By Steve Kopitz
In similar fashion to other elements of inline skating, wheels have seen their fair share of advancements over the years. Wheels that you find on modern inline skates are manufactured from polyurethane. Seldom will you find wheels made of any other material, unlike decades ago when inline skating began its emergence. Many skates manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s had plastic wheels, which were ineffective and cracked easily. Nowadays, very few skates (typically skates for children) offer anything but a polyurethane wheel. The following discussion will take you through many of the important items you should know about inline skate wheels.
One of the most notable things about inline skate wheels is that they are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and hardness ratings (Durometers). Due to the overwhelming selection that is available, it is good to know that most wheels are designed for a specific type of use; therefore, it is easier to decipher which wheel you need to get for your skate.
Knowing which type of wheel you need is important because it may be the difference between a smooth, comfortable skating experience and a disastrous one. In order to determine the type of wheel you need, you must account for each of the following items:
If you do not account for each of these items you will run the risk of purchasing the wrong wheel. This not only will make for a poor skating experience, but it is also a waste of your money because you will have to replace them again.
In addition to the items listed above, skate wheels also incorporate other elements, including a bearing, bearing spacer, and a hub. To help you locate where each of these items exist, you may review the following image:
Inline wheel sizing is measured by diameter and stated in millimeters (mm). Wheel diameters will vary in size from very small (57mm or below), to very large (up to 100mm). The variances exist due to the different types of skates that are available. Very large wheels are most commonly found on racing skates because larger wheels allow for higher speeds. Smaller wheels on the other hand offer faster acceleration and deceleration, which is why most skates do not utilize the larger wheel sizes mentioned previously.
To provide you with a general idea of the wheel diameters you will find across the different skate types, here is a short breakdown:
Hockey Skates: Hockey skates typically use wheels which are between 72mm and 80mm. It is important to check your skates before purchasing replacement inline hockey wheels as the various manufacturers all use different wheel configurations and therefore require different sized wheels. For more information about hockey skate wheels please watch the video below.
Recreational Skates: Depending on the level skater the skate is made for, recreational skates wheel diameters can range from 70mm up to 90mm, and anywhere in between. Smaller sized wheels are often found older skates or skates designed for beginners. While, 90mm wheels are rather large; therefore they should be used by skaters who are comfortable at higher speeds.
Race Skates: Race skates use very large wheels to help skaters get the smoothest ride with the most efficiency at higher speeds. Inline Skate racers often complete marathons in under an hour and therefore high efficiency at speed is key. Wheels for this skate type are usually larger than you will find on any other skate type. Commonly, the wheel diameter is larger than 90mm for the purpose of higher speeds. Additionally, speed skates are unlikely to use a brake, but instead will feature a wider wheel base, and also potentially use 5 wheels instead of the typical 4 wheels. Keep this in mind when you are searching for wheels for a speed skate.
Roller Hockey Skates: Many roller hockey skates will utilize what is known as a Hi-Lo chassis. This type of skate frame is unique in its set up because it uses two different size wheels; larger wheels in the back and smaller wheels in the front. This is important because it will require the purchase of 4 smaller wheels, and 4 larger wheels. Typical adult Hi-Lo frames are set up to accommodate wheels up to 80mm in the back and 72mm in the front. This set up is different for junior Hi-Lo frames, and depends on the size of the skate.
Some roller hockey skates may not use this style frame, using a traditional frame that uses 4 wheels of equal size per skate.
One very important item to keep in mind when shopping for wheels is that skate frames have a size capacity. This means that they may allow for a slightly larger wheel than what comes stocked at time of purchase, but not much larger. If you purchase a wheel that is too large, it will either not fit on the chassis, or the wheels will rub together. Either way, it means you cannot skate, so be sure you do not purchase a wheel that is too large.
Also, if you desire to purchase wheels smaller than what was stock on your skates, keep in mind that a smaller wheel may require spacers to account for additional room between the frame and the wheel. Commonly it is recommended that you replace your wheels with the same size they were manufactured with.
In addition to wheel size, wheel Durometer is another important aspect in wheel selection. A wheel Durometer is simply the hardness rating of the wheel. Durometer ratings are indicated by a number following by a capital letter A. The hardness scale runs from 0 to 100, with 0 being the softest rating and 100 being the hardest. While the rating scale is from 0 to 100, it is not likely you will find a wheel that has a rating softer than 68A. A wheel softer than this is likely to wear down too fast, regardless of its use.
