The Ultimate Longboard Bearing Guide

The Ultimate Longboard Bearing Guide

To get rolling, you're going to need some skateboard bearings. These little parts are the most misunderstood part of the set up. Uncover the most common misconceptions about your boards little balls.
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  • Zealous Longboard Bearings
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    Dragon BUILT
  • Fireball Dragon BUILT Bearings
  • Why it's rad: Labyrinth seals and grease lube means these bearings are lasting forever and a half.
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    Bones Reds + Tool
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To start learning about longboard bearings, scope this amazing video from Rat Vision.

Skateboard and longboard bearings are built using five different parts. There are variations between these parts, which you can optimize for your specific application. Bearing balls, ball retainers, and closures (seals and shields) can all change slightly. The purpose for each part can help when choosing the right set based on price, speed, durability, and serviceability. Knowing the different parts involved can assist you in making a more informed decision when selecting your first or next set of bearings.

Line of Skateboard Bearing Parts
Skateboard Bearing Parts

Skateboard Bearing Parts

- Seven or Six Balls (made from steel, titanium, or ceramic) - One Or Two Closures (aka shields) - Outer Ring (aka outer race) - Inner Ring (aka inner race) - Ball Retainer/Cage (aka bearing crown)

Just about every bearing out there has a slight variation from the next. However, with the exception of ceramic and/or six balls, these variations do not drastically affect the price. Price is usually determined by brand name, the quality of material, and manufacturing.

Bearing Parts Exploded
Exploded view of bearing parts

What's the ABEC Rating?

ABEC Ratings are a measure of tolerance. The governing body that sets forth bearing standards is called the Annular Bearing Engineering Committee, or ABEC (pronounced A-Bek). Tolerance is how precisely the components of the bearing fit together. A more precise fit between bearing parts makes for a more smooth and efficient bearing.

Please note that just because a bearing has a higher ABEC Rating does not mean it is faster. ABEC ratings are just one feature of a bearing. Other factors such as the strength of the components, the lubricants used, and the load on the bearing all play a role in determining how fast the bearing can go.

To imagine this, think of a bearing rated the coveted ABEC 9. If this bearing carries a load of a 500 pound skater, it will perform differently than when loaded with a 100 pound skater. It will also perform differently with no skater at all.

The ABEC rating tells us only one small aspect about the bearings performance.

Additionally, if this ABEC 9 bearing is made from steel it will perform differently than if made from plastic. The ABEC rating tells us only one small aspect about the bearings performance.

ABEC Ratings were designed for industrial applications where bearings are being used in controlled environments. The actual measurements for ABEC tolerances are listed below. For scale, a human hair is roughly 0.180086mm thick.

  • ABEC 1: 0.0075 mm (0.000295")
  • ABEC 3: 0.0050 mm (0.000197")
  • ABEC 5: 0.0035 mm (0.000138")
  • ABEC 7: 0.0025 mm (0.000098")
  • ABEC 9: 0.0012 mm (0.000047")

So What Does This Mean for Skateboarding?

One little tiny piece of dirt in your bearing, in the most technical sense, will completely void the ABEC Rating. When buying a bearing for a skateboard, they should be purchased with the knowledge that they degrade immediately when the bearing is placed in the harsh skateboarding environment. Spending 2-4 times as much money for the ABEC 9 means you're spending cash on something that will almost immediately become void.

This being said, we are not telling you to go buy ABEC 1s. Higher ABEC Rated bearings usually use better quality of materials and lubes. These kinds of things matter a lot for how the bearing will perform over time in the environment of skateboarding.

Higher ABECs often mean a better bearing because they also use better lubes, materials, etc. However, do not make the mistake that it is better because of the ABEC Rating alone. An ABEC 9 from Company X could be completely different than an ABEC 9 from Company Z.

It is also super common for bearing companies to lie about ABEC ratings. Getting the actual bearing tested is very expensive. The average skater won't do it. Hence, scummy companies just lie and get away with it.

Skate Rated

The term "Skate Rated" came from Bones Bearings in an effort to differentiate from the often misleading ABEC scale. Most top of the line bearing companies know that the ABEC scale is just one criteria in bearing selection and strive to get away from it.

Bones Reds Bearings are famously "Skate Rated"
Bones Reds Bearings are famously "Skate Rated"

This is to avoid comparing their brand on par with another brand of equal ABEC. Top companies do things to their bearings to make them more ideal for skateboarding environments and this cannot be shown in an ABEC Rating.

