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Skate FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about Inline Skating

Table of Contents:

(Compiled and authored by Tony Chen, Phil Earnhardt, and George Robbins.)

Q: What is the difference between in-line skating and "rollerblading"?

A: In-line skating is the official term for the sport commonly called "rollerblading" or simply "blading". The commonly misused term of "rollerblading" is due to the company called Rollerblade. Rollerblade wasn't the first to produce in-lines, but managed to popularize in-lines faster and farther than anyone previously (in the States anyway). Rollerblade was the only company in the in-line market for a long time, so they naturally became the market leader. This lead to the generic use of the term "rollerblade" to stand for all in-lines, even if made by different companies. (This is similar to the use of "kleenex", "coke", "xerox", etc.).

Q: What are the origins of in-line skates?

A: (Merged paraphrased text from Wheel Excitement, The Complete Blader, and Blazing Bladers)

The first in-line model was developed in the early 1700s by a Dutchman who wanted to simulate ice skating in the summer by nailing wooden spools to strips of wood and attaching them to his shoes.

The next version appeared in 1760 when a London instrument maker, Joseph Merlin, decided to make an entrance to a masquerade party by skating in on metal-wheeled boots while playing a violin. He ended up skating into a huge mirror at the end of the ballroom, not having learned to stop or steer.

In 1823, Robert John Tyers of London designed a skate called a "rolito" by placing five wheels in a row on the bottom of a shoe. The rolito was not take seriously at the time.

In 1863, an American, James Plimpton, found a way to make a workable skate. He came up with a four-wheel skate with two pairs of wheels side by side, and so the modern four-wheel roller skate was created. Roller skates allowed turns, and also forwards and backwards skating. The invention of ball bearing wheels in 1884 helped the sport even more.

Tyers' design did not go entirely unnoticed however. In the Netherlands, after the canals had melted, "skeelers" (5's) were used as a means of dry-land cross training, competition and transportation for over two decades.

Finally, in 1980 when two brothers from Minneapolis were rummaging through a pile of equipment at a sporting goods store, they found an old in-line skate. Scott and Brennan Olson were ice hockey players and so they realized the cross-training potential of the in-line skate.

They redesigned the skate, using a hockey boot, polyurethane wheels and adding a rubber heel brake, and found they could skate as they did on ice. Soon after, they began selling skates out of their home and eventually Rollerblade Inc. was born.

(end paraphrased text)

There were also some Soviet in-lines from around the same time. These in-lines were being developed for Speed Skating dryland training. Besides having inferior wheel material, they only had a single bearing cartridge in each wheel.

The first mass-produced Rollerblade skates had two-part metal runners. The smaller skates had more overlap between the two metal parts; the large skates had less. The "bushings" were 4 plain vanilla washers per wheel; they were cumbersome to assemble/remove and mechanically flawed: dirt/sand would get between the inner washer and the bearing. Also, there was just a washer's worth of clearance between the rail and the wheel: it was very easy to trash a wheel by rubbing it against a rail. The holes along the side of the runners were oval; the rock of the skate was determined by how much you slid the bolt up or down when you tightened it. Finally, the brakes were old roller skate toe stops -- they were not very efficient.

The first massively successful Rollerblade skate was the Lightning. It had a robust fiberglass runner for each size of skate. The bushings fit into oval holes in the runners -- rock was set by whether you put the bushing in up or down. The linkage between the wheel and runner was far more mechanically efficient and there was no way to rub wheels on the runners. Wheel removal/insertion was far easier. And Rollerblade's brake, while far smaller than the old "toe stop" brake, was much more efficient and lasted longer.

Q: I'm interested in getting a pair of in-lines for outdoor skating. I want to get decent stuff, but I'd rather not spend a lot of money. What do I need to get?

(See the Buying Guide for Inline Skates for more in-depth tips.)

A: First off, your budget should include protection: knee pads, wrist guards, and a helmet. Elbow pads are optional. These "pads" should have a hard plastic shell -- they should slide on the asphalt when you fall. Good brands of protection are the Rollerblade TRS or the Dr. Bone Savers (DBS) set of accesories. For helmets, any well-fitting ANSI/Snell approved bicycle helmet should be fine.

The in-line industry is a lot like the bicycle industry -- specialty shops generally sell and support more expensive functional skate brands and department stores generally sell inexpensive lines that will never work well. Also, there's usually a much greater chance of getting spare parts and service from a specialty shop than a department store.

Rollerblade is the best-known brand of in-line skate; they make a whole family of different in-line skates. Any skate in Rollerblade's line at or above the Lightning skate should work well and last a long time. Other reputable manufacturers are Ultra Wheels, Bauer, Roces, and K2.

