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Anatomy of the Skate

This page is intended to give you some information on the different parts of the skate and other optional equipment.

Fastening systems keep the skate on your foot and vary widely, but the most commonly used are clips.  Some manufacturers still produce laces, which were once the only way to fasten skates, and they are still preferred by some skaters because they offer a closer, more evenly spread fit and more precise control.  Aggressive, hockey, and racing skaters need laces or something similar to give them this additional control.

However, today's clip systems are very sophisticated and can provide enough adjustment for a precise fit. Choose a recreational skate with a multi-clip buckle fastening system for quick, easy fastening.  Beware of awkward or difficult fasteners that need several attempts to reach the correct position.  Adjustment should be smooth and precise and involve the minimum fuss.

The structure that supports the wheels is the frame, and it is usually made from glass-reinforced nylon or polycarbonate.  The stiffer and lighter the frame, the better the performance.  Recreational skate wheel frames cannot usually be upgraded or replaced.  It is also good to check to see if the frame is rockerable.  Specialist in-line skaters pay particular attention to the frame, because it affects both control and performance.  Also, the better quality frames are more durable. Recreational skaters should not be unduly concerned about the frame.

The footbed is perhaps the most overlooked, yet one of the most important features of the skates -- especially as regards comfort.  Most skates have a standard footbed that provides the foot with adequate support, but footbeds that are made from nothing more than stiff cardboard and that have no soft material under the foot should be avoided.  The best type of footbed are custom molded or employ some kind of biomechanical technology in their design.  They are also usually made by independent companies that specialize in the manufacture of footbeds.

The wheels and bearings have the greatest influence on the performance of a skate.  Learn the internationally recognized grading classifications, and you will be armed with the information you need to reach the right decision when you are choosing a skate. 

Most new skates are sold with the manufacturer's recommended wheel and bearing package, and in most cases they represent about half the value of the skates.  Do not be talked into buying a cheap pair of skates that you think can be upgraded later on - it will only cost more in the long run.

Most wheels perform well, but you should avoid cheap, soft wheels that will not roll properly.  Wheels are made from urethane plastic and they range widely in size, hardness, hub type, and profile.  Wheel hardness is measured by durometer.  Durometers range from 74A to 1 OOA.  The higher the number, the harder the compound.  The most popular is 78A, which is hard enough to roll, not too flexible, but soft enough to be comfortable on marginal surfaces.

Wheel size is measured across the diameter in millimeters.  The most popular sizes are between 70 and 78 millimeters.  They offer all-round ability and make it easier to cross uneven surfaces smoothly.  The larger the wheel, the faster you will be able to roll, especially in a straight line.  However, larger wheels give slower acceleration and less scope for turning.  Smaller wheels turn more efficiently and allow you to maneuver in tight situations.  The smaller wheels are most often used for hockey and aggressive skating.

The hub or core of the wheel adds stiffness and rigidity.  Racing wheels have large hubs and often have spokes to keep down the weight and possibly help to keep the bearings cool.  Hubs get smaller in relation to the size of the wheel to the point at which aggressive wheels do not need to have them.

Like wheels, bearings vary widely.  But when you are choosing a skate, remember that good bearings spin freely and silently.  Poor bearings are easily detectable.  The wheels will spin noisily and roll with unnecessary drag.  They are not very long lasting.  Try to avoid them.

Knowing the specifications of the bearings will help you to predict how they will perform.  The internationally recognized standard is ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineering Council), and it is your guarantee that the bearing meets a minimum standard of precision.  Bearings range from low performance, non-ABEC (beginning with Standard, which are the slowest and poorest quality), right through to the fastest bearings, ABEC 5, and even ABEC Pro 5 for elite racing.  

When you are buying skates, ask the seller about the bearing specifications.  That way, you will get some idea of whether you are going to be able to Glide properly.  Look for Precision or ABEC 1 at the very least for enjoyable learning.

More wheels and bearings info

Before and after you go skating, get into the habit of checking your skates, making sure that the wheels are secured and rolling freely. Check that the brake still has plenty of rubber and hasn't exceeded its wear limit.  Although it is unlikely that your skates will be in a dangerous condition, giving them a safety and performance check is always worthwhile.

