To quote the legendary Chevy Chase, “it’s all ball bearings nowadays.”
While I’m relatively certain he wasn’t talking about longboards, the quote still stands — ball bearings are a key part of a great ride. When longboarding, it’s easy to think about high-quality wheels or a great board at the expense of the small, lowly bearings. Overlooking the best longboard bearings is a costly mistake, as they can be the difference between a slow, noisy drag and a smooth, wicked fast rush.
But what is a bearing? Is there more than one type of bearing? Are all bearings ball bearings (actually no)? And why do you need to think about which one is the best for your longboard?
Stick around and find out.
What Is A Bearing?
A bearing is a machine that reduces friction between moving parts and constrains motion to only one desired direction. The simplest bearing, called a plain bearing, is no more than a simple shaft rotating in a hole. This has direct contact between the bearing and the shaft, often producing a great deal of friction.
Bearings that reduce friction can be ball bearings, rotating bearings, even magnetic bearings — where magnetic forces repel the metals to bring friction to near zero.
For longboarding, the only bearing we need to pay attention to is the ball bearing. It’s all ball bearings nowadays.
Ball bearings, in contrast, are devices composed of tiny steel or ceramic balls that rotate around a small track. They allow two pieces of metal to rotate around each other, as opposed to rubbing against each other. The small balls that rotate between the two plates reduce friction between the two pieces of metal, thus increasing speed, efficiency, and longevity.
The balls are held captive with a device called a cage. The cage keeps the balls properly placed inside of the bearing, and creates small reservoirs of lubrication behind each ball, which helps keep the friction to a minimum.
It’s this lubrication and reduction of friction that is critical in making longboards ride so smoothly.
How Does A Bearing Work?
So how does a ball bearing work on a longboard?
Simple: it connects the wheel to the axle. Without the bearing, the wheel rotation would be directly rotating against the axle, causing all sorts of friction and mayhem. With fresh bearings in rotation (ha), your wheels will glide over the axle, making for a smooth ride.
Each wheel has two bearings that are fitted with a spacer — a device that keeps the bearings in the wheel the proper distance apart from each other. While you can technically install bearings without a spacer, it is highly discouraged.
Without spacers, your longboard bearings can fall out of alignment. This can lead to noisy wheels or even bearing failure mid-ride (a dangerous situation). Importantly, longboard spacing is often slightly further apart than traditional skateboard spacing. Keep an eye on that!
Related to the spacer is the speed ring. A speed ring or a speed washer is a small ring that is placed between the outside of the bearing and the nut. This reduces any contact between the nut and the bearing, which significantly lowers friction. Lower friction equals a smoother ride. While some longboarders have called speed rings optional, they help extend the life of your bearing and can give you a bit more performance than you had before. Definitely include them!
How Can I Get A Great Bearing?
Like everything mechanic, bearings fail. They fail from getting dirty, from rusting, or even from having been manufactured from shoddy parts.
Being such a critical piece of the longboard, you have to choose a bearing which will give you the ride you want, while also being durable and cleanable enough to prolong its useable life.
Luckily, there is a rating system for bearings that helps discernable bearing buyers (like you) make an informed decision on which bearings to buy.
It’s called the ABEC scale.
ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineering Committee) Scale ranks a bearing into one of five categories: 1, 5, 7, and 9. These categories determine how much tolerance of deviation from engineering specs a bearing is allowed to have. Category one may have up to 10 micrometers of deviation from its spec, while ABEC 9 has 2.
It does not determine the strength or durability of the bearings themselves, but precision is a big factor in the speed and durability of the bearing. A good thing to remember: the higher the rating, the smoother the ride.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the entire story. While ABEC ratings determine the precision of the bearings, that’s all they do. They’re the same for longboard bearings or highly advanced machinery that does thousands of RPM. ABEC 9 bearings would be overkill in a longboard. Additionally, bearings for this nature are able to handle heavy radial load (forward motion) but low axial load (lateral/across the body motion). Longboards endure much stronger axial loads, so ABEC ratings don’t do much to help with durability.
As a result, a lot of companies that exclusively manufacture skating bearings have developed additional methods to test and rate their bearings, which take the unique elements of skateboarding and longboarding into account.
