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When a company that has a solid foothold in the longboarding scene releases a new product, riders take note. This is the case in point with the release of the Orangatang Balut freeride wheels. After riding two sets of them, we are pleased to report our findings…
There is no doubt that today, more than ever, longboarders are lucky enough to have at their disposal a previously unheard of selection of equipment. This is the best time in the short history of longboard skating. Never before have “non-mainstream” skaters been able to select between the most minute differences in gear specifications. Such is the case with wheels. There are enough different shapes, sizes and urethane types to give any skater an acute case of analysis paralysis. More importantly, all the major players are doing their best to fill every nook and cranny in their equipment lineups with every spec variation possible.
The Balut is Orangatang’s first centerset wheel. This is a little niche that, coming to think of it, we are surprised O’tang didn’t cover sooner. To be perfectly honest, we didn’t quite realize the centeset nature of them at first glance. We were quick to note though that Orangatang has continued their tradition of color-coding all their wheels based on durometer. That’s great given that it becomes immediately evident what durometer we are dealing with without even reading the label. However, in the middle of writing this review, we got word that the Urethane in the Baluts may not be the exact urethane used in other Orangatang models. Not 100% sure on this, but we thought we should point that out.
Wheels: Orangatang Balut
Size: 72.5mm x 45mm
Duro: 80a Orange and 86a Yellow
Contact patch: 35mm
Weight: 130g ea.
Available Worldwide February 2nd
Once we looked past the cover we were like, “woah, what this? They are center set!” That got the crew very excited as we’ve all become used to all Orangatangs being offset, leaving us with coned shaped rollers after a few days. However, centerset as they may be, upon close inspection we noticed the lips on either side are not exactly the same. They are almost identical, but the inside lip’s rounded edge is ever-so-slightly more round that the outside lip. Not that it really matters after a few hours of sessioning them. The round edges and narrow contact patch are a dead giveaway of the slidey-freeride nature of these wheels. The inside also has very tiny ridges molded into the flat inside section. That should be to easily indicate which side is which during production to make sure the print is applied to the outer lip.
Much more obvious than the center-set design of the Baluts is the large, vented plastic hub. Of course, we’ve seen these before – yep on inline skate wheels. We’ve heard a lot of crap and criticism about companies using inline skate cores for their longboard wheels. While it does sound “cheap,” there’s really no point in bashing them if they work. We’ll leave you to be the judge of that. We thought the cores looked pretty cool, but we admit we where a little puzzled as to why O’tang chose to go this route. We wondered if the large vented hub was there to reduce the amount of urethane on the wheel in order to help reduce its price. (Nice if it’s passed down to the riders). We also thought it would help to reduce the weight of the wheel to help improve acceleration from a stand still. This might very well be the case as putting them on the scale gave of a reading of 130 grams. That’s 20 grams lighter than a slightly smaller Cult wheel we had lying around. That one weighed 150 grams, and it’s smaller!
Some companies also claim that vented hubs help reduce heat around the bearings and axles. This is all good, but we doubt that’s the case with the Balut. These are freeride wheels that see a lot of time at slower speed, with many increases and decreases in speed - unlike downhill wheel assemblies that see high speeds for long lengths of time. In other words, heat should not be an issue anyway.
There is an obvious upside to the centerset, nearly symmetrical design – you can rotate them to your heart’s content without worrying about them being mounted the wrong way around.
Let’s start by saying we liked the Balut. In fact, we liked them a lot. These wheels have fun written all over them. If sliding is your thing, these are your wheels. The 86a yellow ones are by far the most icey of all Orangatang wheels. You’ll need to get used to the ride. If you push them like you push a set of Durians or 4Pres, you’ll be experiencing a number of slide outs. Once you get the timing and feel down, these are very controllable.
They also roll FAST! One thing we love about O’tang urethane is how their wheels tend to roll faster than other manufacturer’s wheels of the same durometer. If you live in mainly flat areas, this is good news for you. Less pushing, more speed. If you are always on hills, it may not matter too much.
The large stuff hub helps the wheel keep its shape during slides. This helps the wheels slip better and prevent them from suddenly catching. The stiffer structure is great because it provides a more continuous and controlled slide, albeit loud and sometimes rough.
