I have been testing inline and roller skate bearings for over 30 years. As the Director of Bont Skates, it is my responsibility to make sure our professional skating team is on the very best bearings in the world. I have no agreement with any single bearing company and I source skate bearings from a number of different manufacturers in different countries. Each week I am approached by no less than five bearing manufacturers asking me to test their skate bearings for Bont Skates. Some I test, some I don’t, it depends if they sound like they are making quality bearings or not. Over the years I have tested hundreds of different brands of skate bearings.
This post will cover everything you ever wanted to know about skate bearings. This includes bearings for skateboarding, inline skating, roller skating, scooters, and roller derby skating.
Bont 608 ABEC 7 skate bearing
How does Bont test bearings?
The first thing I do before testing a bearing is to find out the materials that are used in the bearing. The majority of 608 bearings are made to be mass-produced as cheaply as possible. So the majority of bearings will be made with low-grade steel. This is a problem because low-grade steel will warp under load. All bearings will look similar when you spin them in your fingers but it is when you are standing on the bearing and when they are rolling at high speed is when you need to be testing them. Next, we check the bearing tolerances. If the balls are not very round or the bearing manufacturer uses poor tolerances, then it’s guaranteed that the bearing will not roll as well as a bearing that has tighter tolerances. Tolerances relate to manufacturing precision. Tolerance is the allowable variation for any given size in order to achieve a proper function. For example, one bearing may have a tolerance of +/- 0.01mm, and another may have a tolerance of +/-0.1mm. The one with the ‘tighter’ tolerance with all other things being equal will be the better bearing.
Once we know that the 608 skate bearing has good fundamentals, we will test it in the real world. The first test will be a roll test where we do a fairly long rollout from a standing start down a long hill. This is repeated a number of times. This gives us a real-world time, under the actual load that will be used to skate on the bearing. If it gets past that test, we send them out to our professional athletes to test. Our team members skate the same lap times over and over each day and they know if one bearing is faster than another one. If a bearing is liked by our team skaters and we think it could be a candidate for possible inclusion into our range, then we will discuss many other aspects of the bearing with the bearings manufacturer to see if we can improve it even more including cage design, retainer design, lubrication, and polishing.
MORE INFO: Leon Bellevance (Flustercluck) who is a Bont Quadstar covers all your mini (micro) bearing questions including how to clean them, why did Bont make the 167 bearings, and why are there so many bearing sizes.
Which bearing oil is the best?
I’ll start by mentioning what the worst skate bearing oil is and that is grease. If you have ever gone to a skate shop and picked up a pair of roller skates, inline skates, or a skateboard or scooter and spun the wheels and they have hardly spun at all then you have experienced bearings packed with grease. If your bearings come packed with grease, you need to clean them out but, in all seriousness, if they are packed with grease then you know that they are not going to be a good bearing, so just save them for skating in the rain or mud or something like that.
The best skate bearing oil is a light racing oil. Sewing machine oil can also be used. At Bont, we use a Kluber oil from Germany which we find to be excellent.
There are a number of great bearing manufacturers on the market. Traditionally, the best bearings have come from Switzerland and Germany and the Chinese bearings have been more entry-level bearings.
How can you tell if a bearing is good or not?
All bearings look similar so you are not going to be able to tell by looking at it. The best thing you can do is to buy from a reputable brand like Bont.
Are bearings the same for all types of skating?
The main skate bearing size is called a 608 bearing. This is the same size bearing for roller skates, inline skates, roller derby skates, skateboards, and scooters. Some sports like roller derby have more side load pressure placed on the bearing but apart from that, all of the various skating sports use the bearings in a similar way. If you are jumping or skating through dirt, I would avoid ceramic bearings as the balls can break more easily than steel bearings.
608 Bont Skate bearing
What’s the ABEC rating?
Don’t get me started on the ABEC rating. This is an absolutely useless rating. Many unscrupulous bearing manufacturers will stamp ABEC 9 on an ABEC 1 bearing. No-one checks so they don’t care. The ABEC rating system is supposed to be a guide to rate bearings with higher tolerances. For example, a Bont ABEC 7 bearing has tighter tolerances than a Bont ABEC 5 bearing. When I was a kid, ABEC 7 was the highest rating and ABEC 9 was only for military applications. Now you can buy a bearing stamped with ABEC 11 on it. Please. The ABEC system is so out of hand that we can just dismiss it.
