Monday, December 31, 2012

Between Your Boots and Wheels...Plates, Kingpins, and Trucks.

Photo of Shocker Khan by John Nyman
Let’s see, we've gone over wheels, bearings, cushions, and toe stops…so I guess it’s time to talk about plates, more specifically plates, trucks, and kingpins (which is usually how they come when you purchase them).  There are many plates on the market now-a-days, which is good and bad.  Good that we have so many choices and can find something that will work for our personal skating style, but bad when you are new to skating and get overwhelmed with all the choices!  It also doesn't help that there aren't industry standards for things like screw hole locations.  At least there are only two sizes of axles you are likely to encounter, so let’s start there.


Trucks are what we call the piece that comprises the axle and pivot pin. Our wheels and bearings go on the axle, and the pivot pin (or just pivot) is what is inserted into the pivot cup in the plate.  There is also a ring coming out of the axle that I like to call the "axhole", but it's actually called the "boss".

There are two trucks per skate, so four trucks for a complete pair of skates.  There are single action and double action trucks.  Single action have one cushion that sits between the boss and then plate, and double action trucks have one cushion above the boss and another one under.  Most plates found in roller derby today are double action.

There is a hole in the boss that the kingpin goes through.  There are also some cushions like the Crazy Skates cushions where the cushions touch each other through the boss.  This helps to make the best of both worlds of the single and double action trucks by allowing the speed and stability that a single action truck gives a skater, as well as the agility and mobility that the double action truck provides.  Not every boss is big enough for these cushions so make sure you have the proper trucks before purchasing these cushions.

There are two sizes of axles, 7mm and 8mm.  Sometimes you have a choice as to which size you get with your plates, but some manufacturers only make their axles in one size.  The most common size for roller derby skates is 8mm.  It is important to know what size you have so you know what size bearings and tools to get.

Nerdy technical info: Most 7mm and 8mm axles are actually threaded for 9/32", 32-tpi and 5/16", 24-tpi (fine), nuts respectively, but they are still called 7mm and 8mm because that is the measurement of the actual smooth part of the axle. If you go out and buy metric nuts from a hardware store, they won't fit. There are a few older and less common plates that have true metric or 5/16", 18-tpi (coarse) threads, but these are not commonly used for derby.

Kingpins hold the trucks in place and run from the plate through the cushion cup (or retainer), top cushion, boss, bottom cushion, cushion cup, then the kingpin nut holds the whole shebang together.  The angle that the kingpin comes out of the plate is very important and can run anywhere from 10 degrees to 45 degrees.
Double Action Truck with
Kingpin and Cushions

Most entry-level plates come with a 10 degree kingpin, which is nice and stable for new skaters.  Other plates come with 15 to 45 degree kingpins; the more severe the angle, the easier it will be to make sharper turns; however, this can make a skater feel unstable and it can be difficult to control because your weight is over the pivot pin instead of the kingpin.  Some skaters stick with the 10 degree kingpins, while others choose to go for a larger angle.  The best thing to do is just try out different angles and see what fits your skating style and ability.

Some kingpins come with a micro-adjustable lock nut and washer which allows for more precise adjustments.  Usually plates with this type of kingpin come with a hefty price tag, but the new Luigino Eagle plates come with the micro-adjustable lock nut and washer for only $100.

Nerdy technical info: Most kingpins are 3/8" in diameter, however not all kingpins are the same. Some have a hex head (like a standard bolt), some thread into the plate (technically called a "stud"), some are made of steel, some are made of aluminum. When replacing a nut or broken kingpin, it is important that you replace it with the correct kingpin for your plate. Even kingpins that look the same at first glance are often threaded differently. Some are threaded 3/8", 16 tpi (coarse), others are threaded 3/8", 24tpi (fine). Still others (most notably Sure Grip) are threaded 3/8", 20 tpi, which is a funky thread called British Standard Fine (BSF). It all can be quite confusing, but it's worth paying attention to, because screwing up the threads is a quick and easy way to ruin your kingpin or plate.

