When I have started longboarding, I knew nothing about bearings. I didn’t know how long it takes while they break in, how often they should be replaced and how to actually do that. Because I keep getting questions about when bearings should be changed, I came up with an idea to post this article. I will cover both when it is time to change the bearings and show you how to actually remove old and add new bearings.
How often should you replace your bearings? If you use high quality bearings, you should replace them once a year or two. You might also want to consider changing your bearings if you want an upgrade in speed, if you break your bearings or your current ones start to slow down.
There are different recommendations when it comes to replacing and maintaining your bearings. Some riders change their bearings every year, some change them after they hear strange sounds coming from the bearing and some rarely ever bothers to change them. The same with maintaining your bearings – some riders do it and some just buy new bearings and forget about them. So where is the truth? Let’s find out.
Why should you care about replacing your bearings?
Before we dive in to details on how to identify when a bearing should be replaced, let’s take a look at why should you care in the first place. The main reasons are that it affects your speed and it is dangerous riding broken bearings.
Usually when the longboard bearings get worn-off they start to slow down. You will notice that your board does not ride that far anymore after pushing. Also, if you try to take your board and spin your wheel by hand, the more bearing wears off, the more force you have to apply to spin it.
If the only reason for replacing bearings was speed, some riders could live with that. It’s not only speed that is affected by broken or worn-off bearings but your safety too. If you don’t replace your bearings, they might seize. Seized bearings can result in your wheel falling off. It locks up your wheel and it might unwind the axle nut. And this is where it gets dangerous.
How often should you replace longboard bearings?
Ok, we have covered why should you care about replacing your longboard bearings, let’s talk when. I would recommend getting higher quality (Does not mean expensive. I am riding Zealous bearings (click here for price on Amazon) – I honestly believe they are the best bearings for the price by far.) bearings and replacing them at least every two years.
Besides replacing your bearings every few years, there are a few more situations when you should consider replacing your current bearings:
- Your bearings are of low quality
- Current ones started slowing down
- You have broken your bearing
Current bearings are low quality?
If you buy a complete longboard online or from a local shop, usually the weakest point will be the bearings. Sometimes you might find out that the board is equipped with high quality bearings but much more often your stock bearings will be of a mediocre quality. So if you bought a board and feel that you have to push around a lot, consider an upgrade.
Bearings start to slow down?
The second situation where you might want to consider to replace the bearings is declining performance of your current ones. If you notice that your bearings are starting to slow down, you might need an upgrade. Do not throw your current ones to the bin yet (especially if they are higher quality), ride them a bit more to see if things start to pick up. If they don’t go for the new longboard bearings.
I know, this one is a bit self-explanatory but I must mention it. If you have broken your longboard bearing, DO NOT RIDE YOUR BOARD. At least until you have replaced your bearing with a new one. It is really dangerous, especially if you like going at higher speeds.
How to determine that your longboard bearings went bad?
Ok, I know I have stressed a lot that you must replace your bearings when they wear off, but how do you identify that? Well, there are three main ways to do that:
- Gently spinning the wheel
- Checking if bearing is making noise
- Side to side movement of your wheel
Spinning the wheel
So let’s start with the first test. For this one, you will need to take your board and gently spin the wheel with your hand. The wheel should start spinning freely. It does not have to spin forever but it should start spinning with you not applying too much force on it.
If it doesn’t and you really need to apply force or if the spinning stops immediately, it is one of the signs that your bearings might need a replacement.
Bearings making noise
The second test – bearings noises. Spin your wheel with a bit more force so it spins a bit longer. And as it does listen if your bearings are making noises. Well made bearings are really silent. If your bearings do make strange noises or is loud in general as it spins, consider a replacement. It is either of a low quality or is wearing off.
Moving your wheel side to side
The third test to determine if you need to replace your bearings is moving your longboard wheel from side to side. Before performing this test, make sure that your longboard axle nut is tightened. Move it along with the axle, from the axle nut towards the hanger and back. Try to move it quickly back and forth for like five times and see if there is actually any movement.
If your bearing hasn’t worn off, there shouldn’t be any movement and sounds. But if you notice that the wheel actually moves and makes sound while doing it – most likely your bearings have worn off. Double check the tightness of the axle nut one more time and if you are still able to move the wheel, go for a replacement.
How to actually change longboard bearings?
