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Quick Roller Skating Questions

We’ve done a few posts on helping you learn about roller skating and rollerblading, such as how to roller skate, and roller skating tricks. This time, we’ve decided to do a speedy one-stop shop for skaters who aren’t complete beginners anymore but still have some questions and need just a brief refresher that they can put into play alongside the experience they’ve gained.

How long will it take for me to learn how to roller skate?

It may seem like it takes forever, but most people can learn to skate in about an hour if they have a friend to teach them. Becoming skilled at skating, though, is going to take longer. If you don’t have a friend to help you it might take a bit more trial and error, but draw a ‘V’ one stroke at a time with your feet and you’ll get the hang of it.

How do I stand on my skates without moving?

The most secure way is to place your feet in a perpendicular ‘T’ shape, with the toes of one foot pointing forward and the toes of the other pointing to the side.

How do I skate without tilting back or falling?

Good roller skating posture for new skaters means keeping your knees bent.Remember, when you first start off in skating, position your feet about shoulder-width apart and always stay slightly bent forward. This lowers your center of gravity and makes it easier to balance. Just be careful to not lean too far forward or you’ll fall.

If you’re finding your back starts to hurt, try bracing your hands on your thighs for added support. Practice standing upright near a sturdy table or chair on carpet, as carpet will make it harder for your skates to roll and give you more control over what they do and when; if there is no carpet, you still need to stay close to a strong table or chair, or within reach of the rails of a rink.

As beneficial as jogging but with less joint damage, fitness skating is great for any age.

How do I skate faster?

This is, first of all, actually a matter of your comfort level. Increased speed usually comes automatically as you practice and improve your balance. If confidence isn’t a problem, skating faster involves rhythmically shifting your weight from one leg to the other and pushing off with the foot you’re taking your weight off of. Always make sure you’re looking only in the direction you want to go.

How do I turn while going fast?

There are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest is to lower your body a little and lean your weight onto the knee and leg that are on the side you want to turn (e.g., put your weight on your left leg for a left turn). First work at taking turns at a slower speed, then gradually speed up as you get better.

I want to stop without using the toe stop. How?

To stand still or bring yourself to a stop, try the t-stop position.There are multiple ways. One is called the “T-stop” maneuver, which involves gliding along on one foot while dragging your other foot sideways behind it. It’s a particularly noisy move and adds unnecessary wear to you skates’ wheels, but it’s commonly used by roller skaters everywhere.

However, this move does take some practice; you have to apply a certain amount of pressure to your trailing foot for the move to work as desired, so too little and you won’t slow fast enough, while too much can cause you to fall.

I’m really good at skating. Do I still need all the safety equipment?

If you’re concerned about looking silly because everyone around you is going without protection, realize that they aren’t making the best choice. Professional skaters like speed skaters, trick skaters, and roller derby skaters take precautions suitable for their discipline and skill level because they Wearing protective equipment is never a wrong choice!understand how devastating an injury can be to their sport and don’t want to take the risk of coming to permanent harm. So reconsider being “cool” if it means increasing your chances of getting hurt.

But if the safety equipment hurts you or negatively impacts your ability to move, and if all you’re doing is skating around a rink, then no, you don’t need it (unless you’re particularly prone to falling). Still, the one piece of equipment you should always try to wear is a helmet. Head injuries are no joke.

If I start to fall, should I slide or just fall straight down?

Always turn your fall into a slide if you can. This will help lessen the force of impact so that you can get back up and keep skating.

How do I deal with a painful fall?

Always be sensitive to how you feel. If it’s just a small bruise or sore bone, take a few minutes’ time out from skating and lightly massage the injury. If after a little while you feel better, go have fun. Just be keenly aware of how the injury feels and stop if the pain increases.

If it’s a big bruise or cut or you’ve twisted a joint, you’re done for the next few days. Get some assistance with rising and leaving the rink; if you can, use your toe stops to walk so you have better control of your movement. Clean and bandage any open cuts, apply ice to counteract swelling, and don’t ask too much of your injured joints for a few days. If you get too physical too soon, you’ll worsen your injuries and increase your recovery time.

NOTE: If you have a blood-clotting condition, remember to be VERY attentive to the appearances of your injuries and immediately call for an ambulance if your condition worsens.

I’m over 60, but I want to skate. Can I still?

Roller skating is gentle on joints, making it possible for skaters of all ages to reap the health benefits of roller skating.Of course! Just make sure you’re extra careful and wear protective gear, since older people are statistically more likely to be injured during physical activity; this goes especially if you’ve been mostly sedentary up to this point. It’s also a good idea to have someone nearby who’s ready to help you the instant you need it.

You’re On Your Way!

Hopefully, you can take it from here. There’s only so much we can do to help, after all! Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to becoming a good skater—you have to practice, practice, practice! But what you can rest assured of is that Mac’s Roller Rink will be here to give you somewhere to practice: We’re open Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons.

Ball Bearings

Sometimes, the most important part of something isn’t the one you can easily see. For example, anyone can understand why wheels are very, very important on roller skates, but there was a time when they didn’t roll all that well. It made skating more difficult, which meant fewer people did it.

The first boom in the popularity of roller skating came with the addition of ball bearings—or just “bearings”—to the wheels of roller skates. They made skating easy, and therefore fun, for people of all ages. In this post we’ll cover what bearings are, why they matter, and the types you can put in your skates.

What Are Bearings?

A bearing is circular with flat sides—a short cylinder or thick disk—and they usually come in sets appropriate to what they’re needed for. They are what make it easier for you to move fast and do some tricks. While you could still do those things without bearings, you’d find it quite difficult and much less fun than it currently is.

How Do Bearings Work?

It's good to know how the ball bearings in your skates work, especially if you need to clean them.To start with, it’s important to know what friction is. “Friction” is the resistance between two objects; generally, the more surface area something has the more friction it experiences when it contacts something else. Sometimes, such as with the fingerprints of your hands, that’s good—the resistance caused by friction helps you grip things. But if you want movement, friction is the enemy.

Ball bearings consist of a number of spheres spaced evenly apart in a “cage” arranged between inner and outer “races.” They turn around the axle as the wheel turns around them. The fewer and smaller points of contact that exist in a bearing mean less friction is created, which means you can move faster much easier than if the wheel was in direct contact with the axle.

