Choosing best longboard wheels for sliding, downhill, cruising & freeride

Longboard wheel

Everyone who falls in love with longboarding pretty quickly comes up with a question about wheels. What are the best longboard wheels for speed, for sliding, for cruising and so on? There isn’t one best set of wheels out there. And don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. As you have already noticed, there is a huge variety of wheels in the market. All in different sizes, shapes, hardness and of course – in different colors. In this post I will explain what to take a look at when choosing your set of wheels. I will also provide my reviews and recommendations on which wheels to pick for different styles.

So for those of you who don’t want to read the full article and only need top picks for wheels, here they are:

Different characteristics of the longboard wheels

Not that long time ago, wheels were in pretty low quality. They were made of really interesting stuff – steel and even clay. Can you imagine riding steel wheels? How would that feel? Anyways, later on longboarding wheels have been produced of plastic and rubber. Which was a huge improvement compared to steel but not quite what we are looking for yet. And nowadays most of the wheels in the market are made out of polyurethane. And this is the material which makes sure that we can enjoy our rides. Depending on the characteristics of the material and wheel shapes, one wheels are better suitable for some riding styles than the others.

But before actually reviewing which longboard wheels are the most suitable for particular longboarding style, let’s see which parts of the wheel we are going to look at. There are six important areas which you need to understand and know about. The below characteristics define if the wheel is best for sliding, cruising and so on. And vice versa – when you are searching for best sliding wheels (or any other style) for example, you have to evaluate the below:

  • Wheel diameter – how big are the wheels?
  • Wheel durometer – how hard are the wheels?
  • Contact patch – how wide are the wheels? And how does it affect the ride?
  • Lip profle – what is the shape of the wheel?
  • Core of the wheel and its placement
  • Wheel material

 

Wheel diameter

So the wheel diameter basically tells you how big is your wheel (height of the wheel). This is measured in millimeters (mm) so the lower the number the smaller the wheel is. And the size of longboarding wheels varies from about 60mm, which are really small for longboards, to even around 90mm. You might see wheels below 60mm too but these most likely will be wheels for regular skateboards.

Longboard wheel diameterSo why is the diameter of the wheel important to us? Diameter of the wheel will define two characteristics:

  • How fast the wheel will be
  • How quick will the wheel accelerate

Let’s start with the speed of the wheel. The rule here is pretty simple – the bigger diameter of the wheel, the higher speed can be reached. And the reason why is because bigger wheel covers more ground per one-wheel rotation (revolution). Taller wheels are used are frequently used in downhill because of the high speeds. Bigger wheels are also used for cruising because they can more easily roll over cracks in the road and small objects. And that makes the ride and commuting more comfortable.

When talking about acceleration of the wheel, quite an opposite rule applies – the smaller the wheel, the quicker it accelerates. Compared to the taller wheels, wheels with smaller diameter also can make tighter turns.

Longboard wheels top speed and acceleration

There is one more important thing to mention when talking about diameter of the wheels. The taller wheels are more prone to wheelbite. So when picking your wheels, make sure that your deck has wheel wells, flares or wheel cutouts.

 

Wheel durometer 

Durometer tells you how hard the wheels are. The hardness of the wheels is measured on so called Durometer A scale. The scale goes from 1 to 100. The lower the scale, the softer is the wheel. Usually for longboards you can see wheels with durometer from 73A to 88A.

How does the wheel durometer impact your ride? So the softer your longboard wheels are the smoother the rides. Softer wheels are great for cruising because they have more grip and also ride over small objects more easily and less bumpy than the hard wheels. On the other hand – harder wheels slide easier and roll faster than the soft ones. That’s why harder wheels are great for freeriding.

Longboard wheel durometer soft vs hard

Contact patch

Contact patch defines how wide is the part of the wheel which rolls on the ground. The contact patch size is also measured in millimeters. For longboard wheels contact patch can vary anywhere from 30mm to 70mm. And there are a few things to be highlighted here. Wheels with wider contact patch offers the rider more stability and grip. For that reason, such wheels are frequently used for downhill. Their slides are more controlled and such slides stop the rider more quickly. On the other hand – narrow contact patches allow the rider to slide more easily. These wheels have less grip with the ground, therefore it is easier to slide with them. Also their slides are longer compared to wheels with wide contact patch. Such wheels are great for freeride where sliding is such a big part of the longboarding style.