To determine what Durometer rating you need, you must determine what type of skating you will be using your skates for. Softer wheels are to be used on smooth surfaces such as indoor hockey rinks or skating rinks. A softer wheel is ideal for this type of surface because it has better grip than harder wheels. It also equates to faster acceleration. If you are looking to skate outdoors, but desire a wheel that will absorb shock, you can use a wheel with a Durometer rating at the upper-end of the soft range, usually around 78A. Keep in mind however, that if a softer wheel is used too often on a rough surface, it will wear down very quickly, and in some cases chunk apart.
If you are planning on doing some recreational or fitness skating, the lowest Durometer rating you will want to use is a 78A. This rating will provide you with an excellent combination of grip and speed. Additionally, this Durometer rating will provide you the flexibility to take your skating indoors, without worrying about slipping and sliding on the floor. If your plan is to skate exclusively outdoors, you're probably best to get a wheel with a Durometer rating that is slightly higher, perhaps 82A or 84A. This will offer increased speeds, and it will not wear down as quickly on the rough terrain.
Aggressive skaters will want to seek out harder wheels, usually no less than 88A. The reason for this is because of the terrain it will be used on, the abuse it will take, and the speeds that aggressive skaters require.
The Durometer rating that a roller hockey player uses will depend on whether the hockey is being played indoors or outdoors. If it is indoor hockey, the Durometer will range from 72A to 74A for maximum grip and maneuverability. If it is outdoor hockey, perhaps street hockey, the Durometer rating will need to be higher to compensate for the surface it will be used on.
Wheel shape may not seem like an important element of your wheel selection, but do not be fooled. If you're sitting there saying to yourself, "Aren't all skate wheels round?" you are correct, but it is the profile shape of that wheel that makes the difference. To help you understand the profile shape differences, please review the following image:
Beginning from the left, you will notice that aggressive skate wheels will have a flat profile, looking very much like a rounded rectangle. The purpose of this design is to provide an aggressive skater with a larger landing surface when performing jumps and tricks.
A recreational wheel will resemble a standard elliptical profile, with a narrow center and graduated edges. This design offers skaters with a stable foundation to skate on, while simultaneously allowing easier turning and acceleration.
A hockey wheel will have profile shape that is rounded more than a recreational skate. This rounded profile offers maximum contact for the skater regardless of the angle they have their skates. Hockey skaters perform many turns, many of those being very sharp. The round profile makes it much easier to accomplish those turns, as well as accelerate and decelerate easily.
Finally, speed wheels will have a pointed appearance. This profile is designed to create the least amount of rolling resistance possible. It is however important to point out that they will have less grip too.
In addition to the items discussed above, the following items are also important to take into account when selecting wheels:
Every inline skate wheel will hold two bearings and contain a nylon, plastic, or aluminum spacer in between them. The purpose of a spacer is to provide an exact bearing alignment for better free-wheel spin and additional torsional strength to withstand harder impacts.
Aluminum spacers are the preferred choice among inline skaters, primarily because they allow for better heat displacement than nylon or plastic spacers. This allows the wheel to perform better.
A wheel's core contains the hub and the spokes of the wheel. Its design is very similar to that of a wheel on an automobile. Just as an automobile wheel will have a rim on a tire, a skate will have a core that contains the hub and spokes. Contained within the hub are the bearings and spacer. The purpose of the core of a skate wheel is to prevent the wheel from coming in contact with the bearing. Additionally, it acts as an internal stiffener to help the wheel maintain its shape when under stress. To help you better visualize the placement of the core and the hub, please review the following illustration:
The core of an inline skate wheel is typically made of nylon or plastic. This will keep the wheel weight at a minimum, and help keep the overall weight of the skate at a minimum as well. A wheel that does not have a hub will deform around the bearing, slowing the wheel as a result.
Wheel cores will vary depending on the type of skate the wheel is designed for. An aggressive skate wheel core is more than likely going to consist of a solid plastic, no spoke design. Comparatively, a racing wheel will typically have a super-light plastic design with many spokes. This design, which is also found in other variation on fitness and recreational skates, is used to make the wheels lighter and allow maximum air flow. As a result, speeds are greater and more air passes through the bearing, allowing it to cool. Keep in mind however that the core design of a speed, fitness, or recreational wheel requires less rubber to compensate for the larger core. This means that the wheels will not last as long, and requires increased attention to wheel maintenance.