Additionally, many companies (from countries with more lax standards), slap an ABEC rating on their product without it actually conforming to the ABEC guidelines. Some packages have even advertised ABEC 11! That’s not even a real thing!
So, ABEC is a good guide and a great starting place, but do not get caught up in the ABEC rating over everything else. The most important thing is a smooth ride, not if your bearing could also function in a nuclear reactor.
Check out our picks for the 8 Best Carving Longboards.
How Do You Care For Your Bearings?
The number one rule is to not skate in the rain. The majority of bearings (even ones with ceramic balls) are metal, and metal rusts. Rusted metal doesn’t glide. Rusted metal damages a bearing. No amount of cleaning can fix a damaged bearing.
Ok, so you remembered to never longboard in the rain, but somehow, you wound up skating through a big mud puddle. What’s the game plan?
First, wipe off your shoes. No one likes mud inside.
Then, quickly clean out the bearings. The best way to clean them off is to remove the wheels and open up the bearings. Flip your board upside down and grab a wrench.
Then, take the nut off the axle and slide the wheel off. Reposition the wheel at the very end of the axle, and twist at an angle to pull the bearing onto the axle itself — like popping open a beer. Once that is caught, you can gently push the other bearing out from the inside of the wheel.
Next, gently open the bearing shields. This is easier for nylon shields and can be accomplished with a thin knife. For metal shields, look for a clasp on the outside, but do note that some metal shield bearings cannot be opened.
From here, gently soak the bearings for at least several minutes in a simple cleaning solvent (cleaning alcohol works great). After they’ve soaked, remove them from the solvent and quickly dry them. A can of compressed air can help them dry quickly.
Finally, add a light amount of lubricant to the bearings. But what lubricant does the trick?
Do not use something like W-D 40. In fact, do not use any heavy, oily lubricant not built explicitly for skating. Even a traditional bearing lubricant — not skating lubricant — is a bad idea.
Because these types of lubricants can attract dirt. Traditional bearings used in heavy machinery are not in contact with dirt, mud, and grime. Therefore, the lubricant for those traditional bearings could be exclusively focused on making the bearings go as fast as possible.
With longboards, you have to deal with dirt.
Luckily, there are many brands of specially made skating lubricant that can help grease the bearings without attracting grime.
Speed cream by Bones is a great synthetic lubricant that keeps the bearings rolling without attracting too much gunk. It features very low viscosity (thin) and a high temperature tolerance, and produces a micro-thin layer of lubrication as the bearings circulate. Fast and long-lasting! Well worth a purchase!
After cleaning your bearings, lubricating them with a skate lubricant (not W-D 40), it’s time to reassemble your board.
Pop that shield back on, replace the bearings, and lock that wheel in place!
Great! You know what bearings are, you mastered the ABEC scale, you’ve remembered that ABEC isn’t a reliable indicator of how good your bearings are, and you know how to clean your bearings. You’re a pro.
What Does A Good Bearing Do?
Then, you wonder, “but how much of a difference can a good bearing make?”
The thing to remember is that a new bearing is a good bearing. What makes a difference, predominantly, is the wear and tear on the bearing itself. All bearings will break down, and once they start to wear, your ride will suffer. While high-quality bearings will last longer and give you faster rides, a new, cheap bearing is often better than an old and beat up high-quality bearing.
How can you tell if your bearing has gone bad?
One easy way is to give your wheel a spin. Lift your longboard off the ground, so the wheel isn’t touching the pavement first, then give it a roll. How long does the wheel roll? If it seems abnormally slow, you probably need to swap out the bearings.
Spin it again. This time, give a listen to any sound. If you hear a prominent rattling sound, the odds are that your bearings have worn down. That sound is friction — the parts not seamlessly gliding over each other like they would in a new bearing.
Again, while some of this may be fixed with lubrication, no amount of cleaning or maintenance can make up for damage.
Another method is to wiggle the wheel. If the wheel moves left and right along the axle, it’s gone bad. Replace immediately!
For a solid set of bearings that aren’t getting banged up, the consensus seems to be to replace them about once a year.
So you gave your wheels a spin. It sounded like death. The wheel slid from side to side. You’ve finally admitted you need a new bearing.