What Kinds of Bearings Are There?

For roller skates, there are three types of bearings you should know about:

Steel Bearings

These might be termed a “normal” or “traditional” bearing. This is a bearing that will have an “ABEC” rating, ABEC (Annular Bearing Engineering Council) being the governing body that determines the rating of normal steel bearings. The ABEC rating system is more about quality than speed, but it will give you an idea of what you’re looking at; put simply, a bearing rated ABEC 7 is better than a bearing rated ABEC 5. However, the testing is so brutal it would be impossible for any human to match, so you aren’t likely to notice a difference.

Bearings that have a rating that includes the acronym “ILQ” (InLine Qualified) have been engineered and trademarked by a single manufacturer.

Swiss Bearings

Most Swiss bearings are no longer made in Switzerland, but they’re still called “Swiss” because of how they’re made. What differentiates Swiss bearings from other types is the casing, the outer shields, and the inner race. A bearing that has all or even just some of these technologies qualifies as “Swiss.”

Swiss bearings are notably more expensive than normal steel bearings. In the past, this meant you were buying a higher quality bearing made with better technology, but there is a debate as to whether modern Swiss bearings really match up to the Swiss bearings of the eighties. If you really want Swiss bearings, your best bet is to look for the brands that are known for making them. This is a situation where brand does matter.

Swiss bearings don’t have an ABEC rating and are identified as just “Swiss.”

Ceramic Bearings

Ceramic ball bearings don't rust so they essentially last forever, but you can expect to pay a premium price for them.You may have heard at some point that certain sports and racing vehicles have ceramic brakes. This is because ceramic brakes are lighter, harder, and much more heat-resistant than traditional brakes, allowing for harsher handling at higher speeds. It’s the same way with ceramic bearings for your skates.

Ceramic bearings are made of a compound called silicon nitride, which means that they’ll pretty much last forever. No human could hope to harm them. They’re much harder than steel, self-lubricate, and are capable of withstanding powerful physical impact. Since they excel at reducing friction, they’re faster than steel bearings, too. They’re also a little more than one-third the weight of traditional steel bearings.

All of this means that ceramic bearings are incredibly popular. When it comes to bearings for your skates, there is currently nothing better than ceramic on the market. But you will pay for them. Making ceramic bearings is much more difficult than making steel bearings, so you’ll be paying for the time someone put in to craft them for you.

Ceramic bearings have no ABEC rating, as they far outstrip any normal steel bearing out there.

Do Bearings Need Care?

Oh yes. Steel (and Swiss, because they’re typically made of steel) bearings need regular drying, cleaning, and lubricating to protect them. Without these the bearings will heat up and may become malformed, or they may rust and either lock up completely or roll very roughly.

Even ceramic bearings, for all their being sent from heaven to make our lives easier and more fun, need care. While the bearings themselves are in no danger of rusting, surrounding parts are still made of metal and are vulnerable—particularly moisture, humidity, and grit. So a little bearing oil will make your life simpler and protect the considerable investment you’ve made by buying ceramic bearings.

How Many Bearings Do Wheels Need?

Roller skates and rollerblades need two bearings per wheel. So one roller skate needs eight bearings, and a pair of roller skates needs sixteen bearings. A set of rollerblades with three wheels apiece will need twelve bearings. The quick math is to simply count how many total wheels you have (that is, on both skates) and then multiply by two.

Rollerblades also need a “spacer” between the bearings of each wheel.

Which Bearing is Best?

That depends entirely on you. If you’re a casual, infrequent skater and regularly take time to care for your skates, plain old steel bearings with pretty much any ABEC rating are going to be adequate and especially cost-effective for your needs. Steel bearings have been around for ages and are used daily in a variety of industries, which means it’s hard to go wrong with them.

Bearings keep your roller skates moving smoothly, so it's important to keep dirt and water out of them whenever possible.

If you skate more often or are otherwise rough on your skates, Swiss bearings are made in such a way and with such technology that they’re usually better able to handle the increased friction of extra wear. Treat them well and they can last for decades. With how the global market is these days there’s really no need for Swiss bearings to cost what they do, but you may consider the expense worth it. Just realize you may be able to do just as well with traditional steel bearings if you made sure to maintain them.

Ceramic bearings are long-lived bearings for hardcore skaters and generally require minimal maintenance because they don’t rust. Professional speed skaters are likely to use them because they handle friction so well, and some trick skaters find them worth the expense. But ceramic bearings are the most expensive bearings available to roller skaters (usually over one hundred dollars), so you need to think hard about whether you really need them.

Time To Get Rollin’!

If you’re a really, really casual skater and only ever skate at a rink, the bearings that come with your skates are likely to last for either a very long time or until you buy your next pair of skates. If you skate a lot more often and especially if you skate outdoors, you can expect to need to regularly check your bearings for wear and damage. Make sure you know what bearings you have and keep them clean so you can keep skating.

Buying Roller Skates

Mac’s has always offered skates for rent. That way even the most casual of skaters can always find a pair if they want to take a spin around the rink. But we know that not everyone who skates at Mac’s is that casual, and if you love skating so much that you skate every chance you get then you should consider investing in a pair of your own.

Your own skates will seem expensive at first because you’re dropping a lot of money all at once, but if you really love skating and have been doing it often then think about how much of your money you’ve spent renting skates you can’t keep. Isn’t it better to have your own that fit your feet just right? And if you have your own it means you can skate not only at Mac’s, but any time you want!

Choose Your Skating Discipline

Artistic figure skating has clothing and routines that are similarly elaborate as those in ice skating.If you know which skating discipline you’d like to practice, you’ll want to do research on it, find out who manufactures skates for it, and read reviews to find out if those skates seem like they’ll be good for you as well. Just remember that specialized skates are probably going to cost a little more than a typical pair of nonspecialized skates.

If you don’t know which discipline you’re interested in, you can check our post on roller skating disciplines and see if there’s one you like. If you aren’t interested in any discipline and would just prefer to “free skate” at a rink or in your neighborhood, you should be able to find suitable skates at a sports outlet or online retail store.

When You Should Shop for Roller Skates

Roller skate shopping isn’t too far removed from shoe shopping. So if you’re going to buy your own set of roller skates, the best time to go shopping for them is after you’ve been walking around for a while, when your feet have swollen a bit. Your feet do swell when you walk, even when you haven’t hurt them; in most cases this is normal and nothing to worry about.

