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Derby Wheels Buying Guide

Between hardness and size, there's a lot of numbers flying around that help define how a wheel will perform, and that's before hub variations even enter the mix. This guide will help explain those subtle differences and enable you to find the right wheel for your skating style and surface type.

Hardness

A wheel's hardness refers to the urethane tire that is actually making contact with the playing surface. This is often represented on a durometer scale ranging from 78A up to 100A, with the lower end of the scale representing the softer wheels. Occasionally, manufacturers will forgo a durometer rating in favor of their own metric such as "Hybrid" or "Firm."

Wheel Hardness Example

Surface Type

The most common question we get is, "Which wheels should I get for _________?" (insert surface type here). The thing is, even on the same surface, different wheels of the same durometer will perform differently due to variables in the urethane formula and skater weight. So we've generalized all of the world's playing surfaces into four broad categories to help get you started:

  • Outdoor
    Outdoor surfaces require soft wheels that provide a lot of grip and also cushion the rider from debris and imperfections that are so common outdoors. Outdoor wheels are almost always 78A.
  • Grippy
    Grippy indoor surfaces include coated wood and many traditional skating rinks. The surface provides all of the grip, so hard wheels that won't get "stuck" to the floor are perfect. Try 94A-100A.
  • Slick
    Slick indoor surfaces such as polished concrete and polished wood don't offer a lot of grip, so soft wheels ranging from 84A-90A are typically best. Wheels labeled as "hybrids" typically work well, too.
  • Moderate
    Moderate indoor surfaces will include most sport courts. These provide a good balance of grip and slide, much like the wheels that are ideal for these surfaces that range from 88A-96A.
Wheel Durometer Chart

Skater's Weight

Weight also plays a small but important role in choosing the ideal wheel hardness for any given surface. Heavier skaters will naturally achieve more grip (thanks to gravity) and should seek slightly harder wheels than their lighter counterparts. On the flip side, the featherweights of the derby world might want to seek out slightly softer wheels that will help provide the grip that their weight does not. The chart on the left is a good place to start but remember that nothing beats lacing 'em up and trying it out for yourself.

For more information watch: Wheels 101: Durometer

Size

All derby wheels have two important size measurements attached to them, height and width, measured in millimeters. Most wheel specifications will list size as "height x width," so when you see "62x38mm," the wheel is 62mm tall and 38mm wide. These two numbers will each have their own significant impact on the wheel's performance.

Wheel Size Example

Height

Shorter wheels, those with a smaller diameter, are able to accelerate faster than taller wheels. The benefit of taller wheels is that it takes less effort to maintain those speeds. Most indoor wheels are either 59mm or 62mm, while many outdoor wheels are even taller for easy cruising in the great outdoors.

Width

Wheel Height Example

How wide a wheel is will determine how much the wheel favors either balance or agility. Narrower wheels, those around 38mm and slimmer, enhance maneuverability and help prevent clipping wheels with other skaters. A wide wheel will traditionally measure between 40mm and 44mm. Due to a larger amount of contact with the ground, these are more stable.

Hub

Now that you have a rough idea of what durometer you want as well as the ideal wheel size for you and your skating ability, you could pick out a wheel with confidence that will serve you well. However, there is much more to any wheel than just the black and white measurements, such as the hub. The hub is the plastic or alloy component in the middle of the wheel that houses the bearings.

Wheel Hub Example 2 Wheel Hub Example 3 Wheel Hub Example 1
  • Polymers (e.g. Nylon)
    These hubs are lightweight and inexpensive, and therefore the most common. They flex under duress, which steals some speed but offers improved traction.
  • Alloy (e.g. Aluminum)
    These hubs are heavier and more costly, but offer unmatched power transfer and longer roll because they don't flex like their nylon cousins.
  • Hybrid
    Mixing the best of both worlds, some hubs will use hollow nylon cores that are extremely lightweight reinforced with alloy caps for added stiffness.

Edges

One of the most under-appreciated traits of any derby wheel is the shape and depth of its edges. This is because nearly every skating action you make will engage those edges, so how they respond will have a great impact on how the wheel performs.

Wheel Edge Example 1 Wheel Edge Example 2

Wheels that have their urethane tire overhanging the hub will have what we call "soft" edges that flex and provide better traction during lateral movements.

Other wheels, usually the narrower sizes, will have their tires reinforced entirely by the hub. These "hard" edges provide better roll and will typically slide easier.

Related Information

Bearing Buying Guide Wheels 101: Durometer
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