Pivot Pins
The pivot pin is what connects the truck to the plate via the pivot cup.  It is designed to give the skater support and I like to think of it as the third leg of a tripod, with the axles/wheels as the other two legs.  The pivot cup, which is usually either metal or rubber, usually needs to be replaced about once a year and you should check it every once in a while to make sure there aren't any holes or lots of wear in them.  If you are able to wiggle your truck back and forth and see the pivot pin moving, it is time to either get new pivot cups or adjust the kingpin.

The pivot pin needs to be seated properly into the pivot cup.  If it is not seated correctly, too much stress is placed on the kingpin when landing a jump and you can break a kingpin, which is no fun. Pivot pins should fit securely into the bottom of the pivot cup without having to have any weight on the skate.  Some trucks come with adjustable pivot pins, while others are non-adjustable so if the pivot pin is not seated into the pivot cup you will need to adjust it by adjusting the kingpin. Incorrectly adjusted pivot pins or worn out pivot cups are a common cause of broken kingpins or trucks, so it is important to keep an eye on them for wear and adjustment.

Roller skate plates are usually made from either nylon or aluminum.  Nylon plates are nice and light, but break more easily than aluminum plates.  Some plates are made from aircraft aluminum and are therefore super light and strong, but they can be pricey.  If you are looking at replacing your current plates, know that there is no standardization of screw hole patterns so if you are changing brands or upgrading, you may need to have more holes drilled into your boot.  Some manufacturers have lines of plates that have the same hole patterns, which makes it a lot easier to upgrade.

PowerDyne Reactor Plate with
Micro Adjustable Kingpins
Plate sizing can be a little tricky.  If you are a beginner skater, you will probably want to go with a plate that is almost as long as your boot.  Make sure you look at the sizing charts for whatever plates you want to purchase because sizes are not standardized.  You may need a size 8 in one plate and a 4 in another one.  Also, there are some plates that are meant to be "short forward" mounted, which means that the plate doesn't cover most of the heel of the boot.  This is done on purpose to reduce weight while keeping your body positioned correctly.  You can order plates that are smaller than what would normally be mounted on the boot to be more agile, but I wouldn't do this until you have skated quite a few miles.

Some plates have offset toe stop design which makes the pair have left and right plates.  This seats the toe stop off-center so it sits inside toward your big toes more than plates that don't have this design.  Some skaters prefer their plates to have the toe stops right down the middle, while others like the off-set design because of how they use their toe stops.  As with pretty much any skate option, you will need to try out the different styles to see what feels best.

Bionic Super Stoppers
Lastly, there are a couple different ways that toe stops are connected to the plate. The first is with a nut and lock washer that goes around the toe stop stem, the second is with a screw that goes into the side of the plate and squeezes the plate around the toe stop to keep it in place. If you have the toe stop nut, Gumball toe stops work really well because you don't have to have them a certain way when you screw them in, at least until you flatten them a bit). If you have the type of plate with the screw on the side, I highly recommend Bionic Super Stoppers. When you have the toe stop where you want it, you just have to tighten the screw instead of having to hold the toe stop in place while you use a wrench to tighten the toe stop nut.

Well, I think that is enough for now.  If you have questions I haven't answered yet, don't hesitate to post it in the comments or send me an e-mail.  I don't have all the answers, but I'll help you out if I can! 

Upcoming Event:  January 15th we will be giving away an S-One helmet to one lucky fan who has either posted a comment or subscribed to this blog.  If you like what you have seen, please share Shocker Khan's G Spot with your friends...the more visitors we have, the more stuff we can give away!

Until we skate again,

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Making a Clean Break

Razor, Stalker, Shocker, and Bat Ma'am at the Rage City Ugly Sweater Party
I know my blog is SUPER young and I have been trying to post a new article once a week.  Well, I failed you this time.  Being an atheist without children, I don't really have an excuse.  Being the daughter of a wonderful Polish Catholic mother and girlfriend to a partner with a close Catholic family, I am swept along the Holiday tide along with the rest of humanity and have just taken to float along eating my way through it.  Not saying any of this is a bad thing...not at all!  Just an excuse as to why it is taking me longer between posts than usual.  Hope you understand.

Now that's off my chest (as a lapsed Catholic, I still feel guilty about pretty much everything!), let's talk about something you may be able to get to after the official festivities of this time of year have past and you have some time before your league officially starts practicing for the new year.  That pesky gear maintenance!