Ok, so we have identified why you need to care about replacing your bearings, when to do it and how to identify worn-off bearings. Now I will provide you a step by step guide on how to actually remove your old bearings and replace them with never ones. I will add quite a few pictures here so try to not get overwhelmed. Longboard bearings can be replaced in seven easy steps:
- Have the necessary tool
- Unwind the axle nut
- Remove the wheel from the axle
- Remove old bearings from the wheel
- Insert new bearings in to the wheel
- Put the wheels back on the axle
- Tighten the axle nut
Have the necessary tool
For changing longboard bearings, you will only need one tool – the so called Skate Tool. You will use this one to unwind the axle nut and then tighten it after bearings are replaced.
If you don’t have the skate tool, you could try to use pliers, they should do the job. But if you really don’t have the skate tool yet, consider getting one, it usually costs only a few dollars and you will for sure be using for changing bearings, wheels, tightening or loosening the trucks and other.
It will save you some hassle because if you have the skate tool, you don’t need any additional tools to assemble or disassemble your longboard. If you are going to buy the skate tool, just get the cheapest one, it will get the job done. Check out one of the examples (See price on Amazon) which will totally do the job.
Unwind the axle nut
Ok, you have your board and skate tool ready, now it is time to unwind your axle nut. Just use one of the holes in the tool, place it on the nut and turn it till you feel that it starts moving. Continue turning till you unscrew the nut.
Remove the wheel from the axle
Once the axle nut is unscrewed, remove the wheel from the axle. Don’t put it away yet, we will need the wheel for the next step.
Remove old bearings from the wheel
Now it is time to actually remove old bearings from the wheel. It is not always easy so it might take a few tries for you to accomplish that, don’t get discouraged, alright?
Take the wheel which you removed in to your hand. Put part of the wheel back on the axle, only like a half an inch. After you do, push the wheel downwards while still keeping part of the wheel on the axle. Give it a few pushes and your old bearings will come off.
Once it does come off, turn your wheel around and do the same thing for your second bearing in the wheel.
Insert new bearings in to the wheel
Ok, take one of your new bearings and place it on your axle. Spacer of the bearing should be looking towards the end of the axle (outwards). After it is done, take your wheel and put it on the axle, just make sure that you put the outer part of the wheel towards the hanger (logo’s of the wheel should point towards the hanger). Then push the wheel towards the hanger until you hear a pop and the bearings gets pushed in to the wheel.
Once it is done, remove the wheel from the axle, add another bearing to the axle, turn the wheel around, push the wheel towards the hanger and here you go – you have just added new bearings to the wheel, congrats!
Put the wheels back on the axle
Your wheel should already be on the axle after inserting new bearings if it is not, put it back on.
Tighten the axle nut
All you need to do now is tighten the axle nut. Don’t leave it loose as some suggest. This would only raise a risk of losing the axle nut and your wheel afterwards. For more information, check out my article on spacers and washers.
Tightened? You are all done, good job!
How long does it take for new bearings to break-in?
Ok, so now you have replaced your old bearings with the new ones but they don’t seem to be that much faster? It is because it takes some time (or mileage) for the new bearings till they start performing. Give your new bearings 5miles of longboarding and you will see the difference.
What kind of factors damage your bearings the most?
Water and mud are the two main factors which damage your bearings the most. If you plan to ride on wet streets, pavements or in the rain, get a second set of bearings for riding in the rain. Also, check out my guide on longboarding in the rain – Longboarding in the rain tips and tricks. There is much more to think about than bearings if you plan to get your longboard wet.
Do you need to maintain your longboard bearings?
Now, how do you maintain your longboard bearings? Do you need to? There are quite a few different opinions on this one. My approach is simple – I don’t clean my bearings but I replace them every one or two years. It costs me around 15 dollars in a year or two. My board is equipped with zealous bearings (check it out on Amazon) which are really durable, have built in spacers and are created so I just replace them and don’t have to think about them for at least a year.
I do use a bit of precaution though, I have a separate set of bearings (actually, I have a whole separate board) for riding in the rain or wet streets. So I don’t mess up my current bearings. But I don’t clean them. I believe that you can sometimes do more damage to your bearings than good while cleaning them.
To sum it all up – I recommend getting quality bearing and replacing them every year or two. It is an inexpensive and hassle free way to enjoy longboarding, at least for me.
I hope that the information provided helped. Please leave me a message below if you have any questions or comments or hit me up via the contact form.
Enjoy the ride!