Speedlab isn’t exactly our typical Longboard review…in fact, they aren’t even a Longboard company! Though anyone who’s been paying attention knows that, longboarding itself owes just as much to vintage skateboarding as it does modern innovation. Which is why Speedlab wheels are such a natural fit for a Longboard review. Speedlab started in 2002, right around the same time the modern longboard scene started to gain momentum, and has been taking a separate but surprisingly parallel path ever since. They’ve basically done for classic bowlriding what Longboard companies have been doing for downhill skateboarding: Taking dated concepts, like conical lips and 60mm+ diameters and using modern manufacturing to refine and perfect their performance. I think we all know how awesome that can turn out.
So I first threw these on to my board after wearing some Bones down to about 48mm. At a fresh 56mm the Lightnings were actually as light, if not slightly lighter than the worn Bones. In fact, they seem almost comparable to soft wheels of the same size as they seem noticeably less dense than your typical hard wheel. Usually, this is a huge trade off for small wheels since that density is the only thing maintaining their momentum…but speedlab uses a very high rebound formula that gains speed very easily. Sure, it loses it just as quick but these aren’t designed for the kind of flatground lines where you push ten times to get to the next obstacle. They’re designed for the constant pumping of poolriding, and for that they are FAST! So…can you guess what I’m getting at? What else maintains a similar perpetual momentum? Downhill. Now importantly, even hills with street obstacles on them. Plus, the light hard wheels will be giving both longboarders and skateboarders a bit of extra pop compared to what they’re probably used to. So while long flatground lines might not be the Lightnings strong suit…if you hit gaps downhill, or even if you and your buddies are at a spot with a single obstacle (as opposed to full lines) you’re going to get a bit of an edge due to its quick acceleration. Especially on anything with shorter run-ups.
There’s a lot of overlap with these wheels…so let’s just move on and throwback to street if we need to. So to expand on the advantages of the light, high rebound ethane, we already mentioned how well these wheels gain speed (and with the help of gravity, maintained it). What we didn’t mention was how losing speed pretty easily was actually kind of a plus in a pool. Since their is constant momentum in a pool, you pretty much just haul ass the entire time until you end up in a sketchy situation. At which point, it is pretty easy to pull out of it at a much more comfortable speed…most of the common techniques for shedding speed will be even more effective on these wheels, and only when you want them to be. Plus, the conical lip profile really does just pop right over the coping. It has enough guidance to keep you locked in a grind as long as your comfortable, but smoothly and easily “dismount” whenever you like. This is also where we’re going to mention street again, since the conical lips really help with slappies. It won’t be the walk in the park that hitting the coping is, but considering how sketchy I still find slappies…the difference in performance is even more noticeable (and appreciated) than in a bowl.
I actually loved getting to know these wheels. They were my second tech slide wheels, after bones (which were so grippy I got away with using my freeride form and not really having to learn to tech slide). They were also the first ones I got serious enough about to use as often as I did freeride wheels. And let me tell you, I’m really glad it worked out that way because they are the perfect wheels to learn on. That low density thane I won’t shut up about really starts to shine even more here. Once broken in they feel powdery as a snowball and slide really smooth. For a tech slide wheel it has a really in-the-pavement feel. Giving you not only great control but a pretty large margin for error. What does that mean? Well it means that, for such a hard wheel, the point where the wheels release into a slide, and where they ice out completely is pretty damn far apart. So over leaning or hitting a crack isn’t going to send you straight into a faceplant. You’ll not only gain a lot of confidence with such accommodating wheels, but transitioning from freeride to tech slide is much easier when you aren’t icing out every two seconds. They’re basically the Swingers of tech…feeling pretty much like I’d expect hard Swingers to feel like. Though the one drawback is that they are similarly un-resilient. Luckily, chucking in hard wheels is much less dramatic than in soft. No need to worry about giant pieces falling off when you hit chunder… but don’t be surprised if slightly frayed lips are unavoidable even on relatively smooth surfaces (you can see in the pictures, taken after just one slide sesh, that the lips look like they’ve been nibbled on by mice or something).
Freestyle is also worth mentioning. Not in depth, but I’d like to touch on it. A lot of what we’ve already covered applies here too: lightness, easy acceleration/deceleration, early release and controlled slides. All help in some small way to flatground freestyle. Though, on top of all that the profile is fantastic! Yes…I know we already covered that too, but it functions much differently here. Freestyle specific wheels are usually medium sized (60mm or so) sideset hard wheels. This is to make it easier to balance primos and also to recess the axle nut so it doesn’t get damaged. Lightnings may be center set, but they’re wide enough that the urethane still extends past the nut just enough to keep it from getting torn up and welding itself to your axle. With the conical shape, it feels like a much smaller wheel than it is when you have it primo, so you won’t get much help balancing…but the trade off there is the added guidance/control you’ll get when initiating flip tricks from primo. Godzilla flips are more consistent than I’ve experienced with other wheels. Apparently, it even helps when trying to balance that primo manual thing people can do after collecting all the VHS tapes and activating god mode. Not that I’d know…but apparently. -_-
Well that’s it kids. Go eat eggs. Oh, and check out Speedlabs Facebook page. Then eat eggs, punks.