World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.
Bearing Down on Skate Bearings
Hello, Bill! Have you heard of FAG bearings? Are they used for inline skating? Thanks! - Janis Hofmanis, Latvia
Hi, Janis: Yes, I've heard of FAG bearings. In fact, I used them many years ago. They were a quality alternative at a time when SKF was our preferred bearing. But I haven't heard anything about them for years and don't know if they are still being made, although it's possible they are being sold under another name.
If you're in the market for bearings, there's a lot to consider. These days, everybody makes a big deal about ABEC rating and wants ABEC 7s or better. But as far as I'm concerned, one of the most important things to consider is where the bearings are made. Bearings are a precision product, which need to be made with great attention to detail. That's why I prefer bearings made in Switzerland or Germany, countries with reputations for precision manufacturing.
Years ago, the bearing of choice was the pricey NMB ABEC 7. Then all of a sudden, they started seizing up on us. We couldn't understand what was going on until we heard that the company had shifted production to Singapore.
And don't think bearings don't make a difference in your skating. I remember back in 1989 when Stephan Whyte lined up at the World Championships on $1, bottom-of-the-line NSK bearings. When I heard about it, I made sure he got some quality bearings, and he went on to win both the 500 and 10,000 points races on the banked track.
Something I've noticed is that bearings are made differently than they used to be. Today's bearings are roomier inside. They have some play side to side and, as a result, are ready to roll right out of the box.
Things were different a few years back. My wife, Cheryl, won one of her world titles on a set of 15-year-old SKF bearings. It had taken her a couple years to break them in and, from then on, she only used them for big races.
Buying bearings nowadays is a bit of a lottery. Some of the so-called "top" names don't always perform as advertised. As a result, it's hard for me to offer any firm recommendations.
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