What is the Best Longboard Wheel? Hint: There Isn't One
Words by Thomas D'Anieri
As a grom, this is a common question. I admit, I even asked it myself.
Finding an answer seemed simple as everyone raves about certain wheels and hates on others. If you can characterize some as bad or good, why can’t you characterize some as worst or best?
Well, the fact of the matter is that it is all personal preference.
Okay, so I’ve disappointed you all. While unfortunately I can’t prescribe just one wheel as being the best one for your sliding needs, there are certain characteristics of a wheel that do make it better for different kinds of sliding
Before we get started, an important thing I want to establish in this article is that there are exceptions for each rule. We've done our best to make this simple, but with all the wheels out there today, there are a few outliers.
That being said, let’s go through the 7 simple wheel characteristics so you can decide which set is best for you.
Wheel hardness is measured on the Shore A durometer scale. All you really need to know is that in general, harder=slidier, softer=grippier. Softer wheels will have a more plush feel when riding, while harder ones will feel rougher.
So why don’t I skate 100a wheels for sliding, and 70a wheels for DH? The softer a wheel is, the slower it is. Anything under 75a is going to feel really, really slow, while anything higher than 88a is going to feel like riding on rocks and will be very hard to control when sliding. For a wheel meant primarily for sliding/cruising, 78a-85a is a good range to be in.
The size of the wheel (measured in mm) also affects the speed. Obviously you want a fast wheel that also accelerates well. A larger wheel will overall be faster, but it will accelerate more slowly because it is heavier. This is not ideal for doing technical slides with spins and combos. Large wheels are also not ideal for a small slide hill where you need to gather speed quickly.
Furthermore, setting up for a slide involves a deep carve and hard lean to initiate the slide. A bigger wheel might cause wheelbite. I recommend a wheel between 60mm - 70mm for sliding, 70mm - 80mm for cruising, and 75mm - 85mm for downhill.
3) Contact Patch
Contact patch is one of the most important specifications in determining how much grip a wheel will have. The thinner the contact patch, the more slippery the wheel will be because the surface area that the rider must kick out is smaller.
Contact patch width is more important than overall width because a lot of super slippery wheels might have big, beefy, round lips that make it a lot wider while the contact patch remains small.
A square lipped wheel could have a contact patch that equals it’s width, making the contact patch greater than that of a round lipped wheel, but the width smaller. 25mm - 40mm is a good sized contact patch for most kinds of slide based riding. Go a bit bigger for more grip.
There are also two types of contact patch surfaces: sand stone ground and "mold released" or just not sand stone ground. The sand stone grinding process breaks in the wheels, allowing for easy slides immediately.
4) Lip Profile
The lip profile of a wheel is what the shape of the wheel edges look like. In general, the more rounded a wheel’s lips are, the easier they are to slide. The diagram below pictures the most four common wheel lip profiles.
There are the square and sharp lips (characteristic of DH wheels) and rounded lips as shown above. There is also beveled lips of varying chamfers and “flat” lips (such as those in Phat Deanz No Namez).
Flat lips are different from square lips in that most of the wheel is at a right angle to the contact patch. On downhill wheels, only the first few millimeters are square so that they can flex and grip more. A full flat lip does not flex, making it more slippery.
One exception is the Landyachtz Micro Monster Hawgs. These are sharp-lipped wheels, but due to their small contact patch as mentioned above, they slide quite readily. On the other end of the exception spectrum is the KM FSU Hawgs and Metro Spyders. They have rounded lips, but are grippy for a slide wheel. Both are geared more towards fast freeride. If you’re mostly just looking to slide, stick to more rounded lips.
5) Core Placement
The closer the core is to the inside lip, the more slippery it will be. This is because the weight of the rider is being distributed to a smaller part of the wheel. Just like with contact patch, there is a smaller area that needs to be pushed out, making it easier to slide.
So why aren’t all freeride wheels sideset? Centerset wheels, and some offset wheels, can be flipped throughout their life so that they wear down more evenly. This extends the life of the wheel.
Sideset wheels can’t be flipped. To make things worse, they wear the most around the inside of the wheel (where the weight of the rider is distributed most). This can create nasty, bendy, sharp lips that don’t feel too great when sliding.
6) Core Type
There are a lot of different core types being used nowadays in skating. In the past, there were basically three types: the triple-round AEND core (found on wheels such as Abec 11 Freerides and Sector 9 Butterballs) and the rollerskate core found on many mids (What's a mid?). Rollerskate cores are more notably in wheels such as Krypto Route 70s. There is also the general 3-cut core found on Orangatang Stimulus, Bustin Bocas, and other older wheels.
However, over the past few years, the market has been flooded with all kinds of new, innovative cores. Orangatang has popularized the spoke core found first in its Baluts. Then Otang came out with its Morongas, as well as the big, perforated core found in its Kegels.