So if you can, shop for skates after you’ve already been on your feet for hours. This way they’ll still fit comfortably after you’ve been skating for a long time. And if you’re not too steady on your feet, bring someone along to help you.

How You Should Shop for Roller Skates

First, do your research on the retailer and find out what you can and can’t do with skates you try on.  For example, a sports retailer that you can visit in person may permit you to try the skates on, but for safety reasons may not want you to skate along the aisles; meanwhile, an online retailer may be fine with you skating as long as you do so only in your home where the skates aren’t likely to be damaged (and if you do return the skates damaged, they won’t refund your money). So always know what a retailer’s restrictions are before trying on or ordering a pair of skates.

Trying On Skates While Sitting

Buying roller skates doesn't have to be complicated, but there are some things to know before you start.Keep in mind that most of us have one foot that’s a little bigger than the other. Also for most of us, it’s not obvious which one is bigger. Commonly, though, it’s our dominant foot (the foot you push off of when you first start to walk). So when you’re trying on skates, choose your skate size according to what’s comfortable for whichever of your feet is bigger. Don’t assume that a little bit of a pinch  anywhere on your foot will get better—it probably won’t.

If you’re sitting on a bench, check beneath it once the skates are on your feet and see if there’s room to roll the skates back. If so, move carefully to the edge of the bench and roll the skates back under it as though you were in a slight crouching position. Try as many skating positions as you can while seated and notice any discomfort.

Trying On Skates While Standing

If you don’t feel any pain while you’re sitting, it’s time to try standing in the skates. Hopefully you were able to sit on a bench while you put the skates on, so standing won’t be too difficult. But if you have to get up from the floor, we’ve talked about how get up while wearing skates in a previous post. This is the time to have someone with you so that they  can help steady you. Even if you’re a good skater, the skates aren’t yours yet, so you don’t want to fall and damage them.

If you’re in a sports store and the retailer allows you to skate, skate slowly in an open area and stay away from other store patrons. You don’t need to go fast to get an understanding of how the skates will feel on your feet, so always be responsible and courteous toward others. Try a variety of skating positions. Pay attention to how your feet feel as you skate, and if anything pinches or squeezes, don’t put up with it—find another pair.

The Exception to the Rule

Lace bite is a condition characterized by pain and sometimes swelling, rashes, or blisters.In most cases, if a pair of skates cause you discomfort while sitting you’re likely to feel it while standing as well, which means that particular pair of skates isn’t right for you. Issues like lace bite (see image at right) can be a sign that your chosen skates aren’t right for you. However, because of skate design it’s possible that you may feel discomfort when you sit down, but not when you stand up.

If that’s the case and if you really like the skates otherwise, consider that you’re more likely to be standing up than sitting down while you’re wearing them. You may decide that purchasing them is worth the risk. Just realize that once you start rolling with them, you won’t be able to return them.

If You Got It, Flaunt It!

Once you’ve chosen your skates and made your purchase, come by Mac’s and show off your awesome new wheels. Mac’s doesn’t charge for skate rental if you bring your own skates, so you can enjoy a small discount every time you skate with us!

Just keep in mind that you do need to maintain your roller skates, but rest assured that Mac’s has you covered there, too, with some advice on roller skate care and inline skate care.

Lace Bite and Skating Socks

Yes, there is such a thing as skating socks! Socks are so easy to forget that we bet it’s probably never crossed your mind, but it’s actually very important to have good socks to use for skating. So in this post we’re going to discuss lace bite and show you that the type of sock you wear does matter.

The Pains of Lace Bite

Lace bite is a condition characterized by pain and sometimes swelling, rashes, or blisters.Probably the most important reason to wear the right sock is that it’s one of the cheapest ways to reduce or eliminate a condition known as “lace bite.” As its name suggests, the typical cause of lace bite is tightly tied or incorrectly laced laces, which can put pressure on a tendon that runs from the front your leg to your big toe and leads to a sensation that feels much like a “bite.” Rashes, blisters, swelling, or other irritation can develop as well.

However, “lace bite” is also used to describe the same sort of pain in situations without laces (more properly termed “skate bite”)—it can be caused by skates that are cheap and thinly padded, are the wrong size for one foot or both feet, aren’t broken in yet, are old and inflexible, or are otherwise too stiff. It can happen to anyone with any type of skate, even if the skate is otherwise a perfect fit. Someone who rollerblades is slightly more likely to experience lace bite, since most commercial inline skates have a rigid shell.

Fixes for Lace Bite

If your pain is indeed lace bite, the first thing to do is take a break from skating for a while. Give rashes or blisters time to heal. For swelling, elevate your leg(s) and apply ice to the area. Once you’re back to normal, consider what changes you can make to reduce the chances of the lace bite coming back.

  • Sometimes lace bite can be stopped by changing your skates' lace pattern.Sometimes the condition can be resolved simply by loosening the laces of the upper part of the skate boot; this takes the tongue pressure off the middle portion of your foot but keeps the lower laces tight enough that your heel stays securely in position
  • Try a different lacing pattern
  • If your laces are thin, replace them with thicker laces
  • If you play inline hockey and use waxed laces, consider ending your use of them; waxed laces make laces tighter
  • If the skates are new, don’t rush to judgment—give them time to break in; it’s possible that the lace bite will stop once the skates have gotten to know your feet and how you move

You can also get into labor-intensive and potentially expensive fixes, like replacing the tongue(s) of your skate(s) or taking them to a professional skate shop to have your skates stretched or padded. But for casual skaters—particularly if you normally just rent skates—that’s probably investing a little more time and money than you ever intended.

How Skating Socks Help

Most roller skaters are casual skaters, and an everyday pair of socks you’d wear with your everyday shoes is usually enough for a few hours of cruising in skates. But every person is different, and it’s possible for even casual skaters to experience lace bite. In that case, the first thing to do is loosen your skate laces, and the second thing is to look at your socks.

Skating socks have special padding built into them to alleviate lace bite.