Types of Lubricant

Bearings can come pre-lubricated with one of two types of lube: oil or grease. There are pros and cons of each.

Oil - This is the most common type of lubricant and will generally be the fastest of the two. It will be fairly long lasting, but does tend to leak out of the seals. Beginners typically like oiled bearings best because they give the best hand spin, which can be satisfying and feel like your skateboard will be fast and have a smooth ride. But always remember that hand spin does not equate to speed because no weight is on the bearing!

Notable companies that use oil:

Grease - Grease is the second most common type of lubricant and by far the longest lasting. Grease tends to stay inside of the bearing better than oil, which greatly increases it’s life. However, grease has more resistance than oil, so typically it has a slower hand spin than oil. But we know that doesn’t matter. Zealous in particular use a special nanoceramic grease meant to increase bearing life and speed.

Notable companies that use grease:

Balls - Ceramic vs. Steel

Row, row, row your balls, gently down the inner race... I am going to pretend I didn't just say that.

The balls are the part of the bearing that do the rolling audible gasp!. Because of this, they are arguably the most important piece of the bearing. Furthermore, balls land center stage for the hottest debate in longboard bearings: Ceramic or Steel?

It is believed that ceramic balls are superior to the standard steel balls because they are stronger and smoother. Ceramic balls are significantly more expensive than steel balls, but this does not directly translate to a higher quality product.

Steel and Ceramic Ball Bearings Side by Side
Steel and ceramic ball bearings side by side

Ceramics Explained

There are 3 commonly used ceramics in ball bearings:

  1. Silicon Nitride (Si3N4)
  2. Zirconium Dioxide (ZrO2)
  3. Silicon Carbide (SiC)

Silicon Nitride ceramic is the hardest of the three and most often used in ceramic hybrid bearings. It's important to keep in mind that "ceramic" only refers to the balls. The races remain chrome steel or stainless steel, hence the term hybrid.

Ceramic Bearings and Races

Since only the balls within the bearing are ceramic, the outer and inner races are still steel. While the ceramic balls might be "harder" and "invincible against rust", the steel races can get rusted and pitted. This will greatly affect the feel and performance of the bearing. Race surfaces come in direct contact with the ceramic balls, degrading what higher qualities the ceramic balls may have offered.

The one advantage ceramic has over steel is resistance to corrosion, meaning rust. But remember ceramic skateboard bearings are hybrids; therefore the inner and outer races are still susceptible to corrosion.

Rust can still form on the inner and outer races of ceramic skateboard bearings.
Rust can still form on the inner and outer races of ceramic bearings.

It is possible to buy a full ceramic bearing at a price comparable to a skateboard brand hybrid ceramic bearing, but it will almost certainly come without seals. To get a fully sealed ceramic bearing, it will cost $200+ for 1 set of 8 bearings. You could get 10 sets of quality steel for that price!

Applications exist that specifically require full ceramic bearings, but the cost to use them in a skateboard just doesn't make sense. We recommend saving your wallet and going with quality steel bearings 9 times out of 10.

The only time we recommend going with ceramics is in a racing situation or if you just want high quality, regardless of the cost.

Other Types of Higher Priced Longboard Bearings

There are a few other types of longboard bearings worth mentioning. These include Bones Super Swiss 6 and other 6 ball bearings that are typically more expensive (especially any of the Swiss bearings). This category of bearings only have 6 balls instead of 7. This is supposed to allow for fast acceleration and high speed. These are a pro longboard bearing, but in our experience, we have not noticed a big enough difference to justify the cost.

Another common theme in bearings is having a higher end version, such as Bones Super Reds. These are made from better steel and more care is taken during the machining process. While we love Super Reds, it is hard to tell if the cost justifies the upgrade.

Steels Explained

Steel is ductile and has elasticity that enables it to retain its original shape after loads are applied. It is also comparatively inexpensive with quality bearings going for $15-$25 per set.

The components in a steel bearing come polished smooth to minimize friction. Steel requires a lubricant to help the parts move smoothly under load and protect it from corrosion (rust).

There are some bearings that are made from stainless steel, but this is quite rare due to the high cost. If a bearing is low priced and claimed to be stainless steel, I would be suspicious if this is true. Most bearings are made from chrome steel.

Closures (Rubber Seals vs Metal Shields)

Bearing closures are like walls that protect the bearing from outside debris and help keep lubricants inside the bearing. Typically skateboard bearings come with one closure, which is either a bunna rubber seal (aka rubber shield) or metal shield. In rare occurrences plastic shields could also be used in the same way as metal shields.