Longboard wheels contact patch wide vs narrow

The Lip Profile

The term ‘Lip’ or ‘Lip Profile’ refers to the outer edges of the wheel. Different shapes of the lip affect the longboard ride differently. There are two main shapes of the Lip – square (or sharp) and round. Square lips will ensure that the wheels have more grip and is more stable. And the round lips will make the wheels easier to brake in to slides. That’s why downhill riders usually use square lip wheels and round lip wheels are more suitable for freeriding. If you are more in to cruising rather than sliding, then lip profile in general matters less. But I would recommend to go for square lip wheels because you will be able to carve tighter corners and take tighter turns.

 

Wheel core

Core is the part of the wheel where bearings are inserted. It ensures that the wheel does not melt because of the heat generated by bearings. And bearings get really hot when you reach high speeds. You might encounter two types of wheels – with core and without core. I personally prefer wheels with cores because the core will provide stability and keep bearings aligned. There are three types of core placements in the wheel with its own characteristics:

  • Centerset cores
  • Backset cores
  • Offset cores

Centerset cores are placed in the center of your wheel. They allow for the wheel to wear slowly and provides more grip. These are the most popular cores out there at the moment, suitable both for downhill and freeride. These cores also allow the wheels to be flipped when one of the sides wears out. In this way you can extend the life of your wheels without replacing them.

Backset (or sideset) cores are placed at the back of the wheel. This is great for sliding and freeride because the inside part of the wheel (closer to the trucks) receives much needed support for the sides. Also, the grip of the wheel is reduced because the weight is not spread evenly across the whole wheel. On the other hand, these wheels wear out quicker because you cannot flip them as you can with the centerset cores.

Offset wheels have cores which are placed between centerset and backset. These cores adopt characteristics from backset and centerset cores. They do provide grip but also provides more control in the slides. Offset wheels are frequently used for downhill because it needs both stability and some sliding to reduce the speed or take out turns.

 

Wheel material

The last and also the most important criteria when choosing longboard wheels is the material. As I have already mentioned, wheels previously were made out of steel, clay, rubber and plastic. But what we are looking for is urethane. And don’t go for anything else except urethane. But of course it is not that easy. Different manufacturers use different urethane formulas to produce the wheels. Wheel durometer gives you a good idea about how hard is the wheel but same durometer wheels from different manufacturers will be different in their characteristics. So what do you do? Pay attention to how manufacturers label or categorize their wheels. If wheels are categorized as ‘Freeride’ m they will generally be easier to slide with. If the wheel is labeled as ‘Downhill’ it will roll faster and have more grip than Freeride ones and so on.

 

Suggestions for all-around longboard wheels

Yes, you guessed it – there is no one best set of wheels. But if we are looking for best wheels for a particular longboarding style, then it is a bit different. When talking about one style, then it is possible to provide a few best recommendations to go for. In this section I will provide my top picks for different wheels – downhill wheels, cruising wheels and freeride wheels. My picks are based on what I have tried out myself and also based on the feedback from longboarding community.

 

Freeride: Orangatang Kilmer

The first set of wheels we will take a look at is Orangatang Kilmer. If you have never heard of Orangatang, trust me, you will hear about this brand a lot. It is one of the best longboard wheel brands out there. The Kilmer urethane formula is focused on Freeride. This allows for long slides which are easy to control and also ensures smooth ride.

Kilmer is 69mm in diameter which allows to ride over debris but they are also small enough for tricks and slides. The wheels come in three different durometers: 80A, 83A and 86A being the hardest version – again, great for slides. These wheels also have a narrow contact patch – 39.5mm and rounded lip profile. This is another reason why they are good for Freeride. Core of the wheel is centerset, this will allow you to wear the wheel more consistently. You will be able to switch wheel sides when one of the sides wears off.

All in all, this is really an awesome wheel for freeriding. It might seem a little expensive to some of you in the beginning but as you ride them, you will get what you pay for. Also, you can switch sides of the wheels so they will last longer compared to offset or sideset core wheels.

Freeride: Cult Classics 

Next up are the Cult Classics. These wheels have been voted as the best sliding wheels by the longboarding community. But the company has not invested that much in to marketing compared to other companies. That’s why there is higher chance that you know about Orangatang than Cult. In a sense Cult Classics is a dark horse – one of the best in the market but not that many people heard of it.

Ok, now let’s talk about the wheels. Cult Classics come in 70mm diameter which is great for smooth riding and slides. Contact patch of the wheel really narrow – 30mm, again, great for sliding. These wheels have rounded lip profile and their core is sideset. This allows to kick out slides pretty easily with one downside – you cannot flip the wheels once one side wears off. The core of the wheel is pretty big and it gives much needed control when sliding.