I've talked about cleaning your wheels and bearings in recent posts and touched on keeping up with inspecting and maintaining your gear in my first post, so now may be a good time to revisit those instructions and actually put them to use.  Throw those pads in your washer, have a wheel and bearing cleaning party while re-watching your favorite bouts from this past season, and inspect your helmet for any cracks or dents that may mean it's time to get something new to protect your noggin.

Speaking of protecting your noggin...anyone want a free S-One Lifer helmet?  I have one up for grabs for one of my fans who posts (or has posted) a comment to any of the posts or subscribed/followed my G Spot.

My next post will be on plates, trucks, and kingpins followed by a series on protective gear.  I'm also planning to do a symbiotic blog post with the ever inspirational Elektra Q-Tion and her blog You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Loose Wheel.  Check her out!  Then come back next week for more.  Until then, have a photo of Ms. Mel Mangles of Rose City fame when she stoicly jumped into freezing water with Rage City to raise money for Special Olympics...

Mel Mangles is in the middle, I'm right beside her. Held her hand later during the jump.

Until we skate again!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Toe stop, or no toe stop: that is the question.

Shocker During Her Rookie Year

Sure Grip Super Grippers
When I first started skating 4 years ago, the only toe stops easily available to us up here in AK were the Sure Grip Super Grippers as seen to right right in pink (and in red and black in the photo above).  These worked great, but only because I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't know what I was missing out on.  As time went by and I went through quite a few pairs of these during my first season of skating, I knew there had to be something better out there.

This article isn't a review on the many toe stops on the market, rather it is an overview of different options and styles available and how they fit into the Derby World.  One of my next articles will be a product review of the half dozen or so toe stops I've tested over the past few months.

Adjustable vs non-adjustable
RC Non-Adjustable Toe Stops
There are quite a few children's skates that have non-adjustable toe stops on them.  Also, some low-end adult skates and rentals come with them.  These have a different size screw going into the plate than adjustable toe stops, so they are not interchangeable.  If you can't avoid non-adjustable toe stops, go with a better stop like RC Target Toe Stops because they are softer than many of their competitors and will actually help you stop, not just slide forever on a hard plastic stop.

Stop or Plug

Formac Dance Plugs
Jam or Dance Plugs are not only used by quad figure or hockey skaters.  Some Derby skaters wear them and I always have a pair with me in my practice bag.  A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of attending a boot camp where B-Train led a "Going Stopless" class.  Side note, this is where my Derby crush on B-Train began.

It's nice to take your toe stops out for a practice or even just an hour to reinforce certain skills.  If you find that you are always putting your toe stops down when you are just trying to transition from skating forward to skating backward, this will definitely help cure you of that!  Also, it's good to be able to adjust to not having a toe stop for those (hopefully infrequent) times where you lose a stop during a jam.  I lost one of my toe stops TWICE during one of my last bouts because it had been stripped and because I had practiced without my toe stops I was able to adjust for the rest of those jams and still be an effective blocker.  I've actually seen skaters skate off the track during a jam to replace their toe stop, leaving their team down a player until she got that thing back in her skate.  Definitely not the best use of your time on the track.

So, to prevent freaking out when you lose a toe stop, just practice without them every once in a while.  Jammer plugs are always nice to have on hand for these "stopless" practices so dirt and gunk don't get into the toe stop screw threads.  They also keep your toe guards in place so they don't flap around.

Standard Stem vs Short Stem
Short and Standard Stem Gumball Toe Stops

Some adjustable toe stops come in two sizes like Gumball toe stops.  The longer ones (standard or long) are usually the ones Derby players tend to use because of how much we use our toe stops for things like running, side stepping, and stopping.  However, some skaters prefer the short ones because they feel the longer ones get in their way.  It's a personal preference, but I really push the longer ones for Derby players for a couple reasons:

1) If your toe stops are too high your ankle ends up in a very unstable position, and

2) Having your toe stops closer to the track forces you to have better form when skating the track.