After checking the brake, take a look at the wheels.  They will wear more on the inner edges and more rapidly toward the back, where most of your weight will be borne.  It is vital that the wheels wear as evenly as possible so that they perform efficiently and safely.  Wheels that wear evenly will also last at least three times as long, saving you considerable expense. To achieve an even wear pattern, you need to rotate the wheels.

Rotating wheels means moving their positions - that is, turning them around so that the inner edges are on the outside, as well as moving them from front to back and vice versa.  You might have to rotate your wheels every time you go out or only once a month, depending on the surfaces you skate on, and how often and far you go.  Normally, you will have to rotate your wheels after about 20 miles of moderate skating, but this is only a guideline - it is up to you to check them regularly.

Use a skate tool or an Allen wrench to unscrew the wheel axles, and withdraw them from the frame to release the wheels, putting the wheel axles and locating bolts or caps in a safe place. There is a set sequence for rotating wheels, and is as follows: swap wheel I with 3, and 2 with 4, as well as flipping them through 180 degrees.  Because wheel wear is greatest toward the back, don't just inspect the front wheel for side wear, look at all the wheels -- especially # 4 of your lead skate, which is prone to the greatest wear.  Consider the overall picture of how your wheels wear.  Wheel wear says a lot about how you skate - where your weight is positioned and how aggressively or cautiously you maneuver.

Low-specification wheels, and even good quality-wheels that are exposed to high impacts from jumping or constant bumping, can crack and break.  So make sure you inspect them for fractures, and replace them if necessary.

After the wheels, the other components of your skates that need constant attention are the bearings.  These do not like sand, water, mud, or grit, and exposure to any of these can clog the bearings, reducing their ability to spin.  If they are constantly exposed to these substances, the bearings will seize up and have to be replaced.  Water can be particularly deceiving.  Always expect that corrosion will occur if you have skated in rain or through puddles.

There are two main types of bearings - serviceable and non-serviceable.  The better makes tend to be serviceable, allowing you to take them apart and lubricate them.  As soon as you notice any dragging or noise from your spinning wheels, it is likely that the bearings need cleaning and lubricating.  Regular bearing maintenance will make them last longer and give better performance.

When you have released the wheels, push out the cased bearings from the wheel and separate them from the spacer.  Do this either with the tool that is supplied with the skates or by pressing hard against the lip of the spacer of the wheel to force out the far bearing.  Use a finger or a tool to pop out the other bearings.  Each wheel has two bearing units (which look like metal donuts) with a spacer between them.

Use a very small flat-head screwdriver and carefully pry off one side of the casing shield, thereby exposing the tiny ball bearings on which so much depends.  Discard the shield.  Using a light oil or a special bearing lubricant, which will be available from your skate store, clean out all the dirt and grime from the casing and around the ball bearings.  The best way to do this is to work on one set of bearings at a time using an old toothbrush and a soft, clean cloth.  Remove all the accumulations of dirt, and flush all the components with oil until all traces of grit are completely eradicated.  When they are clean, put the ball bearings back into the casing and add a drop or two of oil - do not use too much - and spin the bearing to distribute it evenly.

Replace the bearings and spacers back in the wheels with the open side facing inward.  Put all the pieces back together again, remembering to rotate the wheels if necessary.  When you replace the bearings, take care not to over-tighten the axle pin, as this can easily dent the casing and ruin the ball bearings inside.

Now that the bearings are sealed on only one side, dust, water, and grime can find their way back in more easily, so regular cleaning is even more important.

By upgrading the wheels and bearings you will be able to obtain better performance from most skates.  Good skates will allow room for larger, better, or specialized performance wheels, while the bearings can be changed as you wish.  This means that you can invest less in a pair of skates to begin with, but have the assurance that you are not closing the door to better performance later.  However, if you expect to progress quickly and are, therefore, likely to want to make an early upgrade, it is probably worth investing in a better pair of skates in the first place.  This is particularly true when you consider that a new set of wheels and bearings can amount to the difference in cost between one pair of skates and another.  It is always a good idea to buy the best you can afford within your budget.

Skate Fit