You've surely heard of the new trend sweeping Great Britain: rollerskating! Sales of roller skates have... not exactly skyrocketed but increased dramatically over the past few months, mainly because pandemic conditions have provoked ingenuity. Formerly active people, now housebound, cannot accept that a short walk outdoors is all that they're allowed; for them, there's got to be more movement - something to raise the heart rate. Others have gone viral for their creative small space skating workouts. They look so fun and invigorating that they inspire others to shop for skates so they can play, too. Deciding which skates to buy poses a conundrum, especially for skating novices. Inline skates, commonly known as rollerblades crowd the stores' shelves, leaving just a little space for their more meek-looking counterparts, the roller skates. Which ones should you buy? Which ones are better? That's what Superprof looks at now.
Examining the Boots
Let's say you're at the shop, in the sports section, in the roller aisle. debating the merits of one type of skate over the other. One aspect you cannot fail to notice is the relative rigidity of the inline skate's boot compared to the flexible leather of the roller skates'. Or, in their new incarnation, more of a shoe than a boot.
Inline skates' boot design is critical to providing stability.
As you've surely noted, quad skates' four wheels form a rectangular pattern. Having a wheel at the four corners of your foot provides more stability; if you stand on them, it feels like you are standing on a roughly 5.5cm tall box. You can shift your weight side to side, never once feeling like you'll topple over. That's assuming your feet don't fly out from under you. Contrast that with the linear position of inline skates' wheels. They do not provide the same sense of stability as quad stakes do. Indeed, if you were to stand a roller skate next to an inline skate, the inline would have to lean on the quad to remain upright. That explains why inline skates require rigid ankle support while quad skates can get by with as little as a shoe for your foot to slide in. That moulded plastic outer frame keeps your ankles properly aligned which, in turn, centres your weight on the blade of wheels. Should you slip into a pair of inline skates, you'll feel your ankles firmly gripped. Even if you wanted to flex them, the skates' boots largely prevent it. Contrast that limitation with the range of motion possible in roller skates. Not only can you flex your feet 360 degrees but you can stand on your front wheels or the skates' brake, all with your skates snugly laced. Inline skates were not meant for that kind of action. Foot flexing runs contrary to their originally intended purpose and the skates' boots reinforce that position.
Inline Skates vs Rollerblades
You'll notice our frequent use of 'inline' as opposed to 'rollerblades' or, even simpler: 'blades'. Although frequently used interchangeably, the two terms are not exactly synonymous. Rollerblade is the name of the company that pioneered the inline skate design in the 1960s. Initially meant for ice speed skaters as a training tool, the design eventually went mainstream. At the time, the Rollerblade company was the only manufacturer, allowing them to command the lion's share of the market. Today, rollerblading remains synonymous with inline skating even though several companies manufacture and sell inline skates, And, although the terms are used interchangeably, inline skating is the proper phrase to describe this activity even if you own a pair of Rollerblade Inc. skates. Now, join the conversation: which skates are better suited to indoor versus outdoor skating?
Defining the Wheels
In the last segment, we outlined the wheels' position, one of which makes for a stable base while the other is built for speed. Let's look at other ways that both types of skates' wheels differ. For one, consider their respective profiles. Quad skate wheels are wide while inline skates' wheels tend to be far narrower. They even have an apex, meaning that only a relatively small width of the wheels - only a couple of millimetres make contact with the ground. The amount of contact the wheels make with the ground informs the skates' performance. We'll talk more about performance in the next segment. Here, we're talking about what you can do well in roller skates that doesn't work so well with rollerblades. Earlier, we mentioned that it's much easier to perch yourself on your roller skates' front wheels. In part, that's because there are two wheels to balance on and they're fairly wide; another reason is that they are mounted to a truck - an axle-like structure affixed to the boot. These trucks include at least one rubber spacer that works as a shock absorber, but that's not its main purpose. It's designed to give the skater more flexibility to manoeuvre. By shifting your weight to one side or another while skating, the skate's truck will allow you to ease into a turn. By contrast, inline skates' wheels are mounted into a frame that, itself, mounts to the boot. There is no cushion or retainer, as they are properly called. That means that inline skaters are less nimble than their quad counterparts. So what does this extra agility mean for skating? Overwhelmingly, quad skates are best suited to:
- artistic skating
- pairs skating
- figure skating
- derby skating
- precision team skating
Quad skates - the standard roller skate allows for greater expression while skating. Inline skates don't allow for lithe and lively movement... but they sure deliver speed. Considering roller skates' resurging popularity and all the great things you can do with roller skates that inlines won't allow for, do you think their comeback is a phase?
There's no question that inline skates deliver where speed is concerned; that's just a matter of physics. These skates were designed with speed in mind; remember that they are, in essence, a hybrid of ice and roller skates. Furthermore, their capacity for speed can be greatly enhanced by adding or removing wheels, varying the wheels' diameters and arranging them to suit a particular purpose. The practice is called rockering. It allows skaters to optimise their skates for better rotation (a HiLo setup), hockey skating (a front-rocker setup) or full rocker - a setup that essentially mimics the upturned ends of ice skating blades. It entails mounting smaller-diameter wheels on the front and back of the skate to bookend the twin larger-diameter wheels in the middle. Finally, the wheel arrangement that allows hyper-aggressive skating: the anti-rocker. It is the inverse of the full rocker, meaning the smaller-diameter wheels are mounted between the bigger front and end wheels. This setup is best suited for grinding rails and ledges, and other skatepark moves. Roller skates allow for none of these modifications as having differently-sized wheels would destabilize the skate and make it much harder to skate. Note that the trucks can be changed out with ones of a longer axle; such skates are generally for high-performance skating, though. The average hobby-skater would not benefit from making this change. Besides being much wider, standard roller skates' wheels are smaller in diameter, a factor that also impacts how fast you can go. However, because they offer more stability and flexibility, and allow for two-wheeled skating - either on the front or back axles, roller skates are much better suited to artistic expression than inline skates. During rollerskating's heyday, in the 80s, all of these points and others were factors to consider. And then, rollerblades hit the market, causing a lot of discussion over which type of skates are the best.
Roller Skating v Rollerblades: Which Are Better?
Both types of skates have much to recommend them but which ones are better depends on... If you're buying skates as an absolute beginner or for a small child, quad skates would feel more comfortable. The main thing to watch out for is having your feet fly out from under you. How do you see your future as a skater? Will skating become a regular part of your fitness regimen or is it possible your interest will eventually wane? If you're not sure, it might be best to visit your local skating rink, where you can rent skates rather than investing in a pair of your own. If you go that route, you'll find that skate rental usually means quad skates. If, indeed, you plan to skate mostly indoors and want to buy your own, quad skates would be best... but they're not as good for outdoor skating. For one, their wider wheels makes it easier to snag pebbles or get caught in cracks. Also, skating outside demands harder wheels, which may affect your skates' performance. And besides, quads aren't that great for skating on varied terrains such as gravel, pavestone or cracked asphalt. Overall, roller skates are more versatile. You can do far more in roller skates than with inline skates; small-space skating is a prime example of such. However, you will find yourself at a disadvantage at the skatepark if you're wearing quad skates. Which type of skate is better comes down to personal preference. Both types of skates have their up- and downsides. Keeping them in mind while deciding what you want out of your skates will help you choose the right ones. Now, learn about the rules for rollerskating...
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