Everything to know about Longboard wheels.
A longboard has tons of parts. 4 of them are longboard wheels. They let you roll, slide, commute and dance. They are the most basic building block of your traveling stick, and as expected, there’s a lot to know about them.
Being educated about your wheels is important, as there’s a purpose for every wheel, but there’s no wheel for every purpose. It’s an extremely diverse market, and in your journey to become a skilled longboarder, you will need comprehensive knowledge of:
- The anatomy and physics of a wheel
- Durometers and formulas
- Wheels for every purpose.
- Freeride wheels
- Downhill wheels
- Dancing wheels
- Street/hard wheels
The Longboard Wheel: Anatomy and Physics
The wheel is one of the world’s most primitive designs, and they dictate several things about how your longboard performs on the road- such as speed, grip and the smoothness of your ride.
The anatomy of a longboard wheel is as such (from inside to out):
- Core + Bearing Seat
The core is arguably the most important part of a wheel. It supports the wheel from the inside, attaching it strongly to the bearing, which is attached to and rotates on the axle. Cores have a large part in dictating the grip, speed and durability of a wheel. There are 3 factors to a core:
- Is it encapsulated or exposed?
Whether the core is showing or hidden is a big deal when it comes to the top speed and acceleration. If the core of a wheel (see figure above) is hidden, it amounts to faster acceleration but lower top speeds, generally. For example, if you had two 70mm wheels where one core was encapsulated and one was exposed, the encapsulated wheel would speed up faster, but the exposed wheel would reach top speed later than the other.
- Is it small or big?
The size of a core dictates where the meat of the wheel is. A bigger core will displace more urethane to the outside of the wheel, resulting in a faster wheel that grips harder; a smaller core allows the wheel to have a lot of meat, so while the wheel may be slower, it’s better for sliding and lasts longer (there’s more polyurethane to slide away).
- Is it wide?
This is mostly a concern for grippy downhill wheels that require support in the lip. A wide core is usually a big one, and you’ll see them in fast racing wheels. A more supported lip means a longer lasting edge to the lip, and thus creates a better, faster racing Longboard wheel.
The body of the wheel is where two major factors come in: Size and width. These are two incredibly important factors regarding the speed and grip of a wheel.
Generally, people say, the bigger the wheel, the faster it is; they are mostly correct. However, keep in mind that the bigger a wheel gets, the slower it accelerates. Most people find 75-ish mm to be a good downhill size.
Smaller sizes matter too. The smaller a wheel is, the faster the wheel is rotating. So smaller wheels are inherently easier to slide than larger wheels. You’ll find that many freeride wheels are based around 69-ish mm because that’s a size that just works really well.
The width of the wheel contributes the most out of any part to how hard the wheel grips the ground, and how defined the line is between grip and slip. A large contact patch will hold onto pavement harder. A smaller contact patch will release much quicker. You’ll find that downhill wheels have larger contact patches and downhill wheels have larger ones, which is only logical.
Again though, it’s very important that you find a good balance between width and size to fit your every need. More on that later.
The lip is a key part in defining the grippiness of a wheel. The lip is the primary part of the wheel that deforms when put under pressure, flowing into and holding onto features on the asphalt.
Different lip shapes make a wheel grip and ungrip in different ways. There are 3 different types of lip profiles:
This is mostly for freeride and sliding; the round lips allow pavement to glide under them without much resistance at all. The only thing providing grip for a round-lipped slide wheel is the contact patch. Some manufacturers make round lips that round over more gradually than others. This creates a wheel that stays less grippy for longer.
Magneto Slide wheels Below:
Round lips create a slide See Magneto Slide wheels profile that can be described as an easy kick-out and an easy slide. Un-gripping the wheel normally doesn’t take more than a twist and a nudge, and holding out this slide is much easier than on a grippy square or sharp lip wheel.
Round lips are also beneficial for freestyle wheels as they don’t catch on the ground- because they are typically skinnier than square or sharp lipped downhill wheels, their low profile allows for a larger margin of error when it comes to flip tricks and grab tricks.
This is a grippy lip that stays grippy for a long time, regardless of how much sliding it goes through. Because the lip is perpendicular to the ground through the first 5 or so millimeters of the wheel, a few drifts here and there won’t be enough to wear down a wheel enough that the lips fall off. Square lips are common on big race wheels with huge contact patches.
Sharp lips are the grippiest of the lip profiles. The lips are like knives- they dig into the pavement when sideways force is applied, and it allows the whole wheel to stay secured in the pavement as long as it isn’t worn down. Sharp-lipped wheels are meant to stay unscrubbed and should usually not be slid unless absolutely necessary. If you have a lot of money or sponsors of course though, slide these wheels like you mean it. It’s a lot of fun. A guilty pleasure.
The skin is a pretty important part in defining how much a wheel grips out of the package. The skin is a product of the wheel curing process, where after they are poured, wheels are stored outside of a mold in a warm, highly oxygenated room. The outside few millimeters of the wheel “cures” or “ripens” before being shipped out to stores or the consumer. Some companies over-ripen their wheels because it gives their wheels a unique slide characteristic. There are two types of skin profiles:
Stone ground skins are usually present on an out-of-the-package slidable wheel. Stone grinding makes the skin rougher and thus exponentially reduces the size of the contact patch, as instead of a flat, smooth surface touching the ground, it’s just a really bumpy surface. You can expect slide profiles to stay more or less similar during the life of the wheel if you have this type of grinding on your skin.
