All You Need to Know About Longboard Wheels from Bustin Boards Custom Longboards

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these. Part of the reason I waited so long was because I was intimidated to tackle products such as longboard wheels, trucks, and boards without making a ton of assumptions. So much innovation is still happening in longboarding because everyone still has different ideas about what works and what’s just a load of hype, and we’re all constantly trying out new ideas and coming to new conclusions. I’m going to do my best in the following post to give as objective of an opinion as I can about wheels, but understand that we’re still learning–that the entire industry is still learning. Still, I’ve got this wall o’ wheels right in front of me and have access to riding tons of different boards and setups from people all over the city, and I’m a super-dork when it comes to longboard components and have done a lot of research, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on a lot of this. I trust my own opinion. You can decide for yourself what you think!

Like the previous post on bushings, I’m going to talk about wheels in terms of their characteristics. I don’t want to get too specific talking about individual wheels; rather, I’d like to give you the tools to be able to look at a wheel, identify its characteristics, and make a fairly strong judgement on how it should handle before you make a purchase. The characteristics I am choosing are lip shape, durometer, size, core size, core position, contact patch width, contact finish, and urethane formula.

Lip Shape – When I speak of lip shape, I am referring to the shape of the edge of the wheel. This is going to be one of four shapes (until someone makes up something new). The shape of the lip mostly affects how easily the wheel will let go and slide sideways, so I’m going to list them in order from the stickiest wheel to the most slidey wheel.

  • Acute Angled Lip – The lip on these wheels is flat across the bottom of the wheel, comes to a sharp point at the edge, and heads back toward the center at an acute angle on the side of the wheel. The only wheels I can think of off the top of my head that are currently in production using an acute angled lip are the 75mm Avila and its younger sibling, the 70mm Avalon, both made by 3DM. These wheels shine on the slalom course, from tight slalom all the way to super giant slalom. They stick turns as hard or harder than just about any wheel ever made. The thin edge of the wheel molds to the road surface more than any other type of wheel, providing the most possible traction. These wheels are not made to slide; the lip will likely chunk off in places if forced to do so. The Atobe Bonneville is also somewhat shaped this way, but the edge is a little less sharp and a little more round, which seems to keep the wheel from chunking during slides without giving up much, if any, traction.

  • Square Lip – The square lipped wheel is among the most common type of wheels in production. The bottom of the wheel goes straight across, forms a 90 degree angle at the lip and goes straight up before heading back into the core. Some of the most common square lipped wheels include the Orangatang 4President and InHeat, the Abec11 Zigzag, BigZig, and Centrax, Seismic Hot Spot and Speed Vent, and Venom Cannibals. The square lip provides exceptional traction. When the wheel is carving through a turn, force is transferred toward the edge of the wheel, which flattens out slightly and forms a platform and sticks the turn. The advantage of a square lipped wheel over the acute angled lip is mainly longevity and the ability to break the wheel in so that it slides easily. With an acute angled lip wheel, if you try to slide it, it will likely just chunk off and mostly ruin the wheel; however, with the square lip, though there is usually a bit of a break-in period, the wheel can be essentially turned into a nice sticky wheel that’s capable of drifting with just a little bit of work. This is the type of wheel that 98% of downhill racers will be riding on any given day and for good reason. It’s a tough and reliable shape that you can count on to stick when you want it to and slip when you want it to.

