Best Longboard Wheels in 2017 & Buying Guide
No matter what a rider wants to do on a longboard, some company somewhere makes a wheel for it. The problem for beginners is locating a wheel that does what they need. Purchasing a wheel just because it looks cool is a sure way to be disappointed.
For those who don’t know the characteristics that differentiate longboard wheels, scroll down to our comprehensive buyer’s guide. The following list is full of the wheels we like best for their niche-filling properties and performance. The industry is full of wheels that will move a board around, but the following examples do their jobs like purpose-built works of art.
That said, if you’re specifically searching for the best sliding wheels read this guide.
- 1 Top Longboard Wheel Reviews
- 2 Longboard Wheels Buying Guide
- 3 Your turn?
Top Longboard Wheel Reviews
Orangatang – The Kilmer
Click Here for Pricing, Pictures and Reviews on Amazon.com
The Kilmer is a 69mm freeride-focused wheel from popular wheel company Orangatang. It has slightly beveled sidewalls and a rounded lip to ease the break into sliding.
Orangatang stone grinds the 39.5mm contact patch, so the Kilmer is ready to slide from the word go. The Kilmer has developed a reputation for smoothness and speed that few wheels have in a similar combination.
There are three flavors of Kilmer available, all of which have wide, centerset cores. The softest Kilmer is the orange one, with an 80a durometer. The purple Kilmer has a durometer of 83a, and the yellow Kilmer is a hard 86a. Unfortunately, riders who are averse to certain colors must compromise, but that is the only compromise required for freeride longboarders.
What's To Like?
- Multiple durometers allow tailoring of ride characteristics
- Peachy Thane formula is fast and wears evenly and slowly
- Kicks out easily
What's NOT To Like?
- Color coding is nice, but limits options for those who want a certain color/durometer hardness
- Some moderate resistance in slides causes unpredictabilit
Orangatang uses its proprietary Peachy Thane formula for the Kilmer line. Peachy Thane is Orangatang’s compromise formula, between its slippery Euphorethane and ultra grippy Happy Thane. Wheels poured in Peachy Thane allow for long slides that are easy to enter and control, while also providing a smooth ride. To see the Kilmer in action, check out this Orangatang promo video on YouTube.
Arbor – Summit
The artisans at Arbor make some of the prettiest decks on the planet, but their wheels are another feather in the company’s cap. Arbor’s Summit is designed specifically for technical downhill skating. It is 71mm tall with a 56mm contact patch, and it has a soft 78a durometer. The Summit is a non-cored wheel.
The beveled sidewall on the Summit is meant to bend, much like a leaf-spring, to provide rebound and aid the rider in powering through curves. This results in a cushioned-feeling ride, which is aided by the soft durometer. The lip is mid-angle, lending superior traction when needed but allowing slides for the adventurous. The Groovetube core has a slight, 2.5mm offset that helps when breaking into slides, but provides nearly the grip of a centerset wheel.
Like all current Arbor wheels, the Summit utilizes one of the company’s three Sucrose Initiative formulas, which utilize sugar in the mixture to lessen the need for petrochemicals. Specifically, the Summit is poured with Arbor’s Speed Formula urethane, which is a durable and long-lasting thane. So, despite having a 78a durometer, the Summit has the feel of a harder wheel. It slides easily and for a long way, but it can achieve remarkably high speeds.
What's To Like?
- Feel-good Sucrose Initiative makes for longer-lasting wheels
- Slight offset works well, grippy but able to kick out
- Superior ability to handle debris and cracks in cement
What's NOT To Like?
- Handmade nature means inclusions, like bubbles, are possible
- Can chip under extremely hard use
Powell-Peralta – Rat Bones
Powell-Peralta has a long history in skateboarding, particularly in making quality urethane. The Rat Bones wheels were supremely popular in their day, and these re-issued wheels have all the smoothness of the originals. At 60mm and 85a, they are smaller and a bit harder than most longboard wheels. But, they should suit the cruisers and carvers out there perfectly.
Rat Bones are a no-frills wheel that bring a bit of old-school street cred to a cruiser setup. They are soft enough to roll easily over sidewalk cracks, rocks, twigs and other road debris, but their urethane formula resists wear. They stay smooth-rolling, with no tendency to flat spot or cone.
These wheels are not the best for sliding, despite their round edges and midsize contact patch. They have a smooth skin to start, which makes them ultra grippy out of the package, and they don’t slide much easier after they break in. But, for a legit cruiser wheel that carves up road and park terrain with ease, the Rat Bones are a contender.
What's To Like?
