When it comes to skating, wheel maintenance is an often overlooked practice. Many skaters simply believe that wheels and bearings are replaceable; therefore, they do not need to maintain their wheels. While it is true that wheels and bearings are replaceable, this does not mean that you should neglect your wheels. In fact this should indicate the exact opposite. Wheels and bearings are going to go through a lot of wear-and-tear over their lifetime. Whether it is dirt, rocks, water, or just rough terrain, wheels and bearings will take a beating. The less you maintain your wheels and bearings, the more money you will have to spend to replace them.
When maintaining your wheels, the most important item to look for is wear. Softer wheels wear faster than harder wheels. Therefore it is of the greatest importance that you understand the type of skating terrain your wheels are designed for and you skate on that terrain.
Wheel rotation is a necessary practice regardless of the type of wheel you have, and whether you are using your wheels on the proper terrain. Wearing down of your wheels is completely normal, but can cause you major issues if it is not handled properly. What is meant by this is that you can rotate your wheels to help distribute the wear evenly. This will increase the longevity of your wheels and make your skating experience much better.
Wheel rotation on your inline skates is similar to the process of rotating wheels on a car. The process consists of removing your wheels and then positioning them in a different spot on your frame. You are welcome to re-position your wheels in any manner that you like, but the following guidelines are highly recommended to insure your wheel wear is even.
For 4-Wheel Skates: 1-3-2-4
For 4-wheel skates with wheels that are all the same size, you will want to utilize the 1-3-2-4 rotation. This method is known as the 1-3-2-4 because it requires the 1st and 3rd wheels on the frame to be swapped, and the 2nd and 4th wheels to be swapped. Additionally, it is recommended that you flip the wheels so that the side that was facing out is now facing in. To help demonstrate this rotation method, please review the following illustration:
For 5-Wheel Skates: 1-3-5-2-4
Skates with 5-wheels will be a bit tricky, so please pardon the confusion that you may have, as we will try to explain as best we can through text and illustration. To rotate wheels on a 5-wheeled skate, you will reposition the wheels in spots 1, 3, and 5. The best way to do this is to move position 1 to position 3. The wheel that was in position 3 is moved to position 5, and the wheel in position 5 is moved to position 1.
After re-positioning wheels 1, 3, 5, you can now re-position wheels 2 and 4. Swap the positions of wheels 2 and 4 in the manner illustrated below:
It is also recommended that you flip the wheels when rotating. The side of the wheel that was facing to the outside should be facing inside after rotated and flipped. This will keep the wear even and increase the longevity of your wheels. Furthermore, it creates a smoother ride. Here is a complete visual of the rotation process for a 5-wheel skate:
For 4-Wheel Hi-Lo Skates: 1-2-3-4
This rotation process is most common on roller hockey skates, as they are typically the only skate style that utilizes a Hi-Lo frame. Hi-Lo frames require a different rotation process than other 4-wheel inline skates because the wheels in the back of the skate are larger than those in the front. As a result, the wheels in the back cannot be swapped with those in the front. To rotate wheels on a Hi-Lo frame, you will use the 1-2-3-4 rotation. The wheels in positions 1 and 2 will be swapped and the wheels in positions 3 and 4 will be swapped as well. Here is a visual to help you with this process:
At some point you will have completed all of the rotations that you can on a set of wheels. At this time you will need to replace your wheels. The real question is when is that time? How worn do your wheels have to be in order to be replaced? This question is one of many answers because wear is different from skater to skater. The best answer we can provide you is that once your skates become difficult to skate on and they no longer sit flat on the surface it is time to consider replacement. Also, if see a very noticeable angle on your wheels, it is probably time to replace your wheels.
To help you better determine if your wheels need replacement; please review the following diagram of skate wheels at different angles:
Here is a breakdown of the illustration above:
A.) Perfectly new or relatively unworn wheel will look similar to this. At this point you do not need to do anything.
B.) Early stages of a wheel with uneven wear. Consider rotation and flipping at this point. This will help to even out the wear and increase the longevity of your wheels.
C.) Advanced stages of a wheel with uneven wear. The wheel has been rotated and flipped several times and is beginning to show wear on both sides, indicated by the sharp tip being created in the middle. Should consider replacement if skating is becoming difficult.
D.) Severely warn wheel that needs to be replaced. Skating is surely difficult at this point and skating any longer may result in the core and hub cracking.
Compare your wheels to the images above to determine your best course of action. If it is time to replace them, determine the size and Durometer you need and follow the simple steps for replacing outlined below:
1.) Unscrew the axles with the proper tool (typically an Allen Wrench/Hex Key)
2.) Pop out the bearings and spacer from your old wheels (while these are out, it may be a good time for a little bearing maintenance as well)
3.) Put your bearings and spacers into your new wheels
4.) Reattach the wheels with the axles
To help you with maintaining your skates, please feel free to print off the Inline Wheel Rotation Worksheet provided below (click image for enlarged/printer-friendly format). This will allow you to keep track of the maintenance on your skates and, ensuring that your wheels reach their maximum life span.
It is our commitment to provide you with the most complete, accurate, and thorough information possible to help you make an informed decision. We encourage you to check out these additional pieces of media.
Video Tutorial: Maintaining and Caring for Inline Skates