Sunday, December 9, 2012

Get Your Bearings!

You wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for your bearings...literally.  And there are so many for us to choose from it can get overwhelming, but that's what I'm here for.

Exploded View of a Bearing

This is what the parts of a bearing looks like, specifically a Bones Swiss bearing.  Starting from the left, we have the dust cover or shield, inner race, balls (ball bearings), retainer, and outer race.  Except for the number of ball bearings and sometimes the addition of another shield or dust cover on the other side of the bearing, all bearings are pretty much this same setup.


Cheezeball Gouda Bearings
Most bearings come with steel balls (insert cojones joke here), but some tout "ceramic" balls.  These aren't your mom's pottery shaped into tiny little balls, rather "ceramic" ball bearings are actually made out of (Si3N4) ceramic silicon nitride...isn't ceramic a lot easier to reference?

An example of some ceramic bearings are the Cheezeball Gouda bearings, as pictured to the right. 

Ceramic balls are harder than steel balls and result in longer life, faster roll, and some pretty swanky self cleaning action.  They also resist oxidation so you don't have to worry about rust as with steel bearings.  The drawback to these little pieces of roller heaven are their pricetag...usually around $150 for a set of 16; however, the Cheezeball Goudas pictured here are only $119 and are some of the best bearings I've ever had the pleasure of skating on.  I've also heard the same from everyone I've sold them to so it's not just me.

Number of Balls

Most bearings come with 7 balls each, but some have 6 and some have 8.  The idea behind having fewer balls per bearings is that there is less surface area touching the inner and outer races making for a faster roll.  The idea behind having more balls is that your weight is distributed better.  Personally, I felt a difference when I went from el cheapo bearings to Qube 8-Ball bearings and I've talked to some other bigger skaters who felt the same way.  I haven't personally tried out any of the 6 ball bearings, such as the Bones Super Swiss 6 but the skaters who I've talked to who have tried them said they felt faster, but not everyone was able to justify the $115 price tag.

ABEC vs Skate Rated

I've had some people pick up a pack of bearings, ask what ABEC rating they were, then when I told them they weren't ABEC rated but rather were "Skate Rated," they put them down and wanted to purchase only ABEC rated bearings.  This is a tell tale sign of either a new skater, or someone who hasn't done their research.  ABEC, or Annular Bearing Engineers Committee rates dimensions, tolerances, geometry, and noise standards for bearings in an attempt to aid industrial bearing manufacturers and users in the production, comparison and selection of bearings for general applications.  Meaning this is a generic overview of how well a bearing works for a wide variety of uses.  ABEC ratings are noted as odd numbers from 1 to 9, the higher the number, the tighter the tolerances.

For instance, bearings used in machinery such as high speed routers would need to be precise when turning at 30,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) and would usually have an ABEC rating of a 7 or 9.  To put this in perspective, you would be traveling about 190 MPH if your wheels rotated at 30,000 RPM.  If you are going to do some downhill racing, then you may want to look at some ABEC 7 or 9 rated bearings, but for most Roller Derby activities Skate Rated bearings are what you want to look for.

When you are skating, you are moving and jumping around a lot, which causes bearings to be jostled, impacted, and pressured in ways that they wouldn't if they were just turning in a machine.  Skate Rated bearings take into account things like side loading, impact resistance, materials selection and grade, appropriateness of lubrication, ball retainer type, grade of ball, the clearance between the balls and the races, installation requirements, and the need for maintenance and cleaning. You can read more of the details of Skate Rated vs. ABEC at the Bones Bearing website.

Breaking In

When you first get a set of bearings and you take them out of the package, they aren't going to spin super fast and forever.  This is because most bearings come packed with lube that needs to be properly distributed and the components of the bearings need to loosen up so they work together better and faster.  I've seen some articles on using a treadmill or a Dremmel to break in bearings, but I really just recommend going out and skating on them for a practice to get them all nice and spinny (technical term).  If you need new bearings on bout day, get GRN MNSTR Moto Deluxe bearings, which come pre-spun and ready to go out of the package.  They also come in a cool metal container that prevents any of the lube from leaching into the packaging, unlike most other bearing packages.

If you take the bearings out of the package for the first time and there are any hitches or they won't roll at all, contact the manufacturer because this is likely a defect.  Now, I don't mean if they are slow, because as previously said, they need to be broken in to spin quickly.  Also, if you have a bearing that falls apart after only skating on it for a little while, this is a defect that the manufacturer will usually take care of.