Crazy Bloc Toe Stops
Colors vs Natural
You might have noticed that a lot of toe stops are coming out in a beige color, such as Gumball and Bloc toe stops.  When I asked if GRN MNSTR was going to make their Gumball toe stops in different colors because, come on, women love color choices.  It was explained to me that the material wouldn’t be as strong, and if you have ever had a toe stop break or come off the stem in practice or a bout, you know how annoying and frustrating that can be!  Other companies who make colored toe stops like the Powerdyne Moonwalker must have a different formula because there are some with very pretty colors out there.

Well, that's about all I have on toe stops for now.  Like I said, later I'll be able to do more in-depth reviews of many of the toe stops used today in our sport, so stay tuned.

Until we skate again,

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Get Your Bearings!

You wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for your bearings...literally.  And there are so many for us to choose from it can get overwhelming, but that's what I'm here for.

Exploded View of a Bearing

This is what the parts of a bearing looks like, specifically a Bones Swiss bearing.  Starting from the left, we have the dust cover or shield, inner race, balls (ball bearings), retainer, and outer race.  Except for the number of ball bearings and sometimes the addition of another shield or dust cover on the other side of the bearing, all bearings are pretty much this same setup.


Cheezeball Gouda Bearings
Most bearings come with steel balls (insert cojones joke here), but some tout "ceramic" balls.  These aren't your mom's pottery shaped into tiny little balls, rather "ceramic" ball bearings are actually made out of (Si3N4) ceramic silicon nitride...isn't ceramic a lot easier to reference?

An example of some ceramic bearings are the Cheezeball Gouda bearings, as pictured to the right. 

Ceramic balls are harder than steel balls and result in longer life, faster roll, and some pretty swanky self cleaning action.  They also resist oxidation so you don't have to worry about rust as with steel bearings.  The drawback to these little pieces of roller heaven are their pricetag...usually around $150 for a set of 16; however, the Cheezeball Goudas pictured here are only $119 and are some of the best bearings I've ever had the pleasure of skating on.  I've also heard the same from everyone I've sold them to so it's not just me.

Number of Balls

Most bearings come with 7 balls each, but some have 6 and some have 8.  The idea behind having fewer balls per bearings is that there is less surface area touching the inner and outer races making for a faster roll.  The idea behind having more balls is that your weight is distributed better.  Personally, I felt a difference when I went from el cheapo bearings to Qube 8-Ball bearings and I've talked to some other bigger skaters who felt the same way.  I haven't personally tried out any of the 6 ball bearings, such as the Bones Super Swiss 6 but the skaters who I've talked to who have tried them said they felt faster, but not everyone was able to justify the $115 price tag.

ABEC vs Skate Rated

I've had some people pick up a pack of bearings, ask what ABEC rating they were, then when I told them they weren't ABEC rated but rather were "Skate Rated," they put them down and wanted to purchase only ABEC rated bearings.  This is a tell tale sign of either a new skater, or someone who hasn't done their research.  ABEC, or Annular Bearing Engineers Committee rates dimensions, tolerances, geometry, and noise standards for bearings in an attempt to aid industrial bearing manufacturers and users in the production, comparison and selection of bearings for general applications.  Meaning this is a generic overview of how well a bearing works for a wide variety of uses.  ABEC ratings are noted as odd numbers from 1 to 9, the higher the number, the tighter the tolerances.

For instance, bearings used in machinery such as high speed routers would need to be precise when turning at 30,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) and would usually have an ABEC rating of a 7 or 9.  To put this in perspective, you would be traveling about 190 MPH if your wheels rotated at 30,000 RPM.  If you are going to do some downhill racing, then you may want to look at some ABEC 7 or 9 rated bearings, but for most Roller Derby activities Skate Rated bearings are what you want to look for.

When you are skating, you are moving and jumping around a lot, which causes bearings to be jostled, impacted, and pressured in ways that they wouldn't if they were just turning in a machine.  Skate Rated bearings take into account things like side loading, impact resistance, materials selection and grade, appropriateness of lubrication, ball retainer type, grade of ball, the clearance between the balls and the races, installation requirements, and the need for maintenance and cleaning. You can read more of the details of Skate Rated vs. ABEC at the Bones Bearing website.

