You often hear people talking about what trucks to put on your longboard setup or what wheels are best for your ride style, but what about bearings? From standard steel to ceramic, we're breaking it down when it comes to what bearings should you get for your longboard complete.
Unlike longboard wheels and trucks with different shapes, geometries, urethane hardnesses, and urethane formulas that work best in one riding situation and not the other, good bearings universally improve every longboard across all riding styles.
When it comes to the anatomy of a longboard complete, bearings are the round metal components that fit inside the wheels, mounting the wheels to the truck axle. Bottom line: Bearings allow your wheels to spin and control how fast you will roll. Good / better longboard bearings allow your wheels to spin faster and your board to roll farther with every push.
Steel vs Ceramic Bearings: Which is better on a longboard?
A majority of bearings are made of steel, and unlike other things in life and consumerism, the more expensive, the better. When you look at different steel bearings, it's important to know that premium bearings typically use higher grade steel, typically with more impurities removed, which makes the bearing faster (faster top speed, faster acceleration, and more coast with every push) and overall more durable and longer lasting. Regardless, like anything made from steel, steel bearings can (and will) rust if exposed to moisture, so make sure you keep them well oiled and avoid riding in rain and water unless you want to replace your bearings more frequently.
What about ceramic bearings? Should you buy them? Are they worth it? The answer is, if you have the budget for ceramic bearings, it is worth purchasing them.
Ceramic bearings are more durable than steel bearings, and because the inner surface of the race (which the “balls” in your longboard ball bearings roll along) is both smoother than most steel bearing races and harder than most steel bearing races, they will allow your wheels to roll farther, faster, especially if you’re cruising/carving or riding at slower speeds.
Ceramics = Less push. More coast. But why?
It's simple: Ceramic, unlike steel, is a non-porous, harder material. When it comes to bearings, due to the lack of microscopic pores (insanely small steel potholes that slow down your bearings) paired with more hardness than steel (hardness being the difference in distance when rolling a baseball along on a gym floor vs rolling the same ball across a soft carpet), the ceramic creates less friction at faster speeds. It’s that simple: It comes down to the material.
Bonus: The ceramic portions of your bearing can’t rust, so if you see rain riding in your future, full ceramics are an expensive, but total solution to rust, while hybrid ceramic bearings with part steel and ceramic races are an upfront investment that will cost you less over time because you won't have to replace your bearings as frequently.
When are Ceramic Longboard Bearings worth it?
Ceramic bearings let you squeeze more speed, and more turns, out of smaller hills, which generally translates to being able to progress and learn to slide more easily (more tries / slides per run) due to added acceleration. When it comes to ceramic bearings, these are specific ride styles they directly impact:
- Beginners + intermediate riders: Ceramic bearings have the most impact at speeds below downhill race level (40+ mph), which means the riders who get the most out of their ceramic investment are frequently beginners or intermediate riders still learning and / or riding smaller hills at lower speeds.
- For commuters or anyone pushing long distances (regardless of skill): Ceramics are absolutely the best upgrade you can get for your longboard, followed closely by a good set of high-end urethane wheels.
At higher speeds for serious downhill riders, other factors make much more difference in how fast you can and will travel, so for this reason, many racers may choose high quality steel bearings made of harder / less porous steel, which is faster than anything that comes standard, but also cheaper than the ceramic bearing alternative. The main strategy being that replacing a high-end steel bearing costs less, giving downhill longboarders more money to invest in precision trucks, high-end wheels (which need to be replaced frequently), and high-end longboard decks, which many DH riders consider more impactful at the fastest speeds.
Don't get us wrong, a longboard under your feet is better than no longboard under your feet. If you have the budget for it, upgrading to ceramic bearings almost universally makes any longboard more fun, and the difference in speed and coast will be VERY noticeable. If you can’t afford ceramics, you'll still have fun, you’ll just need to push a lot more frequently. Have more questions for us? Fill out the form below to get in touch OR to build your own custom longboard complete. See you on the hill!