ABEC ratings: Is higher really better? Pt. 1

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stockwheelsIn the worlds of inline and board skating, you will find many areas of much debate.However, one of the most contested areas you will encounter is that of skate bearings. German? Swiss? Ceramic? Stainless Steel? ABEC rating? So many choices, and so many opinions on what is better and what is not. When I was in grade school and into skateboarding, most boards had one of 2 types of bearings: cheap, crappy “American” bearings universally known by their shape which could be described as either mushroom, or T shaped like the Tetris piece, or “German” bearings, which were flat in that profile.

Needless to say, “German” bearings were the bees’ knees. They rolled smoother, longer, and generally faster. They were of much higher quality through and through, while the “American” bearings had cheap shields, generally a press fit cap style. They were sloppy and wore out quickly, as well as being slow in general. If you were rich, you could buy a pack of Bones “Swiss” high precision ceramic bearings, and you would get all the notoriety that came with it, provided you could skate worth a darn. One of the terms tossed around with the “German” bearings was “German Industrial Grade 3” bearings. Those, per all of my skateboarding buddies, were the best, bar none. They made you roll faster, ollie higher, kick flip more accurately, and anything else that could be attributed to such mythically awesome bearings.

If only us kids knew then what can be known now, we would have saved ourselves and our friends some cash, which we could then have spent on more important things like Garbage Pail Kids, marbles, skate shop stickers, and M.U.S.C.L.E. men, among other things. But I digress. Today’s ABEC ratings share a lot of similarities with the bearings of old that I and my friends knew, especially when it comes to sales pitches. Most notable of all being that a higher number equates to a better bearing. Now this is not entirely a lie. In certain industries, a higher number is indeed better. But this would be for reasons that pretty much mean jack for inline skaters and skateboarders alike.

You see, ABEC ratings cover a whole load of tolerance requirements for a bearing, but not much in regards to component quality, lubricant types, or any of that. So basically, ABEC ratings mean next to nothing for skaters at all. The tolerances and precisions that ABEC ratings deal with get mangled in the first few minutes of the bearings life by the simple act of getting on and riding down the sidewalk.

What am I talking about exactly? Well, let us just use the facts: ABEC ratings only specify the eccentricity of the bearings inner ring, or rather, its out of roundness. ABEC 1, the lowest grade, the max allowed out of roundness is .0075mm. As you can see, that’s pretty darn precise already. ABEC 3 is .005mm, ABEC 5 is .0035mm, ABEC 7 is .0025mm, and ABEC 9 is .0012mm.