by Mel @troubleon8wheels
After a couple of months of testing these wheels, I'm finally ready to share my opinion.
*disclaimer* My opinion is not influenced by anyone, but my roller skate journey will differ from your own. Please appreciate that my background in roller skating as well as my skate preferences, both in kit and style, all influence how I skate. I am not sponsored to write reviews, and I do not write reviews to sell products! All products tested have been purchased by Roller Girl Gang to test. I was able to test the Grindstone wheels in advance of stocking them (thankfully, as this hasn't always been the case during the pandemic.)
What do you get?
In one pack of wheels, you get four wheels and a sticker. The wheels have a marbled effect, where two different colours of urethane have been swirled together. Each wheel is unique, but they are instantly recognisable and when I was using them plenty of people recognised them as Grindstone wheels. Chelsea is a powerhouse and has built a freakin' cool brand!
The wheels are unprinted, which doesn't bother me as the vinyl print tends to rub off after a while anyway. There is a ridiculously badass Grindstone sticker included with the wheels. The whole vibe of the wheels, from description to packaging and aesthetic is 90s grunge, chopper-riding cool. The cool without trying kind of cool, because you actually just wear vintage, or remember the 90s first-hand. I feel this cool just putting these wheels on my skates, and hope they will channel my inner chilled skater. I know there aren't magic wheels, but also secretly hope these are slightly magical.
The wheels are slightly curved on the outer edge and flat on the inner edge. They measure 34mm wide, including the curve, although the contact surface of the wheel is slightly less. Wheel diameter is 57mm.
I'm sure you've read the blurb from Grindstone, but here it is:
"92A shore hardness. 57mm height. 34mm diameter.
not too hard for the streets, not to soft/sticky for parks + ramps this wheel does it all! cowgirl tested on crunchy Texas roads, cement skateparks, paved trails wooden ramps, ditches & dirty DIY spots made out of who knows what. SMOKESHOW wheels come in four color options: bb pink, turquoise tejas, electric lime & ash cloud. now match it to your favorite set up & leave 'em in the dust ya freakin' smokeshow!"
Why would you want a harder wheel?
In a nutshell, to go faster. A harder wheel has less grip, and therefore less friction. One push will send you further than a softer wheel. You will be able to go faster or higher with the same amount of energy. Harder wheels are recommended for skaters who have learned how to fall safely. You won't have time to think about your body position as you fall, so you need to bend your knees automatically.
How do they feel?
I like a 92A wheel (I started on 92A Roll Line wheels when I played Roller Derby, and loved them - I still have these wheels). It is very hard to be open-minded about new things. Part of you desperately wants to love something that is so cool, but at the same time, if it doesn't feel good straight away, maybe you're like me and just take a while to get used to new kit?
I haven't skated on wheels harder than 85A for most of the pandemic. There have been short forays of testing Von Merlin 99A wheels and then getting out a bunch of other hard wheels at a Skate and Shop night (Moxi Trick Wheels, CIB Park wheels, Sure Grip Velvets and then Fo-Mac wheels just for giggles), but otherwise I have been mostly outdoor skating on softer wheels. I find that softer wheels, even on smooth surfaces, are more forgiving on my joints, so I can actually skate more. The downside is they are a little stickier or slower, but I can work with that! I'm not here to be the best or win prizes, just here to have a nice time on my set of eight.
To keep these 92As on to test was really challenging, but it was necessary, as I know how long it takes me to get used to new equipment. I'm constantly surprised by people who use new equipment, and feedback straight away about how amazing their skating is now, as it really does take me quite a while to get used to new things - from different plate length, different kingpin angle, to heel height, to harder wheels (I think softer wheels is the exception), to different cushions, to wide trucks, to boot shape or material - I know and expect my skating to be affected. The re-learning period is frustrating if you choose to view it this way. Instead, I tell myself that it makes me a better skater in the long run. Having muscle memory to deal with various equipment changes will support my journey and the things I can't do yet.