What Are The Fastest Bearings?
Bearings aren’t the only component of a fast ride. Good wheels, a proper axle, and a solid board are huge contributing factors. We mentioned earlier that ABEC 9 bearings can rotate way, way faster than a typical longboard can go. But, a bad set of bearings (or a really rusted set of bearings) can absolutely slow down your board by providing too much friction.
What you want are bearings that are well-lubricated, won’t overheat at high speeds, and can take both lateral and axial damage. Ceramic bearings, when properly made, have the advantages of not expanding when heated, not rusting, and producing less friction than steel. They are, however, usually much more expensive than steel, and can sometimes be a little more brittle.
Besides, as you’ll find out below, the land speed record for a board was made on steel bearings. Go figure.
Are There Differences Between Longboard Bearings and Skateboard Bearings?
Technically, no. Both bearings are a standard 608 size. Longboards and skateboards do have a slightly different spacing between each bearing within a wheel, and longboards often have larger wheels than skateboards. It is for this reason that a few of the companies we’ve come across have designed bearings with a longboard in mind. However, these bearings will work fine in a skateboard. Remember, a new bearing is a good bearing!
The Best Longboard Bearings To Buy
Now the question is: which ones to purchase?
Glad you asked. Here are the top ten best longboard bearings we’ve found.
Important to note: skate bearings are almost always interchangeable between skateboards and longboards as long as they’re sized 608, which is the standard for both skateboards and longboards. The difference is in the spacing between the bearings in the wheels, as longboards need additional spacing. Make sure your spacing is correct!
Bones Swiss Ceramics
Before we jump into the ratings, let’s take a quick dive into the Bones Bearings Brand.
Bones Bearings was founded by George Powell in the 1980s after he saw a hole in the skateboard/longboard bearing market. Skaters were only able to use a limited quality of inferior bearings that weren’t built with skateboarding in mind. To counter this, Powell (an engineer who had already made great strides in skateboard wheels) went to find high quality bearings that would be affordable to skaters. His search eventually led him to Switzerland, where he found a custom bearer manufacturer whose bearings were faster than any he had seen. He and the manufacturer set to work to create a line of bearings tailor-made for skateboards and longboards.
Importantly, they designed the bearings to handle axial loads — something that typical bearings were unable to do. They were released with only one shield, to allow skaters to clean and lubricate the ball bearings with ease. The resulting product was Bones Swiss — a product that George Powell himself said, “the only negative … is today’s price.”
Very high quality, very high price: Bones Swiss. For very solid quality at a lower price point, Powell introduced the Reds line, which is made in China. We’ll touch on those here as well (spoilers!)
From the Bones Swiss line, we have the latest: Bones Swiss Ceramics.
If money is no object (or you really, really want that incredible ride), you should splurge on Bones Swiss Ceramics. Bones, which does not use the ABEC scale, pioneered longboard bearings starting back in the 1980s. Their fastest, smoothest product on the market is Swiss Ceramics — named for the ceramic balls inside the bearing. Since they’re ceramic, they aren’t able to rust. Additionally, they’re considerably lighter and smoother than metallic balls, meaning significantly less friction. They’re precision made in Switzerland, making for higher quality control of the finished product.
Reviewers have noted that their wheels seem to spin forever, and they’ve had to purposefully slow down because the bearings glide so easily.
With proper care, these can last for years.
Really, the only downside is their price tag. Over 150 dollars is steep — especially if you’ve just started skating. Work your way up to these beauties.
Bronson G3 Bearings
In 2016, Kyle Wester set the land speed record for skateboarding at over 89 mph. His bearing of choice: Bronson G3. Significantly less expensive than the Swiss Ceramics, the G3s feature advanced engineering around the cage, shield, and track to allow for a much faster ride.
Bronson does use the ABEC rating, and these clock in with an ABEC of 7, meaning 5 micrometers of tolerance (very low).
The balls sit very deep within the channel which reduces axial movement. Additionally, the channel features grooves spaced throughout which further reduce friction. These grooves help efficiently distribute the lubrication around the ball bearings, instead of allowing the lubrication to pile up in front of each ball.
