Choosing Wheels For Your Skateboard
Experienced skaters have definite preferences and opinions of what works best for their personal needs and style when it comes to wheels, but beginners often don’t know where to start when it comes time to buy that first set of replacement wheels for their deck.
When it comes to wheels, the four most important factors to consider are diameter, durometer, width / contact patch / shape, and style.
Diameter is the diameter of the wheel, and diameter has a relationship to truck height. A certain minimum clearance is required between the deck and the wheel to ensure the wheels keep rolling smoothly and don’t accidentally, suddenly catch on the deck. That’s known as “wheel bite”, and it instantly stops the skateboard and throws the rider.
Small diameter wheels are best suited for use with a low to mid height truck. These wheels roll more slowly and are less forgiving on uneven surfaces, compared to a larger wheel. A small diameter wheel is typically the preferred choice for skaters who want to do tricks or spend a lot of time in skate parks, where surfaces are reliably smooth and control is crucial. The most common range of sizes you’ll find in small diameter wheels is 50-53mm.
Large diameter wheels need a high height truck, and the largest ones may even call for installing riser pads to keep that necessary clearance between the wheels and the deck. Large diameter wheels are faster and also handle rough surfaces better, so these are the ones to choose for street riding and cruiser decks. The most common range in use for large diameter wheels is 60-75mm, but even larger cruiser wheels with diameters in the 90-99mm range are gaining in popularity. For an electric cruiser, wheels in the 90-99mm range are a necessity due to the speed factor.
If you want a wheel that will work for both park riding and street cruising, your best bet is to go with a wheel whose diameter is between the two ends of the spectrum, choose a mid-height truck, and install riser pads as needed to prevent wheel bite. A mid-diameter wheel ranges from 54-59mm.
Durometer is a measure of the wheel’s hardness. A harder wheel is less grippy, making it better suited to technical and trick riding where wheel slides are commonly performed. A softer, grippier wheel is the one to choose for cruising and carving, where maintaining constant, firm contact with the ground is important.
Durometer is most commonly measured on the “a” scale, graded on a range from 73a to 101a. The hardest wheels are measured on the “b” scale, where the range starts 20 points lower than the “a” scale to extend the upper limit by 20 points. The most commonly used “b” scale wheels are rated 83b or 84b.
Width / Contact Patch / Shape
If you hold a skateboard wheel up to your face like it’s rolling towards your eye, you can see its shape: the outline, or silhouette of the wheel. You can also see its width, and the width of its “contact patch”: the flat portion of the wheel that actually makes contact with the ground when riding.
Most skateboard wheels have a rounded shape, like a doughnut or innertube. In a rounded wheel the width of the contact patch will be smaller than the overall wheel width. Wheels that aren’t rounded are known as “square” because they look square when viewed from the front, and will have a contact patch width to match the width of the wheel.
A wider contact patch offers more grip and stability and reduces friction by spreading the rider’s weight across a larger surface area, so this type of wheel is best suited to cruising and carving. A narrower contact patch provides more slide and makes it easier to do tricks that involve pivoting movements.
Style encompasses the angles and graphics on the face of the wheel, as well as color and opacity of the wheel’s material. Some wheels are beveled inward as you move from the outer edge toward the center, in order to protect the artwork printed on the side from damage during use. Some wheels are made of clear polyurethane, and others are made of opaque polyurethane. Opaque wheels may have streaks or chunks of contrasting color poured into them, and some glow in the dark.
Ultimately, wheel style comes down to personal preference and how you want your skateboard to look.
- Outdoors Staff