There are 2 types of metal shields– 1) pressed in non-removable metal shields and 2) removable metal shields held in with a C-ring. Pressed in shields do not allow for easy, if any, bearing maintenance.

Bearing Seals Detail
Bearing Seals Detail

Bunna rubber seals are considered a better choice for sealing lubricants in the bearing and for not allowing contaminants, like dirt and moisture, to enter the bearing.

There are three types of rubber seals: light contact, non-contact, and labyrinth. Located on the inside edge of the bearing seal is a thin flap of rubber. This flap is either lightly touching or not touching the inner ring of the bearing. These are known as "light contact rubber seals" or "non-contact rubber seals" respectively. Light contact rubber seals do a better job at protecting the bearing and keeping lubricant in. This light contact does not create any noticeable reduction in speed while skateboarding.

The third type of seal (and our favorite) is the labyrinth seal. This seal sits in a groove machined into the inner race and approximately doubles the distance required for dirt/lube to travel. This translates into a much longer bearing life. The most only bearing company that offers this across their entire line is Fireball Dragon Bearings.

Removing Seals and Shields

While we prefer to spend the $20 to just get a new set, cleaning is a common bearing activity skaters can enjoy. To get a deep clean, you will have to remove the seals and crowns.

While the bearings might look cool, we do not recommend following the trend that permanently removes seals and shields. No seals means no keeping dirt out and lube in.

Metal shields and rubber seals dramatically increase bearing life and extend optimum performance. Once a bearing is exposed, its useful life will soon come to an end. So why are the majority of bearings sold with only one shield or seal? Usually price. Higher quality bearings generally come with two shields.

One shield just can't do quite as well as two. It leaves an opening on the side of each bearing that faces the inside of the skateboard wheel assembly. The wheel itself does help shield the bearing components, but there is very small space between the skateboard truck axle and the bearings. This space can allow contaminants to enter inside the wheel assembly. Once inside the wheel assembly, if bearing seals are not there to protect the bearings, contaminants will foul the bearings. This also means light skateboard lubricants like oil can spill onto the truck axle.

We should also note that a minimal amount of contaminants and lubricant can get into or out of a skate bearing between a shield or seal and the inner ring. Bones and Fireball Dragon Bearings addressed this with Labyrinth shielded bearings. However, even this solution cannot keep every piece of dirt out. Get used to it kids, skateboarding is a dirty business.

Wrapping up this section, you better know by now that bearing seals and shields are an important feature. We recommend riding bearings with two closures to ensure a longer bearing life, less maintenance, and higher performance.

Seal and Shield Codes

Below is a guide to inform you of the different codes seen on shields and seals. These codes represent the type of closure and the quantity (1 or 2).

Skateboard Bearing Closure Types
Skateboard Bearing Closure Types

Inner and Outer Races

The inner and outer races (aka inner and outer rings) are the tracks on which the balls roll on. These are almost always made out of steel. Races are kept together by the balls themselves, so it is important to note that bearings are not particularly well suited for side loads. When a side load is placed on the bearing, the inner and outer races want to separate. This creates pressures that can damage your balls and races. To combat this to some degree, we always recommend using bearing spacers and washers.

Why Wheels Can Wobble

Why don't bearings and axles fit tightly together? It is because manufacturers of skateboard trucks and manufacturers of skate bearings don't use exact standards of precise measurement to create a tight fit. And why not? It's so there is no difficulty putting one company's bearings on another company's axles. The typical fit is relatively loose. Yep, this is kinda janky, but it is the best option for how many different choices out there. Again, this is why bearing spacers are always recommended.

Ball Retainers

Ball retainers are used to space out the balls evenly around the raceway. Nylon ball retainers can offer lower coefficient of friction than steel or brass retainers. Nylon retainers are better suited for speed, but are not as durable as metal retainers, which are better suited for the abuse brought on by street skating.

Pictured below are various types of ball retainers. The gold and silver in the top middle and top right are often called "cages" and usually cannot be removed. The other four pictured are often called "crowns" and can be removed easily.

Skateboard Bearing Retainers (aka Cages or Crowns)
Skateboard Bearing Retainers (aka Cages or Crowns)

Is it a Bearing Seal or a Ball Retainer?

The image below is to help with any confusion between a rubber seal and a ball retainer or cage. Sometimes people try to remove the ball retainer when cleaning. Removing the bearing ball retainer is helpful, but unnecessary. Only the seal or shields has to be removed for maintenance.