  • Beveled Lip – The beveled lipped wheel is shaped like a square lipped wheel, except that on one or both edges, the wheel forms a sharp 135 degree angle (half of the 90 degree turn) and then another angle to round off the 90 degrees before heading back into the core of the wheel. A great example of this is the Bustin Boca wheel, which has bevels on both sides. I haven’t found a lot of good information about beveled lips, but I’ll give you my best logical input on what the point is behind these wheels. First, the outer bevel basically forms a little bit softer of an angle when rolling over cracks, small curbs, and stones at an angle. This essentially just helps you keep from getting stuck on objects and helps keep the ride smooth. I have literally taken a shallow angle up against a NYC curb and rolled up the curb on some yellow Boca wheels. I was totally expecting to get stopped in my tracks, and when I made it, I had to go back and look at the curb again to see what happened. The curb was taller than the wheel! So how did this happen? Well, my best guess is that the soft angle formed by the bevel actually allowed the wheel to crab against the face of the curb (rather than run straight into it) and lift the board over. This certainly isn’t something you will do every day, but it is a prime example of an advantage that a beveled outer lip offers. Additionally, this is essentially a softer edge to have to wear down once you’re ready to start sliding your wheels. The inner bevel is a little harder to get a grasp on. My opinion is that an inner bevel tends to make the wheel a little bit grippier, in that because of the additional mass outside of the contact patch, when you are driving angular force down through a wheel in a turn, there is less of a tendency for the wheel to flex and change shape against the road. This could potentially add to wheels life and help keep the wheel from coning. I’d like to hear other opinions on this matter, as there doesn’t seem to be much discussion going on about it, yet companies are still creating wheels with beveled inner lips! My theory is that if two wheels made of the same urethane with the same size contact patch go head to head, the one with the beveled inner lip will be stickier and have greater rolling momentum.

  • Rounded Lip – Rounded lipped curve from the contact patch up to the side. Also referred to as radiused wheels, they have the most progressive transfer from grip to slip and tend to be the most predictable when sliding. Some great slide wheels out there include the Stimulus and Durian from Orangatang, the Sidewinder from Venom, Earthwing Slide-A, Abec 11 Freeride, and loads of other wheels. Rounded lips are a somewhat classic shape and can be found all over. Like the beveled lipped wheel, rounded lips will typically roll over objects and up curbs better than a sharp-lipped wheel. They are also better for bowl and ramp riding, as they will roll over and off the coping more easily and create less hangups.

Durometer – Durometer refers to the softness of the urethane. Most wheels made for longboarding are going to have the classification of “A.” So when you see a wheel that says 78a or 90a, you will know what the “a” means. It could be a B, C, or D, but urethane this hard would typically be considered too hard for longboarding. The lower the number, the softer the wheel. I do not know of any longboard wheels that are softer than 72a. The higher number, then, the harder the wheel. Not many wheels out there are being ridden that are over 100a. I’m not sure what the Slide-A’s are, but they’re probably close to that hard.

Softer wheels will typically be more grippy. This isn’t always the case, as there are many other factors that play into grip and slip, but as a general rule, this holds true. Softer wheels also tend to ride softer, providing more cushion, and rolling over road inconsistencies more smoothly. Harder wheels, then, slide easier and are generally considered faster over super smooth surfaces. The big question is the middle ground. How soft for every day riding? How hard for a fairly smooth downhill run? This is such a subjective topic, so it’s one that I’m somewhat hesitant to chime in on, but I’ll do so anyway.

For most flat ground riding on typical (rough in some spots, smooth in some spots) surfaces, I think somewhere between 78a and 82a is ideal. Too soft, and your wheel may not have enough rebound to really be fast. Too hard, and you’ll collide into inconsistencies in the road rather roll right over them. Rebound is not the exact same thing as durometer, but they are closely related. A higher rebound urethane will be faster, as it will deform and then reform on the backside of these inconsistencies (rocks, pebbles) in the road and actually push against and away from the backside of them. This makes the wheel faster. If the wheel is too hard to ever deform, though, it is simply running into objects in your path and slowing you down.

This applies to essentially all types of riding. Rougher surfaces (like most city roads) require softer wheels to go faster, while hard and smooth surfaces (like concrete skate parks) will benefit from harder wheels that deform less.

Size – The size or diameter of the wheel primarily affects 4 things – acceleration, momentum, ability to roll over stuff, and ride height.

