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A Guide to Selecting a Bowling Ball

Yehudah Posnick

One of the great things about bowling is that it’s a sport that’s appropriate for a wide range of ages. In principle, you can get a bowling ball for a child as young as age 6! But, you’d be surprised at how many variables there are to selecting an appropriate ball. Besides choosing the weight that’s right for you, you’ll also need to know about the ball’s mechanics, such as its radius of gyration and flare potential. The motion of the ball also will depend on the ball’s finish and composition. We’ll go through some details to help you decide!


What is the coverstock of a bowling ball?

In the context of bowling, the coverstock refers to the outer surface of a bowling ball. It plays a crucial role in the ball's performance on the lane. The coverstock is responsible for gripping the lane, reacting to the oil patterns, and ultimately determining how the ball will hook or slide.

What materials are used in the coverstock of a bowling ball?

There are several types of coverstocks used in bowling balls, each with its own characteristics. Here are some common coverstock materials:

  • Plastic/Polyester: This is the most basic and least aggressive coverstock material. Plastic balls are generally used by beginners or for shooting spares due to their straight and predictable trajectory. An example is the Brunswick Tzone Deep Space Bowling Ball.

Brunswick Tzone Deep Space Bowling Ball

  • Urethane: Urethane coverstocks offer more friction on the lane than plastic, providing better hook potential. They have a controllable and smooth motion, making them popular for medium to dry lane conditions. An example is the Storm Pitch Black Bowling Ball.

Storm Pitch Black Bowling Ball

  • Reactive Resin: Reactive resin coverstocks are the most common and widely used in modern bowling balls. They have a porous surface that creates more friction with the lane, resulting in increased hook potential. Reactive balls offer versatility and are effective on a variety of lane conditions. There are three types of reactive resin balls:

Hammer Black Widow 2.0 Bowling Ball

Pyramid Path Rising Bowling Ball

Storm Phaze R35 Hybrid Reactive Bowling Ball

  • Particle: Particle coverstocks contain additional particles or additives within the coverstock material. These balls provide even greater friction and enhanced hooking capabilities. However, particle coverstocks have become less common in recent years due to changes in technology and regulations.

Types of Bowling Balls

There are various types of bowling balls available, designed to suit different playing styles, lane conditions, and skill levels. Here are some common types of bowling balls:

  • Entry-Level Balls: These are often referred to as "house balls" and are typically found at bowling alleys for general use. They are usually made of plastic or a low-end urethane coverstock. Entry-level balls are suitable for beginners and recreational bowlers.

  • Mid-Performance Balls: These balls are designed for intermediate bowlers who have developed some skill and want more control and hook potential. They often feature reactive resin coverstocks and offer a good balance between performance and affordability.

  • High-Performance Balls: These balls are engineered for advanced bowlers and professionals seeking maximum hook potential, exceptional pin carry, and versatility across various lane conditions. High-performance balls employ advanced coverstock technologies, such as hybrid or pearl reactive resin, and often incorporate weight block designs for increased ball motion.

  • Spare Balls: Spare balls, also known as spare shooting balls or spare systems, are used primarily for picking up spares (e.g., corner pins or single-pin spares). These balls are usually made of plastic or urethane and have minimal hook potential, allowing bowlers to roll them straight and accurately.

  • Specialty Balls: Specialty balls cater to specific conditions or playing styles. For example, there are balls designed for heavy oil conditions, where a strong hook is required, or for dry lanes, where a ball with less friction is needed. These balls may have unique core designs, coverstock blends, or specialized additives to address specific challenges.

What reviewers say

We went over some customers’ impressions of the bowling ball they chose:

  • When to use a spare ball: One customer who tried out the 8.8 lb Pyramid Path Rising Bowling Ball said that the ball is appropriate for entry-level bowling only. It goes straight, and you’ll be able to master the basics with it. But, afterward, you should pay a bit more and get an advanced performance ball. Then use the Pyramid Path only for picking up spares.

  • Familiarity with the lane: Customers say that the surface of the alley will make a very big difference. A ball that is appropriate for medium- to heavily-oiled lanes will behave differently on a dryer lane.

Important Features

Here are some features of bowling balls, that help you distinguish between them:

  • Weight block: This is also known as the “core” of the bowling ball. It is a crucial component inside a bowling ball. It influences the ball's overall dynamics, such as its roll, hook potential, and stability. The weight block is located at the center of the ball and helps determine the ball's motion as it travels down the lane. The specific weight block design, along with the coverstock, plays a significant role in determining a ball's overall reaction. Different weight block shapes and densities can produce varying ball motions, including length, mid-lane roll, and backend hook. There are different types of weight blocks used in bowling balls, and they can be categorized into two main designs:

    • Symmetrical Cores: Symmetrical weight blocks are uniform in shape and have the same density distribution around the ball's center. They typically have a round or square shape. These cores promote a smooth and predictable motion, making them suitable for a wide range of bowlers and lane conditions.

    • Asymmetrical Cores: Asymmetrical weight blocks have an uneven distribution of mass around the ball's center, resulting in varying densities. They often feature complex shapes with multiple axes of rotation. These balls tend to provide stronger hook potential and increased angular motion on the lane.

  • RG value: This stands for “radius of gyration”, The radius of gyration (RG) of a bowling ball is a measure of its mass distribution around the axis of rotation. It represents how the mass is distributed within the ball and affects its overall motion and hook potential. The lower the RG value, the more the mass is centralized, resulting in an earlier and stronger hook motion. Conversely, a higher RG value indicates more mass distributed towards the coverstock, resulting in a smoother and later hook. The RG value is typically measured in inches or millimeters. Bowling ball manufacturers provide RG values for their products, usually specifying two different values: the RG of the x-axis (RGx) and the RG of the y-axis (RGy). These values represent the ball's RG in different orientations and can help bowlers understand the ball's overall motion characteristics.

  • Core Differential: The core differential of a bowling ball, often referred to as the differential or RG differential, is another important characteristic that influences the ball's motion on the lanes. It is a measure of the difference between the maximum and minimum RG values of a bowling ball's core.

  • The core differential determines the flare potential of the ball, which refers to the amount of track flare or oil absorption the ball will produce as it rolls down the lane. The higher the differential, the greater the flare potential and the stronger the ball's backend reaction. Conversely, a lower differential will result in less flare and a smoother, more controllable ball motion. Differential values are typically expressed in inches or millimeters. A differential of 0.010" to 0.020" is considered low, while a differential above 0.040" is considered high. However, the specific differential values can vary among different bowling ball models and manufacturers.

  • Choosing the right weight: To choose the right weight for your bowling ball, first consider your physical strength and abilities: A general rule of thumb is to choose a ball that weighs approximately 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, a 15-pound ball might be a good starting point. However, this is just a guideline, and you should also consider other factors, such as whether a 15-lb ball allows you to still have good control and release. Bowling alleys often have a range of ball weights available for rent, allowing you to try various options. Start with a weight you believe is manageable and gradually work your way up or down until you find the right balance.

Final Verdict

We went through some specs that you should be familiar with before purchasing a bowling ball. With all of the tips, it’s still best to be able to try out the ball yourself before making a purchase. Also, you’d probably want to familiarize yourself with the lane where you’ll be bowling the most. You may also buy an arsenal of bowling balls, with one just for picking up spares and the like.

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