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Friday, 11 October 2013

ABEC Bearings Explained

ABEC stands for Annular Bearing Engineers' Committee, and is the American method for rating the accuracy and tolerance rating of bearings. ABEC standards are set by the American Bearing Manufacturers Association (ABMA).
So what does that mean? Well, bearings are used for all kinds of things, not just skateboard wheels. The higher an ABEC rating, the more accurate and precise the bearing is. When companies make bearings, sometimes they cheaply slap them together, and sometimes they are very carefully designed and assembled so that there is as little space as possible between the parts. When bearings are used in expensive and important machines, companies will spend hundreds of dollars on just one bearing - it has to be perfect! But for skateboarding or scootering, we use much less precise bearings. This is because they are cheaper, and because with all the slamming and sudden starts and stops, a really expensive, delicate bearing would get ruined.ABEC ratings are only odd numbers, and start with ABEC 1:
  • ABEC 1 is the most crude, the least precise, the most durable and the cheapest.
  • ABEC 3 is what most cheap complete skateboard and scooters come with, especially skateboards from China. ABEC 3 bearings will work for most skateboarding and scootering, but won't roll very smoothly or fast.
  • ABEC 5 bearings are the norm in skateboarding and scootering. You get a reasonable amount of speed, and at a reasonable cost. However, there are lots of people who argue that the skateboarding industry is lying, and that most ABEC 5 skateboard bearings you see aren't actually built to ABEC 5 standards...
  • ABEC 7 bearings would be very fast and smooth, but very expensive. Plus, you start to run the risk of needlessly damaging them if you skate hard or aggressively. 
  • ABEC 9 and higher bearings would be ridiculous to use in a skateboard or scooter, unless you are doing downhill luge style skating, or something else where your goal is to go insanely fast. If you aren't spending a fortune on these bearings, then don't trust that they are in fact ABEC 9!

The ABEC rating of a bearing is determined by asking these four questions:
  1. How close is the bore to 8mm in microns (a micron is one millionth of a meter)?
  2. How close is the outer diameter to 22 in microns?
  3. How close is the width to 7mm in microns?
  4. What's the rotating accuracy in microns?
Bearing application engineer Ron Foster (Foster started his own company called California Bearing and Supply. The company features a complete in-house bearing testing facility that is capable of performing a myriad of precision test including tolerance, sound testing, smoothness, radial play and toque testing. And perform such tests to NASA specifications!) explains that ABEC specifications refer only to established standards in sizing tolerances and geometric accuracy as they pertain to fitting with other components. Foster explained that ABEC is only one of nine critical features that make up the perfect skate bearing and offers that, "ABEC has nothing to do with speed, quality, raceway finish, workmanship or the bearings’ ability to stay clean."