The shorter and thinner socks are, the less likely it is that they’re protecting your foot; if loosening your skate laces doesn’t help and you wear the “no-show” socks, the socks are only making things worse because it’s impossible for them to adequate pad your legs and feet. As far as regular socks go, plain old thick crew-cut or tube socks are going to offer the best coverage and padding. For those who can make the investment, which is pretty small, there are skating socks that have extra padding (“lace bite pads”) built into them at strategic locations.

If someone likes a particular type of sock—such as the “no-show” style—for fashion reasons, that person may not be terribly impressed at first with skating socks. Skating socks come in a variety of lengths but are most often cut higher than crew length to ensure that they extend above the top of the skate boot. It’s also worth keeping in mind that those weird tall socks are fashionable in the skating world, and that they can get even crazier than that—especially if you get into roller derby.

Alternatives to Skating Socks

Common lace bite pads have adhesive or Velcro backs.A single pair of skating socks with built-in lace bite pads isn’t that expensive—they usually run under fifteen dollars. However, if you’re a casual skater who’s sensitive and more prone to lace bite but can’t justify having specially padded socks that you use just for skating—or maybe you’ve realized you experience lace bite with regular shoes as well and can’t afford to pay fifteen bucks for a dozen pairs of socks with built-in lace bite pads—there are alternatives. Aftermarket lace bite pads (or just “bite pads”) come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and attachment designs.This type of lace bite pad can be laced into skates, but may be prone to sliding to one side.

  • If you have your own pair of skates, adhesive lace bite pads are an option; these are normally placed on the inside of the tongue of your skates, in whatever area you usually feel pain, and left there.
  • Velcro lace bite pads are essentially the same as the adhesive pads—they even tend to look the same as adhesives—but they’re removable.
  • If you think adhesive won’t be reliable or that the hooks of the Velcro will only add to the pressure you’re feeling, there’s a type of lace bite pad that looks a shoe tongue removed from the shoe; two eyelets at one end allow you to lace it into your skate as a second tongue. It’ll have a very long lifespan compared to the other two, but there’s a chance that it will slide around since it’s only secured at one end.
  • A type of ankle sleeve for lace bite pain that includes heel support.There are also lace bite pads that come as part of an ankle sleeve, which you pull on like a sock. The sleeve normally ends about halfway between your heel and toes, by may end just below your ankle. These can be sold individually, so if both your feet are feeling the bite and you need a set of two, make sure that’s what you’re buying.

None of these alternatives is significantly cheaper than skating socks (the ankle sleeves are probably a little more expensive), but depending on your circumstances they may be more versatile and appropriate to your needs.

(More) Tips For Beginners

We already have a few basic tips on our site, but we thought it’d be a good idea to go into more detail. After all, a skating rink is going to be more fun when you know how to skate, even if you maybe aren’t the fastest, steadiest, or coolest skater on the floor.

Once you’re geared up, we recommend you practice each step on carpet before moving on to the rink floor. Doing this will increase the friction between your skates and the floor, which will help to slow down any moves your skates might make “on their own.”

And since this is a really long post, we’ll add some links to help you get to and from the section you need to work on:

Get the Gear
Get on Your Feet
Know How To Fall . . .
. . . And Get Back Up
Be Aware of Your Posture
Walk Like a Duck
Glide Like an Eagle
Controlled Stops
More Tips
Don’t Quit Now!

Get the Gear

Obviously, you need skates. Whether they’re quad (roller skates) or inline (rollerblades) is up to you, but it’s typically easier to learn to skate using quads, since having a wheel on each corner is more stable than balancing on an edge. But really, you can learn on either—just consider that you’re likely to fall more if your try to start out on rollerblades.

Also, of course, new skaters should always wear protective gear. Casual skating isn’t generally too risky; the more experience you gain, the less likely you are to fall. But if you’re just starting out—whether you’re a new skater or just trying unfamiliar moves or tricks—the best choice you can make is to wear safety gear from the start.

It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to fall at some point, because the vast majority of skaters who came before you fell. A lot. For new skaters, a helmet, knee pads, and wrist guards are probably going to be all you really need (maybe also a mouth guard, if you feel there’s a chance of falling on your face).

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Get On Your Feet

Good roller skating posture for new skaters means keeping your knees bent.The best way to get to your feet is if you’re already halfway there. That is, you’re sitting on a bench or chair. If that’s the case, start by lifting your feet and setting them down a few times. Get familiar with the weight of your skates and how that affects your legs. Once you’ve done that, get your feet under you and ensure that your weight is balanced evenly on both skates. Use your quads (the muscles on the front and sides of your thighs) to help you stand slowly. Remember, don’t straighten your legs—keep them bent (a lot, for now).

If you have a friend who’s willing to help you, have them stand nearby in case you need them. Hold still for a moment and get used to the changes you can sense now that you have skates on. Then have your friend pull you away from the bench a little bit at a time, with stops as needed for you to regain your balance. If you don’t have a friend to help you, use a rail or table to assist. Just make sure that the table is sturdy enough that your weight on it won’t cause it to flip.

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Know How To Fall . . .

We’ve mentioned it a few times, and it’s true—you’re probably going to fall, more than once, on your journey toward becoming a proficient skater. That’s okay! Falling is part of learning to roller skate just like falling is part of learning to walk. What’s important is knowing how to fall.

When you were learning to walk you were probably a baby, so you weren’t that far off the ground. You likely also had the benefit of a diaper padding your backside and absorbing some of the shock. At the time, falling was more frustrating than painful. But nowadays you’re higher off the ground and your skeleton isn’t as flexible. Your tailbone is just under your skin, and falling directly on it will leave you in pain for months. Skating will be out of the question. Don’t let it get to that point!

The best kind of fall is when you fall onto something padded, like one of your glutes.There are many ways to fall safely. No matter what, if you fall you should always try to do so in a way that will redirect the energy of the impact; for example, turning a forward fall into a roll. In skates that’s a little harder, but a good rule to follow is to simply avoid landing directly on bone (like your tailbone!). Instead, if you find yourself falling backward, tighten your glutes—your butt cheeks—and then fall on one cheek or the other. Instead of falling on your knees, fall on your thigh and upper arm (just pick your foot up so you don’t twist your ankle).

If you fall forward, bones are really all you have available to land on, and this is why you should always wear safety gear. While a forward roll is possible, it’s probably not a good idea to have your heavy skates flailing in the air while other people are around. Your best bet is to slow down as much as you can if that’s an option, then fall onto your knee pads. If your momentum is great, fall farther forward onto your elbow pads and wrist guards, keeping your arms in front of your face to protect your head.

