by Mel @troubleon8wheels
We've had a lot of chats with customers recently about exciting skate builds and thought a little blog would help you. Due to the many, many variations in all of the different components that make a pair of roller skates, as well as differences in price point, the type of roller skating you want to do, shape and bodyweight of the skater, and the space being used for roller skating, we are simply not able to offer a one-size-fits-all answer to "Which roller skates should I buy?"
We will provide you with website links, blog posts, articles and YouTube videos as well as our skate stories to help you make as informed a decision as possible, but the best thing to actually do is skate. Get those wheely shoes on your feet and start building up your own experience.
Once you have celebrated your skate-anniversary, you will have a much better idea of the type of roller skating you enjoy, and can start really tailoring your set up to support this.
Dare I say it?
Spending money on expensive equipment or upgrades is an absolute luxury. Roller skating itself is a luxury, (although we are doing our best to make it as accessible as possible, we have more work to do!), and many of us make the mistake of thinking that better equipment will make roller skating easier. This is true to a certain point. If you are using poor quality roller skates, then an upgrade to better quality skates will make a noticeable difference. However, if you have started on a quality pair of roller skates, upgrading parts of the skates will make less of a difference, particularly if you have been skating less than a year. Save your money!
One roller skate is made up of a boot, a plate, toe stop and wheels.
Let's look at each of the parts.
The boot can be made from suede, leather, vinyl or canvas fabric, including vegan-suitable leathers. The type of material you select will affect how long the boot will take to break in and mould to your foot. Some boots can be heat moulded to your feet for extra finesse!
When you pay more for a boot, you can expect more support to your foot or ankle, and better quality materials used. You will also usually pay more for a custom colour (where you choose the colour of the boot because you would like something different to the standard colour). A high quality boot should last for many years if properly cared for.
Boots are made in different width fittings, which affects the size of boot you may need. It is worth trying on a boot if at all possible, so you can tell exactly how it fits on your feet. If that is not possible, check the size guides offered. We find that measuring your feet (both of them) in centimetres offers the best guidance.
Most complete roller skates (where all the components are already assembled) offer a medium width fitting boot, although some offer a wider than standard fit. We have found the Chaya Love is Love skates, Kismet and Moonlight roller skates offer more room in the toe area of the roller skate.
Riedell 135 suede boot, Moxi Lolly and Moxi Jack boot, Bont Parkstar, Antik AR2 and WIFA suede and deluxe boots. We can also get the Riedell 120, 336 and 3200 boots. You can also have your own brand new shoe or boot turned into roller skates.
Plates are usually made from nylon fibreglass, or a metal, such as steel, aluminium, magnesium or titanium.
Lighter metals offer a very strong, plate, but are usually more expensive.
The plate is comprised of the main plate, which is bolted to the sole of the boot. Two kingpins stick out from the plate, which are angled differently. Along the kingpin are retainer caps, cushions (sometimes called bushings), the trucks, another cushion and retainer cap, and the kingpin nut to hold everything together.
10 degree kingpins offer the most stability, but that doesn't mean that plates with 10 degree angles are just for those starting out! Plenty of roller skaters use 10 degree kingpins, as these offer lots of stability. They place the skater over the kingpin and the cushions.
As you increase the kingpin angle, the responsiveness of the plate increases - you lean into the edge of the plate and you can feel the ground pushing back. Plate responsiveness is a pretty tricky thing to try and describe!
At the other end of the spectrum are plates with a 45 degree kingpin angle. They place the skater over the pivot pin. We recommend you start out with a 10 degree kingpin angle and change your set-up as you find your path through the world of roller skating.
Short mount vs standard mount.
A short (one size shorter) mount is often used by roller derby players and speed skaters, when the plate is mounted far forwards, to support explosive sprinting. A short mount is also favoured by roller dancers, who like to have slightly more agility, due to having a shorter distance between the wheels. A short mount is less stable, as the heel wheels are further under the skater's heel, so they can fall off the back of the boot more easily. For this reason, it is not recommended for absolute beginners, who find staying on their wheels challenging enough!
