Skates That Cruise the Learning Curve
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Outside magazine, March 1996
Skates That Cruise the Learning Curve
Quick, high-performance rides to take you from early T-stops to in-line confidence
Skates that keep up with you–that should be your watchword at the local in-line shop. That’s because whether you’re just rolling into the sport or can execute a respectable T-stop, so-called beginner skates inspire two realizations as you gain confidence and speed: The skates go from sturdy to clunky, and you go from contented to looking at more skate reviews. Then you’re back
The new performance skates, however, should prevent buyer’s remorse. Their handling and fast-clip capabilities far exceed those of their doddery brethren. Every part of the skate’s anatomy has been improved: Bigger wheels promise greater speed. A stiffer and sometimes longer frame (the structure that holds wheel to boot) is more responsive and better able to handle high
One thing hasn’t changed: how to shop. Bring your skating socks and give yourself plenty of time to try different models. Most performance skate boots have shells made of polyurethane or a similar plastic, buckle closures, and foam liners. What with the generous padding and the flex patterns engineered into these shells, any skater should be able to find a comfortable boot, but
The shop expert may also suggest that you abandon a plastic boot altogether for a more conforming fabric boot. K2 skates, as well as a few models from other manufacturers, do without the shell and multibuckle formula, instead using a combination of nylon mesh, synthetic fabric, leather, hook-and-loop fastening straps, plastic in the heel and footbed, and even laces for a more
The other major factor in skating ease and comfort is your stance–and your skates shouldn’t make you feel knock-kneed or bowlegged. Some models allow you to adjust the cuff angle–known as the canting–to help straighten a skate that leans too far to one side. Boots that extend higher up the leg are good for skaters who tend to stand more upright, but they make an aggressive
While boot fit is the key to skate comfort, the frame is the main determinant of skate behavior. Aluminum offers the stiffest and most responsive ride, while nylon and nylon blends are slightly more forgiving. But material is less important than length: The longer the wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) the more stable the skate will be at speed–and the less
Finally, bigger wheels have become better wheels, because greater diameters mean you can reach higher velocities. The smallest wheels I found on a performance skate were 76 millimeters–a noticeable upgrade from the old 72s–and many frames can accommodate bigger replacement wheels. Two of the skates in the review house five wheels; the additional wheel lets you go even
The eight performance skates reviewed here are divided along the fault line between the turny (short wheelbases) and the speedy (long wheelbases). Unless otherwise noted, they are available in distinct men’s and women’s models. Herewith, the finest vehicles available on urethane wheels.
Compared with most other similarly priced skates, the $150 California Pro TC is a leap up the performance ladder. The perforated-foam and mesh liner and the vents in the plastic shell do a reasonable job of cooling your foot, particularly when you’re working the 10.4-inch-wheelbase, nylon-frame skate from side to side up a steep grade. And its
For the money ($279), the plastic-boot Rollerblade Macroblade Maxxum is the best skate I tested: immediately comfortable, flexible enough for serious crouching, and a tremendous handler on those right-angle city-street turns. With the shortest wheelbase in this review (9.4 inches), the Macroblade Maxxum let me make Ingemar Stenmarklike slalom runs
Take away the doodads on the $299 Oxygen Kr 3.1–the metal band, reminiscent of the St. Louis Arch, running behind the ankle for better torsional rigidity, the small lever that lifts the front and rear wheels off the ground, giving the skate what’s known as rocker for handling that I found to be too quick–and you’ve still got a comfortable skate
At just over 11 inches from front axle to rear, the Bauer T8 ($330) deserves long-wheelbase status, but it earns shorty honors for its turning ability on the hills: If the Oxygen were a slalom ski, the Bauer would be a GS board. It has a low-cut, soft boot with a bit of rigid plastic around the buckle on the cuff and surrounding the heel and toe,
With the K2 Workout ($360) you’ll feel rock-steady at 25 miles per hour while passing cars on the shoulder–which is important, since it’s no snappy turner. But the 12.9-inch wheelbase isn’t all that’s exceptional about this skate. The soft boot, with its combination of a buckle, laces, and a hook-and-loop fastening strap that runs across the foot
If the K2 is a midcut slipper, the Roces Sydney ($399) is a high-speed combat boot. It has a stiff aluminum frame, three strong plastic buckles, and a tall, rigid plastic shell. Thanks to that hard construction, you feel everything–bad pavement, pebbles, ripples in the asphalt–but all of your energy is transmitted efficiently to the skate.
Rollerblade went down the path of a five-wheel performance skate years ago with the Racerblade, which was heavy, hot, and perhaps ahead of its time. The Fusion 10K ($399) is a worthy update, with a ventilated, lace-up, midcut boot, an aluminum frame with a 13-inch wheelbase, and five 80-millimeter wheels. The frame is laterally adjustable fore and
Andrew Tilin, a former senior editor of Outside, has been in-line skating for six years.
Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine