An off-the-shelf pair of skates that fits your feet doesn’t cost too much, but it adds up if you’re buying new ones every couple of months because you’re wearing them down and then throwing each pair away. Heaven forbid you do that just because of the wheels. With the proper maintenance, you’ll be able to get the most out of your skates and increase their lifespan.
The best part? While there are some things that should be done after every skating session, regardless of how you skate, in most cases and for most people it’s enough to do the full maintenance of skates every other month.
A quick note: We talk about roller skates exclusively in this post because inline skates (rollerblades) are a little simpler in design and parts, but we’ll be getting to them too.
Boots and Plates
Keep them dry! You may have been skating outside in wet conditions or just perspiring, but no matter how they got wet they need care as soon as you take them off. Skate boots are generally made of leather or vinyl, and you do need to know their unique needs. If the boots are vinyl, care is mainly a matter of wiping them down gently and airing them out.
If the boots are leather they’re going to be a little higher maintenance, but properly cared for they’ll be supple, comfortable, and will last for many, many years. Consider that they’ll show scratches and scars easier than other materials and wipe away perspiration stains after every skate session. Use a damp cloth but not a wet one—too much moisture will damage leather. Occasionally, use leather conditioner, protectant, and/or polish to keep the leather in shape and minimize future care needs.
No matter what your skates are made of, it’s important to always wipe them down inside and out, then let the boots dry naturally. Never put skate boots near a heating source to speed up the drying process, as the heat will prematurely damage and age the boot material; instead, loosen the laces, open the skate boot, and let it air dry. This will keep down on odor and prevent the growth of anything that likes warm, wet environments.
If you’ve pulled apart your skates, it’s a great time to pull out the insole and check to make sure that the plate of your skates are still tightly attached to the boots. If they seem loose, tighten them.
Trucks, Cushions, and Pivot Cups
If you’ve ever tried on your friend’s skates and felt unusually awkward, it was probably because of the tension of the trucks. Besides the boots, trucks are going to be the main difference between sets of skates. This is because everyone’s preference in truck tension differs. For new and casual skaters, it’s best that trucks be tightly fitted to the boot. This sacrifices maneuverability for stability. If you’re comfortable with loosening your trucks to get more maneuverability, make sure that each truck has equal tension and then check them often to ensure that the tension remains equal. Also, if you roller skate outside or over rough terrain then you’ll need to check the tension of your trucks more often.
While you’re checking your trucks it’s also a good idea to have a peek at your cushions and pivot cups, which are right within reach. Manufacturers have improved pivot cups so that they last longer, but they should be checked for wear. That goes especially if you find the cushions worn down. Cushions are typically long-lived, but cushions with too much wear lead to broken trucks or other broken or prematurely worn parts. When you do these checks, make sure to hold the bottom of the kingpin as you loosen the trucks to prevent them from being unthreaded from the plate.
Roller skate toe stops may be adjustable or not, depending on the kind of skate you get. If they are, you should make sure they’re adjusted to a position that works best for your skating style. That may mean pausing while you skate to make multiple adjustments. If they aren’t adjustable, you should still check them from time to time to ensure that they’re firmly secured to the boot. A loose toe stop will trip you.
In both cases, check often for wear; a toe stop worn to the nub will require your foot to tip more to brake, which you may not want for discipline reasons or because of your skill level. But even when used properly toe stops will naturally get worn down over time, so expect to replace them a few times during the life of your skates.
You can expect to replace the wheels of your skates a few times before you replace your skates. For most people, skate wheels will get the brunt of the wear and damage that occurs while you’re just skating, but wheels will also be affected by moves like t-stops. Wear and tear goes doubly if you’re outdoors often, since paving materials aren’t very kind. So you need to check your roller skate wheels regularly to ensure that they spin freely and aren’t too worn.
If the wheels they don’t spin freely, look for damage or buildup from debris or simple dirt. If they’re damaged, they need to be replaced, but if they’re just dirty then you should take the time to clean the wheels.
As you might imagine, skate wheels are probably going to gather debris first, especially if you mostly skate indoors. You can help keep them looking new by wiping them down with a wet cloth after each skating session. A little less often you’ll want to clean your wheels fully, which you can do with them in place on your skates or by removing them. Removing them is easier, and if you remove them it’s easier to check for uneven wear and, if necessary, rotate them to make them last longer.
To clean roller skate wheels, the simplest method is to remove the wheels from your skates, pop the bearings out (carefully), then place the wheels into a bowl of warm water that has a little dish soap added. Find a brush—a toothbrush works well—and scrub the wheels one at a time to get any glue, tape, or other debris off them; if you do this regularly, it shouldn’t take long. Plus, cleaning your wheels will help you get and keep traction on various skating surfaces.
Roller skate bearings are a vital part of every roller skate wheel. These little cylinders are what make your wheels turn with less effort on your part. Mostly they’re considered maintenance-free, but they do need to be kept dry and clean. That goes especially for anyone who skates outdoors. Bearings that aren’t enclosed will need to be lubricated occasionally, which can be done by removing the wheel(s), removing the bearings (carefully, since bearings can be dented, which will negatively affect your skating), wiping the bearings with a cloth (use a Q-tip to get into tight places), adding a bit of bearing lubricant, and then reinstalling everything.
It’s more likely, though, that you have enclosed bearings. In theory, you don’t have to do anything with them, but it is possible for dirt or water to squeeze through the seal and cause the bearings—which are usually metal—to jam up or rust. In that case, you have a serious problem, which is why you want to check up on them from time to time.
Then Do It All Again!
Yes, it’s really, really boring to do all of this. But proper roller skate maintenance is important, not only for increasing the life of your roller skates but for improving safety and enhancing your overall roller skating experience. It’s also much cheaper than buying an entirely new set of skates just because the wheels are worn down. So play some of your favorite music or catch up on a favorite TV show while you work, take good care of your roller skates, and enjoy roller skating to its fullest!