Skateboarding Science – Part 4

The fourth and concluding part of our blog to discover the science behind skateboarding stays with the construction of the skateboard. There are three elements that make up a good and proper board, and now we look at the evolution of skateboard wheels. Skateboarding was originally developed back in the 1930s in America, and since the early days of kids nailing roller skate wheels to a wooden plank, times have changed.

The Early Wheels

In the formative days of skating, the wheels were mostly made out of steel, which offered, to say the least, a really rough ride. These wheels spun but their biggest fault was that they offered no traction, therefore all a rider could really do was go straight.

In the 60s manufacturers of boards played around with clay wheels, which were not much of an improvement at all. One well known rider of the day, Bob Schmit, was quoted saying about his board, it was wobblier than hell, moved way too fast, and vibrated on the asphalt enough to jar every bone in your body and loosen every tooth. It was more like getting electrocuted than anything else!

The 1970s

It was the 1970s that wheel design and construction started to radically change, the urethane wheel was inventedĀ  courtesy of Frank Nasworthy, he called his new wheels Cadillacs as the ride was now smoother and less like getting electrocuted.

Urethane has some unique properties, the first being that it is really resistant to abrasion. Secondly, and really important to skateboarding is that urethane allows for really good grip with the ground, the traction is quite superb. Third and final point is that urethane wheels have high resiliency or, as some people call it, rebound. This means as the wheel is used and the weight of the rider has pressed down on the urethane, it recovers its round shape really quickly. These properties allow the wheel to act as a shock absorber for comfort, plus traction is not lost so speed stays the same.

Bearings Really Matter

Cadillac wheels really revolutionized skateboarding but there was one major problem, the bearings. Like the wheels before them, Cadillac wheels had simple ball bearings. These were easy to get dirty, and often filled with sand and grit. This had two results: the wheels rolled badly and they wore out fast.

The solution was precision sealed round bearings, and a guy named Richard Novak came up with the idea studying the enclosed bearings on a vacuum cleaner. The combination of precision bearings and urethane wheels transformed the skateboarding experience forever, from basically a skittery electric shock plank, to an enjoyable leisure conveyance that was smooth and responsive.

Keep on Trucking

Having a great board and a top set of wheels is not the total answer to a skateboard. The device which connects the wheels to the board and steers it is called the truck. It is basically an axle which pivots on urethane bushings, this allows the wheels to swing and the skateboard can turn.

So, the science and magic of the skateboard has finally been uncovered, all these developments and designs have made skateboarding into what it is today, and it remains the really cool thing to do on the street and never seems to date.