Buying Guide: Inline Skating — Insider Tips

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Buying Guide Inline Skating Insider TipsBuying Guide
A decade ago, most inline skaters were limited to products that were stocked locally. Thanks to new shipping options offered by Internet retailers, you no longer have to settle. Here are a few suggestions from inline skating experts on what you need to get rolling.

Money Saving Moves

  • Buy last year's models. Technology improves each year, but this year’s skates won't be that much different from the skates made next year. Certified skate instructor Liz Miller says you can typically get a 40-percent discount by buying last year's models.
  • Buy used. Some inline skate owners buy a $200 skate, fall three times and never want to do it again, says Alexander. Their loss is your gain. Find great deals on local classified sites like Craigslist, but make sure you try out the skates in person before buying.
  • Keep your bearings. "Bearings outlast the wheels, if kept clean," says Miller. If your wheels wear down, you can buy a new set and save $20 to $30 by keeping your old bearings.
  • Extend wheel life by rotating your wheels. It's the same philosophy behind rotating the wheels on your car. Use the skate tool included with your skates to remove and flip each wheel. Because each of the four wheels will wear differently, follow the pattern of switching the first and third wheels as well as the second and fourth wheels on each skate.

The Store
Find expertise at smaller stores. With the exception of coastal cities where inline skating is very popular, few parts of the country have shops that specifically sell inline skates. But that doesn't mean you're stuck with junky skates from a big-box retailer. Skateboard and surf shops that stock inline skates often offer the expert help you can't find at big stores, says skate coach Bryan Gallagher. He also recommends smaller sporting-goods stores, where the staff can usually offer some guidance.

Find more skates online. Free return shipping on inline skates has made it incredibly easy to try out skates you can’t find in your own backyard. Trish Alexander, the director of Skate Journeys, an inline skating school in the Seattle area, has two favorites — Inline Warehouse and Zappos. "Both sell skates at great prices and they have free shipping back if they don't fit," she says.

The Skate
Ditch the old skates. Those 20-year-old skates tucked in the attic? They should probably stay there. Gallagher recommends getting a pair made within at least the last five years. "Back in the day, you'd have a lot of tight areas, the skate would flop underneath you and the wheels didn't last as long or give you enough grip," says Gallagher. The greatest improvements have been in skate fit and the performance and durability of the liners, which now spring back to life after use and expand to fit your foot.

Choose a skate with more plastic. Many skates have gone for comfort (part-sneaker, part-plastic shell), but according to Gallagher, this causes a compromise to stability, which can be an issue if you're on the heavier side. To avoid wobbling and to improve your control, get a skate with plenty of hard plastic up around the calf. The more plastic, the better. "You really want to look for the stability. You want a side that's pretty solid," says Gallagher.

Don't be cheap. To get high-quality skates, "expect to spend no less than $170, and it's better to spend between $180 and $200," says Alexander. Don't pay attention to the inflated "pre-sale" price, but look at what you're actually paying.

Look for a movable wheel frame. "You're going to be much better off on a skate with a movable frame," Alexander says, which will let you adjust the skates to the unique way you stand. Natural differences in people's feet and standing positions can cause skates not to roll straight. To make the adjustment on a movable frame, all you have to do is put your feet together and roll forward. If the skates drop in or out immediately, you can adjust the frame to correct the problem.

Break in the liner. The liners on new skates may be stiff and rub your feet, making your ride less comfortable. Wearing them for short periods of time, Gallagher says, and taking them off before blisters form, will help during the break-in period.

The Fit
A combination of fit mechanisms helps keep skaters in control without creating pressure points, but the fit varies between manufacturers, so it's worth it to try on multiple pairs. The fit itself should be very snug, allowing you to stay in control of movements. Very snug doesn't mean uncomfortable: You should still be able to wiggle your toes, and there shouldn't be any pressure points.

Find the right fit. When standing with the skates on, your toes should just barely touch the end of the skate, but it shouldn't be so tight that you have to arch your foot, says Alexander. "Skates loosen up while you're wearing them, so the key is to buy them so your toes extend all the way to the end." Each brand fits people differently, so try on skates from at least the two major manufacturers, Rollerblade (hence the common, but incorrect, reference to all inline skating as “rollerblading”) and K2.

Tighten, tighten, tighten. Loose skates are hard-to-control skates. If you buy a size too big or don't tighten the latching mechanisms sufficiently, Alexander says you'll have a difficult time controlling skate movements, making it much more likely that you'll fall. Tighten each fit mechanism as much as possible without it being uncomfortable.

Prepare for the future. If you shed a large amount of weight over the course of a year, a once tight-fitting skate may become too loose. If this happens, you'll have to get new skates, but this is one extra purchase that's worth feeling good about.

Keep your foot locked in. Over the years, skate companies have ditched the three plastic buckles, Gallagher says, which created a lot of areas in-between that you couldn't adjust. "The best setup I've noticed is actually laces across the box of the foot, a Velcro or latching strap in front of the ankle and a buckle for the calf."

If the skate is loose, wear thicker socks. A thin or medium thickness sock is best when your skate fits, but if your skate is too loose, Miller says a thicker pair and an extra pair of insoles would be better.

Buy your socks first. If you wear a thick sock when you're shopping for skates, then switch to the recommended thinner socks during the first ride, your skates may fit too loose. Avoid the problem by getting your fitness socks before trying on skates.

In Line Skate Tip Modern inline skates combine a comfortable liner with a stiff plastic shell that holds your feet snug with a number of fitting mechanisms. Get the right fit with these simple tips.

A - For ankle support, tighten the top buckle as much as possible, so long as it doesn't hurt.

B - The Velcro strap should pull your heel flush to the back of the skate, keeping your foot from sliding forward.

C - Laces will keep your foot snug in the toe box, but they shouldn’t be so tight that you can’t wiggle your toes. Some high-end skates use thin wires with a ratcheting mechanism instead of laces.

D - Your toes should just barely be able to touch the end of the skate.

Wheels and Replacements
Read the numbers. Inline skate wheels will always advertise two numbers. The first number is the diameter, which ranges from 54 millimeters for aggressive trick skates to 110 millimeters for speed skates. The second number is the durometer, or the hardness, which range from a 74A (soft) to 88A (hard).

Find a wheel that lasts. Hard wheels have a longer lifespan, but offer less grip and a potentially rougher ride. Soft wheels, typically used indoors, have plenty of grip but will tear up quickly on outdoor surfaces like asphalt. Stick with a wheel with a durometer close to 80A.

Don't get talked into a big wheel. Wheels that are 90 millimeters or higher are fast, but they make it harder to turn and more difficult to brake. "Big wheels are like a sports car," says Gallagher. "It's nice to have power, but if you don't know how to control it, it can get out of hand quick."

Don't go smaller than a 78-millimeter wheel. Gallagher says, "I like to put most guys in an 80-millimeter wheel. It gives you a good smooth stride and can handle most of the basic terrain."

Buy replacement brake pads once you start to notice wear, or even right when you’re buying the skate. They're usually the first part that needs replacing.

Wear what you want. Any generic fitness gear will work for inline skating, says Alexander. "A lot of people wear jeans. You can wear whatever you want, as long as you feel comfortable."

Safety Gear
Get pads that attach over your clothes. Some pads, you strap onto your pants; others, you have to step into. If you have the choice, get the ones that strap on, which are more convenient, says Alexander. "Most people tend to forget to put them on before they put on the skate."

Invest in lessons. If you just dropped $250 on skates and pads, why not spend a little more to learn how to use them properly? Even skaters who have ridden for years might not use proper braking technique, says Gallagher.


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