  • Acceleration – Smaller wheels accelerate faster, whereas larger wheels accelerate slower. This is true on most levels and has mostly to do with weight. So it is possible that a smaller diameter wheel with a super wide contact patch may accelerate slower than a larger diameter wheel with a super thin contact patch.
  • Momentum – Larger wheels have greater mass, and objects with greater mass carry greater momentum. This does not apply only to the diameter of the wheel but should also apply to wheels with wider contact patches/widths, as they will be greater in mass than those with less width. What this means is that while a larger wheel may be tougher to accelerate to speed, a larger wheel will hold speed while coasting longer than a smaller wheel. This is especially useful in some downhill courses when the hill starts off steep and then flattens out at some point. You will be able to hold a tuck for a longer period of time before resorting to pushing, or you may carry more speed going into the next steep section.
  • Ability to roll over stuff – Children’s toes, potholes, stones, trash, and small curbs stand much less of a match for large diameter wheels than those with a small diameter. However large the object is, assuming it is smaller than half the size of the wheel, if a large wheel rolls over this object, it will, to a lesser extent, smash straight into the object and instead roll over it (if you’re lucky).
  • Ride height – A larger diameter wheel will ride higher than a smaller wheel, all other things being equal. The difference is often very little, but a quarter of an inch will be a noticeable difference for most people. This makes a difference in how the board sticks to the road vs. slides, and it also makes a difference to the pusher, though it is totally up for debate how ride height affects performance.
Core Size – The size of the core will greatly affect how a wheel responds on the road, it’s ratio of grip to slip, it’s acceleration and ability to hold speed, and the comfort of the wheel on the road for the rider. Some common larger cored wheels are Abec 11 Flywheels, Seismic Speed Vents, and Landyachtz Zombie Hawgs. Wheels like Seismic Hot Spots have medium sized cores. Most wheels have smaller cores. This is probably mostly due to the fact the cores have already been made by the wheel manufacturer, and it costs much more money for a wheel company to make a proprietary core, but smaller cored wheels also have their advantages.
Large cored wheels generally:
  • accelerate faster, due to decreased mass.
  • slide smoother and lose traction earlier, due to a thinner patch of urethane between the core and the road. The ‘thane flexes less and generally will scrub across the road rather than chatter.
  • decelerate faster, due to less mass and, in turn, inertia.

