|44mm vs. 70mm - when the extremes become EXTREME!|
When I stopped skating, the standards for wheel sizes had already gone up, down, and then up again. It seems that the older crowd chooses to believe "bigger is better," mostly because of what size they once rode, nostalgia, etc.When I started skating again I also felt this way. After much review and constant testing - going back and forth in sizes and shapes of wheels - I have come to believe that maybe "bigger" isn't always "better."
I mostly skate bowls and anything transition-related. It's my passion, but I also like to skate street. I've always heard, "if you are going to skate bowls and ramps, use a bigger wheel." So, I of course did. I didn't grow up skating many bowls and pools as my part of the country had none of these things back in the day. Coming into a modern, bowl-equipped skatepark world, I thought that big wheels were the way to go - but they weren't.
The first year was a constant battle - never for speed, but mostly confidence of being back on a board and regaining the balance of my own body riding a board on all things transition. As I started to experiment with smaller wheels, I started to gain a confidence within my skating that I didn't have when I was skating larger wheels. I felt like me again. The lower center of gravity, and the lower weight under my feet made me feel a bit more at ease. It was easier to pop tricks and it was easier for me to "just go for it" more.
With smaller wheels you have board-on-the-ground feel and control. I look at it like the difference between vulc and cupsole shoes. A thicker sole means less board feel and more impact protection, and a thinner one means more board feel and less impact protection. Smaller wheels and bigger wheels give me this feeling too. Smaller wheels just seem to invoke more feel and confidence of what's under my feet. Maybe it's just me, I like having a good sense of the ground beneath me, and I'm always touching the bowl walls and hips with my hands while I skate. Of course it worked the other way around when I would skate rocky, rough terrain - cracks in sidewalks and bowls with coping that stuck out a lot in the deep end. It made me hold myself back a bit on doing things faster, not because the wheels wouldn't go fast - not at all, they were plenty fast - but because I didn't want to eat shit on the infamous pebble or hangup. In the end I've learned that it's all in your mind, but the wheels maybe help us get there a little easier.
Smaller wheels vs. bigger wheels still seem to have a weird stigma with people after all these years, like "I want to go fast, so I skate big wheels," or "oh, I skate bowls and vert, so I need big wheels." To me that's great if you are an experienced bowl or vert skater and never stopped skating, but for a lot of the older guys just getting back into it after a long time off, following those "rules" just makes the hump of getting comfortable back on a board after many years off, that much harder. Our bodies just aren't the same as they once were - it's just the truth. I say this out of experience, not attitude. I love big wheels, and I love everything the 80's, but I have to be honest here and tell it like it is. If you really want to know what works best for you and your skating and what doesn't, you gotta go out and try different things. Step out of your box and spend some time to see what works best with ALL the available options we now have - that's really all it comes down to. Here, I'll do my best to try and help steer you in the right direction from my own experiences after being gone for a while.
If you skated back when you were younger and now you are starting all over again and jump up to big ass wheel sizes from when you were a kid in the 80's right off, it's going to take you a bit longer to get over that hump of riding again. The hump, you know what I mean - "the fear!" We all have it at the beginning again, and eventually it will go away - not entirely, but enough to just let yourself go and not think too much, so your skating takes on a more natural, fun, and happy form. Whatever we need to do to get to this point no matter what it takes to get there, I say fuck it, DO IT! Do whatever you damn well have to! Skateboarding is supposed to be about having fun, and not worrying all the time if you are going to fall and get hurt and be a hindrance on yourself and your family because "you are now an old man," "need to grow up," etc. Fuck it, just go out there and fool around, be creative and always have fun no matter what's under your feet.
Personally, I've never have had a problem with things like speed and control using smaller wheels in bowls or at the parks. (Realize that Pedro Barros only uses 55mm wheels and goes faster and blasts higher than anyone out there alive today, so swallow that for a second if you think I'm nuts for writing all this). It's all in how you pump, how you carve, and when and where you do all these things on the transition. Eventually you'll just learn to get speed anywhere in a bowl, and it will all be natural and none of this will matter too much anymore.
Going down from a 58mm wheel to a 52mm wheel in bowls and in parks, and skating lower trucks my skating finally 'clicked' for me this year, and I felt I could let go more and just go for it. This past year, I started skating smaller 52 & 53mm wheels in the bowls and on street. I feel I progressed about 75% more than when I first started skating again and was using bigger wheels, and because of this, I was out skating more too.
