Buying Guide for Inline Skates
By Steve Kopitz
The inline skate buying guide from Inlineskates.com is here to answer common questions about inline skates while offering an education on the different skates available. We stock a lot of skates, and we mean A LOT, which makes this guide that much more important.
This guide will go over some of the basic features on skates as well as going into more detail on the various differences found on inline skates.
Click on a section below to jump ahead to that section:
The inline skate boot has grown leaps and bounds from the old stiff plastic skates of the past. Now inline skate boots are comfortable, yeah you read that right, COMFORTABLE! You no longer have to deal with your feet falling asleep due to poor fit and circulation and can skate for longer than 20 minutes without wanting to throw your skates into a ravine.
• Soft Shell: Most inline skates feature a soft shell boot which will give ample comfort while also being structurally sound for support and performance. Most all recreational and performance inline skates will offer a soft boot with a hard plastic or carbon cuff support. With the soft boot and supportive cuff, skaters get the comfort of a soft boot with the support needed for great performance.
• Hard Shell: There are still some hard shell style inline skates on the market. These skates are mostly the urban and aggressive variety as those skating disciplines require a more durable boot. Aggressive skates and urban skates need the extra protection due to the nature of the skating and the abuse the skates are going to take on a daily basis.
The liner of an inline skate is a very important piece of the skate. If you have an ill fitting liner you are going to have an ill fitting skate, and this may give you an ill temper while skating. The four most common types of inline skate liners are listed below:
• Standard – Constructed of foam materials and offers basic comfort and padding for your feet. Lack any special or customization features and will be great for beginners that are learning and will upgrade their skates once more confident.
• Auto-Fit – Typically utilize gels of pads that will contour automatically to your feet each time you wear your skates. Auto-fit liners provide extra support and more comfort than standard liners.
• Memory Fit – Similar to the gel/pad style of Auto-Fit liners. The difference exists with the liners ability to remember your foot pattern and contour to it. As time goes on, the gels and pads will continue to shape to your feet as you wear them.
• Heat Moldable – Liners are removed and heated (do not attempt at home, seek a skate shop professional). Once heated, the warm liners are placed on your feet and will contour to your foot as they cool and re-harden.
Cuffs on inline skates are where the support is produced. Without the stability of the cuffs, inline skates would offer the support of a $10 pair of slippers. OK, maybe that is a bit drastic but having a quality cuff is going to allow skaters to generate more power when pushing off while giving them ample support for long skating sessions. There are two main types of cuffs on skates; plastic or carbon.
• Plastic Cuff – A plastic cuff can be found on a lot of recreational inline skates and is not necessarily a sign of a poor skate. The plastic used on inline skate cuffs is very durable and responsive offering skaters a great feel of performance and support.
• Carbon Cuff – Carbon cuffs are a definite upgrade from plastic offering more support and response for hardcore skaters. Found on marathon and race inline skates, a carbon cuff is going to be very responsive and stiff making it great for pure performance.
The days of inline skates just having boring standard lacing systems is a thing of the past, now there are ratchets, buckles, Velcro, quick lace and Boa! Skaters are typically going to lean towards one type of closure or another based on personal preference.
• Standard Lacing – Originally the only form of a closure system, standard lacing systems are now frequently partnered with ratchet buckles and/or Velcro straps.
• Ratchet Buckles – At one time, this was a two- or three-buckle closure system that replaced lacing systems as the sole closure system on inline skates. Ratchet buckles often accompany the lacing system and can be found on skates with standard laces, quick laces or Boa closure systems.
• Velcro Straps - Velcro Straps, also known as power straps are used in tandem with standard lacing and ratchet buckle systems. They help to keep your heel positioned correctly in the heel cup of the skate.
• Quick Lace – Power Assisted (quick lace) closure systems are very convenient. They allow for easy-on, easy-off skating with a quick pull and are a great timesaver. The system consists of a thin but extremely durable cable that runs up the skate boot like a standard lace.
• Boa Lacing – Boa lacing is similar to quick lace systems but instead of a pull and tighten system, the Boa lace is fed through a dial. The dial on the top of the skate will easily tighten or loosen the inline skates with a simple turn of the knob.
Skate frames are typically constructed from plastic, aluminum, or carbon. When it comes to what constitutes a better frame, you will be looking for three things: weight, stiffness, and durability. Each of these characteristics is largely attributed to the type of material the frame is made of.
• Plastic Frames - Plastic frames are usually found on beginner level inline skates because they are less expensive to make, resulting in a lower priced skate. When compared to aluminum or carbon frames, plastic frames are the least durable and least stiff of the three materials. They also tend to be heavier, which increases the overall weight of the skate.
• Aluminum Frames - Aluminum, when compared to plastic frames, are lighter in weight and greater in stiffness. They do not torque under stress as plastic frames do, making them more efficient and also more durable. Aluminum frames are most commonly found on intermediate level inline skates, priced at levels slightly higher than those at the entry level.
• Carbon Frames - Carbon was introduced to inline skate frames as a way to further reinforce aluminum frames, reduce weight, and increase durability for advanced level skaters. Adding carbon to aluminum increases the stiffness of the aluminum, making it more durable.
A skate’s frame is where the power is generated when skating. Frame stiffness is an important aspect of your skate frame because it creates a more direct transfer of energy. When skating, you thrust your legs outward, creating energy to make your skates go. The energy from your legs travels through the boot of your skate, down to the frame, and ultimately to your wheels and the ground.
Like other elements of inline skating, wheels have seen their fair share of advancements over the years. Wheels that you find on modern inline skates are manufactured from polyurethane. Seldom will you find wheels made of any other material, unlike decades ago when inline skating began its emergence. Many skates manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s had plastic wheels, which were ineffective and cracked easily.
For a full run down on wheels please view our inline skate wheel buying guide.
Bearings are an essential part of an inline skate. Bearings determine the smoothness of your ride and also determine your ability to reach higher speeds .The idea behind an inline skate bearing is to reduce the friction that exists between a moving skate wheel and fixed, non-moving frame.
For more information about inline skate bearings, please view our inline skate bearings buying guide.
The brake can be a very, very important part of the inline skate, especially for beginner skaters. Most all inline skates will come with a brake although some specific models of skates will not come with brakes.
• Skates with Brakes: Brakes are found on nearly every recreational and fitness skate. Typically, the brake will come attached to the right skate, but is often interchangeable between skates. This is done so that left-foot dominant skaters can switch the brake to the left skate.
• No Brake: Although this may seem to be a bad idea for beginner and novice skaters, some skates do not offer a braking system. Aggressive skates, roller hockey skates, and race skates are just some of the skate styles that do not offer a brake system. The reason for this is that brake systems on these types of skates tend to get in the way of performance and skaters in these disciplines tend to be more confident in their skating.