By Steve Kopitz
When it comes to Inline Skating, there are a few things to consider before searching for that perfect skate for you. Cost is always a factor but going for the cheapest isn’t always a good idea and the most expensive skate may not be the right one for you. Factoring in your skill level, the type of skating you plan on doing, the style of the skate and knowing the parts of the inline skates and how they may best benefit you are some of the things to consider when purchasing your next pair of Inline Skates.
Just a little bit of research, like reading this buying guide and maybe watching the company’s own Steve Kopitz talk about inline skates, should be enough for you to come to a well-informed decision on a comfortable and fun pair if inline skates.
Comfort all begins with the boot. It’s where your feet are planted while inline skating and keeping them comfy is a high priority. If the inline skates that you purchase don’t have a quality boot then you’re liable to have your feet hurt or ache and then your newly- bought inline skates will sit in the garage for the next five years collecting dust and spiders. None of us wants that.
An Inline Skate boot is literally everything above the frame and includes the shell, liner, and closure.
The majority of the inline skates available offer a soft shell boot design. This wasn’t always the case and hard plastic shells with a foam insert. They were often uncomfortable though which led to the design of a soft boot skate in the mid-1990s.
Rare is the inline skate that offers a hard shell design but they exist; usually in a beginner child’s skate or an Aggressive Inline Skate.
A typical soft shell boot will have a plastic or carbon skeleton, commonly known as the cuff. This cuff goes along the back and under the skate liner to provide necessary support and rigidity. The cuff allows the skater to lean back, sideways and brake without twisting their ankle. Female-specific Inline Skates will offer a cuff that is a little lower in order to support a woman’s calf.
Soft Shell Boots will add a greater amount of comfort and its fabrics offer greater breathability. Its overall comforts far exceeds the hard plastic shells that were once standard.
Women-specific Inline Skates are often designed with a wider forefoot, narrower heel, and higher instep to ensure that you are comfortable.
The liner of your skate is the actual piece that you put your foot in. This piece is usually removable.
Skate liners are available in a number of fabrics such as neoprene, mesh, vinyl and leather. Some liners will have multiple fabrics throughout to ensure the right support, increased durability and breathability in the right areas. Basic liners tend to just use one or two different fabrics.
Stitching is what holds the liner together. Basic and most liners will likely only use single stitching. The higher quality liners will likely utilize a double stitching. Double Stitching improves a liner’s durability and longevity.
There are a few different forms of liners to be aware of. This list ranks the liners from good to best:
• Standard Liners are constructed of foam materials and offers basic comfort and padding for your feet and have no special or customization features.
• Auto-Fit Liners are typically equipped with gels of pads that will contour automatically to your feet each time you wear your skates. They provide additional support and more comfort than a standard liner would.
• Memory Fit Liners are similar to the gel/pad style of Auto-Fit liners however the Memory Fit Liners have the ability to remember your foot pattern and contour to it. As you continue to wear them, the gels and pads will shape to your feet.
• Heat Moldable Liners are currently the highest quality. These liners are removed and heated by a skate shop professional and then placed on your feet. The liner material contours to your foot as it cools and begins to re-harden. This process creates a custom-fit to your feet.
Boot cuffs extend up the back of the skate and are either made of a hard plastic or carbon skeleton.
The reason for an Inline Skate Boot Cuff is to provide support around your ankles for lateral movements. They will allow you to flex forward with comfort and remain stiff when you are leaning laterally or backwards.
• Carbon Cuffs are lighter and stiffer which provide a higher level of performance. The lighter cuff reduces the overall weight on the skate enhancing its maneuverability and efficiency. A stiffer cuff offers a more direct transfer of motion meaning you can turn faster and easier. An Inline Skate outfitted with a carbon cuff adds to the performance of the skate.
• Hard Plastic Cuffs are designed for more recreational use. They are a neighborhood skate for when you want to take a quick skate around the block.
Racing-Style Inline Skates will have a lower cuff because lateral movements in racing aren’t as much of a necessity. Skaters who race are more often in a moving in a straight line and a cuff for quick and frequent turning is not needed.
The closure systems on Inline Skates vary and will often utilize more than one type of closure. Here is a break down of the typical types of closures:
• Standard Lacing works just like you were tying your shoe. Since you are moving differently though a standard lacing system is accompanied by a power strap or buckle for reinforcement.
• Ratchet Buckles originally were the only closure system but, more often than not, they are near the top of the cuff working in tandem with the laces.
• Velcro Straps/Power Straps are rare on their own. They accompany the standard lacing system to provide additional support. These Straps will also help to keep your heel positioned correctly in the heel cup of the skate.
