Understanding Longboard Wheels
Everything you need to know to understand the technology behind longboard wheels. Complete with nice graphics to help you understand better.
Let’s break down the technology behind longboard wheels. The list of wheel specs here might seem like a lot to absorb but just remember what a longboard wheel really does. Obviously, it goes around to give you faster/slower forward or backward motion, but it also controls how well your board grips and turns on the surface you are riding on. Most of the specs on a wheel have to do with traction. As you read through this guide, remember that all these specs work together to determine how the wheel will perform.
longboard wheels on different surfaces
In additon to everything outlined in this guide, a longboard wheel’s performance is directly related to the surface you are riding on. For example, a wheel will ride signifigantly different on smooth asphalt surface than a older/rougher cement surface. Let’s start our longboard wheel technology conversation with a list of common surfaces and their relative effect on a longboard wheel:
- smooth asphalt – Very grippy in general and require a less grippy wheel for sliding.
- rough asphalt – Less grippy than smooth asphalt but still more grippy than cement.
- smooth cement – Less grippy than asphalt and will slide faster. Sometimes has coatings to make slides even easier.
- rough cement – Less grippy than asphalt but more grippy than smooth cement.
- brick/stone – Typically less grippy than both asphalt and cement but often has grooves to cause friction and drag during slides.
- wood – The least grippy and very slideable. Especially with masonite commonly found on skate ramps.
- sand/dirt/grass – Good luck getting very far. Maybe some luck in dirt/grass but we suggest you find somewhere else ride if you want to actually move.
diameter (height – size)
The diameter of the wheel (size or height) is the most common spec when it comes to the properties of your longboard wheel. Specifically with longboard wheels, you’ll see a range of sizes from 60mm-100+mm. The wheel diamater range for a longboard is on the larger side compared to your common skateboard wheel range from 48mm-60mm. In a nut shell, the larger the wheel the faster the ride will be. Plus, larger wheels will absorb more shock over cracks, bumps, ect. In contrast, the smaller wheels will accelerate faster but not have as much speed on the top end. The most common range for wheels is in the 63mm-75mm range. As you get larger than ~75mm with your wheels you need to make sure your deck/truck setup can accomodate the larger size without getting wheel bite. Look for a board with a cutout or deeper wheel wells to avoid wheelbite with larger wheels.
Longboard wheels are made of polyurethane and will range in hardness. The durometer of a wheel determines how hard its polyurethane is. In terms of performance, the durometer has to do with how the wheel grips to the surface you are riding on. A lower durometer will be more ‘grippy’ where a higher durometer will be more ‘slidey’. Longboard/skateboard wheels will range between 75a-100a. The most common durometers for longboard wheels will be on the softer side when compared to standard skateboard wheels and fall in the 75a-90a range. You’ll commonly see 75-78a wheels for the more grippy varieties, 80-90a for freeride and downhill wheels and 80a+ for slide wheels.
Curious what that ‘a’ means? You’ll see an ‘a’ in most references to durometer ratings. Different polyurethane, rubbers and plastics are rated on a scale of 12 hardness ratings (A, B, C, D, DO, E, M, O, OO, OOO, OOO-S, R) each with values from 0-100. We are not molecular scientists and will not explain the differences between scales. Just know that skateboard wheels will almost allways be on the ‘a’ scale rating (some skate wheels like ‘Bones’ will have ‘b’ ratings which are on a harder scale than ‘a’) because of the type of urethane that performs best on longboards/skateboards.
Similar to durometer, the lip profile of your longboard wheel will determine how well your wheel grips the riding surface. A more ‘square’ lip profile will be more ‘grippy’ and provide more control at higher speeds. A ’round’ lip profile will provide less grip and perform better on slides. You’ll find different variations of ‘more round’ and ‘more square’ across different wheel models but most wheels fall toward one end of the spectrum.
Sometimes a wheel will have a ‘beveled’ lip. This style gives the wheel a mixed performance of grip and slide and works well for freeriders who might want a little more ‘drift’ or slideability without sacraficing overall traction.
wheel core setting (hub placement)
The core setting (hub placement) is the position of the wheel core. In the most basic sense, the core placement effects the traction and durability of your wheels. If we think about the physics of a wheel when you initiate a turn, the force you put against the wheel is absorbed around the wheel’s core. So if you have a wheel with a core right in the middle, it will have a balanced amount of urethane from left to right. When you offset or sideset the core, the wheel becomes more forgiving on the outside making it more suitable for a looser or less grippy feel. In terms of durability, center set wheels offer the most longevity allowing you to flip them around when the outsides begin to wear unlike offset or sideset wheels.
Keep in mind that other properties of the wheel like hardness, size and lip profile are designed into the wheel to create a balanced blend of ‘grip’ and ‘slide’. So you will find many ‘slide’ wheels with a centerset core but a thin ‘contact patch’ making for less traction, more slide and longer durability with the option of flipping the wheel.
There are 3 common core positions across the longboard wheel spectrum that each differ how your board rides. Those include offset, centerset and sideset.
The most common core setting with the core slightly set in from the inside area of the wheel. They provide a nice balance of traction and slide and accomodate a wide range of riding styles with their versatilty.
- hub between center and inside edge
- less grip than centerset but more than sideset
- common with square lips for added traction
- hub equal distance to each side
- wear evenly and can be flipped over time (often paired with a thin contact patch in ‘slide’ wheels)
- more dificult to initiate slides but more control
core material (hub material)
The material that the core is made out of does not varry as much across models as some of the other wheel properties but it does change how the longboard wheel will ride and the longevity that you’ll get from your wheels. You’ll find materials ranging from the hardest aluminum cores to urethane with plasic cores being the most common. Here is a quick list of some properties of these common core materials.
- more mass for more rotational inertia per revoluton (faster!)
- stiffer for enhanced traction and more even wear
- less mass than aluminum but slightly less weight
- most common – inexpensive
- less mass than aluminum but heavier than plastic
- more dampening than plastic for a smoother ride
contact patch (wheel width)
The contact patch of a longboard wheel is simply the width or amount of wheel that actually touches the surface at any point. Note that this doesn’t include any bevel or lip that does not contact the surface. A ‘wider’ contact patch will have more urethane on the surface giving more ‘grip’. A ‘thinner’ contact patch will have less urethane giving more ‘slide’. Keep in mind this property works closely with the duromoter of the wheel in how ‘grippy’ the actual wheel is. That said, most slide wheels will have a ‘thinner’ contact patch and most freeride/downhill wheels will have a ‘wider’ contact patch.
The texture of a wheel has to do with how grippy the wheel is out of the box. You’ll often hear people talk about ‘breaking in’ their wheels. This is the process of wear on your wheel over time that results in a less ‘grippy’ wheel. In longboard wheel texture’s there are ‘smooth’ wheels that offer more grip out of the box and ‘rough’ wheels that provide more ‘slide’ out of the box. Rough textured wheels are simply a way to get more ‘slide’ on your new wheel by bypassing some of the break in process. However, going through the break in process with a smooth wheel is a good way to get more control from your slides but does take more riding to hit that sweet spot.
You should now more about how a longboard wheel works to make a more informed choice on what too look for when trying to find the perfect fit for your ride. If you want a quick overview on how to choose the right longboard or longbooard wheels you can look at our post on how to choose the right longboard. We go over some quick points on what to look for in trucks, wheels and decks depending on the style of riding you want to do. Looking to find a wheel today? View our selection of longboard wheels here at Windward