- Street cred – one of the O.G. skateboard wheels
- Buttery, smooth ride and carve on rails
- Even wear and long life
What's NOT To Like?
- Small size means too slow for serious downhill
- Not the best-sliding urethane, really a cruiser’s wheel
Longboard Wheels Buying Guide
People who do not ride typically assume that wheels are all the same, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. There are many ways to ride a longboard, and there is a wheel type for each style. Learning what works — and what doesn’t — for your style and your deck makes for more enjoyable sessions.
The modern skateboard and longboard wheel is made from molded polyurethane. At first, skateboard wheels were, like skate wheels, made from clay or steel. They were hard materials, and their ride was rough and jarring. The innovation occurred in 1971, when Frank Nasworthy introduced the Cadillac – the first urethane skateboard wheel on the market. Nothing was the same after that.
The urethane wheel has come a long way since those first gummy Cadillacs, which were soon followed by the Bahne Road Rider and the first precision bearings. The modern wheel is precision-engineered, and each of its characteristics is formulated to near perfection. So, what are the characteristics that differentiate all the many colorful wheels available on the market? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Wheel Diameter: How Big Should The Wheels Be?
The most obvious way that wheels differ is in their diameter, or height from the concrete to the top of the wheel. This one variable will make the most difference in the overall performance of a longboard. The size of longboard wheels is given in millimeters, and most will be above 65mm. Wheels smaller than that are likely intended for street or park skateboards.
Bigger is Faster
Though some longboard wheels are as small as 58mm, they can run as large as 80mm in height. The tallest wheels are usually reserved for downhill riding, as the extra ground covered per revolution promotes faster speeds. Tall wheels also work well for cruising and transportation on the right type of board, as they negotiate cracks and debris well and require less pushing.
The main factor that limits how tall a wheel can be is the type of deck on which they are going. Boards with large cutouts, such as drop-through decks, can accommodate larger wheels without causing wheel bite. The same holds true for top mounts with large wheel wells. Riser pads can help top-mount boards with smaller wheel wells utilize taller wheels, but the ride height can negatively impact stability.
Smaller is Quicker
The average wheel height is around 70mm, which is typically a good diameter for top-mount boards and freeride setups. The tradeoff from the loss of overall speed with smaller wheels is that they accelerate quicker than their taller counterparts. However, they bite harder on pavement cracks, and struggle to cope with pebbles, twigs and other bits of debris.
Still, smaller wheels enable riding without a riser pad. Keeping the center of gravity low like this makes for a more stable ride. Longboarders must weigh their options carefully when it comes to diameter. Choose a deck first, then whittle wheel options down to those that will work with the board.
- Given in millimeters
- Larger wheels are faster, but not suitable for many top-mount boards
- Smaller wheels accelerate quicker, but have more trouble with debris
Pick The Right Hardness [Durometer]!
Wheel durometer is a measure of the hardness of the urethane. The measurement is given in a number, followed by the letter a. Longboard wheels typically are relatively soft, with durometers in the approximate range of 78a to 85a.
Their softness makes longboard wheels ride smoother and quieter than street board wheels. They also roll over debris more easily, making them good cruising wheels. Harder wheels are usually faster because of reduced friction, and they slide more easily.
Manufacturers determine wheel hardness the same way they would for almost any polymer — with a machine called a type-A Shore durometer. The device drives a mechanical indenter into the urethane and measures the indentation. Harder plastics are measured with a D-scale, while softer ones use the OO scale. The urethane durometer being an A-type explains why the hardness scale for urethane is given as it is.
- Longboard wheels run soft, from 78a to 85a
- Softer wheels are smoother and handle debris better
- Harder wheels are faster and slide more easily
- Tested with a type-A Shore durometer
How Wide Should The Wheel Be?
The contact patch is the area of the wheel that contacts the pavement. It could also be said to be the width of the wheel from the inner lip to the outer lip, and it is denoted in millimeters. Contact patches can vary widely between wheel models, so knowing their purpose is vital. On the small side, a contact patch may only be 30mm wide. At the other extreme, wheels may have up to a 70mm contact patch.
Wide Wheels For More Grip
All other things being equal, wide contact patches give more grip, thanks to the extra friction. They are most often used in fast downhill riding, where uncontrolled slides can lead to injury. Wheels with wider contact patches also often have a smooth skin, which helps them feel tacky on their first use.
Narrow Wheels For Easier Sliding
Because narrow wheels have less friction holding them on their line, they are typically better for the continuous sliding of freeride style. Their thinner contact patch makes them easier to push — or kick out — sideways, and helps them stay sliding longer. Manufacturers often stone grind these contact patches to roughen the surface, so that they will slide easily right off the shelf.
