What skateboard wheels do I need? First a history lesson…
The 1970s – Humble beginnings
In some ways, skateboard wheels have not changed much at all in the last 30 years. They are still made of the same material – Urethane – and they are still very much round. You can’t reinvent the wheel, right? Well over the years people have certainly tried and this has meant wheels have changed shape, size and hardness constantly over the decades.
The 1980s – The glory days for skateboarding
Wheels in the late 80s were dominated by brands like Powell Peralta with their Rat Bones or T Bones wheels and Santa Cruz with their Slime Ball and OJ ranges. Wheels were really big by today’s standards around 64 – 67mm and really soft 95A – 97A, giving a nice, smooth, quiet ride. These big, soft skateboard wheels were suited the bigger board shapes and popular tricks of the time, particularly for Vert ramp riding which was the period’s dominant genre.
The early 1990s – Dark times
Things change fast in skateboarding and nowhere in time is this more obvious than between 1990 and 1992. Skateboarding moved heavily into street skating, declaring vert as dead. Boards changed dramatically, moving from crazy fish-tail shapes to American football shapes with much longer noses which was the beginning of the evolution to the modern-day “popsicle” board shape. This allowed for new tricks like Nose slides and switch stance skating meaning the wheels needed to change too. This was partly to be lighter for flip tricks and partly so the didn’t rub on nose/tailslides and other ledge manoeuvres.
Things went a bit far, as they so often do, resulting in skateboard wheels that at 38mm were little more than bearing covers. Skateboarding got slow, technical and paranoid about even the smallest stone in the way. Bad times. We even saw all sorts such as attempts at single bearing wheels, can you imagine? This completely ignored the fact that skateboarding was going to exert some serious pressure and stresses on those poor, lonely bearings. Needless to say, bearings broke in these wheels pretty quickly and skaters around the world regretted their weight-saving purchase. I could write an entire article on gimmicky products that have been introduced the skateboarding over the years… maybe I should?
This was widely considered a low point for both the humble skateboard and the industry as a whole. Keep reading though, things swiftly improved…
The mid 1990s – Skateboarding’s golden era
Fortunately for everyone, skateboarding found it’s way again in the mid-’90s, tricks became cleaner, whilst speed, pop and style became the main focus instead of technicality. Wheels, therefore, started to grow again: 56mm – 60mm became the norm as videos like Eastern Exposure 3 inspired skaters worldwide to hit the streets with raw power and speed. By the late nineties, skateboarding was starting the mature and board shapes had been the popsicle shape we know and love for some time. Wheel sizes settled down to roughly what we see today, anywhere between 50mm to 56mm in general.
2000 and beyond – The Tony Hawk years
1999 and the beginning of the 2000s saw Tony Hawk’s Playstation game release and the birth of one of the biggest booms in skateboarding ever. This game spoke to more kids than any of the previous catalysts that have affected the popularity of skateboarding over the years which have largely been movies like Police Academy, Gleaming the Cube and the big one for the 1980s boom, Back to the Future! This time it sent skateboarding into the stratosphere and this lead to more skateparks, more skate shops and of course skateboarders than ever before. More people in the sport means more choice and over the last 2 decades, we have seen an expansion in types skateboard wheels available. To give you an idea, here are some of the questions that you could expect to hear at your local skate shop:
Do you want skatepark wheels or street wheels? Wheels with slidey cores or without? Rounded sidewalls so your wheel is like a doughnut? Flat sided so you can lock in better on rails? Conical shaped or something in between? Bigger wheels or smaller? Softer or harder? The questions go on and on.
Finding the right skateboard wheels – Things to consider
What kind of skater are you?
Now you have seen the evolution of the humble skateboard wheel and all the different factors that can affect your skating and personal style depending at which point time you choose to park your DeLorean, you can appreciate trying to work out what wheel is best for you can be a daunting task. So, if you want to get the right wheels for you, there are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What am I going to skate most? Street or Park are the two most ridden terrains and these days brands like Bones Wheels delineate between the two with their SPF (skate park formula) and STF (Street tech formula), both made to give the right slide, grip, speed and flat spot resistance for the terrain they are made for.
- What tricks am I into? Generally, a technical ledge skater is going to be looking at 50-51mm wheels whilst bowl riders will want 54-56mm wheels for that extra speed. Spitfire Wheels make several shapes such as Lock-ins, with a flatter side wall which helps lock into position on handrails. So you need to look at what shape your wheels need to be too. They should help, not hinder your carefully curated bag of tricks. If you are an all-rounder and like to skate a bit of everything, 52 – 54mm is the sweet spot and the size most people go for these days.
- Is weight important? People spend a lot of money to reduce weight in their trucks but you can reduce that weight a lot more with a slimmer wheel as there is far less urethane bulking it out. Some skaters are mighty beasts to whom these weight savings are of little concern. Those of us who are a little more exacting with their requirements may find that weight saving makes all the difference in getting that flip around quicker.
- Do I do powerslides, blunt slides or any other tricks that can flat spot wheels? If making your wheels screech across a ledge or deck of the ramp is big on your agenda, you are going to want a wheel that resists flat spots. On a running surface level, that means picking up a wheel with a wider running surface. A thin running surface is faster for rolling but less surface area means more pressure and therefore more flat spots. No one wants to be that noisy flat-spotted wheels guy! At a brand level, companies like Ricta, Bones and Spitfire all offer flat spot resistant formulas. They are a little pricier but they will generally last longer than a basic set of wheels, so probably worth the extra spend in the long run.
At Supereight, we tend to focus on Bones, Spitfire and Ricta because they make some of the best skateboard wheels in the world and have done for a very long time. Each brand is dedicated to making high-quality wheels and pushing forward wheel longevity and performance. They all offer a great range of shapes, sizes, technologies and price points to cater to pretty much any skater’s needs. That is why we back these brands and ride them ourselves. That said we have something for all budgets and if you are new to skateboarding and on a tight budget, we have something for you as well. Happy rolling!