Smaller cored wheels generally:
  • accelerate slower, due to increased mass (all other things being equal).
  • hold speed longer, due to increased mass/intertia
  • feel smoother over rough pavement. More ‘thane means the wheel can flex more over bumps, cracks, stones, toes, etc.
  • have more grip, because there is more urethane flexing and grabbing at the road.
Core Position – Skateboard/longboard wheel cores are usually positioned in one of three ways. Cores are either centerset, sideset, or offset.
A centerset core will have an equal amount of urethane on either side of the core. These wheels tend to be quite sticky, as a large portion of the grip that a wheel has is generated by the wheel is focused on the inside lip, and centerset wheels usually have a relatively large inner lip. Grippins and Centrax wheels from Abec11 are perfect examples of this.
Some centerset wheels are also made for sliding. They tend to have smaller contact patches than the centerset wheels that are made to grip, but because they are centerset, you can flip the wheel and expect to have the same performance. This adds to the life of the wheel, because as it begins to cone (the inside of the wheel wears away quicker than the outside, thereby creating a subtle cone-shape), you can flip the wheel and even out the wear pattern and continue skating on it. The Venom Street Snake and Sidewinder are great examples of this, as are a host of wheels by Abec11, such as the Invertz, Noschoolz, and Skertz. Flywheels act as a nice in-between wheel here. They are large centerset wheels that slide fairly easily and predictably with their rounded edges and large core, but they also have a fairly wide contact patch to grip when you need them to, and because they are flippable, they tend to last for quite a while.
The only real notable negative aspect of centerset wheels is that they tend to bite a little easier, because the larger inner lip brings the wheel closer to dropthrough decks. On topmount decks, it’s usually the outside of the wheel that catches the board, so it does not apply in this case.
Sideset wheels have cores that are positioned on the inner lip of the wheel. These wheels tend to slide more progressively and predictably than center or offset wheels. These tend to be great freeride wheels, but unfortunately, they cone quite a bit faster and as a result, don’t last as long. The Landyachtz Zombie Hawgs are a great example of a sideset freeride wheel, as they have round edges with a stone-ground finish and large cores, resulting in a very predictable slide in every way possible. Abec11 Flashbacks are another very popular sideset wheel.
Offset wheels have cores that are positioned somewhere between the center and the inside lip of the wheel. The majority of wheels made these days are offset. Abec11 Zigzags, Bigzigs, Bustin Bocas, every current wheel from Orangatang, Siesmic Speed Vents, Hot Spots, and Blast Waves, 3DM Avilas and Avalons, Fireball Incendo and Beasts–all offset wheels, as well as a slew of others. Offset wheels tend to be quite grippy and, depending on other factors, may slide quite progressively as well. Most downhill and slalom wheels these days are offset as well as many freeride oriented wheels, which have very similar shapes but usually have round edges and may have a stone-ground finish.
Contact Patch Width – Wider contact patches have more grip. Thinner contact patches have less grip. All other things being equal. Bam.
Contact Patch Finish – Most wheels simply come out of the wheel mold smooth and shiny, get a little shaving on the sides to clean up the wheel and voila! they’re done. The shiny finish on a brand new wheel tends to be very sticky, and this is while you’ll see most pro downhill riders breaking out brand new wheels for each downhill event (and sometimes each run down the hill!) Over the past year+, we’ve seen some other wheels come to the market with stone-ground finishes. This adds a step in the manufacturing process and makes the wheels slightly more expensive, but it essentially makes the wheel slide much easier right out of the box and takes away from the break-in period where slide are a little less predictable (and less safe) as you’re wearing away the shiny finish of the wheel. To date, the only wheels I know of that have stone-ground finishes are the Stimulus and Durian from Orangatang, the Incendo and Beast from Fireball, the Sidewinders by Venom, the Metro Motions, and the Zombie Hawgs from Landyachtz. Look for more wheels coming out in 2011 with stone-ground finishes. They have been very well received by skaters over the past year as “freeriding” has become more and more prevalent.
Urethane Formula – All polyurethane is not the same. Getting the formula just right is often a very difficult, time consuming, and expensive task, and you can usually tell a pretty substantial difference between cheap urethane and the better quality stuff. Rebound is the most substantial quality that is affected by urethane quality. Rebound can be defined as the tendency of urethane, once compressed, to expand to return back to it’s initial state, and it can fairly easily measured by simply dropping a wheel from shoulder height and comparing how well it bounces back up from wheel to wheel. Rebound is important because as a wheel compresses when it is rolling over objects, it will first compress around them, and then it will press against the object and actually help drive the wheel forward as it tries to return back to its round shape. A wheel with little rebound will simply blast into rocks or bumps and jump over them with little compression and less powerful/lively expansion. This slows the wheel down.
Most wheels that we see these days from respectable wheel companies like Abec11, Seismic, Bustin, Earthwing, Venom, Atobe, Orangatang, Landyachtz, and 3DM, are made in one of two major wheel manufacturing plants and have very similar urethane with high rebound. Some of the more mass produced wheels out there have Chinese urethane, and I would advise against these if you can afford the better stuff, because it will most definitely impact the quality of your ride.
That’s all for this edition of the “All you need to know about Longboard Wheels” blog. There is probably TOO much information in here, yet I know I had to have missed some things worth talking about, so if you have any suggestions about topics to expand upon or disagree with anything I said here, please feel free to comment and we’ll talk about it! By learning the concepts of what makes a wheel act like it does, you should now be able to take a wheel in your hand and make pretty accurate assumptions about how it is going to respond based on its characteristics. Now’s a good time to take a mental breather and go for a skate! Scram!
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24 thoughts on “All You Need to Know About Longboard Wheels from Bustin Boards Custom Longboards

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  2. Daveman

    I really enjoyed the info in this article….I would second the notion of the beveled lip wheels…I own a Maestro with yellow Boca’s and have experienced the same thing with angled pavement coming up to a curb and having the wheels grab and ride up onto the top of the curb in my work parking lot…the first time it happened I too went back to see what the heck just happened…..my Maestro is about 4 months old now and still my favorite in the quiver!!

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  8. Took

    “The inner bevel is a little harder to get a grasp on.”

    Just today, the inner bevel was useful for preventing wheelbite on a hard carve. Using the maestro.

  9. Jan Benecke

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  13. nAni sivAm

    wonderful and very useful information… a must for all! Thanks matey….
    I have a question tho!…. Between Bustin Swift 78a and 82a, I am kinda confused, which one I should be choosing!- I am gonna be using it mainly on flatland/mild slopes. mostly on road/street pavements. I am more tempted to go for 82a- would there be a significant difference in grippiness from 78a? or in other words… would 82a be grippy enuf to pump small distances! Thanks

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