“Just get Zealous.” You’ve probably heard that before if you’ve asked around for bearings suggestions. Why? Well, they include their own bearing spacers and don’t need speed rings, they’re cheap, and, yes, they’re fast. Professional downhillers trust them in their racing setups, the same ones you can buy at your local skate shop for under $35. I’ve used them in my rain setups because the thicker lubricant they use along with seals on each side of the bearing. Their ceramic bearings are inexpensive enough to use in a rain setup and not worry about them. Those features also help them last longer for general wear and tear, making them a better value. But a few more of my setups have Bones bearings instead. Why? If Zealous are so good? The truth is, I buy both, and usually for different reasons. So, here’s why I mostly bounce between using Bones and Zealous, and what setups I use for each.
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Bones started with Swiss bearings, high quality bearings made in Switzerland. They created bearings specifically for skating, which made the old ABEC rating system obsolete. After all, ABEC typically only measures imperfections, with the bearings with few imperfections retaining an ABEC-9 rating. However, skate bearings also have to deal with a lot of lateral force, regular cleaning and re-lubing, and impacts. As such, Bones made famous the “Skate-rated” slogan, stating that their bearings were beyond ABEC. Others have followed suit. Bones claims that, since most skating is done under 30MPH, and bearing tests are conducted at speeds much faster than a skater would travel (over 100mph), and that, because they don’t test lateral load or durability, ABEC ratings are useless. Those riding Bones bearings tend to agree: they’re quick, we don’t need a number to prove that.
Their “Reds” bearings were supposed to bring Swiss-like quality to skaters at a lower price. They’ve largely succeeded. You can get Bones Reds for under $20, and they’re not bad! You’ve got to keep them lubricated, and because they don’t have an inside shield, they can dry up, but overall, they’re fast, easy to maintain, and cheap.
At the core of Zealous’ marketing is the technology that goes into making their bearings friction-less. This is due to their ceramic grease. While some manufacturers look to creating the tightest tolerances imaginable in their high-end bearings, Zealous looks to fix the flaws in manufacturing as they go. Their ceramic grease, used as lubricant, can “fill in” imperfections in bearings as they’re used. This allows their bearings to have a super low coefficient of friction, 0.003%. Since the manufacturing doesn’t have to be as precise, the bearings can be cheaper. Steel Zealous bearings are just $14.
Their ceramic bearings use the same lubricant, but in a lower viscosity (think of it like “thickness” of a liquid, how “runny” it is). This lower viscosity lubricant still fixes imperfections, but also makes the ceramic bearings more “loose” out of the box. It’ll be easier to get pushing on ceramic Zealous bearings than their steel counterparts. Best of all, they’re only $16 more, though that is double the price of steel Zealous. Quality ceramic bearings for $30 is a great deal.
While in the street skating scene, you’ll hear a lot about Bones, in longboarding, you’ll hear more about Zealous.
In My Experience…
You’ve played a video game before where you have to pick a racer based on stats, right? Okay, you’ve played Mario Kart, right? Some of the heavier racers had a higher top speed, but it takes them longer to get there. The lighter karts are able to get to their top speed quickly, but it’s not as fast as the larger karts.
What does Mario Kart have to do with bearings? Because they have similar characteristics.
Bones, out of the box, off the rack, fresh on your setup, will be easier to push. You’ll be able to get up to speed more quickly on them. This is more to do with the lubricant Bones uses than anything else.
Make no mistake, they’re good bearings. The hardware is good. Their claims of stronger bearings in their 6 ball “Big Balls” bearings may also be valid, adding just a little inertia and more durability. I’m not saying it’s all fluff, just that the signature feel of a Bones Reds bearing that’s just ready to rip right off the shelf likely comes from their choice in bearing lubricant. It’s why I keep a lot of Bones Speed Cream, and why I have so many Bones bearings. It’s a lower viscosity and gets you moving quickly.
The truth is, I ride in a city. Acceleration may not matter as much as top speed when you’re ripping down a hill run a mile or so long, but when you’re constantly stopping and starting, or you have short hills to play on, acceleration becomes very important. Perhaps more important than top speed.
Top speed of a bearing is extremely hard to figure out, but acceleration? That’s easy to notice. Bones get up to speed quickly, and don’t require a break-in. Slap them on and get skating and you’ll be at cruising speed in a push or two, and stay there longer. Their built-in spacer versions more expensive than my other favorite option though, Zealous ceramics, and don’t even get the benefit of ceramic bearings.
