Skateboard bearings usually have an ABEC rating, and most skaters think the higher the number the better. ABEC 5 is better than ABEC 3, right? First, let’s look at what ABEC actually means.
If you want to impress your mates, tell them that ABEC is an acronym of Annular Bearing Engineers’ Committee. ABEC standards are a way of measuring the tolerances and accuracy of bearings, and were developed by the American Bearing Manufacturers Association.
These are the factors used in determining the ABEC rating of skateboard bearings…
- How close the bore is to a manufacturing tolerance of 8 microns.
- How close the outer diameter is to a manufacturing tolerance of 22 microns.
- How close the width is to a manufacturing tolerance of 7 microns.
- The rotating accuracy in microns.
A micron is one thousandth of a millimetre. By way of comparison, Glad Wrap is about 17 microns thick.
If a skateboard bearing has a higher ABEC rating, that means it is manufactured more accurately and precisely.
Only the odd numbers are used for ABEC ratings as follows…
- ABEC 1. The least precise & cheapest.
- ABEC 3. Very common on most cheap skateboards, especially ones made in China.
- ABEC 5. These are pretty much the norm in skateboarding.
- ABEC 7. Very precise and supposedly faster & smoother, but also much more expensive.
- ABEC 9. If you’re going for an outright downhill luge-type skating speed record these might be appropriate, but otherwise you’re wasting your money. And if they don’t cost a fortune, then they’re probably not ABEC 9!
How reliable is the ABEC rating?
A bearing application engineer by the name of Ron Foster has tested a multitude of ABEC 5 and ABEC 7 skateboard bearings readily available in skate shops. Although some passed the ABEC test, many were frauds.
Foster says, “Out of dozens I’ve measured and tested, few met the advertised ABEC specification. There are dozens of companies supplying imported ABEC 1 bearings that are marked ABEC 5 or ABEC 7.”
Ron Foster knows what he’s talking about – he’s worked for bearing manufacturers like Aircraft Bearing, Alliance Bearing, NHBB/NMB, OEM West and Ruart. These manufacturers supply such companies as Boeing Aerospace and NASA.
To top it off, Foster’s been skateboarding for over 30 years so he’s a bit of a skateboard bearing guru.
Foster’s company – California Bearing and Supply – performs precision testing to NASA specifications. The tests include smoothness, sound testing, radial play, tolerance and torque testing.
Tolerance measurements, inner ring & outer ring measurements, and width & radial runout measurements are taken to verify the actual ABEC rating – as opposed to the claimed ABEC rating.
A major component of the ABEC rating is the radial runout, which is a measurement of the variation in the diameter of the rings. The higher the ABEC rating the more perfectly round the ring is.
But the ABEC rating is only a small part of the overall bearing evaluation.
Next, Foster sound tests the bearings for quietness. Then he uses a Barden Smoothrator bearing tester/analyser to check its smoothness, and measures the bearing clearance in the radial direction.
He then runs a starting torque test and a running torque test. The lower the reading on the torque test, the quicker the bearing is.
ABEC was developed to control the manufacturing of electric motor parts that mated together. The ABEC specifications only refer to sizing tolerances and geometric accuracy in relation to the way the bearing fits with other components. It has no effect on critical skateboarding factors such as torque and speed.
There are 9 crucial features in the perfect skateboard bearing. ABEC is just one of the nine, and ABEC has nothing to do with quality, raceway finish, speed, workmanship or the bearing’s ability to stay clean.
Foster was pretty pissed over the misleading ABEC claims that he launched his own Rocket brand of skateboard bearings.
In my opinion, Ballistech, Bones and Rocket bearings are the most reliable on the market.
If you skate tarmac and want your bearings to last for a long time, use a standard 608Z bearing with a steel cage and use grease lube. The grease really helps to avoid having to service the bearings. You’ll lose a bit of speed but it’s not as critical with tarmac skating as it is with vert skating.
If you skate pools or vert, use a bearing with a non-metallic cage for the best response and speed.