It is impossible to look at roller skates without coming across the ABEC ratings associated with each skate’s bearings.
The ratings are thrown around so much, it makes us wonder whether they actually mean anything real or if they are just used as a marketing ploy to convince us that the skates are high performance.
To find out, we researched what ABEC means, what the different ratings mean, and whether the ratings are important at all.
As they are mentioned so frequently in any description of roller skates, it is important to understand whether they matter.
And, if they don’t matter, what other ways can we describe the bearings within the wheels.
In order to understand their purpose, you will first need to know what a bearing is, how it helps you skate, and whether the difference in the ratings will really alter your skating abilities when you are out on the rink.
What Is A Bearing?
Bearings as a component have existed for thousands of years. They are small parts that help with the rotation of other objects.
In the 19th century, these evolved to be metal and be used within the new developing machinery.
Reducing friction on turning parts, such as axles, bearings help keep machines and any kind of turning object moving smoothly without any interruption.
They do come in a wide array of sizes and shapes; include the ball, roller, tapered, and simple friction.
In modern times, a bearing is usually set within an inner and outer ring. These are known as races.
They will occasionally have separators, known as cages, to space out the bearings. But really, they are found in nearly every industry out there, whether it is roller skates, computers, or kitchen mixers.
When it comes to roller skates, the bearing sits inside of the wheel hub. They are what allow the wheel to turn, so the size and quality of a bearing will affect how well you are able to move.
Normally, each wheel has two bearings, so depending on the roller skates that you use, you might have eight to sixteen bearings within them, all to help you move around smoothly.
Bearings within roller skates should not float around by themselves on the truck axle. They are held in place with washers and a spacer.
Sometimes the spacers have already been built into the plan, which helps with the stress on the side loads.
What Does ABEC Mean?
Of course, it is important to know what ABEC means. The term is an acronym for Annular Bearing Engineer Committee.
It is a committee that was started back in 1917 to help the United States create better bearings for World War I.
Originally, ABEC was a non-profit known as the American Bearing Manufacturers Association, or the ABMA.
The ABMA will help provide bearing manufacturers with specifications so that all of the bearings that are made use the same high standard.
Naturally, they were thinking of bearings that applied to mechanics that were part of warfare and not roller skates, but the concept is still the same.
Even though the committee was established to make sure that we were producing quality components to send to the soldiers, they did not dissolve after the First World War.
They still aim to be the most trustworthy source for quality for the bearing industry in the United States. In modern times, they work hard against counterfeiting, preventing fake bearings or poorly constructed products from coming into the United Sates to be sold.
What Do The Ratings Indicate?
Let’s dive into what an ABEC rating means. The ABEC scale is a standard that measures the tolerance from a ball bearing.
It looks to measure how usable a bearing is and whether it meets their standards for quality.
ABEC has dimensional specifications for its ball bearings so that regardless of who makes the ball bearing, they will all have the same tolerance level and the difference design elements will not affect the overall movement of the bearing itself.
The scale is broken down from a level 1 to a level 11, working only in odd numbers. The lower the number, the less precise the bearing is, so the higher the number, the rounder the bearing is and the more precise it is.
Precision is referring to the ball bearing tolerance, which may not make a lot of sense on the outside.
But really, dimensional tolerance is referring to how close the ball bearing is to meeting the ABEC published size. So, the higher the number, the better the bearing.
Should We Just Go With The Higher Number?
The natural inclination is that the higher the number, the better the ball bearing. But that isn’t always the case.
Sure, it is nice to have a slick rolling bearing that has a high number, but it may be the wrong choice when it comes to roller skating.
With roller skates, the precision of your ball bearing does not always matter. These are roller skates after all, not heavy machinery, weapons, or even airplanes.
So an ABEC 11 rating for a rocket is a great idea, but you do not need something with that level of precision on a skate wheel. You are not traveling as fast as any of those things and do not require that level of intensity.
Also, skates that come with a higher ABEC rating are going to cost more than the skates with lower ABEC ratings. A beginner skater does not need to shop around, looking for the highest ABEC rating possible.
Save your money and find an appropriate pair of skates, rather than focusing on the ABEC rating of the bearings within the wheels.
Do ABEC Ratings Matter?
The ultimate question here is whether the ABEC ratings matter. As we mentioned above, it depends on what you are talking about.
Of course they matter when it comes to big serious machinery. But do ABEC ratings matter with roller skates? The truth is: not really.