You may wish to rent a model of skates before buying. Some shops will discount part of the rental from purchase price if you buy skates later.

The fit should be comfortable but snug. Unlike hiking or running shoes, it's OK for your toes to be loosely in contact with the front of the boot.

Unless you have a background of speed skating, beginning skaters should avoid the 5-wheel skates. The problem with isn't the inherent speed of the skates, but since manueverability and flexibility are sacrificed for the sake of racing performance, so turns and other maneuvers require more commitment. The 5-wheelers are great fun, but master the fundamentals on a shorter wheelbase first.

Q: Are buckles better than laces?

A: If you're looking to buy skates nowadays, you'll notice a wide variety of support systems: laces only, laces with one buckle, one buckle (rear-entry style), two buckles, three buckles, or maybe even a multitude of straps like in K2 skates.

Hockey skates are usually laces only. 5-wheelers come in various types: laces only, lace and one buckle, or multiple buckles (typically recreational 5-wheelers).

The issue of buckles vs. laces is still a fairly often debated subject, and the bottom line is whatever works for you. Anyway, here are some good and bad points of each support system (recreational skates only).


    • PROs
      1. Faster to put on.
      2. More durable.
      3. Adjustable on the fly.
      4. Allows for vented shells.
      5. Maintain their hold, no loosening.
      6. Possible to adjust support in separate areas.

    • CONs
      1. More expensive (in general).
      2. Can cause too much pressure on parts of the foot.


    • PROs
      1. Cheaper (in general)
      2. Much less prone to point-loading pressure on specific spots, pressure is distributed evenly.

    • CONs
      1. Slower to lace up than to buckle up.
      2. Prone to breakage.
      3. Cannot easily adjust tension without stopping and re-doing the whole thing.
      4. Laces don't allow for much venting in the shells.
      5. They eventually loosen while you skate.
      6. Not very easy to adjust support in sparate areas.

    Laces & buckles:

    • PROs
      1. Support adjustment is easy (if you normally only adjust the ankle).

    • CONs
      1. Laces don't allow for much venting in the shells.

      1. Mid-range pricing.

Buckles may seem like they've got a lot of good points going for them, and they do. However, the two bad points can be big ones. Cost is the most obvious factor. If you can't afford buckle skates, you'll likely have to settle for laces only, and/or add your own. The other factor is fit. If the skates don't fit you quite right, the buckles can cause over-pressure on certain parts of your feet. Fit is one of more important aspects of choosing a skate, and while liners of most skates eliminate this point- loading problem to a good extent, it may not be enough for some people.

So what can you do if you've got lace-only skates and want to have the convenience of buckles but can't afford to buy a new pair? You might consider adding buckles. Either adding one buckle at the ankle or doing away with laces altogether and adding two or three buckles. Many ski shops will be willing to do this for you. Or you can add your own.

To retrofit buckles onto your skates:

From: (James A Holroyd-1)

1) Buckles: can be obtained at ski shops, snowboarding shops, or from an old pair of ski boots. I got mine from a snowboard shop, sold as an extra buckle kit for snowboard binding ankle straps.

** NOTE ** Make *sure* the mounting surfaces of the buckle are only slightly curved. Too much curvature in this area (the bit that touches the boot) will pull your boot out of shape and be very uncomfortable.

2) Drill with various bits.

3) Mounting hardware for buckles: you can rivet them, or use T-bolts. I used T-bolts with loctite on the threads, and they stay on well.

Step 1.
Put your skates on and figure out where you want to put the buckles. I would recommend leaving the eyelets for the laces accessible. This way, you can still lace up your skates, then tighten the cuffs with your buckles The laces sit behind the strap, and don't loosen up as much as if you leave them tied off below the cuff. Remember to place the buckles far enough apart so you can tighten them, but not so far that you can't get the tongue into the ratchet.

*** IMPORTANT *** The buckle levers go on the *outside* of the skate :) This is very embarrassing when you get it wrong (I did, first time), as every time your skates get close together, they either catch on each other or unlatch the lever, or some combination of the two. Not pretty.

Step 2.
Mark where you will have to drill holes to mount the buckles.

Step 3.
Take the liners out of the boots and drill the holes. Start with a small, sharp bit (that boot plastic is *tough*, it could take a while) and work up to the size that accomodates the mounting hardware you're using.

