How to choose the best longboard wheels for rough roads

Man on a longboard on a rough road

In a perfect world, all surfaces would be as smooth as silk and free of debris. This is not that world. Instead, we live in a world full of rough pavement, rough roads and pebbles, all of it waiting to bite into your wheels and stop you dead in your tracks. We will do our best to help you understand out how to choose the best longboard wheels for rough roads, pavement, surfaces and other terrain.

To give you a short answer – you should choose wheels based on the roughness of the surface (road, pavement, other terrain) you are riding on. For example:

  1. If you are riding on an uneven pavement or street, you should go for a larger, soft longboarding wheels which will absorb the small cracks and let you enjoy the ride. Our recommendation here is the Sector 9 – Nine Balls
  2. If you are riding a far worse surface which is closer to off-road like gravel or a pavement/road with larger cracks and stones, you must go with the MBS All terrain wheels to be able to ride it

Why are we talking about wheels for rough terrains and what is important?

The main reason is your safety. Rough roads – and those cluttered with debris – require wheels that can absorb the shock of the bumps without transferring that shock to your feet. If you hit a crack with or a rock with your standard wheels what happens is that your board stops – of course, you don’t actually stop when your board does. Rather, you continue moving to face the road-rash demon alone. You just don’t know how hard the concrete truly is until you hit it.

The best defense against wrecking is to not crash in the first place. Quality wheels cans smooth out your ride on the rough stuff so you keep on trucking when bits of trash get in your way. This is done with softer urethane, more-forgiving formulas or a combination of similar factors.

The most important thing to know when choosing longboard wheels for rough terrain is how rough the road actually is. Besides that, there are a few other criteria you should consider when picking longboarding wheels:

  1. Durometer – how hard is the wheel
  2. Height of the wheel
  3. Purpose of the wheel
  4. Urethane formula
  5. Other factors

So how rough is your road?

The most important thing before you start looking for wheels for rough surfaces and analyzing them in detail is to answer one simple question. ‘How rough is your road, pavement, surface you are riding or going to ride on?’ If you get this one right, the rest of the work will be much easier and let me tell you why.

The thing is that when it comes to rough surfaces and longboarding, these surfaces can be broken down in to two categories:

  1. Rough pavement or road which is uneven, with small cracks or debris. Such surfaces are not that comfortable to ride on but you can still ride it with normal longboarding wheels you just have to pick the right ones
  2. Off-road like surfaces with bigger cracks, stones and some other trash which you cannot ride with your longboard equipped with normal longboarding wheels. For such rough surfaces you have to use the all-terrain longboarding wheels

I have made a few pictures for you outside my house so you get the idea. An example of pavement and a road in category one:


Rough road for a longboard

There are some stones or cracks here and there but for example I can still ride it with my Hawgs Mini Monster. And here you can see a few examples of roads and surfaces in category two:

Too rough of a terrain for a longboard to ride with standard wheels1

Too rough of a terrain for a longboard to ride with standard wheels

Much bigger cracks and stones – it is close to impossible to ride it using standard set of longboarding wheels, there is no question about it.

Here comes the easy part – when you understand how rough of a road you are going to ride, you already know what kind of wheels to pick. If you are riding on roads in category 1, then it should be soft and large usual longboarding wheels or all-terrain wheels for almost and off-road ride (category 2 surfaces). Check out the all-terrain wheels in action in the video below:

And now let’s get in to a bit more detail about other factors which are important for picking the best wheels for rough surfaces.

The Facts about Durometer

Durometer shows how hard your wheels actually are. Manufacturers measure durometer with a machine that presses into the urethane (material from which longboard wheels are made of), measuring the force required to cause an indentation. That measurement is given with a number and a letter (for example 73A, 76A, 86A, etc.). The term durometer is used for both the machine and the measurement itself.

Higher durometer numbers signify harder materials, and the letter denotes the scale used. With rare exceptions, the wheel hardness is always given in the Shore A scale. For comparison, gummy bears can also be measured and have a 10A durometer, but longboard wheels average between 73A and 86A. And as you know, they are much harder than gummy bears and taste much worse, I guess.

