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Zen and the Art of Ceramic Bearings
by Kyle Milliken of the Atlanta Peachtree Rollers

Mechanical engineer Kyle Milliken discusses the pros and cons of ceramic bearings and bearings with a high ABEC rating.

  Related Resources
• Cliff Chi on Lubricants
• How to Clean Bearings
• Bearing Buying Guide
• Bearing Manufacturers
• Skating in Georgia
 From Other Guides
• Guide to Atlanta
 Elsewhere on the Web
• About Ball Bearings
• Bearing Resources • Peachtree Road Rollers
• Atlanta Skate Patrol
• A2A 86 Mile Skate

The ball bearings we use in our skates are made up of several parts and pieces:

  • The inner and outer race (made from steel).

  • The balls (generally made from steel).

  • The cage (made from different materials including nylon, plastic and steel, to keep the balls spaced properly around the bearing).

  • The shields (which act to keep the dirt and dust (or in the case of the speed skaters, road kill) out of the bearings).

ABEC Ratings:

The ABEC number you hear everyone talking about, refers to the tolerance (precision) with which a particular bearing is manufactured. Those tolerances were established by the Annular Bearing Engineers Committee of the American Bearing Manufacturing Association. The idea is: the higher the number (rating), the greater the manufacturing precision, and theoretically, the smaller the amount of friction. By the way, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) rates bearings the opposite way; the SMALLER the rating number, the higher the manufacturing precision.

Ceramic Bearings:

In a ceramic bearing the steel balls are replaced with balls made from ceramic. There are essentially two types of ceramic bearings:

  1. Bearings which have ALL the steel balls replaced with ceramic balls.

  2. Bearings which have every other steel ball replaced with a ceramic ball. These bearings are sometimes called a "hybrid" and are generally much less expensive than the first type though they may still be advertised as " ceramic bearings".

The "advantages" of a ceramic bearing?

  1. The ceramic is harder than steel. The idea is that ceramic will last longer than steel. However, if it is properly maintained the steel bearing will last longer than YOU anyway so is this really important?

  2. In the "all ceramic" version corrosion is less of an issue, but corrosion or pitting of the rest of the bearing (the steel inner and outer race) is still an issue, so you gain what?

  3. No "arcing". I saw this claim on a recent advertisement for ceramic bearings and while it is absolutely true of ceramic bearings you HAVE TO REMEMBER we are skaters. If you are having problems with "arcing" in your bearings you don't need ceramic bearings, you need to stop skating around the transformers on the high voltage lines during your lunch hour at the Nuclear plant! The same is true of other claims such as lighter weight, cooler running, no cold welding or galling. All are, in my opinion, while true, NOT issues that we as skaters need to be concerned with.

  4. Your friends will be impressed. If your friends are impressed with flambouyant outlays of disposable income, I suggest you get in your new four wheel drive SUV with the 16 gazillion candela powered off-road lights and drive down to the local trendy coffee shop and find some REAL people to hangout with.

  5. You will believe you should go faster.

How do you take care of a ceramic bearing? (The same way you take care of a steel bearing.)

How often should you take care of ceramic bearings? (Use the same frequency you would use on your steel bearings)

Will you go faster, jump further, meet a nicer class of person if you use ceramic bearings?

  • Honestly? No. But before you argue....

I am NOT disputing the fact that a ceramic bearing generates less friction and requires less maintenance than a typical ABEC 3 bearing, in a typical industrial application. However, in highly technical and mechanical engineering terms:

The total difference in the effort required (the amount of umph) to perform a certain amount of work (to skate down the road ) with a new steel ABEC 3 bearing verses a "ceramic bearing", in a real world inline skate application, doesn't amount to squat.

In both cases the bearing is carrying only a small fraction of its designed weight capacity, and is turning relatively slowly (a 12 mph skate speed relates to a 1280 bearing rpm (80 mm wheel). Any reduction in friction by the use of a ceramic bearing instead of a "normal" ABEC 3 bearing, is more than cancelled out by the viscosity (thickness) of the specific lubrication used, and the flex of the wheel hub, frame, and boot during a normal stroke. Think of it like putting racing slicks on a Moped.

But don't let that stop you.

Some of the biggest factors you can change, about what you take skating in order to go faster or further, is your mind (see #5 above), and keeping what ever bearing you use clean and well lubricated.

- Kyle Milliken

Kyle About the author...

When he is not skating, Kyle Milliken is a Mechanical Engineer in Atlanta Georgia. He is a member of the National Skate Patrol and The Atlanta Peachtree Road Rollers. He does not drive an SUV nor is he willing to pay $4 for a cup of coffee. He lives with his dog Pogo whose interest in skating involves eating the laces out of Kyle's skates.

Related Links
Cliff Chi on Bearing Lubricants
How to Clean Skate Bearings
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