How To Shop For Your First Pair
Of Inline Skates
STEPS TO MAKING AN EDUCATED SKATE PURCHASE
Also see Types Of Inline Skates Page
It is important to remember
that inline skates are not toys, but serious sports equipment, as well as a
means of transportation. The best place to buy skates is from a retailer who specialises in inline skates & accessories. A
speciality retailer offers knowledgeable sales staff, a full complement of
safety gear, accessories, replacement parts & provides the opportunity to
actually try the skates. Some
retailers have ISA Qualified Instructors working with them. A chain store or toy store might offer slightly lower prices, but ending up with the wrong skate is no bargain, no matter
what good the price. Take your
time, shop around, try on a variety of skates & protective gear, & most
important, ask plenty of questions.
STEP 1. – make sure you know what your skating
Below is a general description
of the basic skate types.
Unless you are certain that your interests are exclusive to a specialist type of skating, you should start with a
– these are typically designed with a boot to hold the ankle firmly
& wheels that permit a large degree of control. Boot
materials range from a one or two piece mould of engineering plastic to the
newer “soft” boot designs that resemble a training or hiking shoe. All
recreational skates have a brake attachment.
– these are similar to recreational skates. They
are usually lighter with larger wheels & a lower cut boot. They
have a brake attachment.
– racing skates have five wheels (though some frames can accommodate more!), a
long wheelbase & a low-cut leather boot with little ankle support. They
typically have no brake fitted & are for experienced skaters only.
– these are constructed like ice hockey skates. They
are made of stitched leather & lace up for a very close fit. They
have wheels designed for the very quick manoeuvres required in hockey. Some
models have a brake attachment.
- these skates are made for doing
stunts on ramps & rails. They
have smaller wheels & grind plates & are constructed to withstand
extreme use. Brakes can get in the way & are not recommended when
performing stunts, therefore the design of these skates does not include a
STEP 2. – How much do you want to spend?
You can spend anywhere
between $30 to $500 on a pair of skates.
In most cases, the more you pay the better quality you will get. For
typical recreational skating, however, you should expect to pay from $80 to
$170. In this range you will get a
sturdy, quality skate that meets the basic needs of most skaters. However, one should observe this rule of thumb: a $140 pair of skates will be much better quality than a pair at $70,
but it does not necessarily follow that a $300 pair of skates will improve on
the quality of the $140 pair.
Rather, the more expensive skate will have more features, such as aluminium frames, power straps, better wheels
& bearings. If these features
are desirable to you, & it has to be said that many of them do enhance the
skating experience – you may wish to consider spending that bit more. Cheaper
“toy” skates tend to have polypropylene plastic boots offering little support
at the ankles & hard plastic wheels & brakes which afford the user
little or no grip & no friction on stopping.
The skater only feels an unsupported sliding effect, which makes for a negative skating experience.
3. – learn about wheels & bearings.
considerable proportion of the price of a good pair of inline skates is in the
wheels, as the constituent chemicals are expensive.
Wheels come in various
sizes, profiles & hardness.
These three factors determine the way the skate will “ride” on the ground.
If your wheels roll easily, you will enjoy skating more. However, a
wheel that rolls too fast may put you outside of your comfort zone. If
the wheels are too hard for the surface you intend to skate on, you will have a
very bumpy ride.
If, on the other hand, they are too soft, you will absorb more bumps & have a smoother ride, but the lifespan
of the wheels will be much shorter & they are much slower than the harder
wheels. Racing wheels are bigger
& have a narrow profile, whereas stunt wheels are smaller & harder with
a flat profile.
Wheels & bearings are designed to be replaceable, so there are plenty of opportunities for you to experiment
with different types to customise your ride.
There are six things you need to know about wheels:
– the diameter of a wheel is the length across the widest part of the circle,
measured in millimetres (mm).
The size is important because the larger the wheel, the faster it rolls. Smaller
wheels are more manoeuvrable & stable, but roll more slowly. Most
recreational skates come with 72 – 76 mm diameter wheels.
While you might want to start off with skating on a 72mm wheel, you may want to eventually upgrade to a bigger
wheel. You must ensure that the
skate frame is able to accommodate a bigger wheel. The
standard width of an inline skate
wheel is 24 mm. Toy skates may have
narrower wheels of 18 mm or less, which will be difficult to replace, or find
– wheels are made from a compound called polyurethane,
a plastic material with a rebound feature whose hardness can be varied. The
hardness is measured on a
durometer, with 0 being
the softest & 100 being the
hardest. Most recreational skates
are equipped with 78A or 82A wheels, with 78A considered to be on the softer
side. Some K2 skates have a
dualdensity wheel, with a 80A outer & a
70A inner, allowing a little more “shock absorption” & a smoother, bump
A wheel’s hardness is marked on its side.