Breaking In

When you first get a set of bearings and you take them out of the package, they aren't going to spin super fast and forever.  This is because most bearings come packed with lube that needs to be properly distributed and the components of the bearings need to loosen up so they work together better and faster.  I've seen some articles on using a treadmill or a Dremmel to break in bearings, but I really just recommend going out and skating on them for a practice to get them all nice and spinny (technical term).  If you need new bearings on bout day, get GRN MNSTR Moto Deluxe bearings, which come pre-spun and ready to go out of the package.  They also come in a cool metal container that prevents any of the lube from leaching into the packaging, unlike most other bearing packages.

If you take the bearings out of the package for the first time and there are any hitches or they won't roll at all, contact the manufacturer because this is likely a defect.  Now, I don't mean if they are slow, because as previously said, they need to be broken in to spin quickly.  Also, if you have a bearing that falls apart after only skating on it for a little while, this is a defect that the manufacturer will usually take care of.

Care and Maintenance

There are a few tools out there for pulling and installing bearings but the best I've found so far is the Bones Bearing Tool.  It is small enough to fit into any tool bag and works really well to pull bearings out of wheels and push them back without damaging the bearings.  I've seen too many people use the long end of the Reflex Utilitool to push out bearings and just ruin them because they put too much pressure on the dust covers.  DON'T DO THIS!  Please, I beg you!  If you don't have/can't afford a proper bearing tool and none of your friends will lend you theirs, you can use the axle of your skate to pop bearings out and push them back in, but this doesn't work well on alloy hubbed wheels.
Cleaning your bearings really isn't as hard as some people make it out to be.  There are a couple of really cool bearing cleaners such as those made by Bones or Bionic on the market that hold 8 bearings at a time and all you do is add solvent, soak for a few minutes, and shake to get the gunk and grime out of your precious little rollers.  You can also use something like a mason jar if nothing else, but be careful because you can break the glass if you are overzealous and shake instead of swirl!  Some plastic containers will melt depending on the solvent you use, so that's why I really just like to go with one of the special containers on the market, or a glass jar if in a pinch. 

UPDATE:  See A Vacation for Your Bearings for information on the new Qube Bearing Spa, which cleans all 16 bearings at once!

There are lots of different solvents that will clean your bearings well... gasoline, mineral spirits, rubbing alcohol, and of course there is bearing wash specifically formulated for cleaning bearings.

After you have soaked and swished the bearings around in the solvent, take the bearings and pat them dry on a towel.  I like to also use canned air or an air compressor to make sure they are really dry (watch your eyes!).  Then take some bearing lube and put one drop inside the bearing, spin the bearing, then let it set for a few minutes before spinning it again just to make sure there aren't any hitches.  If there are, then try to clean and lube the bearing again.  If it is still hitching, then (in my opinion) it's time to toss it or make it into some cool jewlery.

There is some controversy over bearing shields aka dust covers.  Some bearings have dust covers that are really easy to pop off with a small pin, but others are much more difficult and popping off the dust cover can cause it to warp.  If I have to take the dust covers off my bearings when I clean them, I just leave them off rather than take the chance they are warped and will cause friction when put back on the bearing.

Bearing Spacers and Washers

I recently discovered the joys of bearing spacers and washers.  Bearing spacers go in between the two bearings on the axle and make it so the bearings don't get side loaded.  You know how when you put your wheel on you have to undo the nut a little so your wheel will spin freely?  Well, bearing spacers make it so you don't have to back off the nut.  Bearing washers help this as well and when you use them together, it will really help make sure your bearings spin as freely as possible.  When using both of these items, the order from inside out is bearing washer, bearing, bearing spacer, bearing, bearing washer, axle nut.  Some trucks have a built in bearing washer where the inside of the wheel touches the truck, so the first bearing washer isn't needed.

When you are using bearing spacers and washers, your bearings are working how they were designed to work and it is pretty awesome.  Also, since you can tighten the axle nut more so than without, you lessen the chances of the nut backing off the axle and your wheel falling off, which is never a good thing.

So What Bearings Do I Choose?

So, now that you know more about bearings, how do you decide which ones to go with?  Well, Bones bearings have been around since the early 1980's and are tried and true in the skateboarding world... and while they are excellent bearings in their own right, they weren't created specifically for roller derby.  Cheezeballs, Bionic, Moto, and Qube bearings are relative newcomers on the scene, but their bearings were created specifically for derby and/or other types of quad skating, so they hold up to the rigors of our sport really well.