The testing phase
I used the Smokeshows in online roller dance classes, and actually like the way that you don't slip out when you push into edges. They roll for a bit longer (less friction) but still have that grip. This was consistent with my memory of using wheels of this hardness. The small size made me feel connected with the ground, so balancing on heels or toes was a little less scary (heel blocking still scares me). Controlling a wheel this size in a small space was nice. The flat edge on the back gives them a nod towards a dance wheel, which is flat on both front and back.
I danced in the Smokeshows for our International Women's Day Dance - you can still find the video on IGTV if you're interested.
I have had a tiny skate at the Corn Exchange on the wooden floor - all in the name of research of course. They felt similar as on the concrete - smooth and a little whooshy, but enough wheel was touching the floor so I could try out toe movements without thinking I would drop off the sides of the wheel. I'm still working on movements like dips, but I find a wheel with a flat centre is really helpful for roller dance.
Smooth carpark tarmac
Harder wheels do not contain the high rebound urethane that softer wheels do, so they can and do cause you to trip over the smallest objects. In my opinion, you need to be confident about lifting your feet as you skate and also need to have the knee bend reflex as an automatic response to tripping before using wheels above 90A outside on all but the very smoothest of surfaces. With harder wheels, you need to be more certain of all movements, particularly stopping, as you need to press harder to stop!
Not all wheels are designed for all surfaces, and particularly with indoor wheels, you do get varying quality of urethane. Some wheels are only made for wooden floors and should not be used on other surfaces - I have t-stopped a flat spot in a wheel because I thought I knew better!
The Smokeshows say they are designed for streets though, so I figured concrete and tarmac surfaces should be fine. I skated fast, t-stopped hard and the wheel surface still looks smooth. Some wheels that have cheaper urethane, have a grated appearance if they're used on the wrong surface.
Concrete skate park
If you know me at all, you'll know that the skate park is well outside of my comfort zone. I tend to freeze in a busy skate park, and despite telling myself that everything is fine, and I'm NOT in anyone's way, I give way to people far too readily. Actually taking myself to a skate park is a big achievement for me! The happy medium for me is to skate in an empty skate park - I actually feel free to flow and move in the space without worrying that I'll be about to collide with someone. I also have cheesy tunes on and either sing to myself or wait for the chorus before starting a run. For me this is better than a countdown, but skating with headphones in a busy skate park is a terrible idea!
So, enough about my hang ups, how did the wheels perform?
Yes, they're lovely! The harder the wheel, the noisier it is. I did take my headphones out for long enough to appreciate the gentle whoosh of the wheels as I was pumping back and forth. Harder wheels keep rolling for longer with the same amount of effort as there is less friction, so I got higher when I was pumping with less effort than a soft wheel, meaning I could actually skate for around 45 seconds at a time without feeling like my legs were going to fall off!
I noticed that t-stops resulted in a fairly satisfying wheel squeak (the mark of a harder wheel) in the skate park. If you've never heard this before it can be a pretty aggressive sound, but I'm just warning you that it may happen. Screechy wheels are also an indicator of your technique. In the old roller derby days, having hard enough wheels to powerslide with a screechy stop was the ultimate goal!
The Yorkshire Streets
I did not enjoy the flagstones, cobbles, loose paving slabs and other terrain of Leeds City Centre, in the Grindstone smokeshows, although I'm very familiar with the streets in Leeds. My knees ached and going over textured pavement did at times make my eyes vibrate if I kept my feet down. (Thanks to our the My Roller Skate Journey subscription box group for coining the term 'vibro eyes'. We are working on a scale of how comfortable/uncomfortable you are on various terrain types to help in the grading of it, as this month's theme and patch is 'Trail Skating.)' I haven't tested the Smokeshows on trails around Yorkshire, and the idea really doesn't appeal!