– wheels roll on ball bearings, which are inside the hubs of the
wheels. Higher priced skates will use bearings that are rated ABEC-1, ABEC-3, ABEC-5 or ABEC-7, with ABEC-7 being the most
precise. The difference between
ABEC-1 & ABEC-7 bearings is not usually a major factor to the beginning
Lower priced skates will not use rated bearings, but are nonetheless fine for general use. Remember that, like wheels, bearings can be upgraded at any time.
- each wheel holds two bearings, with a nylon, plastic or aluminium spacer in between. Spacers provide exact bearing alignment for greater free wheel
spin & add torsional strength to withstand tough impacts. Aluminium spacers allow for better heat displacement than nylon & plastic.
– most recreational wheels have a standard elliptical profile, meaning that
it has a narrow centre & graduated edges. Extreme
or aggressive skate wheels have a flat profile, as the finer points of edging
are not included in this this type of skating.
– if an internal core, or hub, is fitted on the wheel, this prevents the wheel
coming into contact with the bearing & acts as an internal stiffener, to
help the wheel maintain its shape under stress. Cores
should be made of nylon or glass filled nylon, which will keep the weight of
the wheel to a minimum & they are usually ventilated in the larger diameter
wheels to prevent heat build up & melting. A
wheel that does not have a hub will deform around the bearing, slowing it down
as a result.
STEP 4 – learn about brakes & braking
Inline skaters slow down &
stop by applying a brake that is usually attached to the heel of the boot. All
braking systems can be worn on either the left or the right boot to enable use
of the stronger leg. The brake consists of a rubber pad that drags on the
pavement when the toe is lifted. Some
skate manufacturers recognise that braking remains one of the most critical
tasks for beginners to master & have developed brakes which can be
activated without lifting the toe, such as Rollerblade Active Brake Technology
(ABT). While these special
braking systems generally increase the cost of the skates, many beginners
prefer them for learning. Ultrawheels
have DBS (disc brake system) which they describe as a brake system that lets
you stop more easily, more gradually & with more control. You
can brake while turning, going downhill (perfect for beginners), traveling over
uneven surfaces & even going backwards! It
is important to understand how the brake works before buying your skates. The
skill needed to execute this manoeuvre is easily learnt especially if taught by
an ISA Qualified Instructor. Under
no circumstances should you remove your brake unless you have
superior skating skills, nor should you succumb to the friendly
“advice” from people who insist that inline skaters do not need brakes.
5 – learn about the boot.
boot holds your foot in place.
Most boots have two parts: a shell that surrounds the
foot & a cuff that surrounds the ankle.
Usually both parts are made of engineering plastic that
is flexible yet supportive. The
final fitting to the specific contours of the foot is provided
by a cloth & foam liner &
the boot. The
soft boot skates have eliminated or cut away some of the
plastic. Some of
these have a moulded cuff; some have gel around the ankle,
making the skates themselves more form fitting. The majority of boots are ventilated allowing the air to
circulate better in the boot keeping the feet cool.
When trying on skates with a separate liner & foot bed,
the liner should be removed from the boot & placed on the
foot. If it fits
comfortably, it should then be put into the skate & the
fitting process repeated to ensure that the boot itself is
must be attached securely to the foot. There
are three different ways to do this: laces, buckles, or a lace
& buckle combination.
Buckle closure systems should have two to three
adjustable buckles. The buckles are permanently attached to the skate & it
should be noted that if their position grips your foot in
uncomfortable places you should try a different model. Laces
are generally only used on speciality skates, such as hockey,
racing & freestyle or figure skates.
Laces give a custom fit, but are not as quick &
easy to use & do not provide adequate support for the
& buckle combinations use the buckle around the ankle
& laces over the foot.
A more expensive version of the skate may have the
added advantage of a built in “power strap” which adds
more valuable support, especially for the beginner.
manufacturers, for example Salomon, Hypno & K2 make
women’s specific designs for their inline skates. These
skates have a lower, specially shaped cuff for a more
comfortable fit around the lower leg & some have a higher
your time & be careful when trying on skates. Be prepared to try on several brands & models.