• Power Assisted (also known as Quick Lace) is a great time saver. The system consists of a thin but extremely durable cable that runs up the skate boot like a standard lace. Your skates can be fastened quickly with a single pull to the quick lace mechanism. A Ratchet Buckle will often accompany a Quick Lace System.
• BOA Lacing System is similar to a quick lace but instead of pulling on the lace there is a piece at the top of the boot that you turn to tighten. This makes adjustments on the fly very easy and quick.
To give you better idea of what each of these closure types looks like and their positioning on the skate, please review the illustration below:
The kind of frames on a skate is a key factor in deciding your next pair of Inline Skates. This is where a better frame would equate to a higher price point. Here are ways to ensure that you are receiving the best frames in regards to the price of the Inline Skate.
The Three Factors that decide on the quality of the frame:
These characteristics are largely attributed to the material the frame is made of which are:
Plastic Frames are often used at the beginner level inline skates. When compared to aluminum or carbon frames, plastic frames, although heavier, are less expensive to make and they are the least durable and least stiff. Plastic frames are usually found in the lesser expensive Inline Skates.
Aluminum Frames fall into the middle between plastic and carbon frames. Aluminum Frames are lighter and greater in stiffness than a plastic frame. They are not prone to torque under stress as plastic frames may do. Aluminum frames are commonly found on intermediate level Inline Skates. The aluminum along with its durability and efficiency place them at a price slightly higher than a plastic frame Inline Skate.
Carbon Frames are frames that have carbon added to aluminum frames in order to reduce weight and increase the frame’s overall durability. Typically found on advanced inline skates, they have an increased stiffness as well as greater durability. The Carbon Frames are priced higher due to the increased efficiency, longevity, durability and quality of materials.
The highest quality Inline Skate frame will be lightweight, very durable and stuff. The benefits of a lightweight skate is its reduction in your fatigue so you can skate longer.
Frames that are composed of aluminum or carbon-aluminum mix may have sections cutout to further reduce the weight. Here is a photo that illustrates a frame with cutouts:
Why is the stiffness of a frame important?
Throughout each step of the energy transfer process (pushing your legs outward to move forward, that energy going through the frame and to the wheels), the initial energy that is created by your legs is reduced by the flex of the skate materials. The flex allows energy to escape before it gets to the wheels and ultimately the ground. A stiffer frame has less flex and movement, reducing the amount of energy that is lost when energy is transferred to the wheels. The result is a more efficient skating experience, allowing you to skate farther and faster more easily.
Video Tutorial: Choosing the Right Recreational or Fitness Inline Skates
The material of the wheels won’t be an issue. They are more than likely going to be polyurethane which is the standard nowadays. When Inline Skating first started wheels were plastic and were prone to cracking and could be very ineffective. Plastic wheels, if used, are found on a few children’s Inline Skates.
In regards to wheels, you will want to focus on the following:
• Wheel Size
• Durometer Rating (hardness)
• Type of Skating you will be doing
Inline wheel sizing is measured by diameter and stated in millimeters (mm). Wheel diameters will vary from very small (57mm or below) to very large (up to 100mm). Very large wheels help maintain higher speeds and are usually found on racing skates. Smaller wheels provide faster acceleration and deceleration.
Here’s a quick guide to show you the recommended wheel size to the type of Inline Skating you’re planning on doing:
• Recreational/Fitness Skates: On average, recreational and fitness skate wheels will range in diameter from 76mm-90mm. More often than not they will range closer to 76mm. A 90mm is fairly large and is intended for Inline Skaters moving at higher speeds.
• Speed Skates: A Speed Skate wheel will have a diameter at 90mm or higher which is best for high speeds. Some Speed Skates will offer a position for a fifth wheel and not all will be equipped with a brake.
• Aggressive Skates: On average, the Aggressive Skate will have very small wheels. 56mm is pretty standard and rarely will they go larger than 59mm. These small wheels will allow for rapid acceleration so that you can perform tricks and jumps.
A wheel Durometer is the hardness rating of the wheel. Durometer ratings are indicated by a number followed by the capital letter A. The hardness scale runs from 0 to 100, with 0 being the softest rating and 100 being the hardest. While the rating scale is from 0 to 100, it is not likely you will find a wheel that has a rating softer than 68A. A wheel softer than this is likely to wear down too fast, regardless of its use.
This leads into…
Type of Skating
To determine what Durometer rating you need, you must determine what type of skating you will be doing.