A standard mount offers more stability, and slightly less agility, and is favoured by skate park skaters. It is absolutely possible to be very agile on a standard mount.
If you are not sure, you probably need to do more skating.
As part of general skate maintenance, it's a good idea to check the cushions for wear, as a split cushion means no skating! Cushions allow the skater to move according to the amount of pressure. They are relatively cheap to change, but do your best to get like-for-like cushions, as they need to be the same shape and size to ensure the truck is at the correct angle. Softer cushions allow skaters more movement, although you may want a mix of soft, regular and hard cushions.
Thrust, Sunlite, Powerdyne Fuse, Powerdyne Neo, Powerdyne Pro, Powerdyne Arius, Pilot Falcon
I've already written blog posts about wheels. Here is a general post about wheels, and you'll also find individual reviews about wheels on our blog (search for wheels).
In the simplest terms, wheel hardness is measured on a shore hardness scale, and the unit of measurement is durometer, noted as A, following a number. Generally speaking, softer wheels are more comfortable to use outside on uneven ground, and harder wheels have less friction, so one push will carry you further. This enormously over-simplifies all the different wheel types though, as it is important to consider the size and shape of the wheel as well as all the other conditions.
Generally, we consider:
Soft wheels: 74A - 84A
Medium wheels: 85A - 94A
Hard wheels: 95A - 103A
It is also a myth that soft wheels (sometimes referred to as outdoor wheels) cannot be used indoors. Almost any wheel can be used anywhere, just care needs to be taken with hard wheels, as some are intended to be used on very specific surfaces.
Skating on harder wheels offers a very different experience to soft wheels, and we recommend you move up the durometer scale gradually for the most pleasant experience!
Popular wheels include the Radar Energy (78A) wheels. and the harder Moxi Fundae wheels are great all rounder wheels.
If you buy a good quality pair of skates as your first roller skates, you don't really need to change anything on them (at least, not straight away!)
Wheels are fitted with two bearings which allow it to spin on the axle. The vast majority of axles are 8mm standard, but a few manufacturers use 7mm axles.
Bearings comprise of tiny ball bearings sandwiched inside a casing (called a shield). These sit around the axle of the truck, within the wheel and allow the wheel to spin. The higher quality of components used, the less friction within the bearing, allowing for a faster, smoother spin and therefore skate experience. Bearing prices range from a few pounds to well over £100, so can be quite an investment.
Sometimes the shield can be made of rubber, sometimes it is metal. Cheaper bearings are often contained within sealed units, making it impossible to clean them. Once they stop spinning, they need to be replaced. We prefer bearings that have a removable shield, to allow for maintenance.
Our favourite bearings are the Better Bearings Lickety Splits, which give you a great amount of roll for the price and they also donate 5% of each sale to support UN Women. Better Bearings are made with colourful, removable shields too. Yay, less waste!
What is the ABEC rating?
It's easy to find this really confusing - you've just managed to wade through all the information about wheels and understood the durometer rating, only to be faced with more decisions? It would be easy to assume that a higher rated ABEC bearing would provide a superior quality, right? This is not always true, as the ABEC rating was developed to measure the precision for machinery requiring bearings, rotating at thousands of rpm. As a roller skater, you would be skating at 70 miles per hour (possible exaggeration) to require bearings at the highest possible ABEC rating! Instead, companies like Bones, have developed their own rating system. We select bearings that are made of good quality, long lasting components, rather than just looking at the ABEC rating.
Higher quality bearings do improve a skaters experience though, and we suggest you put good quality bearings in wheels that have a more specific purpose, to allow them to reach their full potential.
Lots of other bearings are available too, including popular bones Reds, Rollerbones and more.
Can you see why we struggle to answer the question for you? There are simply too many variables in each part of the roller skate for us to choose the components that will best serve you. We know that everyone is different and that while some products are really popular, they still don't suit everyone.
We have curated the components into our own roller skate collection of RGG customs. These are all unique roller skate builds, that we are really proud to have created.
Before embarking on a huge upgrade, we think the most important thing you need to know is... YOUR STYLE.