Choosing The Right Inline Skates

Step One: Determine Your Skating Interests

One of the great things about inline skates is that they can be adapted to a wide variety of activities. You will need to determine the activity you are most interested in and choose a type of skate made for that purpose. It is possible to play hockey on a recreational skate, race on a fitness skate, do tricks on a hockey skate; in other words, you can use one type of skate for other activities. However, this will not produce optimal results for serious use.

Here is a general description of the basic skate types. Unless you are certain that your interests are exclusive to one type of skating, you will most likely want to start with a recreational skate.

    Hockey - These are constructed very much like ice-hockey skates. They are made of stitched leather and lace up for a very close fit. They have wheels designed for the very quick movements of this sport.

    Speed - Racing skates have five wheels, a long wheel base, and a low-cut leather boot. They typically have no brake. These are for very experienced skaters.

    Freestyle - Most moves that are done on ice can be done with inline skates. The boot is similar to ice figure skates, but uses a pick stop mounted on the frame.

    Recreational - These are the skates that started it all. They are typically designed with a plastic boot to hold the ankle firmly and wheels that permit a large degree of control.

    Fitness - Similar to recreational skates, they are usually lighter, offer a lower- cut boot, and have larger wheels. These skates are also used for cross-training.

    Aggressive - These skates are made for doing stunts on ramps and rails. They have smaller wheels, grind plates, and are constructed to withstand extreme use.

Learn About Wheels and Bearings

Inline skates can be equipped with an astounding variety of wheels. Wheels determine the type of "ride" that the skate will deliver. The easier they roll the more you will enjoy skating. However, a wheel that rolls too fast may put you beyond your comfort zone. Wheels may be too hard or soft for the intended surface, causing a bumpy or mushy ride. They may be too big, reducing maneuverability.

    There are three things that you need to know about inline skate wheels:

    Size - The diameter of a wheel is the length across the widest part of the circle, measured in millimeters (mm). The size is important because the larger the wheel, the faster it rolls. Smaller wheels are more maneuverable and stable, but roll more slowly. Most recreational skates come with 72-76mm diameter wheels. Aggressive skates come with smaller wheels; racing skates with larger ones. Sizes can range from 44-80mm. Wheels also vary in thickness, or "profile." Thinner wheels are faster but less stable than thicker ones. The wheel's size will be marked on its side.

    Hardness - Wheels are made out of urethane, a plastic material whose hardness can be varied. The hardness is measured on a durometer, with 0 being the softest and 100 being the hardest. Softer wheels absorb more bumps for a smoother skate, but they tend not to last as long, nor are they as fast as the harder wheels. Most recreational skates are equipped with 78A or 82A wheels, with 78A considered to be on the softer side.

    For indoor surfaces, harder wheels, like 85A are appropriate; for outdoor use or on rough terrain, use a softer 74A. You can also mix wheels with different durometers, making some wheels harder than others. This gives you the flexibility of having good shock absorption plus durability. A wheel's hardness is marked on its side.

    Bearings - The wheels roll on ball bearings, which are inside the hubs of the wheels. The quality of the bearings will affect the amount of effort the skater must apply to rotate the wheels. Bearings are rated according to the precision with which they are made. Typically, higher priced skates will use bearings designated as "precision" and are rated ABEC-1, ABEC-3, or ABEC-5. The difference between ABEC 1 and 5 bearings is not usually a major factor to the beginning skater. Lower priced skates will not use rated bearings.

    Wheels wear out. They must be rotated to avoid uneven wear and to get the maximum use from them. The skate you purchase should allow you to rotate and replace the wheels easily. Most manufacturers provide a maintenance guide that will explain this procedure.

