If there’s one component of a skateboard that gives beginning skateboarders fits, it is bearings. From which ones are best to how to take care of them, the learning curve with bearings is steep. Getting the wrong ones or installing them incorrectly can make a good setup useless. The reward for doing everything right is serious speed, though, so it is worth the time to learn how to put bearings in wheels properly.
You do not need the most expensive, ABEC-9 bearings on the market to go fast. A set of ABEC-3s or ABEC-5s from a decent manufacturer will go plenty fast once they are broken in, as long as they are clean and well-lubricated. Most high-quality bearings are packaged in a purpose made lubricant, which will generally last for weeks if kept dry.
The first step in getting the most out of your bearings is to install them properly. Bearing size is standard in all quality wheels, like the ones in this list of the best skateboard wheels, so follow these steps to ensure your bearings are set up to operate efficiently. The first few minutes of riding will be slow but smooth, and speed will build gradually for a while. Your bearings will break in after a couple sessions, and you’ll have one of the fastest boards anywhere.
Use the Hanger
Installing the bearings is the last step before you can ride, so the trucks should already be mounted to the board. Place the board on its side so the axles point straight up and remove the axle nut. Quality bearings will come with a set of washers and spacers — the hollow steel tubes. You should use everything that came with your bearing set.
You will place one bearing on the axle and use the side of the aluminum hanger to press the bearing in the wheel, but first check the bearing for shields. If a shield is present on only one side, place that side down on the axle.
Place one wheel with its core over the bearing and, using the palm of your hand, press the bearing into place. With new wheels and bearings, it can take quite a bit of force, but you can do it. The guy in this Video presses his bearings in the right way, but he should use spacers.
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Use the Spacers
Once you have the first bearing pressed in a wheel, remove it from the axle. Place another bearing on the axle, then place a spacer on top of it. Some people choose to leave the spacer out, but this creates a couple issues that the spacer is designed to prevent. First, bearings cannot withstand as much lateral force as vertical force without breaking. The spacers keep them in line.
Second, the spacer lets you tighten your axle nut all the way down, keeping the inner race from rotating on the axle. This makes the bearing roll slower when new, but it pays off with a much faster bearing once the set is completely broken in. Place the wheel over the bearing and spacer and press in the bearing, and check out this video for more on the functionality of spacers.
Use the Washers
Remove the wheel from the axle. It should spin freely between your fingers. Locate two washers, and place one on the axle against the hanger, followed by the wheel and the other washer. The washers prevent the shields from rubbing on the hanger or the axle nut when rolling. The spacers may be an option, but the washers are critical. The shield rubbing that results from not using them will drastically slow the roll.
Tighten the Nut
The axle nut should spin on by hand until the starter thread meets the nylon locking ring on the end of the nut. Using a ½-inch wrench or socket, continue tightening the axle nut until it presses against the outer washer.
If you used a spacer, you should be able to tighten the nut down with a fair amount of torque without slowing the wheel’s roll. Spin the wheel by hand. If it comes to a sudden stop, back off the nut just a bit and spin again. Continue this process until the wheel comes to a gradual stop, but does not shake side to side.
The Roll Away
Skateboard bearings are precision-engineered equipment, and the manufacturer includes spacers and washers for technical reasons. These parts are designed to work a certain way, and when we exclude spacers and washers, we change their operation. The bearings may seem slow at first, but they will get progressively faster as they break in with use. Don’t forget to check your skateboard to know what size skateboard wheels is to choose the best bearings. For more information about the parts of skateboard bearings and how they function, read this article on Rat Vision.
We hope this article helped clear up some of your questions about bearing installation. If so, please share it so others can see why they need to use all the pieces in a bearing set. Also, please leave a comment below and tell us your experience with bearings. Remember: Clean bearings are fast bearings, so keep them lubed and keep rolling!