Contact Patch Facts:
- Wider wheels provide better grip, normally used in downhill and racing
- Narrow wheels slip easily, well-suited for freeride
- The smoothness or roughness of the surface tells the intended use
Wheel Lip Profile: Round Or Sharp Edges?
The lip of the wheel is the outer most edge, where the wheel meets the pavement. Manufacturers contour the lips on their wheels to promote different ride characteristics to better suit one type of riding over another. Do not overlook this feature, as it has a profound effect on the way a longboard will maneuver and handle, especially at speed.
Sharp Lip = More Grip
Sharp, pronounced lips are best for downhill, because they provide tremendous grip. The sharp edge digs in to the pavement when lateral force is applied to the wheel, preventing it from slipping out. Wheels with defined lips can make a board feel as if it turns on rails, even at extreme speeds, but this stickiness in turns also works well for carving.
Round Lip = More Slip
Round lips have the opposite trait from sharp ones, in that they readily break traction. This eagerness to slide makes wheels with rounded lips a great choice for freeriding because riders don’t have to push as hard to initiate slides. Typically, the rounded edge will continue along the side walls to promote even wear.
Lip Profile Facts:
- Sharp, defined lips provide the most grip, best for high-speed downhill
- Rounded lips allow the rider to more easily break traction, best for freeride
- For around-towners, sharper lips promote stable carves
Wheel With Cores Or Nah?
When it comes to cores, there are essentially two types of wheels: those with inserts and those without. Some wheels have a plastic insert in the middle, into which the bearings are set. Other wheels have no such insert, and the bearings seat directly into seats formed into the urethane.
A core provides stability and uniformity, while also reducing weight and keeping bearings in alignment. Tall cores make for faster wheels, while wide cores resist deformation during hard riding. Because they keep the wheel from ovaling, cores also promote even wear across the contact patch.
Wheel Core Facts:
- Wheels may be cored or non-cored
- Tall cores promote faster speeds
- Wide cores stabilize the wheel
3 Types of Wheel Core Placements
Cores may be set in one of three places across the width of the wheel. They may be set in the center of the wheel, or can be moved more or less toward the inside of the wheel. Each placement brings with it characteristics that are meant to help with different ride styles.
Cores placed in the center of the wheel provide the most traction, owing to the equal size of the inner and outer lips. That said, they are also the only core set that allows riders to flip their wheels when they begin to wear unevenly, known as coning. Centerset wheels are the most common type, and are equally popular among downhill and freeride longboarders.
A sideset core is placed close to the inner lip of the wheel. This placement reduces the inherent traction of the wheel, allowing for easier slides. Sideset wheels are popular among freeriders, though they have short lives because they wear unevenly.
Offset cores are a compromise between centerset and sideset wheels. Because the core is placed just slightly off center, they exhibit characteristics of both the other core placements. They break traction easier than centerset wheels, but are more stable in slides than sideset wheels and last longer. Downhill wheels will often have offset cores, because those riders will use slides to check their speed going into turns.
Core Set Facts:
- Centerset wheels have the most grip, great for all-around use
- Sideset wheels are an extreme, breaking traction quite easily
- Offset wheels are a compromise, best for speedy downhill riders
Pay Attention To How They’re Made: Urethane Formulation
Urethane formulas are proprietary, and each manufacturer has its own varieties. Companies will group their formulas according to their intended uses, so be sure to look into the formulation of a wheel before purchasing.
The durometer will specify much, but that number works in conjunction with the formulation of the urethane to tell riders what they can expect from a given wheel.
Wheels meant to provide greater downhill traction will have a different formula than those intended for freeride sliding. The densities of the formulas can vary greatly within a manufacturer’s product line, and even more so between different manufacturers. For this reason, wheels with similar durometer values may show tremendous variation in their perceived hardness. Durometer and formulation work together to inform us how a wheel will feel and perform.
Urethane Formula Facts:
- Formulation varies between each maker’s line, as well as different manufacturers
- Formula works with durometer to describe the wheel’s perceived hardness
- Wheel companies usually specify the intended purpose of each formula
The longboard wheel market is vast and varied, and that is good for everyone. Gone are the days when wheels required compromises. Modern riders can now sift through the many options that the best longboard wheel brands offer until they find a wheel that suits their needs perfectly.
If you have been riding for a while, and you’re still riding the wheels that came with your board, consider upgrading to a new set of purpose-built wheels. It will be like riding a brand-new setup.