Downhill: Orangatang Kegels

Let’s start of the Downhill wheels with another wheel by Orangatang – Kegel. And no surprise, they produce some of the best wheels out there. Kegels are quite tall – 80mm and they are crazy fast. One of the fastest that I have tried out. Durometer of the wheel is 80A, great for grip and stability but also provides a controlled slide. The contact patch of the wheel is 56mm so they are really grippy. Square lip profile also helps to maintain the grip for high speeds. Kegels are not only good for speed but they are very smooth when drifting too.

Kegels are super grippy, fast and extremely predictable downhill wheels. These wheels might seem a bit on the pricey side but trust me, they will last you a really long time and are well worth the price.

 

Cruising: Sector 9 Top Shelf Nine Balls

Let’s talk about cruising. For cruising wheels, the requirements are not that tough as for other styles. Basically, you need a wheel which would ride smoothly over small object and debris. Also, you should not pick a wheel with tall diameter to avoid wheelbite. Sector 9 Nine Balls are the wheels you are looking for here. They are 70mm in diameter – tall enough to ensure smooth ride but not as big as some of the downhill wheels so less prone to wheelbite. The durometer of the wheel is 78A so they are grippy enough for cruising and carving. The contact patch is on the narrower side – it is great for carving and maneuverability. The core of the wheel is centerset so you can flip them and the wheels will wear out evenly.

In the end Nine Balls are great for cruising and commuting. And are also are on the cheaper side when it comes to longboard wheels.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of longboard wheels and reviewed some good choices, time to dig deeper and explore those different aspects by a particular riding style. In the next section we review what’s important for good sliding wheels.

 

Longboard Wheels for Sliding

sliding-downhill

Sliding is one of the first things everyone should learn before riding at high speeds. It’s the only effective way to stop the board when rolling fast. However, sliding could be pretty difficult to learn, especially if the wheels are not suited for that. So in this section I’ll explain the wheel specs important for sliding and review some of the best wheels you’ll learn sliding on in no time.

To give you a short answer – the wheels best suited for sliding are usually smaller diameter, higher durometer and have a round lip. The best wheel to learn sliding on in my opinion is Sector 9 Butterballs.

The most important aspect of a wheel which makes it easier to slide is how easy it can break traction with the road. This is defined by five different properties of the wheel mentioned earlier – durometer, urethane characteristics, core placement, contact patch, lip shape. I’ll explain the importance of each of those for sliding.

Durometer for Sliding

Durometer rating defines the hardness of urethane – the material which wheels are made from. Higher rating means harder wheel which in turn means it will have less grip with the road, however it will be faster on the smooth roads. Whereas lower rating gives you more comfortable ride for cruising, as the soft wheel absorbs road imperfections. To ease your learning process I suggest to go for 80A and higher ratings. That is if you’ll be learning on the dry road, it goes a bit different for wet road but we’ll talk about it a bit later. It will be a lot easier to break traction with hard wheels than with soft ones and this is probably the most difficult thing in the beginning of the learning process. Also, softer wheels are easier to flatspot – that is a condition which might happen when the wheel stops rotating during a slide and a significant wear is induced in one spot on the contact patch. After this you have a wheel that is not that round anymore.

Urethane Characteristics for Sliding

The durometer is not the only thing defining urethane from which the wheel is made. There‘s also chemical formula of it which determine various physical characteristics of the wheel. So wheels of the same durometer might slide a lot differently due to a different formula used by manufacturer.

There could be distinguished 5 different urethane formulas by the slide feeling:

  • Buttery – very smooth urethane that flows over the pavement with ease.
  • Greasy – urethane that feels oily and glides over roade surfaces
  • Chalky – urethane where the slides feel like drawing with chalk
  • Icy – super slick urethane that breaks loose fast and glides
  • Grippy – grabby urethane that does not want to slide

There‘s also a rebound factor. A high rebound means that the wheel retains more energy and rolls faster, whereas low rebound is usually seen in the cheap wheels which use low quality formula. A simple test you can do to test the wheel rebound is to just pick it up, hold it straight at arms length and drop it on the hard surface such as pavement. The higher it rebounds, the better urethane is.