And try to keep track of your fingers. Make them into a fist as soon as possible to protect them from being run over by your own skates or someone else’s.

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. . . And Get Back Up

New skaters are infamous for windmilling their arms if they feel uncertain about their balance. That can help sometimes when you aren’t on skates, but on skates it only helps create energy that becomes motion. Resist the urge. Instead, if you’re afraid you’re going to fall, bend your arms and bring them close to your sides. Bend your knees more. In most cases, if you feel unsteady you can do a lot to help yourself—even prevent a fall—by getting low and widening your stance; if nothing else, doing this will mean you have a shorter distance to fall and are less likely to hurt yourself.

If you do fall, getting up on skates is as much a matter of practice as skating itself. That goes whether or not you have friends to help you. So be ready to have to work at it. If your friends aren’t around to help, start by shifting position until you’re in something of a split, with one foot in front of you and one behind. Bring the knee behind you up under you, and place your other foot firmly on the ground in front of you (using the toe stop is better than the wheels, since it won’t roll). Put both hands, as fists, in front of you on the ground so that you’re balancing mostly on both hands and the foot in front of you. Slowly press your weight onto the foot in front of you and bring your other foot under you. Go ahead and straighten up some, but keep your knees bent and give yourself time to stabilize. After you do that for a while, if you haven’t moved on to using your toe stops instead of your wheels, practice that. It’s safer and steadier.

As your confidence in your skating skills grows, trying getting up using your fists, then without hands at all. Like we said last section, fingers. Fingers getting run over by wheels. Skating is going to be a lot more fun, and less painful, if you minimize your risk of crunched digits.

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Be Aware of Your Posture

Someone, at some point, has likely scolded you to stand up straight and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Maybe on more than one occasion. Well, we’re here to tell you that when you’re just starting off in skating, while you should still keep your feet shoulder-width apart, standing up straight can cause you to overbalance. Instead, as a new skater you should keep your knees slightly bent and squat down a little. This will lower your center of gravity and help protect against falls (though you should expect to anyway).

It's a good idea to learn to skate with friends, so they can help you when you fall.

As you might expect, it’s difficult to stand in skates. They’re on wheels, after all. So practice moving your feet just a little to get yourself off balance, then regain your balance. Eventually, you’ll do it automatically. Compare it to not wearing skates: If someone pushed you, you’d move your feet to compensate, right? The same goes when you’re wearing skates, it’s just that you’re compensating for a push you gave to yourself.

Remember, you can practice these moves on carpet so you don’t roll too far too fast. You can also hold on to a rail or a friend (who agreed to help you—don’t suddenly volunteer someone as you fall or you both may be hurt!) to help with your balance. And don’t worry—once you get more comfortable with your skates you’ll be able to stand up straighter and straighter.

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Walk Like a Duck

Once you’re comfortable with your posture, it’s time to add another step: you’re going to learn how to walk (all over again!). This time around, though, you’re going to want to position your feet in a duck-footed stance—that is, heels together and toes out. The reason for this is that if your skates suddenly start to roll and you aren’t prepared, if they roll forward you have better control of your fall while if you roll backward your skate wheels will interlock and stop you.

Keeping your feet in that position, begin taking steps one at a time. Keep your heels right below your body so you can keep your balance better, and don’t take another step until your foot is solidly on the floor. As always, expect to fall a few times; when you do, just get back up carefully, get into the bent-knees position, and keep your body centered as you move.

As you grow comfortable with taking steps, step more quickly, then eventually lengthen your stride. The wheels of your skates are more likely to roll when you do that, especially if you’re practicing on a rink floor rather than carpet. Just be ready for it. As you get closer to moving at your normal stride, push harder with each foot and let yourself roll a little bit.

NOTE: From here on is the part where, if you’ve been practicing on carpet so far and have some confidence in your balance and control, you should move onto a hard surface like a rink floor to continue improving your skills. If you aren’t confident enough yet, or find that you’re still having trouble with your balance, keep practicing the above exercises on carpet until you feel ready to move on.

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Glide Like an Eagle

Continue to lengthen each stride of each step as you grow more comfortable with your balance on your skates. Once your skating stride is as long as your normal walking stride, lengthen your stride more by pushing off a little harder with your feet to encourage your skate wheels to roll. Keep your pushing foot off the ground behind you and let the glide wear out on its own. Focus on maintaining your balance rather than gaining speed—being properly duck-footed won’t let you get up too much speed anyway.

While you’re gliding is a good time to practice your turns, since you should still be in a bent-knees position that keeps your center of gravity low. When you turn left, lean your body slightly to the left; when you turn right, lean your body slightly to the right.

Increase your speed as you feel more confident about your balance. Move your legs faster and put more pressure on the wheels to move even farther forward. Try leaning your body weight into your strides to gain speed. Use your arms to help by moving them the way you would if you were running.

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Controlled Stops

Each of your skates should have a “brake” (toe stop) attached to the front; if there isn’t one on each skate, it’s probably on the front of the right skate. To stop, place your skates parallel to each other as you’re gliding. With your knees still bent, lean forward a little. Place your braking foot slightly in front of the other, then tilt it onto the toe stop. It’s important to be very firm when you do this, first because the harder you press the faster you’ll stop, but also because if you’re too hesitant when applying the brake there’s the chance you’ll lose your balance and fall.

If you’re having trouble figuring out the right amount of pressure, try placing your hands on the knee of your braking leg (it’s still bent a little, right?) and pressing down. This should help you apply enough force to stop.

There are other method of stopping, such as the T-stop, but those require a little more skill and confidence. Don’t rush it.