Your choice will depend heavily on how you plan to use and care for your bearings. If you plan to use the bearings outdoors or are not inclined to keep your bearings meticulously cleaned, you probably want to go with a less expensive bearing like the Qube Pink or Bones Reds. If you want to step up to a higher quality bearing, the Cheezeball Cheddar and Qube 8-Ball bearings are excellent choices without spending too much. If you want the best bearing money can buy and are willing to keep them clean (or have money burning a hole in your pocket), it might be worth looking at a Swiss or ceramic bearing such as the Cheezeball Gouda bearings mentioned earlier.

Now that we have gone over the basic components of bearings, how they work, what they are made from, and what you can do to extend their life, I think It's time for me to move on to my next post.  I will do more specific product reviews after my initial overview posts on skate components and protective gear.  Feel free to ask any questions concerning anything you have read here, or suggestions for future posts/product reviews, at Shocker Khan's G Spot and I will answer them ASAP! 

Until we skate again,

P.S. I'm working on getting some awesome items to give away, so stay tuned!!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Cushion for the Pushin

I've talked to many skaters who have been skating for years, and have never done more to their skates than change their wheels and maybe, just maybe, changed out their bearings. If you are one of these skaters, please grab one of your skates and have it in your hand while you are reading this article. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Dee da dum, dwiddley de, hacha hacha koo koo, ohh, ahh, chuck-a-chong..oh hey, you're back!

First, turn your skate so you are looking at it from a side view. Either side is fine. Now, the metal bar between the wheels is the truck (or axle), and if your skates are put together correctly you should have two trucks per skate. One keeps the front wheels rolling and the other keeps the rear wheels holding onto the track. There are huge bolts (kingpins) that keeps the wheels and trucks attached to the plate and if you look directly above and below the truck along the kingpin you should see colored rubbery looking things. These are your cushions.   Here is a picture for those of you visual learners...the red items are the cushions...

Cushions are part of the shock system (tee hee, shock) of your skates and can make your skates more responsive to how your feet, knees, and even hips move while skating...but theycan work against you if you have bad cushions or the wrong squishiness for your skating ability and body type. Cushions are made of urethane or rubber, which helps to make your ride smoother when going over bumps and also retains power when loaded (pressed down) to reliably and predictably release energy when you need it for those powerful jukes. When cushions go bad, this smoothness goes away and they no longer load like they should. Since cushions go bad gradually, it can be difficult to notice when it is time to change them. The rule of thumb is to replace cushions at least once a year.

Now, what's up with all the different colors? Each manufacturer, such as Sure-Grip, Riedell, and Crazy Skates to name a few, make their own cushions and have their own color system. The different colors represent different hardnesses, or "squishiness" for a more technical term. Normally, new skaters want to start off with medium to hard cushions until they learn to be more stable on their skates. Lighter skaters will normally want softer cushions compared to a heavier skater since the lighter skater doesn't have the weight to press down and load a hard cushion. As a skater evolves into being more comfortable on their skates, they usually want to switch to a softer cushion to be more maneuverable. However, it really is up to the skater what they like to skate on so try out different hardnesses and see what you like. Last bit of info on don't have to have all 8 cushions the same hardness so play around to see what works for you.

The last component of cushions is the shape. All cushions are round when you look straight down on them, but from the side you see cushions that are straight up and down and others that are conical shaped. The straight ones are standard cushions and provide more stability. The conical shaped cushions create more range of motion while skating and you are able to lean further before the cushion starts pushing back. Most skates come with 8 standard cushions, but many skaters are changing this to 4 standard on the top (or part closest to your boot) and 4 conical cushions on the bottom (or part closest to the track). Conical cushions should "point" away from the truck, so if they on the top (which I've rarely seen but is an option), the small part should be closest to the boot and if they are on the bottom the small part should be closest to the track. Conical cushions require a conical cushion cup (the metal part that holds the cushion in place) so if you are switching from standard to conical, you will need to purchase conical cushion cups to replace the standard ones you are currently using.

I bet you never thought there was so much to know about these little colored pieces of chewiness!

Until we skate again, Shocker Khan