There are many different considerations when putting together the perfect skateboard for the particular needs of a skater. Different types of wheels function better on different types of terrain, for different types of skating. Vert skating and street skating require different wheels for a skateboard to function at peak performance. Size, hardness and even color can play a large part in how succesfully a skateboard performs for its owner.
Legend tells us that skateboarding originated from surfers attempting to come up with land-surfing activities when surfing the ocean wasn't an option. The first skateboards are rumored to have been made by attaching skate wheels to a board with nails. Since that time, skateboards and their wheels have developed and improved in many ways. Wheels are no longer made of steel or clay, but of a durable and forgiving polyurethane. Wheels of different sizes and hardness have been developed in order to accommodate the different needs of street skaters, vert skaters and cruisers.
The first feature to consider in choosing skateboard wheels is what size wheel will work best for the intended type of skating. Size is measured in diameter, which states how tall the wheel stands. The average skater will be satisfied with a wheel diameter between 52 mm and 54 mm. However, there are other sizes that are more appropriate for various skate activities.
For "street skating," also known as technical skating or trick skating, shorter wheels with a diameter of 50 to 55 mm help land those kick flips, ollies and other technical tricks. Because shorter wheels are closer to the ground, they make the board more maneuverable while performing these types of tricks.
For "vert skating," the term that refers to skateboarding on ramps, larger wheels work better. The larger the wheel, the faster it rolls. The right wheels are an absolute must to get the right speed and height to pull off the lip tricks, jumps and transitions that so many people love to watch. For this reason, skateboarders who perform in this arena generally choose wheels with a diameter of about 60 to 65 mm, although some opt for 55 mm to get more of a balance.
For "cruisers," there are larger wheels, up to 75 mm. These are designed primarily for speed and a smoother ride. There are traction and dirt wheels, but these usually are not used for skateboards. Rather, they're for dirt boards and other larger, similar boards.
For those that tend to do a mixture of different types of skateboarding, the medium sized skateboard wheel is optimum, offering a satisfactory balance between all of the features. These types of skaters should opt for skateboard wheels with a diameter of 55-60 millimeters to give a good balance of maneuverability and speed.
Another feature to consider when choosing skateboard wheels is the hardness of the wheel. Hardness is also known as "durometer" and is measured on a numerical scale denoted with an "a" after the numeral. Though the "a" scale actually tops out at 100, wheels that are classified as 101a or higher are actually harder than a 100a but use a different classification system. For this reason, it is becoming more common for manufacturers to use classifications of b and c to describe these harder wheels.
The average skater purchases wheels with a medium-grade hardness, around 98a to 99a. This hardness works as a good middle ground for those who participate in a combination of the different types of skateboarding. For skaters who have more specific skating needs, a different durmoeter may be better suited.
Street skaters do well with a hardness of 97a to 101a. The harder the wheel, the faster it rolls. Street skaters need fairly hard wheels to deal with the rough terrain and to get enough speed to manage some of the more popular tricks.
Vert skaters also need harder wheels, closer to the 95a to 100a range. These wheels roll smoothly and work well for smooth ramps and bowls at skate parks.
Cruisers need softer wheels for better grip and traction on rougher terrain. A durometer of 77a to 85a works well for cruising.
For the multi-talented skater who prefers to be ready for whatever skateboarding opportunities may come available, an all-around board is generally outfitted with wheels with a durometer in the 95a to 100a range. This range provides enough traction to grip most terrain, with enough hardness to provide a fairly smooth ride.
Skateboarders may think these are the two main factors in deciding what type of wheel to purchase for their board. It may seem that appearance has little to do with performance and durability, but the color of a polyurethane wheel actually does affect its performance and durability.
Skateboard wheels are made of a type of hard, durable plastic known as polyurethane. It has been determined that adding color to the polyurethane wheels tends to cause faster degradation. As pigment or dye is added to the polyurethane, it sort of invades the structure of the wheel, taking up space that would normally be held by urethane molecules. As urethane has the desired properties of resilience and durability, the less urethane in the wheel, the less resilient and durable it is. Colored wheels are actually more prone to flat spots. The most high-performing wheels are clear to translucent white in color, because the chemical structure of the urethane has not been altered by a dye.
If skateboarders put some thought and planning into what types of wheels are best suited to outfit their boards based upon the related science as well as their own particular needs, they can have a high-performing, well-designed custom board that suits them individually.
Considering the size of the wheel for speed and maneuverability, the hardness of the wheel for increased speed and traction and the color of the wheel for durability and resilient qualities may seem like a daunting task. But with a little thought and planning, these things can make all the difference between a skater owning a good board and a great board. The extra time and effort is well worth the results on the streets or the ramps.
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