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More Tips

  • Find a time to practice. Practicing skating even just once a week will help you improve. Mac’s welcomes skaters of all ages and skill levels, and is open Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday afternoons (except certain holidays or events). That’s plenty of opportunity to stop by and work on your skating skills.
  • Make sure your skates fit properly. As you might imagine, skates are generally sized in the same way shoes are, and in this regard you should treat them like shoes. Whether they’re too big or too small, getting the wrong size will cause you big problems, so be honest with yourself about your needs.
  • Remember to secure your laces. This might seem like a no-brainer, but when we’re excited we don’t do things we should or aren’t as thorough as we should be. So always make sure your skates’ laces are tight before you go onto the rink floor, and check them frequently. If they come undone you could skate over them and accidentally yank your foot in an unintended direction.
  • Tie long hair back. This is a good thing to do for a variety of reasons. First, it helps keep you cool to have the back of your neck exposed to the air. Second, tying your hair back will keep your hair out of your eyes. This is true if you skate indoors, but more so if you choose to skate outdoors.
  • New roller skaters should always start off slowly. Take your time!Use the rails. If you’re practicing at a roller rink, stay to the outside and use the bars along the edge of the rink for support as necessary. That’s what they’re there for. If you’re concerned you’d look silly holding onto the rail while everyone zooms by you, think of how silly you’d look sprawled across the rink floor and forcing everyone to swerve around you because you were trying to skate beyond your skill level. Use the rails.
  • Stay near the wall. Even if there are no rails, the wall can be invaluable help. It can stop a runaway foot, give you something to lean on to help you balance as you skate or recover from a fall, or give you something to fall against so you don’t hit the floor too hard.
  • Check the floor and your wheels. Often. Oil, threads, rope, cloths, pipes, or any other hard or slippery material can easily trip up any unprepared skater, let alone someone still trying to learn. Know what’s around you and respond accordingly, and if your skates seem to be acting up and not doing as you’re telling them then check for anything that might be wrapped around the axles.
  • Always look ahead. When you walk, do you stare at your feet? Probably not. Even so, you manage to not trip and fall 99.99% of the time, right? The same applies to roller skating. We know it’s hard to avoid looking because of how unsteady you feel, but try it for a while and notice how much better (and faster) you skate when you’re looking out instead of down.
  • Don’t stare at obstacles you don’t want to run into. It’s important to have situational awareness, of course, especially outside, but keep in mind that your body goes where your eyes go. If you stare at something you don’t want to encounter, it’s pretty much a guarantee you’ll encounter it anyway. Instead, identify the hazard and then look in the direction you’d rather go.
  • Don’t go faster than you want to. This is a matter of confidence and especially safety. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is saying or doing; if you try to do more than you’re capable of, you’ll possibly hurt yourself or someone else. Don’t worry—if you stick with roller skating you’ll have plenty of opportunity and experience to really get up some speed.
  • Give yourself the chance to learn. You’ll pick up more better if you take the time to study your failures and successes. While not necessary, having a friend or family member film you while you skate can boost your learning opportunity, since you can watch what you’re doing and then compare it to tutorial videos or have a family member or friend with more roller skating experience critique what you did.
  • Just do your thing. Don’t let yourself give in to peer pressure, whether someone is making fun of you or asking you to do something you aren’t ready to do. Your peers may know everything about roller skating, but you have to do what’s best for you or someone may get hurt; if your peers know nothing about roller skating, well, that’s only more reason to ignore what they say.

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Don’t Quit Now!

The most important thing of all is that you keep practicing, so come by Mac’s every week or so and build on your confidence and skills! Practice gliding, speeding up, turning, slowing down, and stopping. Keep on until you feel as steady on skates as you are on your feet. Like learning to play an instrument, you never actually forget how to skate, but without regular practice you might backslide to a point of fresh awkwardness. Fortunately, it won’t take long for you to get back in the groove, but you might feel a little silly for “forgetting.”

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Benefits of Roller Skating…For Kids!

If you’ve visited us at least once, you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of smiles at Mac’s. We’re a family-friendly place where the every member of the family, no matter their age, can enjoy a healthful activity together.

For anyone of any age looking to stay healthy, roller skating can be a great alternative to what might be considered “traditional” cardiovascular exercise, but there are extra benefits for growing kids. For kids, ensuring that they get regular—and fun!—exercise like roller skating can help them to build healthful habits that last into adulthood. Read on to learn some of the ways roller skating assists with a child’s healthy development.

A Strong, Healthy Heart

The benefits of roller skating are especially pronounced for children.The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity each day. Roller skating is aerobic activity that will ramp up a child’s heart rate. As you might recall from our health benefits of roller skating post, roller skating has the same benefits as jogging but with less joint damage. And obviously, less joint damage to developing joints is preferable.

Helping a child build endurance will help them into their teen years and adulthood if they decide to play a sport or engage in some other physical activity.

Encourage Social Interaction

When it comes to exercise, it’s important that a child is able to engage in an age-appropriate activity. This is a matter of safety. Happily, roller skating has no age restrictions. It’s an activity that children can enjoy with other children, friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, and other family. At a skating rink, children have the opportunity to chat with others about a shared interest and make new friends.

Gives a Brain Boost

In general, regular exercise is one of the better ways to improve cognitive function. It’s also a great way to ease stress and let go of spare energy. This is particularly good for children who are easily distracted, as the expended energy will allow them to focus at home, at school, and on homework or other assignments.

Easy to Learn

Some children may have health conditions related to balance that would increase the difficulty of learning to skate, but for most kids skating can be learned in a short time. From there it’s just refining technique and learning more advanced skills.

Promotes Confidence

Indoor skating is year-round and safer for kids in most circumstances.Childhood is a critical time for the development of self-esteem. Becoming skilled at skating is something parents can’t do for their children—only encourage them toward. This puts children in the position of being able to take advice but having to actually solve problems themselves. Successfully resolving a problem (or learning a trick), with or without advice, shows children that there are things they can do themselves and that failing isn’t the end of the world.

Less Aggressive Sport

For the shy or happy-go-lucky child—or the concerned parent—sports commonly played at school might be too physically aggressive. Even in sports that are treated as “non-contact,” contact can be frequent and rough. However, most disciplines of skating are about speed and/or precision, which contact can negatively impact. Disciplines that do or may involve contact, such as quad hockey, roller hockey, or roller derby, have very strict rules regarding what’s considered acceptable.

Don’t Wait!

It’s never too early to get into healthful habits. Such habits are good for people of any age and especially beneficial for children, and roller skating is a great place to start (or continue). So come by Mac’s Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays to take a few spins around the rink. Start skating toward a more healthful future!

Brain Benefits of Roller Skating

Roller skating is as good for your brain as it is for your body!You’re probably already aware that exercise is good for your body and will improve your health and general quality of life. The benefits your body reaps from regular physical activity, like roller skating, are so well documented that few people bother to really talk about it anymore. But were you aware that the benefits of exercise extend to your brain as well?