Because urethane formulas differ, wheels with similar durometers can feel very different. Two different wheels may both have, say, an 86A durometer, and yet one can be noticeably harder than the other. The durometer really only gives us an approximate hardness.

The Hardness Sweet Spot

Zombie hawgs mini longboard wheels and drifters wheels for slidingWhen the roads are roughest, softer wheels rule. If you’ve settled on a wheel and the manufacturer offers it in multiple durometers, choose the one with the lowest durometer. The corresponding number may be in the 70s or it may be in the low 80s, depending on the brand.

The reason softer wheels work better on rough terrain is obvious. The urethane absorbs the shock of striking objects better than harder urethane does. If you’ve ever ridden street skateboard wheels, you will understand. The vibrations can leave your feet tingling.

Check out the image on the right. The wheel in darker blue are meant for sliding, therefore their durometer is much higher – 86A while Hawgs Mini Monster wheel is much softer – 78A and works just fine for riding over debris or small cracks.

Soft wheels also offer superior traction over hard wheels, so they are a win-win in most cases. Unless you’re bombing hills or drifting around hairpins, soft wheels are your friend. They smooth out those rough roads and make pebbles, twigs and broken glass non issues.

Diameter of the wheel: go big or go home

Zombie hawgs mini longboard wheel comparison to slide wheelsAnother really important factor for choosing wheels is the diameter or height of the wheel. Standard longboarding wheels’ diameter can vary anywhere from 55mm to 90mm in some cases.

The size of the wheel that you should look for when considering riding on rough surfaces is about 70 – 76 mm. Bigger size of the wheel will allow you to roll over debris easier and smoothen your ride. If you go for much smaller wheels, you will have a hard time riding over small stones or cracks along your way.

Check out the image above. The wheel in the lighter blue color is the Zombie Hawgs Mini. It’s diameter is 70mm. The wheel on the right in dark blue is from the Drifters series, created for freeride, therefore has a smaller diameter of 65mm and the wheel in general is smaller. When riding on uneven roads, you are much better of with a set of Hawgs than with a set of Drifters.

If you are thinking about riding bigger cracks and even worse roads, then check out all terrain wheels (you will find one example of those at the end of the article). And don’t be surprised, usually their diameter starts at 100mm and can get even bigger.

Wheels Have Purposes

There are many different styles of longboarding wheels available on the market. The reason for the dearth of options is that there are so many different ways to ride a longboard. Wheels and their formulas normally break down into categories like freeride wheels, downhill wheels and cruising wheels. The category that usually works best on rough terrain are cruising wheels. The others each have a specific purpose, and surface quality is not normally a concern.

Freeride wheels are often – though not always – of a relatively hard durometer, because harder wheels break into slides more easily than soft wheels. Downhill wheels tend to run hard as well. The profiles of those wheels make them well-suited to those disciplines, but the formulas play a role too.

If you are into those riding styles – or you think you’d like to try them – let that dictate your decision. When the roads are rough, just get the softest wheels you can find that are designed for the riding discipline you like. Otherwise, stick with cruising wheels.

So Many Formulas

This is where things can get a bit tricky. The urethane that makes up longboard wheels is always a mixture of different ingredients and additives. Companies develop their own proprietary formulas, and they often use different formulas for different wheels in their lineup.

We depend on manufacturers to tell us what their urethane formulas are intended to do. The problem there is that they can tell us anything they want, and the solution is to choose wheels from reputable companies. Because their products sell themselves, they have no reason to lie.

Formula is a more reliable factor in determining how a wheel will perform than durometer. Reputable companies will tell their customers what their wheels are good for. Normally, formulas are designed to work for one of the various longboarding disciplines.

Other Factors

Hardness and height are the two main factors that make wheels suitable for rough pavement, but there are other considerations. Lip profile, which describes the outside edge of the contact patch, varies from wheel to wheel, but it won’t really affect how a wheel absorbs bumps.

Sharp lip profiles like those on downhill wheels are better for traction, but rough pavement chews up the thin urethane at the edges. However, rounded lip profiles allow wheels to slide more easily, which works great for freeride. The average rider needs something in the middle.

