Inline Skate Wheels -- Before You Buy
Inline skate wheels have the greatest impact on your skating performance. They come in different sizes, shapes, and composition, and are made to suit different styles of skating. Therefore, selecting the right wheels based on the way you skate is of prime importance.
Furthermore, before you head to your local sporting goods store for replacement wheels, it’s best to learn something about the physical properties that are used to describe the typical, inline skate wheel.
The four properties are hardness, size, core, and profile. You need to understand these properties so you’re in the know when it comes time to purchase a new set of wheels.
The durometer reading is a measure of the hardness of the material that makes up the wheel’s tire. The higher the hardness is, the harder the wheel. In addition, the harder the wheel, the longer it lasts, but the less it absorbs shock and vibration when skating.
Most wheels on the market range from 74A (softest) to 88A (hardest), where the letter A denotes the durometer scale. However, recreational skaters are normally interested in the narrower range from 78A to 82A. This hardness range provides good control, grip, and a smooth roll for most trail skaters.
A harder wheel with a higher, durometer reading, such as 82A, exhibits the following characteristics:
a. Good for skating fast on smoother surfaces
b. Lasts longer and is more durable
c. Generally used by heavier people
d. Better wear properties
e. More vibration on rougher surfaces
On the other hand, a softer wheel with a lower durometer reading, such as 78A, provides the following benefits:
a. Better traction
b. Greater shock absorption
c. More cornering grip
d. Enhanced rebound
e. Less vibration on rougher surfaces
The size of the wheel is the outside diameter measured in millimeters (mm). The larger the wheel, the faster the skate due to reduced rolling resistance. Wheels in the 72-mm to 80-mm range are just right for recreational and fitness skating. They provide good maneuverability and speed for skating longer distances on trails.
However, wheels in the 84-mm to 90-mm range and up are faster wheels that provide the best performance at higher speeds. However, larger wheels are less stable and consequently require more skating ability. Racers and marathoners typically use wheels in this size range.
Check your owner’s manual or with the manufacturer to find out what size range your skates can accommodate. For example, the frames of K2 Exotech skates can hold up to an 82-mm wheel in the larger sizes and down to a 76-mm wheel in the smaller sizes. It’s important that you find out the size range supported by the wheelbase of your skates, especially if you are planning to move up or down in size versus the original wheels that came with your skates.
The core consists of the hub and spokes. The inner hub houses the bearings and spacer, which is where the axle resides. The outer hub and spokes bond to the tire material itself, which is the polyurethane.
The core design and material of construction gives a wheel its stability. A wheel undergoes stress from many different directions. The design and material determine the strength of the wheel. Cores range from a solid construction in aggressive wheels to lightly-spoked in racing wheels. The standard hub is called a 608 hub, which means it houses a 608-type bearing.
The profile is the cross-section of the wheel where it meets the ground, when viewed head on. The profile or curve determines how much of the wheel is in contact with the surface at any given time.
As an industry standard, all wheels are 24-mm thick, but it’s the variation in a wheel’s footprint that provides different functionality. The larger the footprint, the better the traction and stability.
The hardness and size have the biggest impact on your skating, so base your choice on these properties. Cores and profiles have significant, but less subtle consequences. Compare cores and profiles after you’ve decided on the correct hardness and diameter for your weight, ability, style, and speed.
Choosing a Hardness
As mentioned previously, the harder the wheel, the longer it lasts, but the lower the grip, and the less it absorbs shock and vibration on the trail. Recreational skaters normally look for wheels in the range of 78A to 82A. This hardness range affords good control and a smooth roll on most trails.
However, that being said, you’re not required to use the same hardness on all your wheels. Some skaters use mixed durometers to achieve a better balance of grip, shock absorption, and durability than is possible with a single hardness.
You may find your wheels wear down faster then you’d like when you skate on rough surfaces, which can happen on some stretches on certain trails. You could opt to buy all harder wheels, such as an 82A across the board, but you might experience a rougher ride. One alternative is to replace only half of your wheels with a harder durometer. Half of your wheels could be 78As and the other half 82As.
The following are two, recommended orders from the #1 position to the #4 position as you move from left to right:
This wheel mix gives you the shock absorption of a 78A wheel and the durability of an 82A wheel, or the best of both worlds!
Picking a Size
Inline skate wheels in the 72-mm to 80-mm diameter range are about right for most recreational and fitness skaters. At the low end, skates with 72-mm wheels are appropriate for the lighter, female, recreational skater.
At the higher end, skates with 80-mm wheels are best for the heavier, male, fitness skater. For the mid-weight, male or female, inline skater, a good compromise is to use 76-mm wheels.
In addition, some recreational skaters, who want to achieve an even better workout while trail skating via longer distances, higher speeds, or short sprints, opt for the largest diameter wheel they can fit on their skates. If your skating ability and style warrant the larger diameter, and you’re comfortable skating at higher speeds, you may want to consider moving up to an 84-mm diameter.
The larger diameter means more speed and the wheels last longer than shorter wheels of the same hardness. However, check with your owner’s manual or the skate manufacturer to find out if your frame or wheelbase can accommodate wheels in this size range.
I hope the above guidelines come in handy the next time you need to buy wheels for your skates. Remember that hardness and size are the most important properties, especially if you're a recreational skater who plans on doing a lot of trail skating this summer. Check your skates to see if you have a noticeable wear pattern on the front or rear wheels. If so, you may want to refit your skates with harder wheels in these positions.
Jim Safianuk is the writer and publisher of the three-part, inline skating series entitled Skating Lessons, as well as the two-part, maintenance series named Skate Maintenance. He is also the developer and owner of the Inline Skating Center, a site which serves as a hub for the adult, recreational, inline skating community. To visit their Skate Maintenance department, click here: http://skatemaintenance.inlineskatingcenter.com/