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Step Three: Learn About Wheels and Bearings

Inline skates can be equipped with an astounding variety of wheels. Wheels determine the type of "ride" that the skate will deliver. The easier they roll the more you will enjoy skating. However, a wheel that rolls too fast may put you beyond your comfort zone. Wheels may be too hard or soft for the intended surface, causing a bumpy or mushy ride. They may be too big, reducing maneuverability.

There are three things that you need to know about inline skate wheels:

Size - The diameter of a wheel is the length across the widest part of the circle, measured in millimeters (mm). The size is important because the larger the wheel, the faster it rolls. Smaller wheels are more maneuverable and stable, but roll more slowly. Most recreational skates come with 72-76mm diameter wheels. Aggressive skates come with smaller wheels; racing skates with larger ones. Sizes can range from 44-80mm. Wheels also vary in thickness, or "profile." Thinner wheels are faster but less stable than thicker ones. The wheel's size will be marked on its side.

Hardness - Wheels are made out of urethane, a plastic material whose hardness can be varied. The hardness is measured on a durometer, with 0 being the softest and 100 being the hardest. Softer wheels absorb more bumps for a smoother skate, but they tend not to last as long, nor are they as fast as the harder wheels. Most recreational skates are equipped with 78A or 82A wheels, with 78A considered to be on the softer side.

For indoor surfaces, harder wheels, like 85A are appropriate; for outdoor use or on rough terrain, use a softer 74A. You can also mix wheels with different durometers, making some wheels harder than others. This gives you the flexibility of having good shock absorption plus durability. A wheel's hardness is marked on its side.

Bearings - The wheels roll on ball bearings, which are inside the hubs of the wheels. The quality of the bearings will affect the amount of effort the skater must apply to rotate the wheels. Bearings are rated according to the precision with which they are made. Typically, higher priced skates will use bearings designated as "precision" and are rated ABEC-1, ABEC-3, or ABEC-5. The difference between ABEC 1 and 5 bearings is not usually a major factor to the beginning skater. Lower priced skates will not use rated bearings.

Wheels wear out. They must be rotated to avoid uneven wear and to get the maximum use from them. The skate you purchase should allow you to rotate and replace the wheels easily. Most manufacturers provide a maintenance guide that will explain this procedure. 

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