Are You a Gear Geek?

by Jennifer Stevenson

Iā€™m not, much. The Skate is pretty much a mystery to me, as it will be to you if you are not already a skate geek, like my teammates.

What started life as a piece of wood with casters bolted to it has become a machine composed of custom-assembled boot, plate, trucks, cushions, wheels, and bearings, with or without toe-covers and toe-stops; laced regular or extreme (two sets of laces, skipping certain holes, tightened and re-tightened at precise moments during practice) … and the geek goes on.

You got your polymer wheels poured in finely-graded hardness from 66 (squishy outdoor wheels for trail use) to 104 (for the suicidally inclined). I train on regular-width low-boys, which rate a 95 in hardness. Low-boys are a nice compromise between fast and grippy. They provide more resistance than my competition wheels.

The black wheels are about 92 hardness for artistic skating. The yellow ones are strokers, 98.5 hard for speed or derby.

My competition wheels are wide strokers, which grip better than skinny strokers, and rate 98.5 hardness–very fast. If I were taller and heavier, I might go as high as 100-hardness wheels, but since nobody on my team uses them, I don’t feel too far behind that curve.

I do use the hundred-dollar bearings for practice. And I’m about to ramp up to the two-hundred-dollar ceramic bearings, which supposedly never wear out. The ceramics are also supposed to be many levels of tolerance slicker, i.e. faster, than good steel bearings. We shall find out.

My boot is a Reidell 695: very nice, but not custom. Rumor has it that the custom boot is not as custom as all that, for the money. Fine. My plate is a Snyder, not as light or flexy as the titanium plate with the holes in it, but good enough for poky old me.

Cushions are a sealed book to me. Derby girls I know have begun to geek out over cushions, buying them in different colors and doubling them up. They go on your kingpin, apparently, and they do something or other. Flex more. Whatever.

I started in roller derby, so I use toe covers because I haven’t trained myself out of dragging my toe to slow down, which plays merry hell with my expensive 695 boot.

toe-stop assortment

I use toe-stops the same way–and wear them down pretty fast. I’d prefer to drop a knee to slow down, but that’s frowned on by the rink owner, and apparently speed skating officials don’t like it either. Oookay. No knee drop.

But nothin’s gonna separate me from my derby pads. This is just plain common sense. If you learn to skate wearing knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, a mouth guard, and a helmet, you get used to falling on those pads very quickly.

The very worst thing the amateur skater on rented skates at a birthday party can do, when she starts to fall, is to put her hands down in front of her. She’s not wearing wrist-braces. She’ll break both arms that way. When I go down, I just skid. I jump up without so much as a tingly elbow.

no beginner should skate without wrist guards

Speed skaters learn to fall on their asses. But I learned in roller derby to fall on hands and knees and either jump back up fast or curl up in a ball so the girl behind me, when she trips over my corpse, doesn’t kick me in the head or roll over my fingers. (Just because I’m speed skating doesn’t mean this can’t happen. I’ve been kicked in the head twice in the same practice during speed skating.)

That’s about the extent of my gear-geekery right now. Ask me again in a year, when I’ve moved on to a fancier plate and I’m washing my wheels with some bottled goo that costs like brandy and smells like carburetor runoff.


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Are You a Gear Geek? — 4 Comments

  1. Oh, gear discussions can be fun. I find myself enjoying sports where there’s gear to be chatted…horses, skiing and now spinning poi. What I find common to all the gear discussions comes down to:

    #1.) What makes what you want to do the easiest? That is, does it impede what you want to do or assist in what you want to do?

    #2.) What’s the most durable piece of gear for what you want to do that doesn’t interfere with the ease of doing it?

    And then, lastly #3.) can you get #1 and #2 in style and/or glam?

  2. šŸ˜€
    That was a big change when I went from rugby to roller derby. Rugby is like “so, you got shorts? They gonna rip? You got boots? Metal kleats are for the big girls, newbie.”
    All my derby stuff is pretty cheap, but still it’s like, oh, time to change the wheels, where’s my socket wrench? Oil? q-tips? Better knee pads, better wrist guards. Why don’t they sell half nut nylocks at any of the hardware stores?
    Then I got our trainer to loosen my trucks- so awesome!
    At least the mouthguard is the same. (Actually the same one.)

  3. Changing your wheels is not difficult, but it’s a lot easier with a good socket wrench rather than the tools they give you with the skates (especially if the tool is not made to fit your outdoor wheels). I just went down to the hardware store with one of the nuts in my pocket, found a wrench that fit, and bought it. ~$7.