Usually, we don’t say bearings “break in.” Soft parts can break in and change, like bushings. Wheels can get a nicer surface for sliding after a few slides to break them in. But bearings? They shouldn’t change much. However, Zealous bearings do, in a way, “break in,” thanks to their ceramic grease. That means that, while they’ll feel gummy and like a waste of money out of the tube, after even just a few hours of skating, you’ll be much happier with them. Give it a few weeks, and they’ll feel like brand new, with the balls polished to perfection.
Zealous may feel a little slow to start, but they improve as you skate them, and they’re on the setups of some of the fastest longboarders in the world. They’re also more water resistant than most other bearings, meaning you won’t have to fear a wet patch or a little splashing as much as you might with other bearings. Though, if they’re completely submerged, I still do recommend drying them off when you get home, and cleaning them, if you can. Even ceramic bearings have parts that can corrode and seize up.
Zealous are great for breaking them in, tackling hills, and longevity. They’re also the best bang for your buck.
The “Free Spinning” Myth
Bones can free spin. You flick a wheel with a Bones bearing in it, and it’ll go on forever. I’ve already kicked up my board and realized the wheels were still spinning as I carried it a minute later. But free spinning is good for fidget spinners, not your skate setup. When you actually put weight on your deck, turn hard or slide, and need them to continue carrying momentum, that’s when you care about how much they spin. A bearing that free spins might not be the best. In fact, I’ve found a lot of bearings that are relatively dry tend to free spin well, but ride poorly. Free spinning mostly has to do with low viscosity lubricant, which isn’t something that will benefit you much at higher speeds.
Zealous do not free spin. They just don’t. In fact, flick one and you’ll think it’s gunked up. But, throw your deck on the ground and hop on, and you’ll find that they can still move. Once you get past the Zealous break-in period, they’ll move as well as any other brand. So don’t buy the free spinning myth, it’s not a reliable metric for how well a bearing will perform.
What Should You Buy?
Bearings. You should buy bearings. Get them from somewhere reputable, like your local shop, Muirskate, Sickboards, Tactics, Daddies, etc, and you’ll likely be fine. Make no mistake, lousy bearings won’t move well, they’ll break, and they could seize up quickly. Good bearings could be the most meaningful upgrade you provide your setup. But that’s because many people are already using lousy bearings, likely the bearings that came with their complete. I haven’t liked bearings from OEMs, it’s part of the reason I avoid completes when I can. For the most part, until you find what works best for you, the best bet may be to just get what your local shop has that’s within your price range. A few reputable brands include Seismic, Oust, and Bronson. Although, I’ve even skated Independent’s “Sevens” bearings, and they weren’t bad at all. Decent enough for cruising and some <30mph riding. I wasn’t a fan of Bear’s Space Balls, Sector 9’s steel bearings, or some no-name bearings that came with the setup I used to make my rain deck, but for the most part, it’s easy to avoid these.
Beginners and Cruisers: Bones
I recommend checking out Bones Reds if you’re a beginner. You’ll need bearing spacers and speed rings, but they’ll be easiest to learn on out of the box and they’re cheap. Thanks to how easy it is to push off on them, they’ll be easier to skate for those learning to push. For the same reason, they’re great for someone looking for a cruiser, city commuter, or park deck. For beginners, that first push can be the scariest, and it’s better to start easier and build up confidence than get frustrated early on.
Hill Bombing: Zealous
If you’re looking for something to tackle a large hill? You likely already have a favorite, and it very likely will be Zealous. They’re cheap and effective. I personally prefer the ceramic variants. You can get them for under $30, so, really, it’s not even like Bones’ ceramics, which often cost over $50, or their Swiss ceramic variants which can cost over $150. Instead, it’s just a good quality bearing that can get up to speed without too much resistance. It’s a great value.
I’ve never spent more than $35 on bearings. The most I’ve “splurged” was on those extended race Reds from Bones. Maybe I’m missing out on the best, but from reviews I’ve read, it really doesn’t seem like it. Generally, when I buy bearings these days, I ask myself if I wouldn’t mind a break-in period, and if I plan to use the setup for a lot of stop and go or if it’ll just be for hills. If it’s a cruiser or commuter, I go with Bones. If I have the time to be patient and plan to tackle longer hills, it’s Zealous. But you should experiment and find what works best for you. These aren’t the only two good options on the market, just the two that I’ve found I like. The truth is, many of the bearings I would like to check out (Oust, Seismic, and Bronson are at the top of my list) are expensive. However, at some point, I may get a bunch of them brand new and do a real test. Until then, I’ll recommend what I know. Bones will get you started, Zealous will keep you going.