One of the most commonly asked questions we get when someone joins the team is, “What skates should I get?” This is such a tough question for a skater to answer because everyone skates differently. Here is some information to help you:
Skates: Quad roller skates are required for roller derby (with the exception of refs), and we all use speed skates, although any type of quad skate is acceptable. Common brands include Carrera, Riedell, Targa, Vanilla, Crazy Skates, Bonts, Aurora, Pacers, and Rock Skates. We suggest buying a skate package to start out, where the skates are fully equipped and ready to roll. You can always customize them as you get more funds and a better idea of what you want and need. The components of a skate are: boots, plates, trucks, wheels, bearings, and stoppers. We can recommend a good starter skate package for you that will get you rolling for a minimal investment. If you stick with the sport, you eventually might like to upgrade. Or you might like to customize your very first pair of skates.
Boots: Most boots come in men’s sizes . Generally women need one size smaller (i.e. Women‘s size 7 = men‘s size 6), but not always. It is helpful to find a girl in the league with your same foot size so you can try hers on before you purchase. Many places will not take back skates, even if they have never been worn.
You want your skates to fit snuggly. Loose skates = blisters. We suggest vinyl as opposed to leather boots for rookie skaters because it is cheaper, more flexible and forgiving, and doesn’t need as much time (if any) to break in. Vinyl boots aren’t as durable as the high-end leather boots though, but using leather toe guards will prolong their life tremendously.
High end leather boots (like Reidell 265s, 595s, 695s) can be a better investment when if you wish to shell out the big bucks (like $300 to $400), because they last longer and after the break- in period will stretch to your foot for a custom fit.
Plates: The plate is the metal or nylon base that runs the length of your boot, the trucks are the brackets that hold on your wheels.
Trucks: The trucks are the brackets that hold your wheels onto the plate. We use dual action trucks and there are two types: standard kingpin and inverted kingpin depending on how the kingpin is connected to the plate (see diagrams below). Are you loose or tight? As you gain skills you may want to loosen your trucks to give you more maneuverability, but loosening them too soon will make you off balance, so be careful and only loosen them a little at a time. Just make sure that they are tight enough so that they do not slip.
Wheels: Wheels are one of derby‘s biggest conflicts: speed or grip. Hard wheels are better for speed; the softer wheels grip better for quick turns, but if they grip too much they slow you down.
Durometer is the measure of the hardness of urethane in wheels, and generally go from soft 88A to 95A hard. Another factor in grippiness/speed is the hubs (the inside structure of the wheel) and regular vs. low profile wheels. Skaters’ weight also has an impact on the grippiness of the wheels. Heavier skaters can wear harder wheels without sliding out on the turns, but lighter girls may have to try softer wheels. The most important factor to think about when choosing wheels is the surface you’re skating on.
Talk to other skaters, see what girls in your position/skate style are wearing. It is EXTREMELY important that you don’t wear your rink wheels outside or at derby benefits/appearances. You can ruin both your wheels and your bearings. At some point you should invest in both outdoor wheels/bearings (since we do have outdoor practice) in addition to your indoor set-up.
Most new league members typically start out with just the wheels that come with their skates, then upgrade their wheels and bearings when they either feel their speed is being held back or they wear them bald. Note: Most girls typically save their original wheels for outdoor/promotional events.
Bearings: The bearings (ball bearings enclosed in a donut shaped casing found in sets of two in every wheel) are a very important component of your roller skates. Bearings allow you to roll smoothly. Bearings come in sizes 8mm and 7mm, depending on the size of your skate’s axle (when you upgrade, check your old bearings – 607 means 7mm and 608 means 8mm). Most bearings are ABEC rated; 1,3,5,7,9. ABEC ratings are a big debate, but unless you reach 50+mph you’d never know the difference. Remember that the skater produces the speed, bearings just facilitate and provide a smoother ride. At some point, you probably want to get a 5, 7 or 9. Bones Ceramic or Swiss bearings are the best on the market but they are VERY expensive. However, league members who have them swear by them.
You’ll probably use sealed bearings (as opposed to shielded bearings) because they are designed for dirtier environments and require less maintenance. A wipe down once a month and a good soak every 4 months is all you‘ll need to keep them maintained. When they start to sound like gravel as they spin, or don’t spin as fast, time to clean! Ask a fellow derby sister or skate tech for information on this when your ready for it.
Please, please, please, when installing your bearings, do not pound directly on them with a metal hammer! Set the bearing in position drape it with a rag and use the plastic handle of your screw driver to tap it in.
Toe Stops: Size and shape are a personal preference. Some girls prefer the adjustable 5/8″ Carrera- type (round) stoppers rather then the non-adjustable bell type stoppers because we can adjust the height of the stopper without compromising tightness. HOWEVER, these tend to fall off much more easily than the non-adjustable bell -type stoppers so many of our skaters have switched.
Since we start the jam running on our toe stops, they need to be out far enough so your foot is at a comfy angle . No twinkle toes! It isn’t ballet. To adjust them, loosen the lock nut located on the base of the toe stop bolt. Then unscrew the stoppers by hand to adjust the height – lefty lucy, righty tighty. Make sure to tighten the lock nuts once you’ve done the adjustment or they will fall off during use!
Toe guards are not required but highly recommended. They are simply a strip of leather that connects from your laces to your wheels to protect you’re the toes of your skate when you slide across the floor. This small investment can keep your skates looking better, longer.