Contact patch, which is the surface area of the wheel that contacts the pavement, is another puzzle to solve. A thinner wheel will produce less friction and ride smoother, but wider wheels have better traction. The compromise you make here is a personal decision.

A Word about Pricing

The wheels on your longboard dictate how your setup will perform, ride and feel. In short, they are everything. There really is no good place to skimp on longboard equipment, but the wheels are the last place you should look to save a buck.

The research and development that companies put into their wheels costs them money that they have to recoup, and their profits pay for the development of their next wheels. Companies that produce cheap wheels do so by skimping on research, development and materials.

Those cheap wheels tend to deteriorate quickly, especially on rough terrain. A quality urethane formula will absorb countless impacts, but inferior thane will chip away. Cheap wheels require replacing more often, so they often cost more in the long run.

Picking the best longboarding wheels for rough surfaces – step by step

Before we dive in to recommendations and you go out and ride your board, here is a short step by step re-cap on how to pick the best longboarding wheels for rough roads

  1. Consider what kind of roads you are going to ride and go for one of the two types of wheels:
    • If you are going to ride city streets and pavements which are sometimes uneven and have debris, go for standard longboard wheels which are bigger and soft:
      • Size: at least 68mm+ in diameter
      • Durometer: low 70A – 80A in the durometer scale depending on the brand. Rule of thumb – go for the lowest durometer wheels offered by the wheel brand which you like
      • Make sure to pick wheels from a trustworthy brand, for example: Sector 9, Orangatang, Landyachtz (Hawgs), etc.
    • If you are going to ride streets in really bad shape, ride over sand, grass, etc. You have to go for the all-terrain wheels
      • Size: 100mm+ in diameter
      • Durometer: 70A – 80A
      • Brand: MBS all the way. Currently they offer the best all-terrain wheels on the market and nothing comes close
  2. Hit the road and ride it!

Our recommendations

The following wheels are all proven cruising wheels, but some of them may be useful for other disciplines. Honestly, the only way to find the perfect formula and durometer is to try out different combinations. When you find your thane nirvana, you’ll know it.

Sector 9 – Nine Balls

Sector 9 is one of the most respected names in longboarding, and the Nine Balls wheels are a modern classic. Nine Balls have centerset cores and 38-mm contact patches. Their 70-mm height and 78A durometers are typical for cruising wheels.

Nine Balls are not well suited for sliding, but they are grippy enough for moderate downhill runs. They are renowned for their durability, though, and for handling rough roads and debris with ease.

Check them out here.

Hawgs – Mini Monster

A wider contact patch improves traction because there is more surface area in contact with the pavement. This is especially true on rough ground because of the spaces between the particulates in the concrete. A wheel like Hawgs’ Mini Monsters solves that issue.

Mini Monsters are 70mm tall and have 55-mm contact patches. They are color coded by durometer, so opt for the blue, 78A model if you ride on rough roads. If you are unfamiliar with Hawgs, they are made by Landyachtz, so quality is a given.

Check them out here.

MBS – All-Terrain Wheels

When the going gets impossibly rough, the only thing to do is go all out. That is what the MBS wheels will do for you. These big boys are 100mm tall and have 65-mm contact patches. They are buttery soft at 78A, but they still break traction if sliding is your thing.

The manufacturer claims they can be used off-road, and they do roll over most debris, but these wheels are not truly made for dirt riding. But if the roads in your area are full of chunky rocks and covered with pebbles, twigs or other detritus, give these monster-truck wheels a try.

Check them out here.

Enjoy the ride

To conclude on the topic – when we are talking about rough terrain, soft and large wheels are what you need. It’s not just about comfort, though. Soft compounds help all-terrain longboard wheels retain traction during high-speed turns. This works on smooth or rough roads, but it’s a requirement when things get really bumpy. For the roughest roads, you should go for all-terrain longboard wheels or longboards.

As always, if you have any questions or would like to have a chat about longboarding, leave me a comment or ping me via the contact form.

P.S. If you want to know more about longboard wheels in general and what is important when buying ones – we have a great guide here.

Enjoy the ride!

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