Core Placement for Sliding

Core placement is the position of the wheel core. It also affect the traction of your wheels as well as how they wear. There are 3 different positions:

Centerset

Centerset core means that wheel is symetrical and usually you can flip it around from time to time in order to wear it evenly. That‘s important for sliding as you will be wearing the wheels hard. Also, when you slide a lot, you wheels inside get more pressure than outside which causes coning, as in wheel takes a shape of a cone. Flipping them lets you avoid this issue. The minor disadvantage is that this type of wheel doesn‘t break traction as easy as other types of cores.

Offset

Offset core is placed a bit off center, closer to the inner wheel side. It‘s a great balance between grip and slip for various riding styles.

Sideset

Sideset cores are even closer to the inner lip of the wheel. These are the best for sliding as they break traction easiest.

Contact Patch for Sliding

The contact patch is the part of the wheel which makes the contact with the road. Its width is measured in millimeters and for longboards it usually falls into 29-70mm range, however most commonly is around 38-56mm. A wider contact patch gives more traction and therefore is preferred for downhill riding whereas narrow contact patch breaks traction easier, hence is better for sliding.

One more thing to consider – when the wheel is made and taken out of mold, it’s contact patch has glossy finish and is very grippy. It’s really hard to break traction of such wheel and sliding for beginners is nearly impossible. Overtime that surface layer wears off and becomes matte. Then the wheel is considered broken-in and slides a lot easier. Some manufacturers make wheels which are stone-grounded before selling them, such wheels are called pre-broken-in. The idea is that you can slide with them at ease right out of the box and I really recommend to go for this option for beginners.

Lip Shape for Sliding

Lip shape is another important factor which defines the outer edges of the contact patch. It can either be rounded or square. Square lips give you more traction and therefore are better for downhill, carving, cruising. Whereas rounded lips lets you break traction easier and slide effortless.

So, to sum it up, a great wheel for sliding should be 82A or higher durometer, sideset core, contact patch of 38-45mm and rounded lip. Now let‘s look at some examples and their advantages.

Sliding Wheel Recommendations

There are many great choices when it comes to sliding wheels, however I‘ve tried to discern the ones which have been proven over time to perform best. Price wise be ready to spend at least $40 for a set of wheels and don‘t be tempted to go for the cheaper nonames. After all, the wheels are what connect you to the road, so they are crucial component defining ride comfort and slide capabilities.

The legendary Butterballs from Sector 9 are a great choice both for beginners and for advanced riders. They were created specifically for sliding and succeed at that. Although Butterballs have that pre-ground surface I‘ve mentioned earlier, you will still need a bit of break in to do. If you don‘t know how to slide yet, you can break these wheels in just by cruising 20 miles or so.

Butterballs are not very hard at 80A durometer and they come in 65mm and 70mm diameter. If you want more versatile wheels, you should go for 70mm, whereas 65mm will break traction a bit easier and accelerate faster. Obviously, these wheels produce ‚buttery‘ slide and leave nice thane lines on your playground. They wear a bit faster than average slide wheels but it‘s definitely worth it.

 

Blood Orange Morgan Pro Series wheels is another great option. They come in diameters of 60mm, 65mm and 70mm and durometer of 80A-84A. I‘d also suggest to go for 70mm to have more versatility while durometer should be chosen by your weight (higher durometer for higher weight). These wheels give you veeery consistent and controlled slides, making them ideal for freeride.

 

 

Sector 9 Skiddles is another sliding wheel from Sector 9 with a contact patch of just 29mm (9mm less than on the Butterballs). They all come in pretty soft durometer at 78A but the slim contact patch compensates to make it good for sliding. There‘s only one option for diameter – 70mm which makes these wheels pretty good even for cruising.

 

 

 

Orangatang Durian. California‘s famous wheel brand Durians will fit you great for freeride with a larger diameter of 75mm and a wide choice of durometer from 80A to 86A. They come pre-broken-in and roll really fast. I‘d suggest these wheels for more advanced riders as some earlier mentioned wheels a better to learn sliding on.

 

 

Conclusion

So, we‘ve talked about wheel characteristics and good wheel choices for sliding. However, you can slide on almost every type of longboard wheel, it‘s just a matter of experience. For easier beginning go for our recommendations and you won‘t be disappointed. I also found this great guide that should really help in your first sliding steps: https://www.reddit.com/r/longboarding/comments/4bf4fh/the_imabouttoquitlongboarding_guide_to_slides/

Last but not least – sliding adds a great deal of risk when it comes to injuries, so don‘t forget your helmet and pads!

P.S. Shoutout to Flaticon for the drawn longboard wheel pics – Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY.

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