• Indoor Rinks Only - softer wheels (lower durometer rating) are to be used on smooth surfaces such as indoor skating rinks. A softer wheel offers a better grip which is ideal for indoor rink surfaces. It also equates to faster acceleration.
• Lots of Indoor and Some Outdoor Use - The best wheel Durometer rating to use is at the upper-end of the soft range - 78A. This will absorb shock from the uneven and variable conditions the outdoors creates as well as provide enough grip and speed while on a rink. Remember that a soft wheel is likely to wear down fast so it isn’t ideal for rough surfaces.
• Lots of Outdoor and Some Indoor Use - If you are planning on doing some recreational or fitness skating outdoors, the lowest recommended Durometer rating is 78A. This rating ensures you have an excellent combination of grip and speed. Additionally, this Durometer rating will provide you the flexibility to take your skating indoors, without worrying about slipping and sliding on the floor.
• Outdoor Only – It’s recommended to get a wheel with a Durometer rating of 82A or 84A. You will have increased speeds without the possibility of quicker wear-and-tear.
• Aggressive Skating - The ideal Durometer is no less than 88A. A combination of the terrain, abuse it will take and speeds requires a hard wheel.
An Inline Skate Bearing is designed to reduce the friction that exists between a moving skate wheel and a non-moving frame. Skate Bearings determine the smoothness of your ride when you’re skating and also your ability to reach higher speeds.
They may not seem to be a very integral part of the Inline Skate (and sometimes confusing when you’re trying to figure it all out), but don’t discount the benefits of finding the right one for your needs.
Bearings are rated using the Annular Bearing Engineer Council rating (ABEC). ABEC ratings typically have five levels, ABEC 1, ABEC 3, ABEC 5, ABEC 7, and ABEC 9. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency and the less effort you will need to put forth for a longer roll.
For some specific information on how an ABEC rating is determined, you can check out our article, Skate Bearings 101.
Unfortunately, each manufacturer has their own definition of the ABEC system. This means that what one company considers an ABEC 7 may only be an ABEC 5 at another company. Often times this is attributed to the country of origin. An ABEC 5 made in China is not typically going to be as good as an ABEC 5 Bearing made in the United States. But for the most part, you won’t have to worry about an ABEC 9 rating being the same as an ABEC 1 because of its country of origin.
In addition to ABEC rated bearings, you’ll also be likely to come across “Precision” Bearings. Precision Bearings do not follow the ABEC rating scale and are present in forms such as Titanium, Swiss, or Ceramic.
The lack of rating makes it difficult to compare them to ABEC rated bearings however they are generally considered to be superior to ABEC bearings. If you wanted to rank the three from good to best, the scenario would be: Titanium, Swiss, and Ceramic.
Standard 608 Bearings vs Micro 688 Bearings
There are two types of bearings that you may come across. This is not the rating of the bearing but the type.
• Micro 688 Bearings – These are NOT rated on the ABEC scale however they offer excellent performance. There are more ball bearings that help distribute the skaters weight more evenly and efficiently. They are lighter in weight which drops the weight of the skate, but not very common as most skate manufacturers are only producing new skates with Standard 608 Bearings.
• Standard 608 Bearings – These will utilize the rating system from above and you can determine the quality based on their rating.
Just because the Inline Skate has a Standard 608 Bearing does not mean it is not high quality. There is plenty of high quality Inline Skates with Standard 608 Bearings – a 688 Micro Bearing is just a better high quality.
• Traditional Brakes are the most common and found on just about every recreational or fitness skate. Usually there is only one that is attached to the back of the right skate. It’s a hard rubber pad and will sometimes be interchangeable with the right and left skate. You would do this if you have a more left-foot dominant.
• ABT (Active Brake Technology) Brakes are found exclusively on Rollerblade and Bladerunner brand Inline Skates. Most commonly used on entry-level Inline Skates, ABT’s utilize a braking arm attached to the brake at the rear of the skate frame. By sliding your foot forward and applying pressure on the back cuff, you slow down without having your skates leave the ground. This beginner brake system helps the new Inline Skater gain confidence, balance and control.
• No Brakes may seem scary but many roller hockey, speed and aggressive skaters opt out of using a brake. These skaters find that the brake hinders their performance and will buy an Inline Skate without a brake (many roller hockey skates, speed skates and aggressive skates come without it).
You may not have realized all the components that go into finding a great pair of Inline Skates but now that you have this guide, you will be able to locate, purchase and use the right pair of Inline Skates for you. You’ll be excited to go Inline Skating knowing that you will be comfortable in a high-quality pair of Inline Skates.
Remember that even professionals will fall so make sure you have protective gear too.