Learn About the Brakes

The inline skater slows down and stops by applying a brake that is usually attached to the heel of the boot. The brake consists of a rubber pad that drags on the pavement when the toe is lifted. The skill needed to execute this maneuver is easily learned (especially if taught by an IISA Certified Instructor); however, skate manufacturers have spent much effort developing brake systems that make the process, it is claimed, even simpler. One such system (the Rollerblade ABT or Advanced Braking Technology) allows the skater to activate the brake by bending the knees and sliding the braking foot forward. The pressure against the boot cuff pushes a rod attached to the cuff; which pushes the brake pad down. The advantage of this system is said to be that the wheels of the skate remain in contact with the pavement while the brake is being applied. Another system uses a spring to activate a brake that slows the back two wheels. A third uses a round rubber disk which rotates against the pavement when applied. Its tension is adjustable. Generally, these special braking systems increase the cost of the skates.

Brakes should be able to be switched from the right skate to the left. The brake should be attached to the boot worn on the skater's dominant side. For most, this is the right foot, but about 10 % of the population will need to have the brake installed on the left skate. Do not purchase skates with the brake on the front of the boot. Some skates, like speed skates, do not come with brakes; hockey and aggressive skates usually come with brakes but they are removed when doing specific activities.

Learn About the Boot

The boot holds your foot. Most boots have two parts: a shell that surrounds your foot and a cuff that surrounds your ankle. Usually, both parts are made of plastic that is flexible yet supportive. The final fitting to the specific contours of your foot is provided by a cloth liner inside the boot. There are skates currently on the market that have eliminated or cut away some of the plastic, making the skate itself more form-fitting. Most boots are ventilated; this is a plus because air circulates better in the boot.

The job of the boot is to support the foot and ankle.

This support is what makes it possible for most people to skate easily. Inside the boot are a separate lining and foot bed, both of which should be removable and washable. As noted above, these are critical to proper fit and comfort. In fact, when determining fit, the liner should be removed and placed on the foot. If it fits comfortably, it should then be put into the skate and the fitting process repeated to ensure that the boot itself is shaped properly. Liners are made of various materials, but more expensive skates use moisture- absorbing, breathable materials for added comfort. They may even have "memory foam" that molds to your foot.

Boots must be attached securely to the foot. There are three different ways to do this; laces, buckles, or a combination of both. Buckle closure systems should have three adjustable buckles. The buckles are permanently attached to the skate; if their position grips your foot in uncomfortable places you should try a different model. Laces are generally only used on specialty skates, such as hockey, racing, and some aggressive. Laces give a custom fit but are not as quick and easy to use and may not provide adequate support for the beginner. Lace-buckle combinations use the buckle around the ankle, and laces over the foot.

Try on skates carefully. Every manufacturer makes its boots to its own specifications. Sizes will vary even within brands. Take into consideration the type of socks you like to use. Skates are not like shoes; they will not stretch, although some liners will conform to your foot in time.

Learn About the Frame

The frame attaches the wheels to the boot. The better the skate, the more likely that the frame will be rigid, aligned properly, and securely attached. A too-flexible frame dissipates the skater's energy; poor alignment causes the wheels to track poorly. Simply put, the wheels deliver a better ride if they are all going in the same direction at the same time.

If you are interested in being able to do quick turns and pivots, consider a frame that will allow you to adjust the middle two wheels slightly lower. This procedure, called "rockering," simulates the curve of an ice skate blade. Skates are usually sold with the wheels all at the same level. Less expensive skates do not have a rockering capability.

Frames are made of plastic or metal. Those on racing and most hockey skates are made of metal. Some frames can be loosened from the boot and aligned in a slightly different direction. This is sometimes very important to a skater who has orthopedic problems. Frames should allow for larger or smaller wheels to be used.

Plan Ahead

Wheels are the most important factor in how a skate performs. Most recreational skates are sold with wheels of moderate size. This prevents the skater from going too fast for the skill level normally exhibited by a beginner. However, as the skater progresses, he or she may want to try a faster wheel when the original wheels wear out.

Most recreational skates are made with a frame that will accept a larger wheel; however, the increase in size permitted by the frame may be minimal. The skater can avoid this problem by buying the fitness skates that he or she wants to "grow" into, replacing the large wheels with smaller ones, and learning on these more comfortable "training" wheels.

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