Words by Nick Li - Stoked Team Rider
Check out this more in-depth video on bearing spacers, bearings, and optimizing wheel function overall!
Have you ever wondered why you can't tighten your truck axle nuts all the way down without making your wheels unable to spin? Ever tried to slide a board and the wheels just won't stop chattering and screeching? Has your wheel ever popped off your board while sliding? Well, if your answer to any of those questions is yes, it sounds like you could really use a set of bearing spacers!
The bearing spacer is a very important, but often overlooked part when people set up their completes. This is an especially prevalent issue with new skaters and first-time skateboard purchasers. These little metal "cylinders" will help your bearings by keeping them parallel, avoiding excess side load pressures, avoiding overtightening, and by prolonging the life of your bearings as well as allow your wheels and bearings to function optimally and as intended.
How Bearings Work
To understand the benefits of having bearing spacers installed on your skateboard, you must first have a basic understanding of how bearings work to let your wheels spin. The standard bearing has a few main components which consist of:
- The Outer Race: Rotates around the inner race, the wheel spins with this part of the bearing
- The Inner Race: The outer race, wheel, and ball bearings all spin around this part of the bearing
- The Balls: The balls' rolling action is what allows the bearing to spin
- The Bearing Shields: These are used to keep dirt, debris, and liquid out of the bearing races
- The Ball Retainer: This is used to position the ball bearings evenly within the races, as well as keep them from ever coming in contact with one another. If they were to ever touch each other while spinning, they would want to spin in opposite directions, so this is pretty important!!
Here is a picture of half of a wheel, you can see the core inside, and the space where each of the wheels' bearings sit. The narrower center channel is where the spacer would be, between the two bearings' inner races:
Why Bearing Spacers are Important
So now that you have a basic grasp on how bearings function, you can see that the wheel rotates with the outer race, around pretty much all of the rest of the bearings' assembly.
The inner diameter of the speed rings that come with most trucks is also the same as the inner diameter of the bearings' inner race, as well as the inner diameter of a bearing spacer. This makes it so when you have all three parts working together, the tightening force coming from screwing on your axle nuts is then transferred to the outer speed ring, then to the outer bearings' inner race, then to the spacer in the middle of the wheel, to the inner bearings' inner race, to the inner speed ring, and lastly to the truck hangers' face.
Tightening all of that down is very crucial to keeping things working optimally and efficiently, especially if you use your skateboard for going fast and sideways.
Common Problems Encountered When NOT Using Spacers
- Chattery wheels: When your wheel has side to side play from not being tightened down all the way, when you're sliding your board, the wheels will jump around from side-to-side mid-slide, causing unpredictability, noise, and extra vibration which can also shake the rider off - no fun
- Loud bearings: With side-to-side play, the inner races of the skate bearings are subjected to increased pressure which can cause more serious problems, like bearings exploding
- Bearing explosions: This is when your bearing fails and falls apart, generally due to excess side loads when sliding. This will generally result in your wheel flying off of your board, and a bad time. Spacers go a long way for helping with this issue.
- Less-than-optimal roll: The bearing spacers really help to keep your bearings spinning parallel within the wheel, without, your bearings might possibly be rolling slightly skewed and fighting each other consequently no giving you the best roll speed you could attain otherwise.
Built-In Style Bearings
Some companies out there make things easy for you and include half-spacers built into each bearing as well as speed rings so you don't have to deal with any extra loose parts.
If you have got a set of these style bearings for yourself, you don't even need to deal with normal bearing spacers or speed rings, everything you need is included on the built-in style bearings. Some examples of built-in style bearings are: Abec 11 Biltins, Seismic Tektons, and Zealous Bearings.
The built-in style of bearing not only helps your wheels spin efficiently and true, but it makes changing wheels a breeze in comparison to the standard spacer configuration. They have all the benefits of using a spacer, but without the hassle, a very nice added convenience.
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