Finding Your Bearings (& ABEC Ratings)

bearings You got a lotta balls... alright, too much?  Too easy?  i'll call a mulligan and start over.

Bearings can be one of the more difficult decisions you make when picking out a set-up.  Decks, wheels, trucks - people get excited picking these out but the bearing section is a common speed bump in the shop.  i regularly get lots of questions about which ones to choose so i figured i'd do a post about it.  i'm always happy to wax intellectual about bearings and if you're lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) i'll show you my bearing tattoo.

Back when i started skating in the pre-Politically Correct  80's we chose bearings by nationality.  The Swiss, ever known for their impressive precision, were (and still are) considered the best. Thanks to MacGyver we all had Swiss Army Knives in our pockets and the cute older girls had lines of Swatches up their arm so hey, they Swiss had to know something about something.  There were always stories of a kid who knew a kid who had Swiss bearings but none of us could pull the money together to get a pair.

Most of us just skated German.  Affordable and dependable they were the go to bearing.  If you were really hard up you could get a pair of Chinese but you never would admit it to your friends.  Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do to get out there.  Their quality was infamous though.

Then companies started marketing using ABEC ratings. The Annular Bearing Engineers Committee standards have long been used for bearing allowances in machinery ranging from 1 to 9.  The higher the number the more precise the allowances.

This rating system is intended for machines hitting RPM's that none of us skateboarders will ever come even remotely close to.  Unless, of course, Tony Hawk is pulling you in his Pizza Hut delivery truck on the highway so that you can save your girlfriend (3:43 minutes in).

For the rest of us, my advice is just get what you can afford.  Many people who have been skating for at least a little while can tell the difference between a $60 Swiss Bones and an ABEC 3 but i'd challenge most people who think they can feel the difference between a 7 and a 9.  If you have had luck with a brand then keep with it.  If you are going to take them apart once a month to clean and oil, get some Swiss and they will last forever.  If you're going to roll through puddles go super cheap.

Maybe you can get a bit more speed and flow by removing the shields but here in New England there is always so much sand and dirt around from the long winters i find that open bearings just get too gunked-up too quickly (to use the technical terminology).  If you buy a set-up from me i put in the spacers but for my own personal boards i get rid of those things right away, OG style.  Ultimately it comes down to the fact that when i get new wheels i like to go with new bearings as well.  If i had expensive bearings in my old wheels i'd feel guilty about giving up on them, if they are affordable i can just enjoy the new set.

Skateboarding is supposed to be fun so if you like how a set comes in a neat tin or coffin then go for it.  i really dig the Toy Machine Pez-like bearing dispenser.

...and the old bearings? Pop them apart, keep the outers, give 'em a cleaning with some polish or toothpaste and you've got a ring to give to the special lady of your choice.