I like them. I like both the 99a and the 95a. I like them a lot.
Amazingly, we are now living in the Golden Age of Freestyle wheels.
You, the lucky freestyle skateboarder, now have access to more excellent freestyle wheels than ever before. The 1980s now officially suck. Ten years ago such a statement would have seemed an impossible dream, yet here we are, today, 2016, with more freestyle wheels available than ever before. Don’t believe me? Go to Decomposed’s Wheels Page and see. And that’s not even all of them. It’s missing Sk8Kings. Many of the wheels on that page are deeply offset – a feature usually sought out by freestylers.
Before I get started on the review, and before your are tired of reading, I want to commend and express appreciation to Terry and Jenna Synnott, Dan Gesmer, and Witter Cheng, Richy and Maria Carrasco, and anyone else running smaller companies and creating unique products. We’ll be talking to Terry soon on the podcast, and I want to get into the process and challenges of bringing unique, quality products to market. We in the FS community need to really understand that these are not the massive mega-companies that dominate the skate industry. For Terry, Jenna, Dan, and Witter to actually create products for such a small population of skaters is remarkable and brave. They have invested not only their time, but more importantly their MONEY in these products, and we should be supporting all of them, 100%.
OK, on to the review.
What has been missing from the freestyle scene for several years is an offset wheel less than 97a or 98a hardness. What I personally have missed is having a 95a freestyle wheel. A wheel that’s a little smoother on rough surfaces, a little easier on the ankles and knees upon landing tricks, and a little quieter. In recent memory, Reverse Freestyle has done such a wheel, as has Sk8Kings, but until Mode’s recent release of the 95a version of their freestyle wheel, none have been available for quite a while.
So first, a few words on both versions of the wheels. Here are the stats.
Contact patch: 25mm
True width of wheel: 1 3/8″ (35mm)
Bearing seat: Deeply offset
Skaters from the previously mentioned but now not-so-cool 1980s will recognize the shape and overall profile of these wheels as being much like the old OJ Freestyle wheels. This is intentional. The OJs were very popular, and provided the deepest offset of any of the freestyle wheels back then. Terry Synnott, co-owner of Mode, designed these wheels to be very close to these old wheels, but with a 55mm diameter rather than 57mm.
On the rear of the wheels, as you will see if you click on the image to the left and examine the full-sized image, the bearing sits flush with the back face of the wheel. In order to make the wheels handle more quickly and precisely, Mode shaves a lot of material off the wheel, narrowing the contact patch. The result is the width that you need to provide axle-nut coverage on the other side, without creating a lot of drag with a wide contact patch. The outer lip of the wheel is bevelled almost to a round edge, allowing the wheel to break free for shove-its and slides when you want, but still grip impressively when you wish for traction.
At this point, I’ve ridden both the 99a and 95a versions of this wheel, so I want to talk about the differences and strengths of each.
99a. These wheels are extremely fast. The surface I usually practice on is smooth without being slippery. Testing these wheels, they are certainly hard. 99a feels quite a lot harder than the 98a Kevin Harris wheels I’d been using, even though it is only 1 point more. To me, they feel similar in hardness and urethane quality to the 97a Seismic wheels, just a bit harder. The urethane feels really good. As we have mentioned on the podcast, for a hard wheel they grip remarkably well. This no doubt is a result of both high quality urethane and the shape of the wheel. At the 2015 Philly Freestyle, I watch both Mike Osterman and Connor Burke throw 540 Shove-its at will on these wheels, on a fairly slick surface, with total confidence. Good urethane. Good shape.
When I tried these wheels on my own board, what really hit me immediately was the speed these wheels impart. They roll very, very fast. Incredible, really. For 360 spinning, they offer the speed of an even harder speciality spinning wheel, with enough grip to not kill yourself.
95a. I’ll admit that while I was stoked about the original 99a wheels, when Mode announced the development of a 95a wheel I was even more delighted. For my style, I find a smooth, even roll and a little bit more shock absorption is desirable. BUT – you don’t want to go to soft on the durometer, or the wheels would become too bouncy and imprecise, or too mushy so you could feel them deform under your feet as you skate. 95a is really a perfect compromise. Hard enough to get the job done (that’s what she said), but smooth enough to provide a really nice ride (that’s what she said too!).
Getting on these 95a wheels immediately clicked with me. They just felt right. I’ve enjoyed the excellent Seismic Focus 97a wheels, the Decomposed Synnott wheels, and the Skull Skates/Momentum Kevin Harris 98a wheels. All great wheels, and all have their place. These 95a Mode’s are now my go-to wheels for most surfaces. I can see using the 99s in a lot of smooth surface circumstances, since they still have great grip, but these just seem right to my old taste buds.
Right now, Mode is the only wheel company in freestyle to offer a true softer wheel/harder wheel option. I feel like this took guts. Most skaters these days will be very happy to have hard wheels. They are raised on hard wheels. But for a small operation to actually invest in development and creation of a softer freestyle wheel shows passion.
Which one is for you? Depends on your style, where you usually skate, etc. If you are used to hard wheels and like them, I think the 99s will will for you under most conditions. If you want a smoother ride, get the 95s.