If not, don’t be embarrassed. Most people either don’t know or forget soon after they hear about it simply because the benefits haven’t been pushed into mainstream consciousness; instead, we’re told to play “brain games” to keep our brains young and let physical activity be for our bodies. But what if we told you that when it comes to it, roller skating is a brain game?

It Helps You Learn More

Whenever you exercise, chemicals in your brain called “growth factors” are released. These growth factors help create new brain cells, which will help you to not only learn easier but remember new information.

It Helps With Depression

If you’re feeling a little down, there’s some evidence that being active is almost as effective as reducing the symptoms of depression.

It Helps You Get Balanced

Of course, roller skating improves your sense of balance; this will make you more stable on your feet and boost your fitness level, which will help you in other activities. On top of that, however, improved balance will help your brain synchronize and keep your mind clear.

It Helps Cut Stress

Roller skating is good for your brain in several ways.

When you’re under stress, you can feel as though your brain is fogged. The mere act of thinking becomes difficult, let alone making decisions and performing at work or school. Roller skating helps by encouraging the release of chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which help to calm you down and increase your overall ability to function.

It Boosts Memory

According to the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, regular physical activity—even casual activities—is one of the best ways to slow or possibly prevent Alzheimer’s. So for older skaters, roller skating is a fun way to not only reconnect with a fond childhood activity, but also lowers your chances of developing this terrible and distressing disease.

So What Are You Waiting For?

There’s no doubt about it: For most people, the point of exercising is to build muscle or flatten a stomach. If it’s that way for you too, there’s nothing wrong with that! But it can’t hurt to be aware of the boost that your brain will get alongside your body, right? So now that you know that roller skating benefits you literally from head to foot, why are you still sitting in front of a screen? Get your skates on, get out there, and engage your brain!

Inline Skate Care

Like roller skates, it’s important to carry out regular maintenance to extend the life of your inline skates (rollerblades). Fortunately, you don’t need much in the way of tools and supplies, and—bonus!—as you gain experience with doing maintenance you’ll be able to do it faster and take less time away from other things.

You won’t need to remove your wheels or bearings every time you do maintenance, but it’s good to be ready, in case you notice a problem. We’ll pretend they do need to be removed to give you a thorough idea of rollerblade maintenance. We’ll also pretend you have hard-shell skates (the stiff plastic sort), since there are a few more parts involved. Here’s a list of items you’ll need:

  • Allen tool/all-purpose skate tool/manufacturer’s tool(s)
  • toothbrush, or a craft brush that’s small and stiff
  • cloths, tissues, or wipes (lint-free)
  • bearing oil (light)
  • cleaning solution for bearings

Remove the Wheels and Boot Liners

Removable boot liners make rollerblade care much simpler.Use the Allen tool (or skate or manufacturer’s tool) to remove the wheels. Open all boot fasteners and/or loosen laces and remove the boot liner. Doing these will make it easier to see and clean all areas of your skates. Look first for anything that needs repair or replacement; those things won’t need cleaning, so you shouldn’t waste time with them.

Wipe Down the Shell and Frame

The frame or your rollerblades holds the wheels apart and in a line.Roller skates usually have soft boots. The typical rollerblade is more likely to have a “hard shell” (stiff plastic), but there are “soft shell” varieties. Either way, you need to wipe down the shells and frames (what the wheels attach to) with a damp cloth. This will help keep them looking new, but also help keep dirt away from areas that might be harmed by it.

Use the brush to knock grit from holes, crevices, wheels, and wheel spokes. As with wiping off the shell, you don’t want the dirt to ever get into your bearings. Keep in mind that it’s better to do this easy cleaning than need to disassemble your bearings and clean those because you didn’t do the easy cleaning (sometimes, the type of seal on bearings means they can’t be cleaned and have to be replaced, which can get expensive).

Keep Dirt and Grit out of the Bearings

Bearings keep your roller skates moving smoothly, so it's important to keep dirt and water out of them whenever possible.Once you have the other parts free of dirt, wipe down the bearings with a lint-free cloth dabbed in light oil or bearing cleaner. This will help remove dirt without adding water, which will cause the bearings to rust if it gets inside.

Spin each wheel to check for an even and quiet roll. Adding one drop of light oil to each bearing on each side of each wheel will make them last longer, but don’t add more than that because a buildup of oil will attract more dirt and possibly shorten your bearings’ lifespan. If after all that the roll is rough or there’s a scratching noise, the bearings will need to be removed and cleaned with bearing cleaner.

Double-Check Brake Pads

Brake pads help you stop, so you always need them to be in good shape.Always make sure it’s firmly secured. An unsecured brake pad could come loose when you need it most and you or someone else might end up hurt; at best, the brake housing—if not the entire frame—would probably be damaged and need replacement. So give it a wiggle and tighten it if necessary.

After every skating session, check the wear. Most brake pads have a wear line, which will help you decide whether the pad needs to be replaced. Exactly when the brake pad should be replaced is a little flexible; for safety and comfort replacement should be done no later than the time the wear line is reached. Wait much longer than that and you’ll find you’re tilting your foot back at a steep, possibly painful angle. Eventually, the screw that holds the pad in place would damage and be damaged by whatever surface you skate, and it might catch on something and cause you to fall. So change your brake pad by the time it’s worn to the wear line.

Keep the Wheel Bolts Properly Adjusted

Wheel bolts keep your wheels in place and help prevent too much play. Keep them well adjusted!This is very important to your wheels’ performance. When you put your wheels back in the frame and have the wheel bolts tightened to what’s approximately correct, check each wheel for excessive play (a lot of rocking on the axle). Too much play will lead to increased wear, which will prematurely age your wheels. So you’ll want to tighten each one to the point where the wheel spins freely but the play is minimal.

If you find yourself tightening the bolts a lot, there are solutions you can buy that act sort of like glue that will help keep things in place. Just keep them away from the wheel bearings or the bearings might lock up.

Buckles and Laces

Buckles and laces keep your rollerblades on your feet, so don't let them break.Buckles, laces, and other fasteners keep your rollerblades on your feet, so they’re very important for safety and stability. Check them frequently for wear, or loose or missing parts. These are easily replaced, so be proactive if something doesn’t seem right.

