Fine In-Line Skates
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Outside magazine, June 1994
Fine In-Line Skates
Roll with high quality, not just high technology
Buy right or buy twice–a lesson that in-line skaters have lots of opportunities to learn the hard way. Try to save some money on one of the many “economy” models out there and you’re likely to wind up with the foot-numbingly poor fit, flimsy boots and frames, and rattling bearings that can make the skating experience fall well short of fun. Skates worth owning will cost you,
The search for such skates will take you toward the top of a half-dozen manufacturers’ lines. But don’t be distracted by all the new braking devices, stabilizing rods, air bladders, fabric uppers, and swoopy, one-piece boot-frame combinations you’ll find there–sometimes the gewgaws are worth it, and sometimes they’re not. The most important characteristic of high-end skates is
Quality, however, can’t be gauged by price alone. There are some great skates to be had for as little as $200, and some only slightly greater skates that will run you $350. The only way to judge them is on the pavement, so when you go to the shop, take your time and your tube socks and skate on as many different models as you can, even if you have to rent them.
Most skate boots are made alike, with a molded polyurethane shell over a foam inner-boot, but they don’t all feel alike. The best will surprise you with their softness and pliability, whereas bad boots will hurt in any of a number of ways. They may be hard or boxy, pinch your toes or press down on your instep or rub against your ankle bone, or resist being laced or buckled up
If the boots are snug and comfortable, go on to consider their flexibility–there should be plenty front-to-back and none side-to-side. If your feet collapse to the inside or the outside, it very well could be because the boots aren’t rigid enough. Manufacturers that offer weaker boots have learned to disguise their shortcomings by making their frames laterally adjustable–if
Forward flex, something every skater wants plenty of, is easier to determine. The harder you skate, the lower you need to crouch–it’s a matter of aerodynamics and power–and if you can’t flex deeply at the ankles, you’ll force your toes downward when you bend your knees, grinding the front wheels into the pavement, sapping your efficiency, and inviting face-plants. Look for
As for wheels, think big. A diameter of 76 or 77 millimeters is pretty much standard on better skates, because they’re designed for better skaters, those who can handle the greater speeds that the big rollers achieve. In most cases, you also want wheels that aren’t too hard, and you usually get them. Hardness is indicated by a “durometer” rating, ranging from the midseventies
Now, consider wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear axles. The longer it is, the more stable the skate will be at high speeds. Any wheelbase over ten inches can be considered long, but don’t think in absolute terms: The length of the frame is partly a function of the size of your foot, so you’re better off comparing wheelbases from model to model.
If you want to explore the limits of wheelbase, and hence speed, try five-wheel racing skates–cautiously. The extra wheel makes it possible to reach speeds that can be dangerous on a crowded bike path, the long wheelbase (as long as 13.5 inches) decreases maneuverability, and the low-cut (and often soft) boots offer little support. Get the speed thing out of your
Without further ado, here are the nine skates that, for my money, are the cream of the in-line crop.
Bauer. The company’s flagship T8 ($280) is built for speed rather than support: It required a major lateral adjustment before I could keep my weight centered on it, something I didn’t have to do with other skates. Still, with that straightened out, you can fly on the T8, thanks to its low-cut boot, which closes with buckles and hook-and-loop
K2. The Power Extreme ($300), part of a new line of skates from the United States’s largest manufacturer of alpine skis, has breathed some fresh air into skate design. Seeking to combine the lateral support of a traditional skate with the comfort of a running shoe, K2’s engineers ditched the conventional polyurethane shell for a suede-and-mesh
Oxygen. Also from a line that’s new this year, the Kr 01 ($349) is, uh, an even bigger breath of fresh air. It features a rigid one-piece boot and frame that delivers a smooth ride. Unfortunately, the performance gets lost in gadgetry: Rather than enclose the back of the leg in plastic, the Kr 01 sports a horseshoe-shaped strip of aluminum that
Roces. The large floating tongue on the London ($335) has deceptively sharp edges, and I have the flesh wound to prove it. But thanks to the vibration-damping effect of its one-piece boot and frame, this skate offered the smoothest ride of any model I tested, with a snug two-buckle fit and ample forward flex. As good as the London is, however, I
Rollerblade.There are not, nor have there ever been, any skates more comfortable or supportive than those from Rollerblade, and the Aeroblade ABT ($339) sets the standard. Even when flexed hard, the plastic shell doesn’t distort or put pressure on the foot, and it provides plenty of lateral rigidity without the aid of gizmos. “ABT” stands for
Ultra-Wheels. Like the Roces London and the Oxygen Kr 01, the Ultra-Air ($220) has a rigid, one-piece boot-frame, but in this case I didn’t notice any real difference in the ride. This is a nice, straightforward skate: made in the United States (rare), with a three-buckle closure, good lateral rigidity with adequate forward flexibility–you know
Jim Harmon is an avid in-line skater who recently wrote for Outside about the everelusive technique of how to stop.