Gear Guy

Q:

What Are the Best Recreational Speed Skates?

I’m no Apolo Ohno, but I have been curious about speed skating ever since I saw people doing it on a local river last winter. I have never seen speed skating equipment in stores. Do the skates cost an arm and a leg?

What Are the Best Recreational Speed Skates?
(Jan van de Erve/Flickr)
A:

Speed skates for everyday recreation are surprisingly reasonable, but they are only sold in specialty stores. The recreational versions are significantly toned-down from the $1,500 Olympic-grade clap skate designs. They do have the same seriously long blades, but the blades are attached to the heel like normal skates and the price typically runs between $150 and $300.

Speed skates are a world away from hockey skates, the default option at most local sporting goods stores, at least for men. The problem is that hockey skates are made for quick turns and short sprints in a game. But what if you want to glide at high speed on a frozen lake or river? What if you’re in the mood for a fun cardio workout in the winter air, with friends, on thick, glassy frozen water?

Your best option may be some recreational speed skates. The recreational side of the sport is little-known in the United States, but interest is growing. Speed skate blades are often around 20 inches, compared with typical adult skate blades of around 12 inches. Because the carbon-steel blades are longer and shaped differently, the skates go much farther and faster than typical short-bladed models given the same push. They also handle bumpy and/or snowy ice a lot better than the conventional ones do.

If you try these skates out in public, there are bound to be pesky questions from lookieloos. Just tell ‘em you’re training for the Elfstedentocht. (That’s the 120-mile race in Holland in which athletes careen through waterways at breakneck speeds of up to 20mph.) Or tell them you’re waiting for your kevlar suit to arrive in the mail (an outfit that promises to protect certain “specific areas” from carbon-steel stab wounds). Or just skate away in a cloud of shavings. After the jump, we’ll outline affordable skate options to get in touch with your inner Ohno.

Zandstra Long Track
Roces Speed Racer
Lundhags Cruise Nordic

Speed Skates: Zandstra Long Track

speed skating gear guy Zandstra
Zandstra Long Track (Courtesy of Zandstra)

Of the two different kinds of speed skates, short and long track, the latter type make for better outdoor cruisers because they handle bumpy ice. Zandstra’s Long Track model, also called the “Comfort” series in the Dutch company’s catalog, are perfect for outdoor recreational use. The blades have a curved tip for rough ice on lake runs and high-carbon spring steel with a relatively low Rockwell hardness number of 58 (which means the blades aren’t as hard as other models, and thus more forgiving on wild ice). Designers have added comfortable appointments, such as a thick padded liner inside the rigid shell. Overall, a little cushy for competitive athletes, but perfect for cold-weather speed demons. $169; imported to the U.S. by Nordic Skater.

Speed Skates: Roces Speed Racer

speed skating gear guy Roces Sp
Roces Speed Racer (Courtesy of Roces)

The Italian-made Roces Speed Racer is the Fiat roadster of the speed skate—not really for racing, but more suited to fast fun. If your idea of a good time is flying along a glassy lake at 18mph, grab these instead of hockey or figure skates. They have all the hallmarks of competitive models—long blades, a fast grind to the steel—with the comforts of a typical skate, such as molded, insulated liners and a removable foot bed. Underfoot is professional race blade in carbon steel with a curved tip to handle rough outdoor ice. They also look cool, but your friends with big-box-store skates won’t notice. By the time they get on the ice, you’ll be a speck on the other side of the lake. Around $200; available from various U.S. retailers online.

Speed Skates: Lundhags Cruise Nordic Skates

speed skating Lundhags Cruise Nordic Skates Gear Guy
Lundhags Cruise Nordic Skates (Courtesy of Lundhags)

Do you skate ski? Then you already own half the equipment necessary. The Lundhags Cruise speed skating blades mount directly to many types of common ski boots. They are technically Nordic skates, not speed skates, but they share some of the same properties of their close cousin—they are stable, handle bumps well, and absolutely fly on outdoor ice. The blade is made from Swedish knife steel, and can easily plow through up to five inches of snow on top of the ice. $100 for blades only; bindings extra.

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