The ABEC specification (read What does ABEC mean?") has been trashed by many overseas manufacturers. Don't trust it.
Ron Foster is a bearing application engineer with 22 years of experience in bearings training with, and working for, such companies as Ruart, NHBB/NMB, Aircraft Bearing, OEM West and Alliance Bearing – serving companies like Boeing Aerospace, NASA and other major contracts. That, coupled with 30 years of skateboarding under his belt, has made the 40 year-old Southern Californian the go-to-guy for bearing information and top quality skateboard bearings.
Foster started his own company called California Bearing and Supply. The company features a complete in-house bearing testing facility that is capable of performing a myriad of precision test including tolerance, sound testing, smoothness, radial play and toque testing. And perform such tests to NASA specifications!
Foster – like many of us older skaters looking for an edge – sought to upgrade his skateboard with the best components available. However, in searching for the fastest bearings on the market he discovered that there may be some creative marketing going on.
After testing dozens of bearings marketed as ABEC 5 and ABEC 7 that he acquired from local shops, online stores and eBay, Foster says that, although some bearings he tested passed the test, his tests indicate that there are quite a few frauds out there.
Foster uses his advanced lab facility to test many of the bearings marketed to skateboarders and has released his results via various skateboard website forums – for some he’s become the defacto master debunker of the myths that surround bearings.
"We perform tolerance checks, inner ring and outer ring checks, and width and radial runout checks – this will determine what ABEC rating is. We then sound test the bearings for quietness and use a Barden Smootherator to check its smoothness. We also measure the radial play and perform a running and starting torque test. The lower reading on the torque test, the quicker the bearing is," Foster explained.
"Out of dozens I've measured and tested, few met the advertised ABEC specification," said Foster from his facility in Chatsworth, California. "I have purchased and tested bearings masked ABEC 5 and ABEC 7 from skate shops, online stores, and eBay. There are dozens of skate bearing companies supplying overseas manufactured ABEC 1 bearings that are stamped ABEC 5 or ABEC 7," he said.
Foster explains that ABEC specifications refer only to established standards in sizing tolerances and geometric accuracy as they pertain to fitting with other components. Foster explained that ABEC is only one of nine critical features that make up the perfect skate bearing and offers that, "ABEC has nothing to do with speed, quality, raceway finish, workmanship or the bearings’ ability to stay clean."
Okay, but how much does ABEC relate to a skateboard bearing?
"For the most part, it doesn't," according to Foster who explained that the key ABEC element is the difference in the ring radial runout show true round the rings are – the higher the ABEC rating the more true round the ring is. But that’s just part of the bearing equation.
"Radial Runout is more of a factor then tolerances because skateboard trucks axels aren't made to the same tolerance and the outer ring gets pushed into a soft, urethane wheel," foster explained.
"ABEC was designed for electric motors to control the manufacturing of mating parts, and ABEC does not have any effect on critical characteristics like torque and speed," says Foster.
"In some countries it is legal to print anything you want on a part. Shields can be interchanged or marked with whatever you want. You can mark, "made from bubblegum" on the shield just as easily as you can put ABEC 9 or Solid Gold – or whatever you want," said Foster, adding, "Just because it says so doesn’t always mean it is true."
Foster's anger over the fraudulent marketing of bearings and the excessive mark-ups by some companies pressed him to launch his own brand of skateboard bearings called Rocket brand bearings. According to this author, Rockets, Ballistech and Bones bearings are the most reliable on the market.
If you skate sidewalks and you want bearings to last forever, use a standard 608Z with a steel cage and grease lube. The grease will keep you from having to service the bearings for years. You will lose some speed but in sidewalk skating but that isn’t critical as it is with vert riding. If you skate pools or vert, do not use a steel cage. The cage must be non-metallic in order to be quick and fast enough.