A race-fresh skin is the mirror-finish you see on more large, square/sharp lipped wheels. They are the grippiest skin and look the best. A race-fresh skin is usually the sign of a pretty fast wheel, with some exceptions. These skins should be kept pristine for a race, hence the name. Wasting them on your neighborhood streets is a no-go. Wheels with fresh skins are usually pretty expensive as well, so don’t go around flatspotting them either!
These are “used” skins. Usually when race wheels come out of the race course after a day of riding, the first few layers of the wheels are gone, but the shape and lips are perfectly fine. These are called “scrubbies”. They’re great first race wheels as there are tons of “scrubbies” on buy/sell/trade communities on Facebook. Usually go for 15-20 dollars for a set of wheels. These won’t feel like stone-ground wheels, but rather super snappy freeride wheels.
Durometers and Formulas.
One of the hardest things about choosing your wheels is obscenely vast amount of durometers and formulas available to choose from. A wheel company might have anywhere from 3-12 wheels, and each of those wheels are a different formula from the next, and then there are 4 different durometers for each wheel. How does one choose?! Well, it’s not too hard, actually.
You want to decide on your formula. Now, each company has a different set of formulas under different names and brandings, but usually, a company will have a slide formula, a grip formula, and a midsy (low-price) formula. Popular companies have up to 7 or more formulas, but even those are just variations on this 3-item list. Some are just super-slidey wheels, some are less-slidey, some are drifty and downhill-ey, and some are just flat out the most grippy wheels you may ever roll on. Do your research through their homepage websites and online forums to see which formula you’d like to ride on the most. This is important. This decides how your wheel feels, not your durometer.
Durometers should be used to compare between variations of the exact same wheel. For example, Wheel A in 78a will be different to Wheel A in 80a. But in no way whatsoever is Wheel A in 78a remotely similar to Wheel B in 78a, and the difference between Wheel A in 78a and Wheel C in 90a could be negligible. Only use this to compare within a set of wheels.
Durometer is the measure of the hardness of the urethane which makes up a wheel. Most longboard wheels will range from 78a-86a, with the higher numbers being harder. Some wheel companies offer as low as 73a and most skateboard wheels are around 101a. As a general rule:
Lower durometers wear more quickly, leave thicker urethane lines, grip harder (to an extent) and dampen your ride more.
Harder durometers wear slowly, leave lesser lines, ice out easier, and let you feel the ground more.
- If you have a slide wheel, adjusting durometer is a good way to change how slidey it is. If you really like the slide characteristics of a wheel, yet want it to slide less or more, changing the durometer is a great way to do that!
- If you’re downhilling and want to drift and slide too, get a harder durometer of a downhill wheel. It’ll make sliding it easier, and still be just as fast!
Wheels for Every Purpose
As you can probably tell, there’s a wheel for every style of riding. And it’s important that you choose the right tool for the right job, so that you can do everything associated with that style. You don’t want to be stuck with sluggish street wheels when everybody is racing! Here’s what you should look for in a wheel for each style:
You should look for the following in a freeride wheel:
- Round Lips
- Smaller contact patch (35-50mm)
- Smaller size (<69mm)
- Encapsulated core
- Stone grinding (or not)
- Slide formula
In a freeride wheel, you want everything that allows you to glide over the pavement. The round lips will allow you to surf over cracks and obstacles while the smaller size will rotate faster than a larger wheel so that your wheels don’t gain traction for a long while. The smaller contact patch allows for less grip on the road, and the encapsulated core allows for quick acceleration. Stone grinding is optional; if you want to go through a lot of wheels in a day, definitely get stone-ground wheels. If not, breaking through the fresh skin won’t take very long. You’ll definitely want a slide formula as well. Most companies will make this obvious in their descriptions of the wheels.
You should look for the following in a downhill wheel:
- Sharp/Square Lips
- Larger contact patch (51-7x mm)
- Larger size (70-82mm)
- Encapsulated/Exposed Core
- Fresh skin (always)
In a downhill wheel, you want characteristics that stick you to the pavement and not let go unless you’re really trying to make it ungrip. The sharper lip profiles allow your wheel to really dig into the ground when it comes to sideways force (and there’s a lot of that), and that really locks you into the road you’re skating. The larger contact patch also allows more of the road to grip your wheel. The larger wheel raises top speeds and allows for a faster ride. The choice of core exposure is up to the rider- do you want to accelerate quickly or do you want a higher top speed? For straight courses, an exposed core is good. For curvier courses where there’s drifting and lots of turning involved, an encapsulated core will suit you well. Also, make sure to choose a downhill formula or you may find yourself spinning out when you go to drift. Again, this will be made obvious by the seller.
Yes, we know, wheels don’t dance. Jokes aside, longboard dancing does indeed involve choosing the right wheels. You should look for the following in a dancing wheel:
- Round lips
- Narrow width
- Medium size (~65-70mm)
- Encapsulated core
- Any skin
In a dancing wheel, you really want to have something that’s low profile and dynamic in shape. The round lips are less obtrusive when it comes to doing flip tricks, as they tend to hide under the deck because of their width. Also, sharp lips tend to bounce when they hit the ground- that could seriously ruin someone’s dancing line. Narrow width and size matters for low-profile purposes. The size is also important as it allows the dancer to run looser setups. The encapsulated core allows riders to accelerate quickly.
Hopefully this guide has helped you choose wheels. Always wear a helmet.-Ryan