How to Choose the Best Roller Skates Wheels

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What the shoe is to comfort and the plate is to stability, the wheels are to maneuverability, speed and balance. Needless to say, pro skaters take special care to choose the very best wheels, often changing them as they shift from one activity to another.

Recreational or aspiring derby skaters need not aim for that level of wheel precision, but it is still important that when you’re choosing the best roller skates wheels, you know what combination of durometer, width, lips, contact patch, core and materials to choose from. If this seems a bit overwhelming, let us break them up for you below.

Introduction

Roller skate wheels are a vital component that significantly impacts your skating experience. Whether you’re a seasoned skater or a beginner looking to upgrade your wheels, selecting the right ones can greatly enhance your performance, maneuverability, and overall enjoyment. 

This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with in-depth knowledge and insights to help you make an informed decision when choosing the best roller skate wheels for your specific needs.

Understanding Roller Skate Wheel Basics

Before delving into the selection process, it’s important to grasp the fundamental elements of a roller skate wheel. Each wheel consists of a hub, which houses the bearings, and the outer urethane material. The durometer, or hardness, of the urethane affects the grip and slide of the wheel. Additionally, roller skate wheels vary in diameter and profile, which contribute to speed, stability, and maneuverability.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Roller Skate Wheels

Factors to Consider When Choosing Roller Skate Wheels

Several key factors should be taken into account when selecting roller skate wheels:

Skating Style and Terrain

Different skating styles and terrains require specific types of wheels. Consider where you’ll be skating the most to determine the appropriate wheel type. For outdoor skating on rough surfaces or uneven terrains, opt for wheels specifically designed for outdoor use. For indoor rink skating, wheels engineered for smooth surfaces and polished floors are recommended.

Wheel Diameter

Wheel diameter plays a significant role in speed and maneuverability. Larger diameter wheels generally provide higher top speeds, making them ideal for outdoor or speed skating. Smaller diameter wheels offer increased maneuverability, allowing for quick turns, agility, and responsive movements, making them suitable for jam skating or dance routines.

Wheel Hardness

Wheel hardness, measured on the durometer scale, directly affects grip and slide. Softer wheels have a lower durometer rating and offer greater grip, making them well-suited for indoor skating on polished surfaces. Harder wheels have a higher durometer rating and provide less grip, allowing for faster slides and better performance on outdoor surfaces.

Diameter and Durometer

Diameter literally refers to how big the wheels are, and is measured from one end of the circle that is the wheel to the other end, across the core. Here it should be noted that inline skates have larger wheels, going up to about 100mm, while quad skates have smaller wheels. For this reason, swapping inline and quad wheels is not possible and should never be attempted.

Deciding on the diameter is simpler than the above choices. Available as the first part of the skate’s specifics eg. 78mm/90A, it tells you how high above the ground you would be when you skate. 

Generally, aggressive and experienced skaters prefer smaller diameters because this allows them to move with less effort and keeps their center of gravity closer to the ground. However, smaller skates provide less motion for each move of your feet, and can slow you down relative to others.

A higher wheel on the other hand makes you somewhat less stable because your center of gravity is higher up. More effort is required to make the large wheels turn, but once they begin turning, the speed you need is quickly attained.

Durometer , on the other hand, refers to the hardness of the wheels. Outdoor wheels begin at around 73A and end at around 85A, while indoor wheels begin at 85A and can go up to 106A. In other words, the outdoor wheels are softer and the indoor wheels are harder. The reason for this variation is that indoor rinks often have hard surfaces like concrete or treated wood, while outdoor gravel and pavements tend to be softer and more grippy.

The decision regarding diameter and durometer is really user-determined. If you’re going for outdoor races and marathons, then larger wheels with a low durometer are advisable. If you’re into figure skating or indoor races, chances are smaller to medium wheels and high durometer will be your sweet spots. 

If you’re into recreational skating, you can choose a middling durometer and a high diameter to achieve the best workout while ensuring that your skates work both on the rink as well as outdoors.

Weight and Core

The weight of the wheel determines how much effort has to be expended per meter moved. Heavier wheels naturally demand more effort, but choosing light wheels isn’t a no-brainer. 

This is because heavier wheels provide stability, which can come in handy if you’re learning to skate or are tall and/or on the heavier side. Once you have obtained intermediate level skating skills, it may be time to move to lighter and less fatiguing wheels if you find yourself being dragged down by your current ones.

Lastly, the material at the center of the wheel also matters. Called the core, this material may differ from the material of the wheel itself. Generally, the cores are made of nylon, aluminum or nothing ie the core is hollow. Nylon cores, when combined with similar wheels and plates, tend to be rather light and easy to maneuver.

However, they don’t translate your effort into motion so effectively because they can’t act as the strong center which keeps the rest of the wheel perfectly round. Net result is that you end up expending more effort to keep the wheels moving. Despite this, nylon cores may be ideal for beginners and those on a budget.

Aluminum cores are the costliest and often the heaviest as well. They move energy very well and keep the wheel perfectly round. They are ideal if you’re planning on taking part in a derby or will be skating for long periods where energy conservation is of paramount importance.

