There are an assortment of different skates out there, and I would like to take a moment to help explain the differences and how they work. Detailed designs may vary among different manufacturers, but most roller skates will fall into two categories. Quad roller skates and inline roller skates. The history of roller skates can be dated all the way back to the 1700’s, and the first design was similar to what we consider inline skates (where the wheels are in a straight line under the foot). A few decades after that, quad roller skates (two wheels side by side front and back) began to appear in different shows and theater. Enough of the history lesson. Jump ahead a couple hundred years….
Everyone seems to have their own preference, but since quad skates were popular before inline skates, we will start there. Quad skates have two sets of wheels side by side like a car. This provides more stability and maneuverability. The wheels are attached to a ‘plate’ which is the support structure attaching the wheels to the shoe or boot. The boot can be made of a variety of materials, from leather to plastic or something in between. Each set of wheels can pivot and turn, allowing the skate to turn a corner and keep all wheels in contact with the surface. The degree of turn or corner or edge, can vary depending on how tight the trucks are tightened. This is an adjustment easily changed and can provide different control for different reasons. A figure skater may need to make sharp turns, while a speed skater needs extra stability at higher speeds.
Inline skates are a bit of a simpler design. Brought back to popularity by the company RollerBlade these skates were designed with ice hockey skaters in mind. Giving them an option for warm weather training. Inline skates can have two, three, four or more wheels in a straight line. These wheels are much skinnier and will have an arch design to the surface contact area(not flat like a quad wheel), and allow a pivot or edge. This allows the skater to carve an edge and assist in turning, much like skiing or ice skating. The wheels may vary in size and are housed in a frame that usually holds each wheel in a fixed position. The frame is attached to the boot which can be made of a multitude of materials. Support is much more important from the boot. Since the skates cannot stand on their own, strong ankles will help an inline skater feel more comfortable. Controlling the amount of pro-nation is necessary or inline skating will be very difficult.
There are new and different types of skates appearing in the market every day. Some have all terrain wheels, some have a mix of quad and inline attributes. But most will all use the same idea of a urethane wheel with a precision bearing. A good bearing will allow for a smooth roll and reduced friction which will slow you down. You don’t want to lose too much speed after all the work to get going, right?! Decent bearings will have a rating to help you choose the right one. The rating system will have ABEC next to a number like 3, 5 or 7. The difference in these numbers is minimal, most average skaters may not notice a difference. But if you want a good bearing, you should find something that is rated. If there is no rating, it may be a grease packed bearing or not what you are looking for.
Wheels are literally where the rubber meets the road or floor in our case. Having the right amount of grip without being too soft is the tricky part. A hard wheel will roll faster than a soft wheel, but a soft wheel will grip better than a hard wheel. This is a fact of life, and applies to car tires, bike tires and anything else in that rolls. If you want better gas mileage in your car, make sure you tires are inflated as much as safety will allow. Most skate wheels will have a number referred to as the durometer. This is a measurement of how hard it is. Wheels for indoor skating will range somewhere in the high eighties to nineties. Outdoor wheels will dip a little lower reaching mid seventies.
Skate boots will come in so many varieties it can make your head spin. But just be sure of one thing, a good comfortable fit. Get fitted properly, and account for what will come between your foot and the boot. Socks, nylons, bare foot, or maybe even an ankle brace. There is a lot of movement between your foot and boot, blisters can form if something doesn’t fit right. Some boots will need breaking in, and some people have very sensitive feet. Ask your skate shop about what type of skate will fit your foot shape best.
I hope you enjoyed learning about different types of skates and the equipment that goes along with them, I hope to see you skating soon!