Roller Skate Wheels Explained

Wheels are arguably one of the most important parts of your skates. I mean, you won’t get far without them. If you’ve been thinking of upgrading or need to change your wheels you’ve probably found out there are SO many roller skate wheels out there to choose from. Let us help you wrap your brain around roller skate wheels by explaining what they’re made of and why hardnesses, size and shapes matter.

What are roller skate wheels made of?
A good quality roller skate wheel is made from a urethane (plastic) compound which varies from wheel to wheel depending on the type, purpose and brand. If you’re chucking old school or niche rink style, you can even get wooden wheels.

Many wheels will also have what is called a hub or core, which is in the centre of the wheel and holds the bearings. Wheel hubs can be small, not taking up much of the overall wheel to give more urethane, or they can be large, taking up most of the wheel to lighten it or make it more rigid. Hubs can be made of rigid plastic, urethane compounds or they can be aluminium.

What are the different kinds of roller skate wheels?
There are many different kinds of roller skate wheels to suit the many different styles of skating. To keep things simple for now the main types of wheels are:

  • Indoor – Harder wheels for more agility, speed and less grip.
  • Outdoor – Softer wheels for a smooth roll or more grip.
  • Hybrid – A bit hard and a bit soft for something in between.

Guess what? To add more to the mix you can also use skateboard wheels on your roller skates as long as your truck axles can take the width.

What does wheel hardness mean?
The thing that sets different types of wheels apart and the thing you’ll hear everybody harping on about is the hardness of wheels.

Plastics and urethanes can be measured for their level of resistance to pressure or what we commonly would say is their hardness using the durometer method. A durometer device uses an indentor to press down into the wheel material and rate the level of resistance. The lower the number, the softer the urethane. The higher the number the harder the urethane.

There are 2 durometer scales. The A scale is the more common hardness measurement you will find with wheels. The D scale signifies that the urethane used is harder and more rigid than an A scale wheel. The D scale is usually used with higher grade artistic wheels and some skatepark wheels.

What hardness wheel you need comes down to personal preference and your skate needs. As a general guide softer wheels are made for outdoor skating on rougher surfaces or for long distances and harder wheels are made for indoor skating or aggressive park and street skating where less grip and more agility are needed. These aren’t fixed rules, you should skate whatever feels good to you.

What wheel size do I need?
Roller skate wheels come in a variety of sizes, and this applies to both height and width. Wheel sizes are always measured in millimetres because the millimetres matter!

The height of a wheel helps with different things:

  • 57mm – The average wheel height you’ll find, gives a good combination of kingpin clearance from the ground and provides agility for both hard and soft wheel options.
  • 62mm – An average tall wheel height that provides speed when combined with a hard urethane or provides more comfort when used with a soft urethane.
  • 55mm or smaller – Smaller wheels are enjoyed by dance/jam skaters for faster transition between moves. In aggressive park and street skating they reduce wheel bite and lower the trucks for more contact in grinds. If you are choosing a smaller wheel just keep in mind that some plates have long kingpins, and you need a comfortable clearance to avoid damaging them.

The width of a wheel is also something to think about. 31mm is a pretty standard width for most wheels that strikes a good combination of agility and stability. Styles such as roller derby and speed skating traditionally use a wider wheel that gives more surface area to utilise for stability and pressing hard in the edges. Thinner wheels can be used to further increase agility as they reduce the amount of friction with the skating surface.

Why do wheels have different shapes?
One last thing to know about roller skate wheels is that they can come in different shapes. Now you might be thinking, well aren’t all wheels just round. Yes, you’re right on that my friend but the side profile of wheels can be a bit different to suit certain skate styles.

Hard edge wheels have an almost or exact 90 degree finish where the side (height) meets the riding surface (width) of the wheel. Hard edges are great for roller dancing, jam skating, artistic, roller derby and speed skating. This edge can help provide control with speed and rotations.

Rounded edge wheels have a slight or exaggerated round going from the wheel hub to the riding surface. This kind of wheel is more common to aggressive park and street skaters. The rounded edge creates less friction when your feet are angled in slides and grinds to reduce the amount of wheel bite and it also provides more points of contact when riding bowls or carving transition.

Looking for wheel recommendations?
We’ve got other blogs dedicated to recommendations for wheels that cater to different skate styles and solve your wheel problems.

Still have questions? Maybe you’ve got a specific wheel conundrum you’d like some advice on? Send us a message and our team can help you out! We’ve got staff with experience in a variety of roller skate styles and trust us when we say that they’ve tried and tested a whole bunch of wheels.