It doesn’t stop there, though. The cage is custom-fitted for the balls to retain oil underneath them, while the non-contact shields sit deep into the race edge to reduce incoming dirt. Plus, they’re free-spinning, which means even less friction.
To top it off, the cage is modeled with a “balls-out” orientation that protects the cage from crashing into the shield or racer during impact.
All these elements work together to keep the G3s from distorting or failing any time soon. For a fast ride that will stay fast, look no further.
Bones Swiss Super Six
A stainless steel bearing from Bones Swiss, the super six has a unique six-ball design, as opposed to the traditional seven or eight. To compensate for the fewer balls, the balls themselves are 20% larger.
What does this increase in diameter mean for performance? Like larger wheels on a car, larger balls in the bearing mean fewer rotations for each of the balls as the bearing rolls. Fewer rotations means less friction, which allows the bearings to handle an increase of speed.
Now the only thing we need is for Bones Swiss to do a Super Six Ceramic set. I’m no engineer, so perhaps this isn’t feasible, but it seems that this combination would put the best of both worlds together.
In the meantime, definitely check out both (if you have the wallet to do so), and get a feel for which one you prefer. Some reviewers have mentioned that the Super Six feel fast right out of the box, whereas the ceramics may take a little time to break in. Either way, you’re getting a high quality product that you won’t be disappointed in. Anything after that is simply a matter of personal taste.
Bones Swiss Bearings
In case you missed our history essay about Bones Bearings earlier, Bones is the company that created high-performance skate bearings. These are the original bearings. The only difference between the classic Bones Swiss and the Bones Swiss Ceramic is the ball itself. Here, these are made out of metal. Unlike ceramic, metal is prone to rusting, which means that keeping these bearings clean and out of the rain is a top priority. However, metal is more durable than ceramic, so if you can keep these in working order, they will last you possibly years.
Again, due to the metal nature, you will notice more friction than the ceramic bearings. However, at nearly 60 dollars a package, these are still a very high quality item that will give your longboard a great ride. Plus, these are the bearings that kicked off the entire industry of performance bearings. Give them a purchase out of a sense of respect for your roots!
Heady Shake Pro Darkside for Longboards
Heady Shake is a bit of a newcomer to the bearing game, and they take a slightly different tack to their production. They focus on the aesthetic of skating without sacrificing performance. Their bearings are all titanium plated, correspond to an ABEC of 9 (though they helpfully mention that ABEC doesn’t have much to do with longboard performance), and that their bearings are completely silent. All of their products come with a single shield to facilitate the cleaning of the bearing itself.
For the Pro Darkside for Longboard, you get bearings with the speed rings and spacers already installed. This is a luxury which means a lot less effort when installing your new bearings. Plus, they’re specifically crafted for longboard, which means the spacing is already calibrated for your board.
They’re pre-lubricated (like most quality bearings), though they are on the more expensive side, at a little over 40 dollars. They are currently on sale for almost half off through their company website, so grab a set while you still can!
Bones Ceramic Super Reds
As noted earlier by Powell, the only downside of Swiss Ceramics are there price. To counteract that, Powell created a second line called Reds that are made in China, but still with high quality components. The Ceramic Super Reds still cost nearly 100 dollars, so these are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. But at 33% cheaper than the Swiss Ceramics, the Ceramic Super Reds are a great introduction to performance ceramic bearings.
Some reviewers have noted that the Reds tend to not last as long as the Swiss — while others have noted that they seem to attract dirt a little more easily. They’re still a great bearing that allows you to get a feel for ceramic and see if you’d like to make the switch to Swiss Ceramics.
Bronson Raw Longboard Bearings
Bronson seems to have a bit of a proclivity for sexual innuendo in their bearings (balls-out technology?), so it’s tricky to see how much of the name, Raw, is marketing mumbo-jumbo. But, after close examination, Raw is not a name or a gimmick. Instead, it’s a novel way of approaching bearing design by removing some elements we’d traditionally think of as critical to the bearing.
In Raw, Bronson removed both shields, allowing sight and access to the inner cage. While this looks cool and sounds unique when spun, it serves a practical purpose: it allows the bearings to be cleaned easily.
