wash these parts is by hand with a mild soap, but you can also toss them into a cloth bag, net bag (see image), or even a pillow case and run them through a mild cycle in a washing machine (using mild soap). Air dry them afterward. Don’t put them in a dryer unless you want them shrunken or destroyed.

If you have any doubts, contact the manufacturer and ask what they recommend for cleaning.

And You’re Done (For Now)!

“But skate care is boring!” Yes, we know. Virtually any kind of care for any activity can be boring, even if you love doing the activity. But maintaining your rollerblades is safer for you and anyone around you. It’s also infinitely cheaper in the long run than just abusing your rollerblades until they don’t work, then buying a new set. It even increases the amount of fun you have, because by keeping them in good working order you don’t have to fight with them to get them to do what you want.

The good news is that, with time, you’ll be able to perform the care faster and faster, and soon it won’t take long at all. You may even find you come to enjoy the maintenance as a wind-down, if it’s been a particularly frustrating day. So put on some music or a video you don’t need to watch to enjoy and get cleaning. Your skates will be happier, and so will you.

Roller Skate Care

An off-the-shelf pair of skates that fits your feet doesn’t cost too much, but it adds up if you’re buying new ones every couple of months because you’re wearing them down and then throwing each pair away. Heaven forbid you do that just because of the wheels. With the proper maintenance, you’ll be able to get the most out of your skates and increase their lifespan.

The best part? While there are some things that should be done after every skating session, regardless of how you skate, in most cases and for most people it’s enough to do the full maintenance of skates every other month.

A quick note: We talk about roller skates exclusively in this post because inline skates (rollerblades) are a little simpler in design and parts, but we’ll be getting to them too.

Boots and Plates

Boots are the foundation of roller skates, and their care is usually pretty simple.Keep them dry! You may have been skating outside in wet conditions or just perspiring, but no matter how they got wet they need care as soon as you take them off. Skate boots are generally made of leather or vinyl, and you do need to know their unique needs. If the boots are vinyl, care is mainly a matter of wiping them down gently and airing them out.

If the boots are leather they’re going to be a little higher maintenance, but properly cared for they’ll be supple, comfortable, and will last for many, many years. Consider that they’ll show scratches and scars easier than other materials and wipe away perspiration stains after every skate session. Use a damp cloth but not a wet one—too much moisture will damage leather. Occasionally, use leather conditioner, protectant, and/or polish to keep the leather in shape and minimize future care needs.

No matter what your skates are made of, it’s important to always wipe them down inside and out, then let the boots dry naturally. Never put skate boots near a heating source to speed up the drying process, as the heat will prematurely damage and age the boot material; instead, loosen the laces, open the skate boot, and let it air dry. This will keep down on odor and prevent the growth of anything that likes warm, wet environments.

If you’ve pulled apart your skates, it’s a great time to pull out the insole and check to make sure that the plate of your skates are still tightly attached to the boots. If they seem loose, tighten them.

Trucks, Cushions, and Pivot Cups

Trucks are normally sturdy, but they're also part of your roller skates' complicated support system and need frequent checks.If you’ve ever tried on your friend’s skates and felt unusually awkward, it was probably because of the tension of the trucks. Besides the boots, trucks are going to be the main difference between sets of skates. This is because everyone’s preference in truck tension differs. For new and casual skaters, it’s best that trucks be tightly fitted to the boot. This sacrifices maneuverability for stability. If you’re comfortable with loosening your trucks to get more maneuverability, make sure that each truck has equal tension and then check them often to ensure that the tension remains equal. Also, if you roller skate outside or over rough terrain then you’ll need to check the tension of your trucks more often.

While you’re checking your trucks it’s also a good idea to have a peek at your cushions and pivot cups, which are right within reach. Manufacturers have improved pivot cups so that they last longer, but they should be checked for wear. That goes especially if you find the cushions worn down. Cushions are typically long-lived, but cushions with too much wear lead to broken trucks or other broken or prematurely worn parts. When you do these checks, make sure to hold the bottom of the kingpin as you loosen the trucks to prevent them from being unthreaded from the plate.

Toe Stops

Toe stops can wear down quickly, so check them often.Roller skate toe stops may be adjustable or not, depending on the kind of skate you get. If they are, you should make sure they’re adjusted to a position that works best for your skating style. That may mean pausing while you skate to make multiple adjustments. If they aren’t adjustable, you should still check them from time to time to ensure that they’re firmly secured to the boot. A loose toe stop will trip you.

In both cases, check often for wear; a toe stop worn to the nub will require your foot to tip more to brake, which you may not want for discipline reasons or because of your skill level. But even when used properly toe stops will naturally get worn down over time, so expect to replace them a few times during the life of your skates.

Wheels

You can expect to replace the wheels of your skates a few times before you replace your skates. For most people, skate wheels will get the brunt of the wear and damage that occurs while you’re just skating, but wheels will also be affected by moves like t-stops. Wear and tear goes doubly if you’re outdoors often, since paving materials aren’t very kind. So you need to check your roller skate wheels regularly to ensure that they spin freely and aren’t too worn.

Dirty wheels are more likely to lose traction than clean wheels, which makes dirty wheels a problem for novice skaters or anyone who does tricks.If the wheels they don’t spin freely, look for damage or buildup from debris or simple dirt. If they’re damaged, they need to be replaced, but if they’re just dirty then you should take the time to clean the wheels.

As you might imagine, skate wheels are probably going to gather debris first, especially if you mostly skate indoors. You can help keep them looking new by wiping them down with a wet cloth after each skating session. A little less often you’ll want to clean your wheels fully, which you can do with them in place on your skates or by removing them. Removing them is easier, and if you remove them it’s easier to check for uneven wear and, if necessary, rotate them to make them last longer.

To clean roller skate wheels, the simplest method is to remove the wheels from your skates, pop the bearings out (carefully), then place the wheels into a bowl of warm water that has a little dish soap added. Find a brush—a toothbrush works well—and scrub the wheels one at a time to get any glue, tape, or other debris off them; if you do this regularly, it shouldn’t take long. Plus, cleaning your wheels will help you get and keep traction on various skating surfaces.

Bearings

Bearings keep your roller skates moving smoothly, so it's important to keep dirt and water out of them whenever possible.Roller skate bearings are a vital part of every roller skate wheel. These little cylinders are what make your wheels turn with less effort on your part. Mostly they’re considered maintenance-free, but they do need to be kept dry and clean. That goes especially for anyone who skates outdoors. Bearings that aren’t enclosed will need to be lubricated occasionally, which can be done by removing the wheel(s), removing the bearings (carefully, since bearings can be dented, which will negatively affect your skating), wiping the bearings with a cloth (use a Q-tip to get into tight places), adding a bit of bearing lubricant, and then reinstalling everything.

It’s more likely, though, that you have enclosed bearings. In theory, you don’t have to do anything with them, but it is possible for dirt or water to squeeze through the seal and cause the bearings—which are usually metal—to jam up or rust. In that case, you have a serious problem, which is why you want to check up on them from time to time.

Then Do It All Again!

Yes, it’s really, really boring to do all of this. But proper roller skate maintenance is important, not only for increasing the life of your roller skates but for improving safety and enhancing your overall roller skating experience. It’s also much cheaper than buying an entirely new set of skates just because the wheels are worn down. So play some of your favorite music or catch up on a favorite TV show while you work, take good care of your roller skates, and enjoy roller skating to its fullest!