Monday, November 26, 2012

What's Up With Wheels?

My goal with this blog is to spread some of the knowledge I've acquired the past few years to all levels of skaters.  The first series of posts will cover the basics of gear, which may be a review for more advanced skaters, but after we make our way through the basics, I can focus more on specific product and in-depth reviews.  

I looked for a good picture of wheels in action and found this nice memory from the final tournament bout of last season.  As you can see, Blitzkrieg Baker (only ass is pictured) and I (orange helmet) turned into a centaur-like animal in order to engulf Salmon Ella with our massive booties.  

It looks like everyone is wearing Heartless wheels, which work amazingly well on the surface in the Dena'ina Center.  This post will cover many things about wheels and hopefully, after you have read it, you will be a little more knowledgeable or at least a little refreshed.

Now, onto wheels!
Juke, Poison, Fugitive, Interceptor, Sugar, Heartless, Radar…there are so many wheels to choose from it can get overwhelming.  But before we look at different manufacturers or specific wheels they offer, let's first go over the anatomy of a roller skate wheel.

Anatomy of a Wheel
Looking at this cross section of the Adonis wheel, we can see the outer layer (blue in this case) which is made from polyurethane of different durometers (hardnesses).  These hardnesses are represented by a number followed by an "A", such as 92A, or 86A.  Some wheels will designate their hardness as "hybrid" or "outdoor" which usually have hardnesses of around 84A and 78A, respectively.  The higher the durometer, the harder the wheel will be.

The hub (white in this photo) holds the polyurethane in place and provides a place for the bearing to sit.  Hubs have some variation, with some having a solid core, others having a hollow core, and some having an aluminum core.  These different cores allow for different weights, speeds, traction, and grip.

Next comes the bearings, which we could go on and on about, but we won't because they will have their own post later on...but we can go over a few basics while we are on the topic.  Each wheel takes 2 bearings.  The bearings can have 6, 7, or 8 ball bearings within them, but 7 is standard.  In this image, there is a bearing spacer between the two bearings.  Bearing spacers help to keep the bearings working correctly and I've noticed a huge difference in my speed since I started using them.  There seems to be a divide amongst skaters about whether these are needed or not, but instead of listening to a bunch of differing opinions, why not try some and see what you think?  2N1 Skate Shoppe has some bearing spacers for $4 a set, plus bearing washers for $5 a set (I recommend using both to get the most out of your bearings).

Wheel Sizing and Grooves
Now that we have dissected a wheel and looked at its innards, let's take a look of some of the wheel's outer characteristics.  Standard wheels are about 40mm wide and 62mm in height. These wheels become clunky for many skaters, so often they turn to lower and/or thinner wheels, such as the Atom Lowboy Slim which are 62mm high and 38mm wide or the GRN MNSTR Heartless wheels which are 62mm high and 35mm wide (one of the skinniest wheels on the market).  The Adonis Micro Wheels are the lowest and skinniest wheels I've seen on the market at 50mm high and 32mm wide.  I will do product reviews on these wheels for a later blog, but if you have any questions on any of these wheels, or anything else, please feel free to send me an e-mail at

On the surface of most indoor wheels, you will see grooves running along the circumference of the wheel.  These grooves help to grip to surfaces and you can get your wheels regrooved once they have worn out to make your wheels better than new.  It is much cheaper to get a set of wheels regrooved than purchase a whole new set.  

Choosing Your Wheels
What are the factors that go into choosing a set of wheels?  Well, your skating level is definitely a factor.  If you are just starting to skate and are having trouble staying upright, you probably want to start out with some fairly sticky and wide wheels.  Check out some Atom Poison wheels for great grip and stability.

