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Everything There is to Know About Luggage Wheels

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Luggage Wheels Types: Everything You Need to Know

It’s almost hard to fathom that a few decades ago, people lugged their suitcases through airports, train stations, and city streets by hand – no wheels in sight. Then, in 1987, commercial airline pilot Bob Plath created a suitcase that rolled upright on two wheels pulled comfortably by a long handle. His invention would eventually become the Original Rollaboard®, and Plath would become the CEO of Travelpro®, the preferred luggage brand now carried by countless travelers and crews from over 90 airlines worldwide.

Today, you can’t travel anywhere without seeing luggage on wheels. Spinner luggage that rolls upright on four or more wheels has become as widely-loved, if not more so, than two-wheeled luggage. Yet, contrary to popular belief, more wheels is not always better and what goes into the wheels is even more important than how many there are.

Keys to choosing your perfect wheeled luggage include: understanding the advantages of each type of roll, knowing how and where you will take the bag, and choosing quality wheels made with the right materials.

Spinner Wheel Luggage vs. 2-Wheeled Luggage

Which type of rolling luggage is best for your needs? Will spinner luggage work for your travels, or is luggage with two wheels a better choice? Each type of roll has its own distinct function and benefits.

Luggage with two wheels is usually referred to as “Rollaboard” luggage, though true Rollaboard® luggage is only manufactured by Travelpro®. Luggage with four wheels is called “spinner” luggage, and comes in four- or eight-wheeled styles.

Compare the different types of spinner luggage here.

Of course, all roller luggage is designed to perform the same basic function: to let you roll your luggage rather than carry it. But how you roll on 2-wheeled vs. spinner luggage is where their designs differ. 

Two wheels provide a more durable and stable roll up steep hills and over uneven ground (like cobblestone streets). Two-wheeled luggage is also carried behind you at an angle with your arm down at your side. 

Four wheels provide better maneuverability on smooth surfaces because the wheels are designed to rotate 360° while the bag sits upright and rolls next to you. This lets you weave around obstacles as you move through airports or crowded streets. 

Of course, all spinner wheels are not created equal. If you have ever pushed a shopping cart with a wonky wheel, you know how frustrating it is when the wheels don’t cooperate. Be sure to choose spinner luggage with well-made components that keep all wheels going the same direction. 

Some Travelpro spinners take this a step further with MagnaTrac® 360° degree spinner wheels that use magnetic force to self-align, eliminating the chance of any rogue wheel slowing you down. 

Where and how you will use the luggage is what should lead your decision between buying 2-wheel vs. 4-wheel luggage

Luggage Wheel Materials

Along with wheel count, what the wheels are made of will make a big difference in how well your luggage handles and holds up. Luggage roller wheels are typically made of polyurethane (a highly-resilient flexible plastic), other plastics, or rubber.

Here are some tips to help you choose the type of wheels built to keep up with what you put them through:

  • Polyurethane wheels are the highest quality luggage wheels currently on the market. They are ultra-durable and provide the smoothest and most silent roll.
  • Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) is a specialized rubber designed to mimic the smoothness and durability of polyurethane, but at a lower cost. The issue with rubber is that it can wear down or grip too much and require more effort to roll. 
  • Other plastics can be cheaper to manufacture and look similar but will not perform like polyurethane. Hard plastic wheels can break, crack, and chip due to their brittleness. 

Even though polyurethane is extraordinarily tough, it’s still light enough to keep your luggage lightweight, whether you opt for hardside luggage or or prefer a soft-sided bag. 

Check out how to find the best lightweight luggage and see how different styles compare.

Number of Wheels - 2, 4, or 8

Yes, luggage can include more than two wheels or four spinner wheels. Some spinner luggage even comes in eight-wheeled options.

Doubling up the spinner wheels on each corner of the rolling bag gives the luggage added durability and stability. Plus, eight wheels sharing the work lowers the chances for ever needing wheel repairs or replacements.

Additional Hardware for your Luggage Wheels

Ball bearings can also make a difference in how your luggage wheels perform. Every type of luggage wheel has ball bearings that allow it to spin. Quality luggage will be made with high-quality ball bearings that will last longer and roll smoother than low-quality, cheaply-made ones.

Still, even the best quality wheels can fail if they are extremely abused, get debris stuck in them, or have been used excessively. If you are carrying quality luggage and do lose a wheel or one becomes damaged, you do not have to retire the bag. If your luggage still has plenty of life in it, simply replace the wheels and keep on rolling!

Related: How-to replace luggage wheels quickly and easily.

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