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Feed Your Skate Bearings
by Cliff Chi of Sonic Sports

Cliff Chi, the owner of Sonic Sports, talks about lubricants for skate bearings, including the difference between grease and oil based lubricants, and the difference between petroleum based and synthetic lubricants.

Skating with unlubricated bearings is like driving a car with the parking brake on. You'll be expending a lot of energy but you won't get very far. Lubricating your bearings is the easiest thing you can do to boost your speed and skating fun.

Oil vs. Grease

There are basically two types of bearing lubricants: oil and grease.

Oil has two components: base oil and additives. The base oil is either synthetic or petroleum. Additives are blended with the base oil to give the oil certain properties such as corrosion resistance or oxidation inhibition. Bearings lubricated with oil will spin faster because oil is thinner and has less resistance than grease. On the downside, oil does not last as long as grease so your bearings will require more frequent lubrication.

Grease has three components: base oil, thickener, and additives. Note that oil and grease both share the components of base oil and additives. The difference between an oil and grease is that grease has a thickener. The thickener makes grease easier to retain in the bearing, provides a better barrier to contaminants, and adheres better to the bearing surfaces. Since grease is thicker than oil, it as greater resistance, which means slower bearing spin.

Petroleum-Based vs. Synthetic

Petroleum-based lubricants are made from refined crude oil and contain impurities, which cannot be removed. Synthetic lubricants are man-made. They are blended from various chemicals and have molecules that are uniform in weight and shape. Due to their uniform molecular structure, synthetic lubricants have the following advantages:

  • FASTER - Synthetic lubricants are more slippery than petroleum-based lubricants. The uniform length of synthetic lubricant polymers allows them to slide more easily over one another. The result is reduced friction and a faster spinning bearing.

  • LONGER - Synthetic lubricants have a higher heat of vaporization (600 degrees F) than petroleum-based lubricants (350 degrees F). Synthetic lubricants run smoother and longer at all temperatures whereas petroleum-based lubricants form deposits at high temperatures and solidify at low temperatures. If you use petroleum-based lubricants, your bearings will eventually "gum up" so you'll have to skate harder and spend more time degreasing your bearings.

  • STRONGER - Synthetic lubricants have greater film strength (3000 psi) than their petroleum counterparts (500 psi). This means that synthetic oil is less likely to be pushed out from between two metal surfaces where there's a lot of pressure. Greater film strength protects bearing parts better.

Although synthetic lubricants are more expensive than petroleum-based varieties, the performance advantages far exceed their costs.

When you're looking for that competitive edge, a synthetic lubricant can help. The only time I don't recommend a synthetic lubricant is when you're on the opposite team.

- Cliff Chi

About the author...

Cliff Chi is the founder and owner of Sonic Sports, a Southern California company specializing in inline skating accessories. Sonic has produced many innovative products, including the award-winning Gripz skate tool, which has been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. Sonic's product line includes lubricants, cleaners, hop-up kits, hockey supplies, aggressive supplies, and a variety of skate tools.

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