I like to skate a size larger wheel than what I want to be riding and then wear off that millimeter on the street first, before I take them to the park. It's a pain in the ass, but this widens the contact patch so I have more grip in the bowls; it also removes the horrible treads on some wheels which make indoor bowl skating a dirty, slippery mess!
My favorite 'go-to' wheels for all-around skating have been Bones STF's - on street, on tranny indoors and outdoors. SPF is the best on concrete parks, but unless you have experience skating bowls, do yourself a favor and don't start out with SPF's on indoor bowls! You probably won't have as much confidence because you will be fighting the slipping and sliding all over the place and you will tend to hold back more because of it. The SPF's "fastest wheel around" thing won't matter because you will be slowly trotting along trying to not slip and slide because you aren't used to it yet. SPF's should have a rating on them that says "Experienced riders only." It's not a Novice or Beginners park wheel that's for sure. Us indoor park guys have had the broken bones and bruises from wheel slip to show this when we came back. Once you get your balance and confidence back within yourself and you are ready to skate a faster, slicker, wheel, you will adjust better to them, and you'll be flying around the bowls and won't want to go back to 95 and 97a type wheels. You'll be ready! But, give it time. . . . Also, SPF's need some breaking-in too. Take that for what it's worth as well.
|Bones 54mm - ATF, 97a, STF, SPF|
|Nicotine Lights 44mm wheel next to a 50¢ coin.|
Honestly, they seemed faster than I thought they would be on my rough New England streets. My feet were numb afterwards, but they weren't that slow afterall. Taking them to the bowl and on the big ramps they were actually fine. No big issues getting over the coping for grinds, and again, seemed faster than I thought they'd be. Skating wheels that small with low trucks and being that low is really fun at parks - and easy too! It's kinda like skimboarding over the tranny. It's actually pretty cool. When you ride them on smooth transitions you wonder why everybody isn't riding these in parks today.
|44mm vs. 50mm|
So this past year I started getting into grabs and airs out of the transition. Good times! This is where I see larger wheels finally make sense. Not in speed so much, but in the momentum of the speed when you are about to bend down, grab and pop off. My highest most confident little airs have been done with worn-down 52mm wheels - true story. But going back to a larger wheel, I lose less momentum going up the wall and this helps me want to go higher. I thought it wouldn't matter, but now with more experience I see it does a little bit, and I like it. I'm ready to bump my park wheel size up again. But if your goals aren't going to be jumping out of the ramps, and you are kind of new at riding bowls, then honestly. I don't think you need to go with big wheels - just yet.
|54mm vs. 58mm|
The biggest problem with larger wheels I've found is the pop factor. You are now higher off the ground and now need more force to smack that tail down and pop yourself up. You can't half-ass your ollies with big wheels, folks. Even though with bigger wheels the nose will be higher in the air on pop, and you will be able to bring your pop up higher by dragging your foot up to the nose more vertically, it still requires a little more energy to get there, so take note of that especially if you have a bad back and bad knees/legs. Lower, lighter setups are good for someone with these ailments that wants to still go out and pop tricks all over the place without working too hard to get there. So if you want to go out on the street, and do ollie and flip tricks and you haven't skated in a long time, start with a smaller wheel and a lighter, lower setup. I think it will help you progress further. As time goes by and you re-comfortize yourself with skateboarding and build back up your strength - physically and mentally - then you can go up & down in sizes or whatever you like; you'll be ready for it more. I think so, anyways.
|56mm vs. 58mm|
Let's face it - 2 things have changed since we were younger in the 70's, 80's and 90's - the gear, and our bodies. Old man knees, legs, and backs and big heavy clunky flat boards don't work as well as we wish they would in our sweet nostalgic brains and hearts. But, they can. You gotta get that muscle tone, that muscle memory and get yourself over that hump again! Then you can mess around with whatever type setup you want and it will all fall into place better for you and not really matter as much anymore. Stop making things difficult for yourself! Modern boards make it easier to do things. They may not look as pretty or as nostalgically cool and fun, but honestly, they have evolved for a reason: ease of use. In all reality, you can get used to skating anything. When you think about the setups that the 80's legends rode, how big, clunky and burly they were and everything incredible those guys did with them, then you look at the young cats of today and see what they are doing with streamlined and very different equipment, we say, "is it because the 80's dudes were better?" No, not really . . . they may look cooler and have 1000% more style, but no. It's just that whatever us skaters have to work with we will eventually get comfortable on. We are adaptive, it's what skateboarders do! We adapt to our environments and we adapt to our boards. When we feel "one with our board," then we can fully be free. Some just choose a different type of weapon to get that free feeling and that's just fine - in the end, it's all skateboarding and it beats the hell out of every other feeling in the world. So was a 1080 humanly possible back in 1985? Sure, yeah it was. Humans haven't evolved, the gear and ramps have, so take that how ever you want to take it.