Care and Maintenance

There are a few tools out there for pulling and installing bearings but the best I've found so far is the Bones Bearing Tool.  It is small enough to fit into any tool bag and works really well to pull bearings out of wheels and push them back without damaging the bearings.  I've seen too many people use the long end of the Reflex Utilitool to push out bearings and just ruin them because they put too much pressure on the dust covers.  DON'T DO THIS!  Please, I beg you!  If you don't have/can't afford a proper bearing tool and none of your friends will lend you theirs, you can use the axle of your skate to pop bearings out and push them back in, but this doesn't work well on alloy hubbed wheels.
Cleaning your bearings really isn't as hard as some people make it out to be.  There are a couple of really cool bearing cleaners such as those made by Bones or Bionic on the market that hold 8 bearings at a time and all you do is add solvent, soak for a few minutes, and shake to get the gunk and grime out of your precious little rollers.  You can also use something like a mason jar if nothing else, but be careful because you can break the glass if you are overzealous and shake instead of swirl!  Some plastic containers will melt depending on the solvent you use, so that's why I really just like to go with one of the special containers on the market, or a glass jar if in a pinch. 

UPDATE:  See A Vacation for Your Bearings for information on the new Qube Bearing Spa, which cleans all 16 bearings at once!

There are lots of different solvents that will clean your bearings well... gasoline, mineral spirits, rubbing alcohol, and of course there is bearing wash specifically formulated for cleaning bearings.

After you have soaked and swished the bearings around in the solvent, take the bearings and pat them dry on a towel.  I like to also use canned air or an air compressor to make sure they are really dry (watch your eyes!).  Then take some bearing lube and put one drop inside the bearing, spin the bearing, then let it set for a few minutes before spinning it again just to make sure there aren't any hitches.  If there are, then try to clean and lube the bearing again.  If it is still hitching, then (in my opinion) it's time to toss it or make it into some cool jewlery.

There is some controversy over bearing shields aka dust covers.  Some bearings have dust covers that are really easy to pop off with a small pin, but others are much more difficult and popping off the dust cover can cause it to warp.  If I have to take the dust covers off my bearings when I clean them, I just leave them off rather than take the chance they are warped and will cause friction when put back on the bearing.

Bearing Spacers and Washers

I recently discovered the joys of bearing spacers and washers.  Bearing spacers go in between the two bearings on the axle and make it so the bearings don't get side loaded.  You know how when you put your wheel on you have to undo the nut a little so your wheel will spin freely?  Well, bearing spacers make it so you don't have to back off the nut.  Bearing washers help this as well and when you use them together, it will really help make sure your bearings spin as freely as possible.  When using both of these items, the order from inside out is bearing washer, bearing, bearing spacer, bearing, bearing washer, axle nut.  Some trucks have a built in bearing washer where the inside of the wheel touches the truck, so the first bearing washer isn't needed.

When you are using bearing spacers and washers, your bearings are working how they were designed to work and it is pretty awesome.  Also, since you can tighten the axle nut more so than without, you lessen the chances of the nut backing off the axle and your wheel falling off, which is never a good thing.

So What Bearings Do I Choose?

So, now that you know more about bearings, how do you decide which ones to go with?  Well, Bones bearings have been around since the early 1980's and are tried and true in the skateboarding world... and while they are excellent bearings in their own right, they weren't created specifically for roller derby.  Cheezeballs, Bionic, Moto, and Qube bearings are relative newcomers on the scene, but their bearings were created specifically for derby and/or other types of quad skating, so they hold up to the rigors of our sport really well.

Your choice will depend heavily on how you plan to use and care for your bearings. If you plan to use the bearings outdoors or are not inclined to keep your bearings meticulously cleaned, you probably want to go with a less expensive bearing like the Qube Pink or Bones Reds. If you want to step up to a higher quality bearing, the Cheezeball Cheddar and Qube 8-Ball bearings are excellent choices without spending too much. If you want the best bearing money can buy and are willing to keep them clean (or have money burning a hole in your pocket), it might be worth looking at a Swiss or ceramic bearing such as the Cheezeball Gouda bearings mentioned earlier.

Now that we have gone over the basic components of bearings, how they work, what they are made from, and what you can do to extend their life, I think It's time for me to move on to my next post.  I will do more specific product reviews after my initial overview posts on skate components and protective gear.  Feel free to ask any questions concerning anything you have read here, or suggestions for future posts/product reviews, at Shocker Khan's G Spot and I will answer them ASAP! 

Until we skate again,

P.S. I'm working on getting some awesome items to give away, so stay tuned!!!


  1. How often do you recommend cleaning bearings with normal use?

    1. It depends on how clean your skating surface is, if you have dust covers on your bearings, and how often you skate. I would say once every couple months is a good goal. It's also a good idea to clean the axles, wheels, and just take a look at your plates to make sure everything looks good down there at the same time.

  2. I've been thinking about cleaning my bearings for a while now, but I wasn't sure where to start or what to do... Its time to stop thinking and start doing!


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Until we skate again!