Lastly, hollow cores score somewhere between the two, and can be useful for beginner to intermediate level skaters or those who wish to keep their feet light while avoiding the problems of the nylon cores.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Roller Skate Wheels

Width, Contact Patch and Lips

One of the oft neglected aspects of the wheel is the actual width of the wheel. In technical terms, this means the width of the area that appears to come into contact with the surface. In other words, it is the width of the cylindrical surface of the wheel. This width, measured in millimeters, is different from the diameter (more on this below).

However, what you actually need to consider is the contact patch i.e. the width that actually comes into contact with the surface. Many wheels have curving edges that prevent the entire wheel width from coming into play. These edges are called lips.

In layman’s terms, the greater the width of the wheel, the harder it is to maneuver but the more stable it is. The lower the width, the easier it is to change direction but stability is compromised. For this reason, figure skaters choose narrower wheels, so they can change direction quickly.

Experienced derby skaters also prefer moderately narrow wheels since their needs are somewhat similar. However, beginners are advised to go for wider wheels since these help if you make any mistakes while skating.

The same applies for lips as well. Squarer lips ensure more of the width translates into the contact patch, while rounded lips ensure the opposite. As a rule of thumb, the squarer lips ensure greater traction and stability, but demand more effort from the skater. You would also have to account for sticky surfaces since squarer lips can be a real problem there. Going for rounded lips, while helping you move more nimbly, can reduce overall stability.

Types of Roller Skate Wheels

Understanding the different types of roller skate wheels will help you make an informed choice:

Outdoor Wheels

Outdoor wheels are designed specifically for outdoor skating on various surfaces. They typically have softer urethane to absorb shocks and provide better grip on rough pavement, asphalt, or other outdoor terrains. The softer material offers a smoother ride, improved traction, and enhanced control.

Indoor Wheels

Indoor wheels are engineered to excel on smooth indoor surfaces, such as skating rinks. These wheels have harder urethane for maximum roll and decreased grip. The hardness allows for effortless gliding, precise movements, and responsive turns on polished floors. Indoor wheels ensure a smooth and consistent skate experience.

Hybrid Wheels

Hybrid wheels offer a versatile solution, suitable for both indoor and outdoor skating. They strike a balance between grip and slide, making them adaptable to different terrains. Hybrid wheels typically have a medium hardness and provide a compromise between the features of outdoor and indoor wheels.

Specialty Wheels for Specific Skating Styles

Certain skating styles have unique wheel requirements:

Speed Skating Wheels

Speed skating wheels are designed to maximize speed and efficiency. These wheels are usually larger in diameter to cover more ground per rotation. They have a harder durometer rating for reduced friction and increased roll. Speed skating wheels provide optimal performance for those looking to achieve high speeds and long-distance skating.

Jam/Dance Skating Wheels

Jam and dance skating wheels are specifically crafted to facilitate intricate footwork, spins, and dance moves. These wheels are often smaller in diameter, allowing for quick and agile movements. They generally have a medium durometer rating, offering a balanced combination of grip and slide to ensure precise control during complex routines.

Derby Wheels

Derby wheels are designed for roller derby, a fast-paced and aggressive contact sport. These wheels typically have a specific durometer rating tailored to the requirements of the sport. Derby wheels prioritize grip, maneuverability, and lateral movement, allowing skaters to make quick turns, maintain stability, and execute strategic moves on the track.

Maintenance and Care for Roller Skate Wheels

Maintenance and Care for Roller Skate Wheels

To ensure the longevity and optimal performance of your roller skate wheels, regular maintenance is crucial. Here are some maintenance tips to follow:

Clean Your Wheels

Regularly clean your wheels to remove dirt, debris, and built-up residue. Use a soft cloth or brush to gently scrub the surface of the wheels, and ensure they are completely dry before using them again.

Check for Wear and Damage

Inspect your wheels for signs of wear, flat spots, or cracks. If you notice significant wear or damage, it may be time to replace your wheels to maintain optimal performance and safety.

Rotate Wheels

Rotating your wheels periodically can help distribute wear evenly across all wheels. This prevents certain wheels from wearing down faster than others, ensuring consistent performance.

Replace Worn-Out Wheels

When your wheels become worn down beyond a certain point or show significant damage, it’s important to replace them promptly. Worn-out wheels can affect your skating experience, including grip, control, and overall safety.

Choosing the Right Wheel Combination

Experimenting with different wheel combinations is common among skaters who want to fine-tune their setup. By mixing and matching different wheel types, sizes, and hardness levels, you can create a customized configuration that suits your skating style, preferences, and the specific terrain you skate on. 

It’s important to consider factors such as speed, grip, stability, and maneuverability when selecting the ideal wheel combination.

Conclusion

Choosing the best roller skate wheels is a crucial step in optimizing your skating experience. By considering factors such as skating style, terrain, wheel diameter, and hardness, you can select wheels that enhance your performance, maneuverability, and overall enjoyment. 

Proper maintenance and care will ensure the longevity and optimal performance of your wheels. So, equip yourself with the knowledge from this comprehensive guide, select the perfect wheels, and embark on an exhilarating skating journey with confidence and precision!

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