Use this guide and make what you will of it:
50 - 54mm - If you are starting out again and are skating parks and bowls and aren't going to be doing big pool coping grinds and airs out of the tranny. If you aren't going to be doing these things you don't need big wheels, all you DO need is confidence within yourself and you can make anything work! If you are going to skate street too and want to pop and flip the board easier, I think this area of size will help you progress quicker; you can go up or down in size later on.
Works good on mini ramps too.
54 - 58mm - Once you've been skating a bit more, and are starting to attack gnarly pool coping and are getting into doing airs. 54mm is probably the best all-around multi-style wheel size out there.
58 - 60mm - The standard modern vert & big bowl skaters choice, although not needed to shred the smaller parks. The bigger, and taller the bowl, then go up on wheel size. Unless you're skating something like the combi at Vans I wouldn't worry too much about getting bigger than a 58mm wheel.
60mm - 70mm - Big speed, less ground feel, minimal resistance to popping over or off of coping.
Again, it's all your choice, for what you are going to be doing out there and how you want do it.
Also on the topic of larger wheels the issue of risers comes up. Do you need risers? Probably not.
Most of the Masters Division of legends that skate 60mm wheels today do NOT use risers. So take this for what it's worth. All your preference, but I personally don't use risers, and I skate really loose trucks. Wheel bite happens with loose trucks regardless of wheel size. I got wheel bite with those 44mm wheels the same as I got it with 60mm wheels. I get it with risers and I get it without risers. No matter what size I ride, I choose to go without. Try it both ways to see what works for you.
As for softness, smaller wheels do not like to be that middle-soft hardness, there's a reason street wheels got really hard when they got really small in 1992. Softer, smaller wheels do not get and/or maintain speed very well. When riding smaller wheels if you want more speed, then you'll probably want them a bit harder too.
90-97a type wheels grip really well on slick surfaces, but in my experience they suck for speed when they're smaller. This is why there aren't too many small soft wheels that aren't cored cruiser/filmer wheel durometers (78-85a). The middle area of a 90-97a type wheel doesn't keep too much speed when they're little, so in all reality why bother? That middle area is a bitch - just skate a harder, softer, bigger, or smaller wheel. Big, soft wheels have less of this problem with the speed-to-size ratio thing. Riding a 70mm super soft 78a wheel will feel pretty damn fast regardless of what surface they're on. But, just imagine if it was a hard wheel - think Powell T-Bones, they made sense when they came out, but in the end weren't really needed. I think Tony did just fine without them, don't you?
Here's some notable Vert/Pool/Bowl/Park Masters & Pro's and what size wheels they ride today -
Christian Hosoi - 60mm
Steve Caballero - 60mm
Jeff Grosso - 60mm
Tony Hawk - 60mm
Lance Mountain - 60mm
Duane Peters - 63mm
Jeff Hedges - 58mm
Chris Miller - 58mm
Mike McGill -
Mark Partain - 58mm
Ben Schroeder - 60mm
Pedro Barros - 55mm
Bucky Lasek - 58mm
Ben Hatchell - 52-54mm
Jaws - 52mm
Ben Raybourn - 53-55mm
Taylor Bingaman - 53mm
Elliot Sloan - 56mm-58mm
Tony Trujillo - 54mm
Brad McClain - 53-56mm
Bob Burnquist - 60mm
Omar Hassan - 55mm
Do yourself a favor, grab a few different size sets of your favorite wheels and an extra set of bearings so you can just swap back and forth between different wheels and play around. You might be surprised at the results in your skating - you never know until you try!
Thanks for reading, I hope this helped somebody. Good luck out here - always have fun!