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Wheels Part 1: Durometer

Skate wheels have come a long way since the days of wooden wheels. Looking for the right set of wheels can be be overwhelming, there are a ton of options when it comes to hardness (durometer), size, hub, etc. It can all seem overwhelming and brain-melting at first, but once you understand the basics it’s easy to decode the mysteries of the wheel buying process.

Durometer, or hardness, is the first basic component you need to know about before buying wheels. The durometer of the wheel will determine how hard or soft it is, and thus how much “grip” it has. Skate wheel durometers are ranked based on the Shore Scale, which assigns a number and letter to each wheel. Pretty much every derby wheel on the market will be labeled with an “A” following the number, which indicates that the wheel is made from a urethane compound (the other letter used in the scale is “D”, for plastic compound wheels. These are rare in derby, if they even exist at all, so we won’t focus on them). The number is the big thing you’ll want to focus on when buying derby wheels. Wheels are generally anywhere from 78a to 100a or higher. A lower number means a softer wheel, which means more grip, though you may find you feel a bit slower in them. A higher number means a harder wheel, which will have some slide to it but maintain speed more efficiently. Here’s a quick breakdown of durometer numbers and what they mean for you:

roller skate wheel durometer information

78a: VERY soft. Pretty much all wheels at this hardness are outdoor wheels, which are great for absorbing the shock of rough pavement/sidewalks and gravel.

80a-84a: Soft. Many wheels at this hardness are “hybrid” wheels (such as Atom Poisons or Reckless Envys), which means they are suitable for both indoor and outdoor skating. These will have a LOT of grip and are great on slippery floors like polished concrete, but they perform well on most surfaces.

86a-88a: Soft. These are not quite as grippy as a hybrid wheel, but still provide plenty of grip for slicker skating surfaces like concrete or worn wooden floors.

91a-93a: Medium-hard. This range is one of the most popular for derby, these wheels will give a moderate amount of grip but are still hard enough to be fast. Great on somewhat grippy floors like Sport Court.

94-96a: Hard. These wheels won’t give you much grip, so they’re best used on a stickier skating surface like a coated roller rink floor.

97a-100a: Super hard! The fastest wheels you can buy, best for a very grippy floor or for skaters who prefer a lot of “slide” when they skate.

Durometer is very much a matter of personal preference among skaters. The more types of wheels you try and the more surfaces you skate on, the better idea you’ll get of what hardness you prefer. Lots of skaters will start out on very grippy wheels, for added stability, and graduate to harder wheels for more speed once they become more comfortable. Alternatively, some skaters know right from the start that they prefer a faster wheel with less grip. Body weight is another factor to consider, skaters who are “featherweight” won’t get as much grip out of their wheels, so a softer wheel can be helpful to prevent them from sliding around, whereas a “heavyweight” skater may prefer a harder wheel for maximum speed. There are a ton of options out there, and durometers can vary between manufacturers (ie one company’s 88a may feel more like another company’s 91a), so it’s great to try out as many different types as you can to figure out what you prefer. There is no “right or wrong” wheel for any surface, only what you prefer the most for your own skating style!