Note that if you do remove the retainer, the balls could fall out of the inner/outer race. Don't lose them!

Ball Bearing Seal and Ball Bearing Retainer
Ball Bearing Seal and Ball Bearing Retainer

Questions? Join the discussion and throw a comment below!

Frequently Asked Questions

There isn't a perfect skateboard bearing that is the "best" for everything. Some people will prefer cost over high quality, others built-in style over traditional.

To get the perfect bearing for you, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is my budget?
  2. Do I want the built in style?
  3. Do I prefer speed or longevity?

Knowing the answers to these three questions will help you make an educated decision about the best bearing for you.

Nope! Every bearing we have ever sold new has come pre-lubricated out of the box. Don't add more lube, you can start skating right away!

The first thing to note is that hand spin does not equal a fast longboard. The bearings must have weight added to them to really understand how fast the bearings are. Fireball Supply Co. wrote a great article about that here.

There are some ways to make sure your bearings are performing at their best though.

  1. Use bearing spacers or built in style bearings.
  2. Do not over tighten your axle nuts. There should not be play, but they should also not be overly snug.
  3. If the bearings make noise, replace them.
  4. Add 1-2 drops of lubricant.
  5. Harsh truth: Improve your skating ability. I know it sounds harsh, but many a time we have seen lack of speed from lack of a strong push.

Yes, almost always skateboards and longboards can use the exact same bearings.

Usually, but not always. Please check your current bearing seals for a "608" number. 608 is the size code for skateboard bearings.

It becomes a bit more complicated when comparing spacers. There is only one skateboard spacer size but several roller skate spacer sizes.

We have a video just for this! Please be sure to follow carefully. Out of all the parts on your skateboard, the bearings are the most precise and delicate.

We do not recommend using WD-40 to clean or lubricate bearings. The spray will help remove the dirt, rust, and debris from contaminated bearings. However, WD-40 is very thin with very low viscosity. This means it will leak out of the bearings very easily.

Leaking lube means no lube which means damaged bearings. Use something with higher viscosity such as Bones Speed Cream or Oust Met-Ol.

If you do use WD-40 to clean bearings, we recommend washing it off with another cleaner (such as Citrus Cleaner) after so the proper lubricant can get a good adhesion to the bearing parts.

Just use another cleaner to begin with. It's easier.

Skateboards, and most roller skates / inline skates, use size 608 bearings. These measure 22mm (outer diameter) x 7mm (width) x 8mm (inner diameter/axle).

See our article on cleaning skateboard bearings.

The best way to clean skateboard bearings is with a specific cleaner tool. Check out the models from Bones and Oust.

Generally though, we recommend just buying new bearings and skipping the cleaning. By the time bearings need to be cleaned, the metal inside is usually damaged to the point that no amount of cleaning will fix them.

The best way to safely install or remove skateboard bearings from wheels is to use the truck axle as the point of leverage and pry the bearings out.

Check out the video below. While it is about spacers/speed rings install, it shows how to do this pry out method.

Each skateboard wheel takes 2 bearings, so you will need 8 bearings for 4 wheels.

Bearings are almost always sold in packs of 8, so you only have to purchase 1 pack for a skateboard.

Often times, yes! Because skateboard bearings are so common, lots of fidget spinners also use the same 608 bearing size as skateboards.

Typically electric skateboards take most of the same bearings as longboards. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. For example, Boosted Boards take 6 regular skateboard bearings (size 608) and 2 special larger bearings. Be sure to check with your electric skateboard manufacturer for which types of ball bearings you need.

Typically longboard bearings will also work in scooter wheels. But you will have to check with your specific brand. Standard longboard bearings are sized 608. We do recommend skateboarding over scootering 😉

Amazon sells great brands just like any other retailer. However, you will want to be careful of fakes and low grade brands. When buying a well known brand, such as Bones, Fireball Dragon, or Zealous you will want to check and make sure the Amazon Seller is an authorized dealer.

For brands that are nearly 100% on Amazon, such as Heady Shake or Yellow Jacket, fake bearings are not as much of an issue.

Stoked Ride Shop may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

The opinions and views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Stoked Ride Shop. The author makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and specifically disclaims any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. The author shall not be liable for any damages, including, but not limited to, direct, indirect, incidental, punitive, special, consequential, or exemplary damages, even if Stoked Ride Shop has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Ride at your own risk and within your own limits.

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