Traditionally, the shield prevents dirt from entering the bearing, but it often has the effect of not allowing dirt to leave easily. Plus, it makes the bearings more difficult to clean. Without a shield, the bearing can be accessed for lubrication or cleaning with ease. The cage is a very high quality, durable beast that makes up for any loss of prevention from the shield, while the steel balls are noted for their very high speed (not unexpected from Bronson).
The only negatives are that they are slightly less durable than ceramic and that they are noisy (though for some that is a selling point). At only 30 dollars for a pack, give them a shot to see if the raw lifestyle is right for you.
Oldboy Premium Ceramics Longboard Bearings
Touted proudly on their website as “Amazon Choice,” Oldboy Premium are a high quality, ceramic bearing that come in at a much more affordable price (less than 50 dollars for eight). Unlike some of the others on our list, Oldboy Premium Ceramics were crafted specifically for longboards. They use a different ceramic than Bones Swiss, and they make note of its higher density, hardness, and durability. The selling point for these bearings is their endurance.
Like many others on our list, these bearings feature a single shield for easier cleaning and lubrication. To get started, Oldboy recommends breaking them in over a few days of riding to disperse the lubrication.
But that’s not all! When you buy a set of Oldboy Premium Ceramics, you’re doing some good! A portion of the proceeds go to National Outdoor Leadership School — a Wyoming based organization that takes disadvantaged youth on backpacking trips. Very groovy.
Zealous Bearings for Longboards
They come in both steel and ceramic, but the critical thing here is that the spacer and speed ring is included. The steel ones clock in around 15 dollars while the ceramics will set you back just shy of 30. Either pack are well regarded, with longboarders lauding their durability, ease of ride, and one of the lowest friction coefficients in the bearing field. They also feature a patented nanoceramic grease which gets better as you break them in.
And longboarders really seem to enjoy breaking them in. These bearings can take a very heavy beating. And at only 15 or 30 dollars for an eight pack, that’s a beating you can easily afford.
They’re not just great bang for your buck. They’re great bearings, with reviewers mentioning how they were ditching their bones ceramics in favor of these zealous bearings. Quite an endorsement.
Bones Bearings Reds
Bones Reds are the best selling bearing on the market. As mentioned earlier, Bones Reds was created as a less expensive variation on the high-quality Bones Swiss market. They’re made in China, but feature high quality steel and parts to provide a top-notch ride.
They’re smooth, pre-lubricated, come with spacers, are quiet, and give a fast/smooth ride.
The major downside is that they aren’t crazy durable. They’re good, but they’re not amazing. As they are steel, they will rust. Additionally, they seem to wear out much more quickly than other bearings on our list.
But they’re not shoddy. These are quality bearings. They won’t, however, last three years like the Bones Swiss, or spin for three or four minutes like the Bronsons.
They are, instead, a great entry-level bearing that will make an immediate difference when you put them into your longboard. They will give you a quality ride, and allow you to appreciate how much of a difference solid bearings will make in your longboard.
From there, you can then branch out to try some higher quality bearings to figure out which one best suits your style.
Things To Remember When Looking For The Best Longboard Bearings
Whew! That was a lot of information! Let’s do a quick recap to hit all our key points.
- Ball Bearings are devices comprised of balls that rotate around a steel track, relieving friction.
- They attach to the skateboard at the axle, reducing friction between the board and wheel.
- Spacers help prevent bearings from getting out of alignment, while speed rings decrease friction between the wheel and nut.
- Keep your bearings happy by not riding in the rain.
- Clean them with solvent and use skating lubricant to keep them in working order.
- Replace them if they make a noise, the wheels rotate slowly, or the wheels shift from left to right.
What to look for in a new longboard bearings:
- ABEC ratings determine tolerance to the micrometer. It is not a reliable indicator of skate bearing quality.
- Ceramic bearings do not rust. They are smoother and have less friction, making for a faster and smoother ride. They are, however, much more expensive.
- Some of the premium bearings can last as long as three years.
- Starter bearings like Reds and Zealous are great quality for beginners and casual longboarders.
- A new bearing is a good bearing.
- Ultimately, it’s your personal preference. Try lots of bearings out, and stick with the one that gives you the ride you want.
Glad you made it to the end! Now go out there and ride! And remember, “it’s all ball bearings nowadays.”