National | Regional voices: Chubu

Nagoya firm Jtekt develops gnarly skateboard bearings ahead of sport's Tokyo Olympic debut

Chunichi Shimbun

Jtekt Corp., a Nagoya-based parts manufacturer affiliated with Toyota Motor Corp., has developed an upgraded version of Ninja, the brand name for its bearings used for skateboards, ahead of skateboarding making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

By making use of its technological prowess in the manufacture of industrial robot bearings, the firm says it succeeded in creating skateboard bearings that can rotate at higher speeds while maintaining durability.

The new type is already being tested by Kihana Ogawa, a 17-year-old skateboarder hoping to take part in the 2020 Games after representing Japan in last year’s Park Skateboarding World Championships.

“I hope that skateboarding will attract attention at the (2020) Olympics, so that more people will become aware of the power of bearings,” said Yasuhiro Sakamoto, 47, head of the firm’s development team.

A bearing is a component that supports the axis of rotation in machines, including vehicles, wind turbine generators and bullet train wheels. In skateboards, two bearings — each measuring 2.2 cm in diameter — are installed in each of their four wheels.

Jtekt began selling skateboard bearings under the Ninja brand name in 1996, taking on a market dominated by overseas firms.

Ninja gradually gained popularity among Japanese skateboarders, including top-class athletes, and they asked the firm to develop a new version that can spin faster to increase skateboards’ top-end speed.

Most skateboard bearings are made of steel, but Jtekt used ceramic, which is harder and produces little friction. The product development team managed to make the wheels turn faster by reducing deformation in the inner wheel parts. This reduced friction caused by rotation.

They also designed a wheel shape that is more resistant to landings after jumps by calculating the co-relationship between friction and the pressure on the wheels.

“(My skateboard) is now speedier than before, so the level of my performance is higher,” says Ogawa, who has been testing the new bearings since last May. “I want to brush up my powerful skateboarding skills further.”

Jtekt plans to put the new product on sale this spring. It is also considering accepting orders for adjustments for top-class skateboarders to meet their individual needs.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 3.

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