The orange 80a we tested offers a nice combination of grip and rolling resistance. They are somewhat easier to control than the 86a for riders with less experience. However, don’t expect them to last longer than the yellow ones. You’ll likely be sliding these a lot, for which the yellow ones should last a bit longer. We didn’t have a set of purple 83a’s available for testing, but we reckon those would be our favorite – more comfortable and predictable than the 86a’s, yet more durable and looser than the 80a’s.
The contact patch on the Baluts is very narrow. Also, being centerset, the width of your setup is effectively reduced. However, the effect of the narrower contact patch is much more evident than the effect of the slightly narrower wheel stance. The bottom line is, if you need grip, these are not the wheels for you. The Baluts put to the ground the least amount of urethane possible without going too narrow. For standup slides and full 180s at speed, they are priceless. They are however, a very specialized wheel – they don’t belong in the middle ground of balance between grip, durometer, and size. They lie closer to the higher of those extremes – less grip. Not at the full extreme of some ultra icey wheels that exist in the market, but definitely not middle ground.
The uniqueness of these wheels can also be referenced in the diameter. The label reads 72.5mm. Honestly, why Orangatang chose to 72.5mm is beyond us. Plus, unless you measure them with a set of calipers, there’s no way you’ll be able to tell the difference between 72mm or 72.5mm. Plus, 20 minutes into your first session, and the Baluts have an extra .5mm no more. We suspect the 72.5mm measurement is O’tang hinting at the wheel’s uniqueness.
Thanks to how fast they roll, they can make a great commuter wheel. However, just like a fast and stiff Porsche, the fast rolling speed comes with a price – the harsh ride. These are not quiet, soft rolling wheels. Even the softer 80a oranges are harsher than most…
As a final clue to the hidden ability of these wheels, we gave our longboard to a friend who’s a street skater, not a longboarder. He was doing 180 slides on them within 10 minutes! Needless to say, he loved the wheels.
The only real downsides we noticed were due to the hub itself. They may help keep the wheel in shape during intense slides, but the increased stiffness in them makes the wheel much louder while rolling. This would be the equivalent of car tires that prevent you from listening to your sound system while on the freeway unless you’re pumping your music out of a 1,000watt sound system. Yes, they roll loud! - Specially the yellow 86a ones. It’s not just the rolling that’s loud, sliding them sounds like a foghorn in a shipping vessel. But, one thing is clear, like other Orangatang wheels, they roll faster than comparable durometer wheels from other makers. That we love.
More importantly, the ride quality comes into play. The lack of cushioning can be compared to putting 19 inch wheels on a little Civic with only an inch of rubber. (Oh crap, there’s a car reference again – we’re on a roll). You guys know what we are taking about. You ride over rough pavement and you soon go numb over the vibration. Skating the Balut you can feel a lot of vibration transferred from the road up through your feet. This can get a little tiring after a while. This may be more or less of a concern depending on what type of board you ride, the length of your sessions and the pavement you ride on. Putting them on a board known to absorb a lot of vibration – like a wood / bamboo / composite build might be a great idea. Putting them on a solid maple-only 10-ply deck might rattle your teeth out.
The other problem (and this one’s a guess really) is that less urethane and a bigger hub, equals a bigger core. That means that they’ll likely get cored quicker than other wheels after lots of sliding. But, we don’t want to be too adamant about that. Only time will tell, as these still have many hours in them. The model is still too new to really say something like that might be a problem. But, Orangatang does recommend sticking with a good wheel rotating routine in order to prevent any problems. Since the wheels are centerset, might as well rotate them often.
Inline wheel cores or not, we are very pleased with the Orangatang Balut. We think they are a much welcome addition to the O’tang lineup and freeride wheels on the whole. We don’t necessarily believe they should be the ONLY wheels in your quiver though. The specialized freeriding nature of the Balut lends itself for focused session skating. It’s the wheel you bring out when you are fully concentrating on what you are doing. The wheel you use when you are out, focused on your riding and on improving and nailing new slides. If you’ve been longboarding long enough, you very well know that 1 set of wheels just isn’t enough. Soon, you need more.
The O’tang Balut is a wheel that screams freeride. A great wheel for intense sessions that holds its shape, rolls fast and slides easily. They might be a little rough for long-winded hours on a board and you should rotate them often. All in all, we reckon the Baluts should make an appearance in your wheel quiver at some point. We are confident you’ll appreciate them. But in the end, you be the judge.