Ceramic Bearings vs Steel Bearings- Major Takeaways
Ceramics are special materials used in many applications in the discipline of engineering. We are usually under the misconception that ceramics have to do with pottery and tiles. Ceramic materials have special properties such as low thermal and electrical conductivity, high melting points and compressive strength. But of concern to us here is that they are also very hard.
Ceramic Bearings Vs Steel
The concept behind a bearing is simple. Things don’t slide as well as rolling. Five different parts go into building skateboard and longboard bearings. Optimization is possible for the disparity that exists between these parts. The different elements, balls, retainers, and closures can change a bit. Being informed about each part helps in choosing wisely on the right set rooted in price, longevity, momentum, and serviceability.
Skateboard Bearing Parts
- 6 or 7 balls made of steel, titanium or ceramic.
- 1 or 2 closures or shields
- The outer ring or outer race
- Inner ring or inner race
- Ball retainer/ cage also called the bearing crown
What’s the ABEC Rating?
The measure of tolerance in a bearing is called the ABEC rating. The components of a bearing fit together precisely as measured by this tolerance. Better functioning is directly proportional to the precision of the fit, grounds for an effortless and organized bearing. But here’s the catch. A higher ABEC grade does not preclude it is better or speedier. The robustness of the parts, the greases used for lubrication, and the ability to bear loads have a role in how fast the bearing can go. Bear in mind, that one tiny grain of dirt in your bearing voids the ABEC rating. When buying a bearing for a skateboard or a longboard, you have the foreknowledge that they will degrade almost immediately in the harsh environment of skateboarding. So it is pointless to invest 2-4 times more in an ABEC 9 rated bearing as it will be void soon. That is not to say that buy an ABEC 1 rating bearing. Higher rated bearings have superior lubricating and materials used.
Balls- Ceramic Vs Steel
Balls are that part of the bearing that actually does the rolling. One can argue that they are the most important component of a bearing. This debate has been going on since the Great Flood; ceramic or steel. Silicon Nitride, Zirconium Dioxide, and Silicon Carbide are the materials used in the manufacture of ceramic ball bearings. Ceramic hybrid bearings use Silicon Nitride as it is the hardest and frequently used. The hybrid comes from the races which remain of stainless steel.
Cost Of Purchase For Ceramic And Steel Bearings
Every bearing has a slight variation from the next. However, with the exception of ceramic and 6 balls, the price does not vary drastically. Price is usually a determinant of brand name, quality of material and manufacturing. Steel bearings are significantly less expensive than ceramic bearings but expense does not translate to a product of higher quality.
An eight pack of premium ceramic skateboard bearings along with 4 bearing spacers will set you back $130 as compared to $30 for steel bearings.
Performance Benefits Of Ceramic Bearings
- Ceramic bearings do not get heated too much because of their low thermal conductivity. Here they have an edge over steel. That gives them the ability to spin faster at high speed. These bearings have a reputation for quiet and smooth rides. Ceramic bearings are also waterproof and thereby rust proof. They are lighter than steel while being harder and stronger as well. They do not scour thereby as steel does when dirty. They maintain their speed for a long time.
- A rubber shield on one side of the bearing facilitates opening up the bearing for cleaning. When clean, ceramic balls will spin at a much higher rate than steel as the friction is markedly lesser because the balls are unbelievably smooth. A nylon cage is utilized to keep the balls in the cage. With ceramic bearings, the dangers of the bearing heating up are done away with.
- The density of ceramic is 40% the density of steel. This difference drastically reduces the centrifugal force in the bearing and subduing heat generation between balls and outer race.
Which One To Choose
Steel balls are not less stronger than ceramic balls. Ceramic powder is the main constituent of ceramic balls. This is hardened on the surface alone, the centers remain unhardened powder. So if the ball is compromised, the internal powder just falls apart.
Ceramic is brittle and unlike steel does not handle vertical loading well. This makes their application in ball bearings somewhat impractical for both longboard and skateboard. Performance is the litmus test of a bearing. A top-class set of steel bearings as compared to a much promoted ceramic bearing is just as high performing. Ceramic bearings, in my opinion, are just not worth it. Sorry for strangling the hype.
This discourse holds true not only for the bearings of skateboards and longboards but also for motorcycle, and bicycle bearings. Maintain a regular cleaning schedule of your steel bearings and you will not regret not opting for overrated ceramic bearings.