My son the skateboarder recently picked up a used unicycle. What a cool find for only $5 bucks! He has put some real time into it and has a current personal “world record” of about 50 feet!
Dutiful parent that I am, I of course had to head online to consider grabbing him a “real unicycle” for the holidays (shh! don’t tell him!).
As you might imagine, I don’t get it! They all look pretty much the same, but range in price from under $50 to several hundreds of dollars! As I moved from site to site, I kept hoping someone would just tell me straight up, what the heck is the difference between a good one and a lousy one.
Yeah yeah... "Oh the Irony" ... I get it!
Many parents and grandparents visit SkateXS for their young one’s first “real” skateboard with the same fundamental quality questions. I realized we could certainly do a better job of making sense of it all! So with a bit of karmic appeal that someone will someday finally explain unicycles to me, here is a summary of something we actually know a thing or two about!
What makes a good skateboard?
A skateboard is fundamentally a sum of its parts. If you want a good skateboard, you’ll want each component to be high quality. We’ll take a look at each part of a skateboard and talk about what quality means for the that component. We’ll try to give tips on how to spot a high or low quality implementation of that component and then we’ll share how SkateXS Skateboards measure up.
1) A Legitimate Skateboard Deck.
Modern decks are made with a composite of thin layers of either maple or bamboo pressed into a near symmetrical shape with a nose equal to or longer than the tail. The deck should be concave (subtle U shape) along the whole board with both the nose and tail angled upwards (the "kick" of the board). Conceptually while the skateboard is a platform, it also serves to cup the balls of the skater’s feet with rising sides, nose and tail providing the foundation for pretty much all modern skateboard tricks.
A high quality skateboard deck will be lightweight while remaining durable and providing “pop” - the right combination of flexibility and rigidity that allows the board to respond during ollies and other tricks where the deck needs to be “popped” off the ground.
Spotting a poorly made skateboard deck can be hit or miss. Some toy skateboards don’t even try to look “real". They might have no concave to their shape and may not even have a extended nose. Others may be shaped to resemble a real skateboard, but are made with cheap woods and fillers. If that is the case, they may be both thicker and heavier than a quality board, or they may be ready to fall apart quite quickly and easily. Consider that it isn’t easy to make a real skateboard deck. Most legitimate skateboard decks will sell for somewhere between $35 - $55. If you are paying that much for the entire skateboard, it is unfortunately a sign that significant corners were cut on quality.
- SkateXS Skateboard Decks are correctly contoured and sized just right for younger skaters. We use bamboo for improved durability, light weight and awesome “pop” while being environmentally sustainable as well.
2) Quality Wheels.
Proper skateboard wheels are made out of polyurethane with minimal additives. Toy skateboard wheels can be made of plastic or a low quality poly mix which leads to poor performance in the best case and even outright dangerous situations with cracked wheels in the worst case. This is a case where brand recognition and reputation can come into play.
A “real” skateboard wheel will typically have the manufacturer’s name, the wheel’s diameter (in mm) and the wheel’s durometer (hardness) indicated on the wheel itself. A quality set of skateboard wheels will typically cost between $20 and $40 depending on the brand and possible additional features.
- SkateXS Complete Skateboards only ship with quality wheels from trusted skateboard industry manufacturers Bones (makers of Mini-Logo and Bones brand wheels) and Spitfire. We use a 52-53mm diameter as our sweet spot size for the largest variety of skating surfaces. Given the lighter weight of our skaters, we favor a durometer right around 100.
3) Quality Bearings.
Quality wheels won’t mean much if you don’t have nice bearings which allow the wheels to spin freely on the axle of the skateboard truck. A quality set of bearings will spin well right away and actually get even better once broken in a bit. If quality bearings get dirty, they can typically be taken apart and cleaned relatively easily. A good set of bearings typically runs between $10 - $16.
A lower quality bearing typically won’t allow the wheel to spin well and performance can degrade quickly. It sounds harsh, but the low quality lubricant used in these bearings can quite literally stink. Most low end bearings weren’t designed to be cleaned and re-used and should just be thrown away and replaced.
- SkateXS Complete Skateboards ship with bearings made by the industry leader in bearings - Bones (makers of both Mini-Logo and Bones brand bearings) - and yes, they even smell like good bearings should!
4) Proper Trucks.
The trucks are the metal components that provide the axles of the skateboard. The trucks are responsible for a huge part of the board feel, how it turns and how it responds to the skater. Trucks should also be sized correctly with the skateboard deck allowing for the outer edge of wheels to align with the outer edge of the deck.
We have unfortunately seen low quality skateboards that even try to use plastic trucks (please avoid). However it can be really hard to spot a poorly made metal truck without skating it. Brand awareness can come into play here again. The manufacturers name should be marked on the trucks. A quality set of trucks (2 per board) could start out as low as around $30 and will go up from there.
- SkateXS Complete Skateboards use name brand trucks specifically sized for our smaller decks. We like trucks with a lower profile and lighter weight and even offer Bones Bushings on our Pro setup or as an upgrade to our other setups.
5) Good Grip Tape.
Without good grip tape, skaters have a tough time staying on top of their board. The main complaints about poor grip tape tend to be that it was never very grippy or lost its grip really quickly. Once again, we recommend trusting in name brands with years of experience supporting skateboarders. Unfortunately, if you are buying a pre-made complete skateboard, you probably won't have access to the brand name of the grip.
- SkateXS Completes use only recognized grip tape name brands. Our primary grip of choice is made by Jessup, the #1 grip tape brand in the world.
6) Professional Assembly
Ultimately we believe the best skateboards are assembled by skateboarders. A real skater will make subtle changes during a build such as adjusting trucks and make sure wheels are spinning just right. It is just unlikely that a skateboard made on an assembly line is going to have had the benefit of a skater's eye.
- All SkateXS Skateboards are professionally custom assembled here in the U.S.A. - by skateboarders. We put a skaters touch into every board we build - we even use different color bolts on the nose of the board to help the skater know the front from the back without having to flip the board over and check the graphic.
In summary - recognizing a real skateboard isn’t rocket science, but it does take some amount of brand awareness and ultimately even trial and error. We tried to take the guesswork out of it by starting SkateXS and openly sharing and celebrating each and every component we use to build our skateboards. Hopefully we have been able to share the values and priorities we put into those design decisions.
Now, if someone can just tell us what makes a good unicycle we’ll be all set!