Phat Deanz Rag Dollz is a wheel also with a solid exposed core. Rainskates have a nylon core. These Wheels came out with their energy core. Rad Wheels produced its Crown Core. Landyachtz put a vented core into its Biggie Hawgs this year… the list goes on and on and on.
Technically, the more supportive a core is, the more slide the wheel will have because its lips won’t deform into the road as much, allowing it to break free more easily.
Look for wheels with larger cores if you want a wheel that you can trust for sliding. Be careful though because many downhill wheels are still manufactured with these bigger cores because they are lighter and faster.
Learn more about wheel cores.
7) Urethane Formulas
By far the most important (and most tricky) aspect of a wheel’s aptitude for sliding is the urethane formula it’s made out of. How does a sharp-lipped, moderately sized, 78a wheel like the Remember Hoot become one of the most slippery wheels on the market?
How are 80a Cloud Ride Ozones with their large core, round lips and small contact patch one of the grippiest slide wheels out there? The answer is in the urethane. This is tricky because it means you can’t always tell from specs what a wheel is going to be like.
However, I’m here to give you some good examples of different feeling wheels so you can listen and read reviews intelligently. From there, you can pick a wheel feel that suits you.
Ahhh the nice, smooth feeling of straight butter gliding through the pavement and leaving thick thane lines behind it. What better example for this than the Sector 9 Butterball? S9 Butterballs define buttery and are a really fun, smooth wheel that is right in the middle in terms of slipperiness for a freeride wheel.
Other wheels such as Abec 11 Flashbacks, 77a Bustin 5-0s, Phat Deanz Rag Dollz, 80a Seismic Cry Babies, and Blood Orange Morgans are super buttery wheels. The downside to these guys is that they will wear out quickly and are prone to flatspotting if you’re just learning.
There isn’t a huge difference between buttery and chalky, but I tend to think of chalkier wheels as wheels that are more slippery and generally lower quality urethane. This thane digs into the pavement more and you can feel scraping across the pavement like chalk, as opposed to slipping through the pavement like butter.
Sector 9 also takes the cake on this one with their Topshelf urethane. Rayne Envys, Volante Checkers, and Polka Dots are really chalky wheels as well. These will also wear pretty quickly, but their slippery-ness makes them a bit less prone to flatspotting. Bonus: They will leave huge thane lines.
This one’s tougher to describe. It feels like the wheels are sliding over some thin layer of grease on the ground. It’s more slidey than chalky, but really controllable. It gives a laid back feel to each slide. The Grease Man himself, Liam Morgan, produced Volante Morgan’s back when he rode for Volante and these were what defined grease for me. Other notable grease wheels include Cult Classics, Satori Goo Balls, and Landyachtz Mini Monster Hawgs.
Icy has a negative connotation, but for clarity I didn’t want to use the words slidey or slippery because I’m trying to use those to describe each sort of wheel feel. I’m really just talking about a wheel that is insanely slippery. And, quite honestly, they are tons of fun. icy wheels are harder to control, but not too bad once you get used to them.
Icy wheels break out easily, slide far, and last a long time. Cadillac Swingers, Remember Pee Wees, and Cult Creators are all very slippery wheels. How come they are not the answer to “what’s the best slide wheel”?
For one, if you are just starting out and you learn to slide on these, you are going to have serious trouble when you move to other wheels. It’s best to start on a more buttery wheel and gain experience with the way sliding feels. Once that’s on lock, the ease that comes with icy wheels is much more fun and easy to control.
Secondly, icy wheels really struggle with gripping corners and are not good for technical runs when you need to kill speed to make a turn. icy wheels just keep sliding and you can find yourself sliding more than you want while also not shaving speed to make a corner.
Because of their limited capabilities, your skating is limited largely to just freeriding. On other more “do-it-all wheels”, you can grow as a skater in all aspects of the sport. Be careful with ice, they’re a double-edged sword.
Grippy wheels are for those who want to hang tighter to the road. One of the most grippy urethanes out there is the Reflex thane from Abec 11. The most notable wheels in this urethane are the Centrax, BigZig, and ZigZag. Note that these also come in the less grippy "classic urethane" as well. If you want grip though, go with Reflex urethane.
76a Boss Hawgs, 80a Kilmers, and RAD Releases are grippy for freeride wheels. All of these wheels, however, are super fast and completely viable for you to use in a downhill setting after you leave the freeride spot. Grippy wheels are often made of high quality urethane that wears slowly and remain predictable with every slide. The grab also gives the wheels a defined hook up and kick out.
These are great for technical runs, sliding fast, and anyone who likes the confidence they can provide. Grip freeride wheels kick out and lock back in when you want them to.
So there you have it, the specifications of a wheel that make it slip or grip, ride hard or smooth, fast or slow. It's our goal that this article gives you a complete understanding of what makes a wheel the best for each discipline.
Through these specs, you can guess whether or not a wheel is geared towards how you want to ride. But be warned! Nothing is as telling as personal experience with a wheel, so look through our extensive reviews. If there’s anything you don’t see, let us know, we just might review it!