ABEC Rating & Bearing Materials

The ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineering Committee) Rating is a system intended to measure physical limits and manufacturing tolerances in fast spinning machinery, the higher the ABEC rating, the tighter the tolerances and greater capabilities for speed it has.

This doesn’t mean that bigger = better in terms of skateboarding, the speeds we’re talking about with ABEC ratings are in the range of 20-30000rpm, which unless you’re going more than 205km/h (the current world record for downhill upright high speed on a ‘skateboard’ is 146.73km/h) the tighter tolerances of ABEC 7 & above aren’t necessarily required. The average speed for a proficient skater is around 10-12km/h so ABEC 3-5 is generally suitable.

With this being said there’s heaps of other factors the ABEC Rating doesn’t take into consideration for the practical application of bearings in a skateboard, such as dealing with impact, side loading, chosen materials and grade, lubrication, ball retainer type/tolerance and the need for cleaning/maintenance, all of these are crucial to the performance and longevity of skate bearings.

Clean bearings are fast bearings, make sure you clean and lubricate/oil your bearings every few months to extend their life and keep them rolling at their best. More about that in our Bearing Maintenance article here.

Now that we’ve got an overview of ABEC Ratings and its relevance toward skateboards, here’s a breakdown of the difference in materials;

STEEL

Both durable and economical, steel bearings are the standard in the skate industry. The grade of steel used can vary from brand to brand, higher grade steel in premium bearings will generally make the bearing faster and more durable than a lower grade steel. The kickback of steel bearings is they can rust quite easily when exposed to moisture, so don’t go riding through puddles! If you do get your skate bearings wet, it’s best to dry them out asap and apply a little bit of oil/lubricant to keep them spinning properly.

CERAMIC

Harder than steel, more resistant to deforming under pressure and heat resistant, ceramic bearings expand less and create less friction at higher speeds. The ceramic balls will not rust when exposed to moisture, however they generally come with steel races, which will be a bit more resistant but still susceptible to rust. The tradeoff for ceramic bearings’ higher performance is that ceramic itself is quite a brittle substance, meaning high impact skating like stairs/gaps can lead to breakage, best kept for low-impact skateboarding and commuting.

TITANIUM

As a material, Titanium is super lightweight, durable and rust resistant, however the hype around titanium bearings can be a bit of a snake oil situation. A lot of bearings marketed as ‘Titanium’ are actually just coated in a Titanium Nitride (similar to a drill bit) which can wear off rather quickly with typical use, leaving you effectively with steel bearings.

SKATEBOARD BEARING PARTS

Bearing Diagram

1. BALLS

Typically skateboard bearings have a set of six or seven balls that roll freely on a track made by the inner and outer races, they're held in place by a retainer allowing the balls to complete their crucial function of rotating and rolling along the track. Less balls = less friction = more speed, this can come at the cost of stability in some cases.

2. INNER AND OUTER RACES

The races form the track for the balls to roll, and also create the inner and outer walls of the bearing to be installed in a wheel and subsequently on your trucks.

3. RETAINER

The retainer (can also be referred to as the ‘crown’ or ‘cage’) keeps the balls in place in equal distances from each other to reduce friction and increase bearing strength.

4. SHIELDS

Rubber or metal shields cover the exposed sides of the bearing to help protect the moving balls from dust and other junk. Metal shields are generally not removable whereas rubber types are. Some bearing manufacturers offer shieldless designs but we’d advise against these, as the exposure to the elements can destroy the bearings quickly. More frequent cleaning and maintenance (especially oil/lubrication) is a must for shieldless.

5. BEARING SPACERS

A good set of bearings will include bearing spacers, which are small cylindrical parts that fit over the axle in between the bearings in the core of the wheel. Bearing spacers help keep your bearings properly aligned, avoid damage due to over-tightening the axle nut and reduce side-loading during tricks and slides. They are optional but recommended for most types of skateboarding.

View all