At the point where you feel like you are skating through peanut butter?  Time to think of some harder or thinner wheels.  You may also want to switch to some harder and/or skinnier wheels if you experience shin splints, which can be caused from your muscles having to work too hardSure Grip Zombie wheels are also popular because they come in 3 sizes and 3 harnesses for a total of 9 different combinations to choose from. Coupled with their anodized aluminum hubs, they have quickly become a popular new wheel!
Slipping out all the time on turns?  You can get a grip with some softer wheels, but grippier wheels tend to be slower so you sacrifice speed for stability.  When you first start skating, slipping even a little can feel very disconcerting.  When you feel more comfortable on your skates you get used to crossing over more quickly on slicker surfaces and sliding makes practicing hockey stops and power slides much easier.

Another factor to consider is your weight.  Wheels that work great to keep a 100 lb skater on a fairly sticky track are going to make someone like me (a “big girl”) feel like I’m super glued to the track.  Don't feel like just because half the team has a wheel that works perfectly for them, that it should also work for you.  

Personal Preferences
Lastly, everyone has their own personal preference so when you are getting ready to purchase some new wheels, see if someone else already has some you can borrow first just to make sure they will work for you.  If that isn't an option, look for wheels that come in 4 packs so you can adjust your wheels by purchasing a 4 pack of grippier or harder wheels instead of another 8 pack, which can get pretty expensive.  I have a box of wheels that I bring to practice with me for other skaters to try out and have even sent them to clients to try out before purchasing their new wheels just to make sure they are getting the best wheels possible for them.  It really helps to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck.

Cleaning Your Wheels
Cleaning wheels is super easy, just pop out your bearings (very important!), throw them in a tub with warm soapy water in it, then scrub with one of those green and yellow sponges. I normally use either dish washing liquid or laundry detergent for soap, which has worked for me really well. If the gunk on the wheels is really caked on you can let the wheels soak a bit in some fairly hot soapy water before scrubbing (almost too hot for your hands is usually perfect). Have a towel handy and after you have scrubbed all that dirt and grime off the wheel, take it and smack it against the towel a few times to get as much water out of the nooks as possible. This will allow a faster drying time. I don't worry about rinsing them after their bath, but it wouldn't hurt. Another way to dry them off is to use some canned air, or even better an air compressor if you happen to have one handy.

Well, I think that's a good place to stop for now.  Like I said, I want to have a nice overview of different pieces of gear before getting too far into the muck and the mire.  Next we will explore the awesomeness of those colorful little gummy looking things under your skate, connected to your king pin....your cushions!

Until then, skate safe and I'll see you on the track!


Friday, November 23, 2012

The G stands for Gear...

So, you want to know more about my G spot?  Well, I hope I'm not disappointing you, but the G stands for Gear...specifically Roller Derby Gear.

I have been playing Roller Derby for 4 years and selling Roller Derby gear and clothing for the last year and a half.  In that time, I have done a lot of research and product testing in order to be able to find what is going to work for Roller Derby and what falls short.  As a "bigger" player, I think I bring a different perspective to the world of Roller Derby gear than a lot of the other bloggers I follow (I prefer to think gravity just affects me more).

This is the first time I am trying out this blog thing.  I have some ideas for future posts, but if you have a request feel free to e-mail me at  In the meantime...check out our website and FaceBook page for new products, specials, and giveaways.  Speaking of giveaways, we are going to be giving one of our fans an awesome gift bag full of Derby goodness once we get 750 likes on FaceBook, so tell your friends!

My next post will be a generic overview of wheels (wide vs slim, standard vs low/micro, durometers, etc.) along with a few specific wheel reviews.   Between now and then though, let's talk about your gear in general...When is the last time you inspected your safety equipment? I bet for a lot of you the answer is “never.” We put our bodies and equipment through a lot during practices and bouts, and I’m sorry to tell you, none of it is meant to last forever (equipment or bodies!).

Pads wear out, knee pad caps crack, helmets take a beating, and contrary to popular belief, duct tape is not the answer.   Skates have parts that wear out. Cushions, pivot cups, bearings, toe stops, and wheels all need to be serviced and/or replaced when they are worn out.  Some skate parts only need to be checked a couple times per season, but you should be checking your equipment fairly regularly to make sure it is still working (protecting) like it should.  It's less expensive to replace those cracked knee pad caps than surgery to repair a torn ACL.

See you on the track!