Step 4.
Mount the buckles. If you are using the snowboard buckles, the mounting hardware that came with them should work. Just make sure that nothing sharp is sticking into your liner, as it could chew up the liner and/or your ankle. Don't forget the loctite (although it's really not critical until you've got the placement right, or until you're 10 miles from home :) )

This method works great with my lightnings. I got a pair of skates that, IMHO, are as good as those costing a lot more. However, I would not try this trick with any of the skates with flimsier liners. The Zetra's are pretty uncomfy after a while, as the edges of the cuff do tend to dig in. I ended up putting extra foam padding (ensolite) around the ankle area before I sold them to a friend. He took it out, and apparently has no comfort problems. Your mileage may vary.

Buckle add-on kits are now being sold in skate shops specifically for in-lines. They run about $20 or so per pair of buckles. Ask your local skate shop or call up one of the mail-order shops in the FAQ.

Q: I want to get good in-lines, but I can only afford $150. (See also the Buying Guide for Inline Skates)

A: At this price point, you'll have to be pretty resourceful. First, note that the in-line "season" begins somewhere around the end of March. You'll probably find some good bargains in stores in the Jan-Mar time frame. Like many sports, the in-line market is style-oriented: you may find last year's style at a huge discount.

Even at this price level, you should avoid "department store" skates (unless you want to buy skates that you won't use). You're far better off buying a pair of used Rollerblade Lightning skates. If you don't see anyone selling your size, consider putting an ad advertising that you want to buy skates.

Make sure to get pads too. Don't skimp on protection! A knee is a terrible thing to waste. Used protection in good condition is fine.

Q: I'm considering getting used skates. What do I look for?

See the Buying Guide for Used Skates

Q: How do I stop on in-lines? (see also, the stopping file, for more details)

A: Good question. You've taken the most important step -- realizing that there is a need to be able to slow down. The rest is just practice.

There are several general techniques for stopping while remaining on your skates: generating friction by dragging your brake pad, generating friction by sliding your wheels laterally against the ground, jumping onto grass and killing your speed by running out, and pushing against a slower-moving or stationary object with your hands.

I finally learned how to brake well when someone described this image: your brake foot has just slipped on a banana peel. Whoops! Your brake foot will be about a foot in front of your body. The leg will have a slight bend. The rear wheel and the brake will be in contact with the ground.

At first, your non-brake foot will be bearing almost all your weight. That leg will be directly under your body, and the knee will be bent. The amount of bend in your knee will determine how much braking force you can apply.

Your feet should be very close to your centerline. This should help keep you going straight forward when braking (pretty important!).

There should be a slight forward bend in the waist. It may also help to keep the hands at waist height or so. This keeps your center of gravity lower. Try to keep your hands (and your whole upper body) loose; clenched fists do not make the brakes work any better! Relax.

After you've tried a dozen or so stops, add one more refinement: drive your back knee into the back of the front knee while braking. This creates a triangle with your lower legs and the pavement between your skates. As all the Buckminster Fuller fans out there know, triangles provide structural stability. This triangle should enhance your braking power and ability to run smooth, straight, and true while stopping.

As you master braking, begin to shift more of your weight to your front foot. The Masters of Speed Control can actually decelerate while standing only on their front foot. Good trick, that.

Q: I've learned how to slow down. how do I go faster?

A: First off, keep learning how to slow down! Learn new techniques; refine the ones you already know. Until you master slowing down, your mind will limit how fast it will let you go on skates.

Watch good skaters. Notice that they rarely have both skates on the ground at the same time. This independent leg action is something you'll master over time; you can practice by seeing now long you can glide on a single skate. When you can glide on a single skate for more than 30 seconds (both left and right legs!), you're well on the way.

Notice that almost all of the side-to-side motion is happening below the waist. Eliminate any twisting motion in your shoulders -- keep your shoulders square to your direction of travel. If you want to move your arms, move them forward and back -- crossing patterns may have you twist your shoulders. Relax the muscles in your lower back to allow your upper body to remain quiet.

Watch your stride. Are you pushing more to the side or to the back? Shift your stride to be pushing almost exclusively to the side.

Where do you set your skate down at the start of your stride? Shoulder width? Start setting your skate down on the centerline of your body. After you're comfortable with that, start setting your skate further in beyond your centerline.

Do you flick your toe at the end of your stride? If so, stop. Instead, flick your heel -- drive your heel out at the end of the stroke. This will feel very strange for the first 10,000 or so times.

Relax. Then relax some more. Discover levels with levels of relaxation. Travel fast while moving your skates slowly -- your body is swimming through air. Consider beginning to practice T'ai Chi Ch'aun postures daily. Relax some more.

Q: How do I learn to skate backwards?