Examples of 'ABEC 11' skate bearings on Alibaba
Are more or fewer balls better in a bearing?
Company A will claim that fewer balls mean less friction which means faster bearings and company B will claim that more balls mean that less weight is on each ball which means a faster bearing. So which one is true? They are both the same. If you reduce the number of balls you reduce the friction but each ball now carries more load. If you increase the number of balls, you increase the friction but each ball has less load. In my testing, the results are the same.
What are the best skate bearings?
There are a number of great bearing manufacturers on the market. Traditionally, the best bearings have come from Switzerland and Germany and the Chinese bearings have been more entry-level bearings. The Chinese and bearings are much better quality now than they were previously and they can make very good bearings if the company buying them insists on quality materials and has their own quality control in China.
What are the fastest skate bearings?
Similarly to the above question, the fastest skate bearings are the ones made with the best materials and the highest tolerances. There is no faster bearing than a Bont bearing. If there were, we would buy it.
Are Ceramic Skate bearings better than steel bearings?
Ceramic balls are more round than steel balls and they do not get hot like steel balls do so yes they are faster. However, they are also more susceptible to having problems with dirt and dust and they can crack if you are jumping on your skates. BUT, not all ceramic bearings are faster. Some ceramics are truly awful. In the early 1990’s I was making Ceramic bearings in Switzerland, the same ones we still sell today, and I was paying over $200 a set to make them. Skaters were coming to me saying that my bearings were overpriced and that they could buy ceramic bearings for $60 a set from China. These ceramic bearings were worse than the Bont ABEC 3 steel bearings. They truly were some of the most awful bearings I have ever skated on. You could even feel the play in the bearing just by holding them in your fingers they were that bad. As many people couldn’t afford $600 ceramic bearings (which was the going price for 20 of them in the 1990’s) skaters tried the cheap ones and dismissed ceramic bearings as poor bearings which really isn’t the case.
Are ceramic bearings worth the money?
If you want more speed, then yes they are worth the money. If you look after them, you can use them for years. I use ceramic bearings on my skates.
When should I replace my bearings?
If you have left them to rust, replace them. If they are making all kinds of bad noises and you have cleaned them and they still don’t roll well, replace them. If you do replace them, make sure you put them in the recycle bin if you have one so that they don’t go into landfill. They are recyclable.
How to put bearings in skate wheels?
Once you watch this video you won’t believe how simple it is :)
How to get bearings out of skate wheels?
Take your Allen key. Pop one end into the bearing and pop it out like this.
How to clean skate bearings?
To clean my bearings, I used to use an industrial high-pressure air cleaner which was great but not everyone has one of those. Other systems on the market needed a lot of mucking around so I invented an electronic bearing cleaner. You simply slide the bearing onto the shaft, press the button and it cleans the bearing in a few seconds. It can save you a lot of money replacing bearings especially if you invest in high-quality bearings.
How often should I lubricate my skate bearings?
If you are the sort of person who loves to have everything running perfectly at all times then every three months or so you can clean your bearings and lubricate them. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t care too much about your skates then just clean and lubricate them when you hear them making noises or not spinning freely. If you are a professional skater, you may want to clean and lubricate your bearings before every competition.
How to Choose the Right Roller Skate Bearings?
As I mentioned before, all bearings look alike so the best thing you can do to choose the right roller skate bearing is to buy bearings from a brand you trust. Like Bont ;)
Bont 608 Ceramic skate bearings
How does Bont ensure that Bont bearings are the best?
Elite skaters are picky. If I don’t provide the very best bearings to my professional team, they will complain and they will end up using another brand of bearing. So at the most basic level, I need to keep my team of skaters happy. However, I put my name on the bearings and for them to wear the Bont name, they need to be the best. I need to have the best product in every single category. I am highly competitive and I won’t settle for second best.
Team Bont Skater winning on Bont 608 skate bearings
Well, there you have it. If you can think of a bearing question that I haven’t answered here, please email me and I will add it to the list. Happy skating!
About the author:
Alexander Bont has been skating since the age of two years old. He was part of the Australian national short track team for 7 years. He has also competed on quad roller skates, long track ice skates, and inline speed skates. Alexander has won a number of Australian national titles including national records in short track and state titles in inline speed skating. He is the owner and CEO of Bont Skates and has a passion for skate design.