World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.
Which Are Better: Ceramic or Steel Skate Bearings?
Hi, Bill: Could you share your thoughts about inline skate bearings? ... Are ceramics better than steel? ... Do they spin faster? ... Which bearings do you recommend? - Ilan Arviv, Israel
Hi, Ilan. It's a complex subject. I used to like one brand of bearings made in Germany. Then suddenly they did not seem to perform as well. I couldn't understand what happened until I read the small print on the package: production had been moved to Singapore.
These days where your bearings are made is probably more important than what they are made of. The best quality bearings still come from countries with reputations for precise engineering, such as Switzerland and Germany.
Ceramics are generally excellent bearings, but they are relatively expensive and not necessarily better than their steel counterparts. A set of fine quality ceramic bearings starts out at about $200 (USD), more than double what you would pay for comparable steel bearings.
If you opt for full ceramic bearings (bearings with ceramic cases in addition to ceramic balls), you're looking at about $800 per set. The advantage of all-ceramic bearings is that they do not rust so you can wash them with water.
I don't know which bearings spin faster. But I can tell you one that spins for a very long time: the Mini Jesa Bont ceramic. A few years ago, I watched as Luca Presti spun one of his Bont Crager wheels with a used Jesa ceramic inside of it. It went on spinning for 6 minutes and 34 seconds. I have never seen anything like it!
Ceramic bearings appear to spin longer when they are not bearing a load. But it's not clear whether they maintain that advantage under the weight of a skater.
Skaters used to believe that ceramic bearings were faster but that perception seems to be fading. My daughter is one skater who has done well with steel bearings. She won gold at the last two World Championships on Jesa Bont Swiss steel bearings.
Given the uncertain benefits of ceramics, I would recommend sticking with steel bearings, unless money is no issue. Two excellent choices are Bont Jesa Swiss and Bones Swiss.
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