Skating in the rain
Never recommended, but recently I've had no choice. With the facility at Bodington Fields booked and paid for, I thought I may as well try out skating in the rain, otherwise I potentially will have to cancel and refund sessions due to poor weather. (I would do this if I felt the track was unsafe.) The reason skating in the rain is not recommended is because your bearings will have the bearing oil washed out by dirt and water, and if you do not dry them and then replace this, the bearings will 'seize' in place and stop turning. Or they will turn a little and then lock up. If you are skating, and one of your bearings suddenly locks up, you can imagine this will not end well! If you do find yourself skating in the rain, just use kitchen roll to dry your skates and plates as thoroughly as you can. If you have a skate tool and can pop the wheels and bearings out even better. You can also re-grease the bearings with a little bearing oil, or use sewing machine oil if you can't get hold of any bearing oil. The Better Bearing Clean Up packs contain bearing oil as well as bearing cleaner, and spare axle nuts. Do not use WD40 as a lubricant as it is too light, and evaporates, resulting in drier bearings.
I used the Grindstone wheels at Bodington Fields track, as I wanted to make sure I had checked the track wasn't slippery for skaters with harder wheels. The tarmac here is specialised and not slippery, so I feel confident that while skating in rain isn't what you may have imagined when you embarked on a roller skating journey, at least it is safe.
Comparison to other wheels
Moxi fundae vs Grindstone
First of all, I don't like this 'versus' idea. It makes it seem that one wheel will be superior to the other in some way, that one will be a winner. These wheels are markedly different and I don't really think it is a one or the other option. Clearly if you are choosing between them due to financial reasons, then it will be one of the other, but actually they feel different. I trust both brands. Moxi rarely put a skate wrong, (there was just one rushed decision, but I'll put that down to pandemic craziness,) and everything that they release I love. The boots are lush, vibrant colours, the accessories are the same. More than the aesthetic though, is they are functional. They work as designed, as their products are tested by a team of great skaters and refined before released to the wider world. Grindstone products are similar, just it's currently one woman at the early stages of building her business. By focussing on one product (the heartstopper), taking feedback, refining and improving the product over time has given me trust in the brand, although it is much newer than Moxi. (Early Grindstone heartstoppers had a toe stop stem that wasn't quite thick enough and the heart would slip around despite tightening this as much as was humanly possible. In fact, it's why I now have an adjustable wrench, as that crab tool just jabs your hand!). Since then, the toe stop stems have been changed and this problem, eliminated.
Smokeshow and Fundae wheels in packaging. Close up photos of Smokeshows and Fundaes.
The Moxi Fundae wheel in comparison to the Grindstone wheel feels a little softer, more rubbery, but that makes it more comfortable skating around the streets of Leeds. The shape is also different, as it is curved on both the front and back of the wheel, more like a skateboard wheel, and just feels more 'flowy'. I'm currently working on toe-toe spins and actually found them a bit easier in the Grindstone wheels, as they have a wider flat surface than the Fundaes. Different wheels for different purposes.
I'm not sure what other wheels you'd compare to the Grindstone wheels. The most likely is the Fundae as the marble swirl is similar and the size, but that is where the similarity ends.
In conclusion, I like these wheels. I look forward to trying them out at our dance classes next week, and then at a rink.
If you've never skated on an indoor wheel, you may find these too hard and slippery at first, you may prefer an 85A wheel, like the Sonar Zen wheels, or Luminous wheels (if you can get some!) If you have experience of a hybrid wheel already, then you may enjoy these as the next step.
We have a set of Grindstone Smokeshow wheels in our wheel library to be tested at Skate and Shop nights (Thursdays 6pm - 8pm)
Grindstone wheels are sold in packs of 4 at £40 per pack. You will need 2 packs for a full set of wheels.
Do you have the Smokeshow wheels? What do you think?
P.S. I was testing the Wildbones sliders this week too, so there will be some familiar looking photos again soon!