See part 2.1 of the FAQ
Q: What sort of maintenance do I have to do on my in-lines? (See also: part 4 of the FAQ)

A: Things that need maintaining are the wheels, bearings, and brakes.

Wheels sometimes need rotating to keep the wear on all the wheels even. To rotate a set of wheels, you simply move wheels to different positions. The swapping scheme you use it ups to you. Some people have a set rotation they always do (wheel #1 -> #2, #2 -> #3, #3 -> #4, etc.) and some people just try and place the wheels so that the wear is more evenly distributed. Do what's best for you.

For your bearings, practice preventative maintenance: avoid sand, dirt, and water as much as possible. These nasties are what cause bearing failure. If you want bearings to last, vacuum in/around your runners with an upholstery accessory after every skating session. If you do want to (or have to) skate in sand/dirt/water/mud, get a set of sealed bearings.

Buy a Rollerblade "Y" tool to remove bearings from spacers, or buy one of the aftermarket bearing spacer kits. These make bearing removal much easier.

Q: How do I handle dogs chasing me while skating?
(From George Robbins)

On the physical side
Many people recommed a bicycle style water bottle, dogs tend to be confused/diestressed by getting a spray of water in the face. Since you can spray from a distance, this is generally safe and the bottle is also useful for you own refreshment.

On the psych-warfare side
Threaten back by either skating directly towards the dog or making some kind of striking/throwing motion with your arms, preferably with a stick or some kind other sort of safety extension. Dogs generally thtreaten potential territorial invaders and become more or less agressive depending on the response.
On the chem-warfare front
Some people recommed mace or other chemical deterrents. These will cause the animal severe pain, so be sure that the dog is really threatenting and not just putting up a noisey territorial display. Also don't rely on these 100%, since while skating you may miss or the dog may attack anyway, so be prepared to strike and run. Some folks also recommend ammonia in the water bottle, but make sure you don't get confused and take a sip.
On the legal front
Take note of what property the dog seems to be defending and it's description, especially collars or tags. If you're in an area with an enforced leash law, don't hestitate to report the animal. If not, you can still report the dog to the police, sheriff or animal control authorities, especially if it did physically attack and/or bite you. This may or may not get a positive response, but the owner *is* legally responsible for keeping his animals under control and one that attacks you today may attack child skater or cyclist tomorrow.
On the other side
Be prepared to sprint through or away from the dog's territory. Motions or sounds will attrace the dogs attention, but they usually won't chase seriously beyond a predetermined territory. Keep your arms up/close to your body, so that if the dog does try to bit it will probably and up with a mouth full of boot. If the dog does bite an break your skin, clean the wound immediately and seek medical attention.

Q: What can I do to help prevent skating bans?

Some Common Sense Approaches For Avoiding Skate Bans

A Letter For Skaters (from Dave Cooper at IISA)

As more and more in-liners take to the roads and paths of this great country, encounters between skaters and the civilians (any non-skater) become more likely. Cities, parks and educational institutions are taking a second look at in-line skaters and asking whether they can abide by wheeled beings plying their pavement. In large measure, their decisions to give in-liners the green light are formed by the image they have of the local skate talent. Here are ten common sense things you can do to get out in front of the restrictions in your community. By presenting the image of a sane and reasonable collection of carbon molecules you might avoid future unpleasantness:

  1. Skate Smart - Build the image of the in-line skater as a safety conscious individual.
  2. Align With The Bicyclist - Bikers are pursuing a legitimate sport, let this rub off.
  3. Sponsor Family Days - Any time Grandma and the kids do must be o.k.
  4. Skate With Community Leaders - Most have always "wanted to try it" Educated them.
  5. Offer The Law Enforcement Community Help - Extra eyes for the police, our friends.
  6. Sponsor Safety Clinics - Who knows, you might even get paid.
  7. Attend Regulatory Meetings (Traffic, City, School) - Wear your nice clothes.
  8. Sponsor A School Program - Get the educators behind the movement.
  9. Visit The Rental Shop - Help them have safe customers.
  10. Police Yourself - Organize (or don't), but make sure skaters obey the right laws at the right times.

Remember that the sport of in-line skating is very cool, very fun and can be quite wacky, but as a role model for the beginner we all have a responsibility to execute our stranger and more dangerous maneuvers out of eye and camera shot. By all means, push the sport, make the best of your skate, but also Skate Smart, Skate Polite and, when appropriate, skate stealth.

For more information on specific programs that can help your area - please contact the IISA,

Dave Cooper
International In-line Skating Association
Government Relations Committee

Q: What other information is out there to help me with in-line skating?

  1. Inline skating magazines
  2. Inline skating books
    See also George's Skating Book FAQ

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