Every manufacturer makes its boots to its own
will vary even within brands. Take
into consideration the type of socks you like to wear (it is
recommended you wear a medium weight athletic sock) &
remember that skates are NOT like shoes – they will not
stretch, though some liners have a “memory” & will
conform to your foot in time.
STEP 6. – learn about the frame.
The frame attaches the wheels to the boot. The
better the skate, the more likely that the frame will be rigid, aligned
properly & securely attached. Frames
are made of plastic or metal, the metal frames being carbon or aluminium. Frames
on racing & most hockey skates are made of aluminium. Some
frames (Salomon for example) can be loosened from the boot & aligned in a
slightly different direction, important to skaters who have orthopaedic
problems, whereas some K2 skates have a toe-in frame which provides a longer
natural stroke. A plastic frame can
become too-flexible which dissipates the skater’s energy. The
resulting poor alignment can cause a degree of “toeing out” which puts the
skater persistently on the inside edges, causing discomfort, poor skating
technique & “high speed wobble”.
put, the wheels deliver a better & straighter ride if they
are all going in the same direction at the same time, as on a
carbon or aluminum frame.
should allow for larger or smaller wheels to be used. Salomon skates have the size range conveniently engraved on
the skate frame.
relatively new phenomenon is the “commuter” skate, for
example Hypno & the Rollerblade Derby, with detachable
frames. Reach an
unskateable surface, simply unclip the boot & walk.
With these skates there is no excuse for not skating!
Plan ahead – upgrade or downgrade.
Wheels are an important factor in determining how a skate
recreational skates are sold with wheels of moderate size.
This prevents the skater from going too fast for the
skill level normally exhibited by a beginner.However, as the skater gains skill, experience &
confidence, he or she may want to try a faster wheel when the
original wheels wear out.
Most recreational skates are made with a frame that
will accept a larger wheel; however, the increase in size
permitted by the frame may be minimal.
The skater can avoid this problem by buying the skates
he or she wants to “grow” into & replace the large
wheels with smaller ones. The
skater can then build on skills using the more comfortable
training wheels, replacing these with the original bigger
wheels when they have gained sufficient experience.
Take a Lesson
Inline skating is a safe sport.
Its injury rate is lower than that for bicycling &
football. However, the most vulnerable period for the beginner is
literally the first few steps.
The use of protective gear can reduce the risk of most
inline injuries which, with the important exception of head
injuries, are mainly of the scrape & bruise variety.
In addition, protected skaters report skating to be
more enjoyable because they are more relaxed & can skate
with greater confidence.
Full protective equipment includes a helmet, knee pads,
elbow pads & wrist guards.
All pieces should be worn together, as protective gear
is designed to work as a team.
During a fall, a skater should first drop forward to
the knees, as kneepads are used as the first point of
dispersion of impact forces. Elbow pads also protect in
sideways falls, while wrist guards allow the skater to slide
while reducing impact.
help prevent injury to all areas of the head & should be
EN approved. A
helmet should be buckled & fit snugly on the top of the
head. It is
essential that a helmet be worn at all times.
The biggest mistake that a skater can make is to defer
the purchase of a helmet.
A large proportion of the energy of an impact is
absorbed by a helmet, thereby reducing the force of the blow
sustained by the head. Always
wear a helmet when you skate, regardless of the amount of
experience you develop. Remember
that you can repair a broken bone, but head injuries are more
serious & full recovery can never be guaranteed.
Take A Lesson
The ISA trains & assesses inline skating
instructors who can give you the training to get started properly, as well as
to improve your skating & learn new sport-specific skills, such as hockey,
ramp riding, skate-to-ski etc. Be
sure to take lessons from ISA Qualified Instructors, as they will all teach the
same, safe, proven skill-building techniques. Do
not hesitate to ask your Instructor if you can see a copy of his/her
qualification & insurance document.
Buy your skates
An inline skate consumer should follow the same rules used to buy any other
product: allow plenty of time, know what you are buying, feel comfortable with
the store & its staff, assure yourself that there will be after-sales help
if needed, & get a fair price. Do
not go for the first skate you see & take time to shop around as you may
get a better price for the same skate elsewhere.
Inline skating is a great way to combine fitness with fun; it is a sport
suitable for all ages & can be done almost anywhere. So
grab a friend or family member, get outside & enjoy your new skates!
This document was prepared by Dawn Irwin, ISA
Director of Training for the United Kingdom Inline Skates Association (ISA)