11 January

What fresh meat need to know about wheels

Now that Hellfire Harlot Coco De Maul is a poster girl for derby-owned retailer Roller Bootique, a lot of our girls are taking a greater interest in their kit! We’re getting all kinds of questions about wheels in particular at the moment, so hopefully, this blog should answer a few questions for anybody who is looking to upgrade their wheels.

Before we launch in to this, I need to make it clear that no skate equipment can make up for skating ability. Changing parts of your skates can make skating easier e.g. lighter skates make jumping easier and grippier wheels will help you keep on the track as you whizz round the corners, but your kit isn’t going to transform you from an average skater to a world-class skater. The more you skate and listen to your coach, the better you become. From there you will get a much better idea of what you need from your kit.

As a new skater, you will probably choose to skate on a starter package like Riedell R3’s with Cayman wheels and nylon plates. As a team, most of our girls start out with this set up as for the price, they are pretty durable. This is a wise move because not everyone sticks at the sport as let’s face it, life can get in the way. As you get stronger, skaters will often upgrade anyway but the cheapest and most effective way to make a difference is to change your wheels.

Cheap wheels are surprise, surprise, made of cheap urethane and are likely to have little grip. You can’t hold your own in the corners, skid when you try to stop and you know that the time has come to get your wallet out, so start by asking the veteran skaters on your team what they skate on and why they like them.

What do you need to consider when looking for new wheels?

  1. What do you want to achieve? Grip, stability, agility etc.
  2. Not everyone subscribes to this idea but some people suggest that skaters should pay attention to their weight, body type and skating style. Heavier people may prefer harder wheels and lighter people may love softer wheels.
  3. Wheel positioning – you don’t need to skate on 8 wheels of the same durometer. A lot of our girls skate on softer wheels on the inside of each boot and harder on the outside. This can help you hold on to your grip on the corners. There are loads of great articles out there explaining how different wheel set ups can work.
  4. What kind of surface do you normally skate on? If you usually skate on a wooden sports hall floor, chances are you’ll need softer (more grippy) wheels.

Now you’re skating on some borrowed wheels that you think might be right for you but you’re not sure, you need to ask yourself a few questions. What is it about them that feels wrong? Are you sliding when you sprint? Are you unable to plow stop because you’re sliding or sticking? Figure that out and you can either buy your own wheels or move on and try some different wheels.

What else do you need to know?

You don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds on wheels! Wheels with an aluminium hub (for example) may be slightly lighter but will cost more. Will you really notice a few grams? You can get a set of 8 that will serve you well for £60-£80. In all honesty, clean and lubed bearings will make more of a difference than top of the range wheels for those who skate at an intermediate level.

Wheel width is also something to consider. A lot of our girls skate on Heartless wheels as they’re quite slim, but not hockey skate slim. Wider wheels are unfortunately easier to trip on but offer greater stability to newer skaters who may be unsure on their skates. Just bear in mind that you may ‘grow out’ of the wider wheels as you gain more experience so its worth asking around your team mates and seeing if anyone has some they can sell on second hand for cheaper so you can save your pennies.

You also need to know that the “a” number is a durometer, it tells you how soft or hard a wheel is. The higher the number, the harder, the lower the number, the softer the wheel. For roller derby, most girls skate on wheels between 84a and 96a.

The chances are though, you’ll probably end up collecting wheels over time as you’ll need different wheels for different floors when you’re bouting. Roller derby is a pretty expensive hobby as they go so don’t forget to draw on the wealth of experience of your team mates, everybody loves to share their opinion.

By Kitty Fury

(Reposted from October 2012)