The amount of speed and smoothness that you are going to get out of your roller skates has less to do with the bearings and more to do with the wheels, the shape of the skates, the type of skating that you are going, and even your skill level.
Competitive skaters might want to have a higher ABEC rating, but they also likely will just get it by default when they buy the higher-end roller skates.
That doesn’t mean that the bearings don’t matter. They definitely do. They control the whole movement and spin of your wheels, so their importance should not be underrated. It is just whether the rating from ABEC that has been brought into question.
It has been shown that the part of bearings that should be focused on is the materials, the side loads, and the cleanliness of the bearings.
Bearings can be made from a lot of different metals and alloys. The parts within the bearing include the ball bearing, the inner and outer raceway, the retainer, and the shield.
The material that was used to create all of these elements will affect the quality of the bearing and determine how smoothly the bearing is able to move and help the wheels turn.
Something made with cheap, or even plastic, materials will not move as smoothly as a bearing that was made with quality materials.
The axial and side loads matter more when it comes to bearings within roller skates. The radial loads that are focused on for heavy machinery do not come into play here.
The radial load refers to how fast the bearing can spin. With bigger machines that use bearings, they spin hundreds of miles per hour in one direction.
But for roller skates, there are loads, or weight, placed on different parts of the bearing. In order to turn, spin, and jump, there is weight put on different areas of the bearing, so it is important to look at how much the bearing can take before it gives out.
Many people do not even consider that the bearings can get dirty, but they can. When you bring your roller skates home for the first time, you need to clean and lubricate your bearings right away.
When you have a clean and lubricated bearing, you will wind up with a much smoother bearing and you will find that it lasts a lot longer as dirt will not be able to gradually damage the smoothness of the bearing.
Shopping For Bearings
You may be wondering how you can determine a quality bearing if you know that the ABEC rating does not give the same amount of information about the skates that you were looking for.
It makes more sense to shop for your roller skates based on the type of skate it is and whether it will meet your needs as a skater, rather than concentrating on your ABEC rating. Here are some other things to look at when shopping for skates:
Ideally, you would go for bearings that had been made by known and reputable companies, rather than whether they hold a high ABEC rating.
Some of the best bearing brands do not even list an ABEC rating, concentrating instead on what the bearing is.
Some of the best brands include: Bones, Oust, Dragon Bearings, and Zealous, but there are still plenty other companies out there who will make a goof product.
Also known as rings, the races on a bearing run along the inner and the outer race.
The races are kept together by the balls, which means that the standard ball bearings do not work with side loads.
As we mentioned above, bearings are made up of many different moving components.
So the better quality features that a bearing has, the better they will be. The features we are talking about are the:
- Seals: Shields and seals are meant to block any dirt from entering the bearing, but to also keep the bearing’s lubricant safely inside. These are usually either metal or rubber. Metals is tricky to clean and is often not removable, which rubber is easily removed, but not as durable as metal would be.
- Balls: It should not come as a surprise that the ball part of a ball bearing should be given attention. It is the most essential element of a bearing. Typically, it is thought that the ceramic balls are stronger and smoother than the steel balls, but they can break. The steel balls can warp over time. It is a personal preference.
- Lubricant: Lubricants are what keep the balls rolling. They help with the movement of the bearing. They will also increase the longevity of the bearing, by reducing the amount of wear and tear that the bearing will experience. Typically, it is a light oil lubricant which helps with the speed of the spin of the ball. It can leak over time, so you will need to relube the bearings from time to time. There is also grease available that is trickier to start with, but it will not need to be reapplied and requires very little in the way of maintenance.
- Retainers: In order to keep the balls within a bearing spaced out, retainers are also used. They come in either a nylon or metal. The nylon retainers have less drag than metal counterparts, giving them a smooth ride. A lot of the time, having a retainer that has been warped or cracked will not affect the job of the restrainer.
The rating does mean something and it isn’t just nonsense, but the question that you should be asking yourself is how much it really matters if the skate has a high ABEC rating.
At the end of the day, it likely does not matter much with roller skates. You will see the ABEC rating often in a hunt for hockey skates, but whether you pay it any mind is up to you.
Hey there, my name is Tommy and I have to admit that rollerblading and roller skating are in my blood. I have been skating since I was seven years old and I have tried many different roller skates during my skating career.
I hope my knowledge and passion for rollerblading and skating comes across and that you’ll find the product reviews insightful.