Your skate bearings are one of the major components of your skates. And in the world of inline skating there are two main types of bearings that dominate the marketplace: ABEC and Swiss. ABEC and Swiss bearings dominate in the marketplace not because they are brands, but rather these two bearing types dominate in the marketplace by classification. In fact, many bearing manufacturers will produce both ABEC and Swiss rated bearings. The biggest questions that exist between the two are:
1.) What’s the difference?
2.) Which is better?
The answer to the first is rather simple. ABEC, an acronym for Annular Bearing Engineering Committee, refers to the perfection of a bearing. Historically ABEC ratings have been used to grade the quality of a bearing and the smoothness of the polish. According to the ABEC rating system, the higher the ABEC rating a bearing receives, the more efficient the bearing will operate. The more efficient the bearing operates, the faster speeds it is capable of producing. Presently there are 5 classes of ABEC ratings:
The Swiss bearing came long after the ABEC rating system. The primary difference between the Swiss and the ABEC are the standards for which they are rated on. The Swiss system takes into account not only the smoothness of polish on the bearing, but also the entire assembly of the bearing itself. Swiss argues that their rating process and the bearings they produce roll faster and shed debris with less maintenance.
Simply put, the difference that exist are in the standards used to rate the bearing. A Swiss bearing utilizes the same rating for smoothness of polish, but adds the process as a whole to its ratings process.
When making a decision to purchase a new set of bearings for your skates, your decision should be based on what you plan on using your skates for. Swiss bearings, while easier to maintain are generally more expensive. Out of the box, they also tend to be a bit slower, based on our personal opinion. However, if you plan on skating very frequently and in long stretches, or even marathons, the speed of a Swiss bearing will be beneficial for you in the long run.
ABEC bearings are generally less expensive and will be faster out of the box. However, ABEC bearings tend to be more susceptible to debris which can cause friction inside of the bearing itself, and make them less efficient. If you are a recreational skater who skates occasionally, you may not need to spend the extra money on bearings. Instead, educate yourself on bearing maintenance to help extend the life of your ABEC bearings.
Bearing Lubrication: Oil or Grease?
Regardless of the type of bearing you decide to purchase, you will need to select the proper lubricant to service your bearings and help its performance. The two most common types of lubricant that you will be considering are oil and grease. Both work effectively, but each has its own pros and cons given a situation.
Oil is much thinner than grease and as a result creates less friction inside of the bearing. The less friction that is present in-and-around your bearings means the bearing can rotate faster, making your wheels rotate at a faster rate, allowing you to accelerate faster, and maintain speed longer. Unfortunately, the high viscosity of oil does a poor job of keeping dirt and dust from entering the inner parts of your bearings, potentially creating large amounts of friction if not serviced routinely and correctly.
By comparison, grease based lubricants offer the opposite effects on wheels and bearings. Grease is thicker than oil, which creates more friction for the wheel and bearings. This makes a grease lubricant inferior to oil in respect to speed. From a positive standpoint, grease lubricants are the perfect choice to protect the bearing from water, dirt, and dust. This allows the bearing to go for longer stretches with less friction from these elements.
The bottom line when it comes to bearing lubricant is that you want to consider how often you are going to be using your skates, and how often you will be able to flush the bearings and re-oil or re-grease. If you are buying a skate and want low maintenance, you will probably want to get a grease based lubricant. However, if you are buying a skate for aggressive uses like hockey or speed skating, and you plan on taking good care of your skates, then an oil based lubricant is the better selection. No matter which lubricant you select, remember that you do not need much at all. A couple of drops of oil based lubricant or a dab of grease should get the job done on each bearing.