Your wheels are an incredibly important part of your skating experience. They are literally what move you and make your roller skates more than just funny-looking footwear. But a lot of people who skate don’t know what kind of wheel they have or how to choose one better suited to their needs.
In this post, we’ll be showing you what to look for depending on your skating habits and preferences. So whether you like to skate indoors or outdoors, pay attention! We have a little something for everyone this time around.
What Is Your Surface?
What surface you plan to skate on most often does matter. This is because different surfaces call for different wheel hardnesses (wheel durometer). If you’re a more experienced skater or skating at a rink, which is regularly maintained for the express purpose of being skated on, you may prefer to choose harder wheels that will last longer.
On the other hand, if you’re a new skater or generally skating on slick or rough outdoor surfaces, you’ll probably find you prefer softer wheels. They’re slower and they’ll wear down faster than hard wheels, but they’ll absorb shocks from obstacles much better.
For roller skates, wheel durometer generally ranges in hardness from 78A (soft) to 103A (very hard).
What Is Your Plan?
What you’re planning to do with your skates matters, because that will dictate what diameter your wheels should be for the best performance. Weight, speed, acceleration, and stability are all going to be affected by your wheels’ diameter. Smaller-diameter wheels are superior when it comes to acceleration, stability, and weight. Larger-diameter wheels are superior when it comes to top speed and how long you roll.
What that means is that if you want to skate outdoors or especially if you want to endurance skate, you may want wheels with a larger diameter (65 millimeters or more); meanwhile, you can use wheels with a smaller diameter (less than 65 millimeters) for pretty much everything else, including regular speed skating.
Wheels Have Lips (But Don’t Kiss Them)
The lips of a wheel are on either side, where the wheel stops making contact with the skating surface. Lips are considered either “square” or “round.” Square lips are going to offer more traction but less give; round lips will have the opposite.
Most wheels are going to fall somewhere in between, but what kind of skating you want to do will affect what’s best. Rounded lips will be best for outdoor cruising, while square lips are going to be better for something like artistic skating.
Getting in Touch
The width, or “profile,” of a wheel is the total size when measured from one face to the other. But depending on the kind of lips you have, the contact patch—the part of the wheel that actually touches the ground—may be narrower.
In general, you’ll have more stability and traction with a wider contact patch. A narrower patch will be less stable but will be better for making quick movements. Common contact patch widths range from 31 millimeters to 44 millimeters, with 38 millimeters being a good choice for skaters of all experience levels.
Finding the Right Core
The inner part of a wheel where the bearings go is called the hub or “core.” The three major types of core are nylon, aluminum, and hollow.
Nylon cores are often spoked in appearance. They’re going to be the most affordable, lighter, and not as rigid. But they also mean a slower ride, because they don’t do a good job keeping the wheels round and so don’t transfer power as well as harder cores.
Hollow cores are a middle ground. They’re relatively light, but offer good acceleration and a firmer core that allows for a nice long roll.
Aluminum cores are the apex core. They’re the strongest, most rigid core you can get. They’re also the heaviest most costly. Being so stiff means they’ll roll longer and faster with less effort because they don’t deform the way the nylon ones will.
As you might expect, the weight of a wheel corresponds to its size: smaller wheels are lighter and larger wheels are heavier. This will, then, make your skates lighter or heavier as well. But your weight matters too.
If you’re of an average weight—say, over one hundred pounds but under two hundred—then you can probably expect whatever wheels and cores you get to perform normally. For someone lighter, any core may be good enough, but a softer wheel might improve things. Someone heavier will want to consider going the opposite direction and getting slightly harder wheels and choosing a more rigid core.
After all of that, there are also hybrid wheels. Hybrid wheels are called such because they can be used both indoors and outdoors on slick or smooth concrete. They’re made of an outdoor urethane formula—which means they’re soft and handle obstacles well—in a shape normally used for indoor wheels, which typically are wider and more squared, so they offer good traction.
If you’re unsure of what skating surface you like most or are lazy about cleaning, hybrids might be the best of both worlds. They need only a quick examination for damage and debris plus a wipedown when going from one surface to another.
What Else Is There?
Actually, there is something you’ll want to consider, especially if your skate of choice is rollerblades. This item is a must-have for hardcore skaters, but even for casual skaters they’re cheap and a worthy investment. They’re called “wheel covers” or “wheel bags” (to make it worse, other items go by the same name), and their entire purpose is to make your life simpler by providing some protection to your wheels and especially your bearings. That way, your maintenance duties are a little less involved because there isn’t so much dirt and moisture getting into your bearings every time you go out.
The most common type is shaped nylon or polyester fabric with an elastic strip at the top. You pull one part over the wheels and wheel frame on one end, then pull the other part over the wheels and frame on the other end. Simple and quick. This type is normally shown on and designed for rollerblades, but its flexibility means that some may also fit over roller skates. A slightly more expensive and rollerblade-only variety is made of stiffened polyester and zips over the wheels.
In general, neither type is designed to accommodate a brake pad, so unless you skate without one you’ll have to remove the brake pad to make everything fit.
Of course, this isn’t an exact thing. What wheels will work best for you may well depend more on your age, weight, speed preference, and what kind of ride you want than what’s considered “normal” by all the experts out there. But now that you understand what all the different numbers mean, you can start selecting your own roller skate wheels with confidence. As you keep skating you’ll buy more wheels and figure out what your preferences are while indoors, outdoors, or both.