It goes without saying that, without bearings, you’re going nowhere. But with so many in the display case to choose from where do you begin? First, let’s uncover the mystery of ABEC ratings. One of the most common misconceptions about rating is the higher the ABEC rating, the faster they go. NOT necessarily true- yes they do affect this somewhat, but the ABEC rating means so much more.
ABEC stands for Annular Bearing Engineers’ Committee, it’s the American method for rating the accuracy and tolerance rating of bearings- not the speed. The higher the rating, the more precise and the better the performance and durability of that bearing. These standards are set by the American Bearing Manufacturers Association (ABMA).
ABEC 1 bearings will generally be cheap, factory pop-together parts that are functional but not necessarily balanced or precision. They are made to take abuse, but don’t perform very well. Great for beginners who are probably not going to take care of their board. These are the kind of bearings you generally find in department store boards, and toys. But most pro shops donít bother carrying such a low quality bearing.
ABEC 3 bearings are standard for prebuilt Chinese completes, or beginner boards, and they can be found in most skate shops from about $8 to $12 a set when sold on their own. But these bearings generally don’t roll very fast or go very far, but they are a great place to start for beginners who want something a little better than department store boards.
ABEC 5 bearings are middle of the road, and also the most common rating used in skateboards. The speed is good and they are durable enough to take the constant starts and stops of a skateboarder, not to mention a little abuse. Average price is $15 to $20.
ABEC 7 bearings are going to be a much smoother ride, less seizing up and more precision, but a skater who thrashes hard may find themselves breaking them more often. The casing is more delicate for a more balanced ride, but they are better for cruisers, longboards, or skaters who ride vert. These average around $20 to $25 a set.
ABEC 9 bearings are the fastest, smoothest ride you’ll find, but not really practical for hard core street skaters. They’re not built for taking a beating, but they are perfect for longboards, downhill racing, or speed skaters. These will be a bit pricier, usually around $20 to $40 a set.
An interesting thing to mention is that not ALL bearing companies use the ABEC rating system. Some use their own system or go by ISO (International Standards Organization) or DIN (German National standards Organization). Some companies don’t use ABEC ratings at all, like Bones bearings. But Bones is known for their quality, and rising above the competition when it comes standing in their own class. In fact, the term Swiss bearings was coined by Bones because they manufactured their bearings in Switzerland for better quality. When other companies attempted to imitate them, they called them Swiss style bearings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are made in Switzerland.
Materials will also play a role in cost. Most bearings are steel, while some companies use titanium or go ceramic. Some bearings are oiled or sealed, while others have removable shields for cleaning. It all boils down to preference. So many of the bearing in the world are made in the same factories and they just slap them with different packing. So to name every brand here would be futile. Bones, on the other hand, has engineered their bearings specifically for the abuse of skateboarding.
Not that there aren’t other great bearing brands in the market today, but hopefully this guide helps you understand what ratings are, and will help you select the appropriate bearing for your style of skating.