Inspect the Boot Liners

Dirt loves to hide in and around your liners. This might not do any harm to the equipment, but think of how painful it’d be to skate with a rock digging into your instep! So when you’re doing maintenance on your rollerblades, give the liners a shake over a garbage can or a plastic shopping bag you’ve spread over the floor (to catch anything that falls). Wipe both sides of the insole and the bed inside the skate where the liner or insole sits.

Check the Skate Boots

You may not skate outdoors, aggressively, or play roller hockey, but your boots (that is, the shells), can still be damaged by falls and scrapes. So check that the boot structure, fasteners, and supports haven’t been weakened or broken by routine wear.

Wash Liners and Other Fabric Parts

A net bag can help if you choose to wash washable rollerblade parts in a washing machine.Your feet probably sweat when you skate, so after every skating session you’ll want to open the liners wide and let them air dry to reduce the presences of bacteria and odors. Still, not everything will shake out, wipe off, or air out. At some point, some parts of your rollerblades are going to make you recoil and pinch your nose.

Fortunately, certain parts of your rollerblades are washable. The best way to wash these parts is by hand with a mild soap, but you can also toss them into a cloth bag, net bag (see image), or even a pillow case and run them through a mild cycle in a washing machine (using mild soap). Air dry them afterward. Don’t put them in a dryer unless you want them shrunken or destroyed.

If you have any doubts, contact the manufacturer and ask what they recommend for cleaning.

And You’re Done (For Now)!

“But skate care is boring!” Yes, we know. Virtually any kind of care for any activity can be boring, even if you love doing the activity. But maintaining your rollerblades is safer for you and anyone around you. It’s also infinitely cheaper in the long run than just abusing your rollerblades until they don’t work, then buying a new set. It even increases the amount of fun you have, because by keeping them in good working order you don’t have to fight with them to get them to do what you want.

The good news is that, with time, you’ll be able to perform the care faster and faster, and soon it won’t take long at all. You may even find you come to enjoy the maintenance as a wind-down, if it’s been a particularly frustrating day. So put on some music or a video you don’t need to watch to enjoy and get cleaning. Your skates will be happier, and so will you.

Roller Skate Care

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

Boots are the foundation of roller skates, and their care is usually pretty simple.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

Trucks are normally sturdy, but they're also part of your roller skates' complicated support system and need frequent checks.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.

Toe Stops

Toe stops can wear down quickly, so check them often.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.

Wheels

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.

Dirty wheels are more likely to lose traction than clean wheels, which makes dirty wheels a problem for novice skaters or anyone who does tricks.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.

Bearings

Bearings keep your roller skates moving smoothly, so it's important to keep dirt and water out of them whenever possible.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!

History of Roller Skating

Believe it or not, the history of roller skating actually begins with rollerblades. That’s right! The very first roller skates were designed to mimic ice skates, so the wheels—usually two to six—were aligned in such a way as to be a “blade” beneath the skate boot. This design of skate steered well, but lacked brakes and was difficult to balance on, so its use was limited. Some users had been told by doctors to ice skate for their health; they would rollerblade when they couldn’t ice skate, but the learning curve was so steep that there was little other reason to use them.

“Prehistoric” Roller Skates

In the early 1860s, James Plimpton—who had been prescribed ice skating for his health by a doctor—changed the roller skating world forever. Skating is a fun and healthful activity, but at the time people found it to be more trouble than it was worth to balance on the “bladed” design of wheeled skates or to steer the paired-wheel design. Plimpton’s “rocking action” skate placed a rubber cushion between the wooden plate and the axles, allowing the “truck” to move from side to side when the skater shifted his or her weight. This element of control added to the increased stability of the paired-wheel design made skating easy and fun for a greater number of people, which brought about the first roller skating craze.

Clamp-on roller skates. Notice the "key" on the leather strap of the far skate, which was used to adjust the clamps.

Around that same time, clamp-on skates were being patented by Everett Barney. In the past, skates had only ever been secured by way of leather straps tied over the skater’s normal shoe . . . and the straps tended to break. Everett Barney invented a skate that could be clamped onto a shoe or boot and adjusted with a metal screw. Many skates came to be designed with the clamping feature at the toe and the traditional leather straps at the heel.

Children’s Skates

An example of adjustable clamp-on skates with metal wheels.In the 1890s, a two-piece, adjustable skating plate emerged. This allowed a single pair of skates to fit a variety of shoe sizes. While perhaps not intended as such, this became a major feature of children’s skates that stuck around well into the 1960s and continues, if to less fanfare, to this day. One company well-known for manufacturing children’s toys has been making brightly colored, adjustable plastic varieties of both roller skates and rollerblades for decades, and has innovated safety and learning features like a graduating skating system that switches from non-rolling wheels to wheels that don’t roll backward to normal roller skates as a child becomes more proficient.

Modern Roller Skates

“Shoe skates” started to appear in the early 1900s. This form of skate had the plate attached permanently to a skating boot that rose partway up the skater’s calf. Professional skaters of the time didn’t use anything else, but sanitation concerns meant that the average casual skater continued to use clamp-ons at roller rinks into the late 1950s. With time, however, the sanitation concern was resolved and the modern roller skate was used in public rink and personal settings.

Shoe skates ultimately led to the quad (roller) skate. Invented by Louis Legrand of France for use by women in an opera, modern quad skates are made from leather and cut lower than shoe skates—usually to the ankle. They’re generally available in black or white, but can be custom-dyed.

Wheels

Roller skates went through many forms, including all-terrain forms that utilized a similar sort of tracks that military tanks use.Modern skates usually have polyurethane wheels, but that hasn’t always been the case. Before polyurethane, roller skate wheels were made of wood. Rubber wheels came about in the early 1850s, and wheels made of metal and fiber came along around the same time, but wooden wheels stayed at the forefront until 1910 or so.

Today, the wheels of roller skates and rollerblades are entirely synthetic. In the 1960s is when polyurethane stepped into the limelight, and since then it’s never left. A versatile material that’s easy to color and customize, polyurethane can be made harder to roll better, or softer to grip better.

Ball Bearings

The addition of steel ball bearings to the wheels in the mid-1880s reduced friction and let wheels turn with greater freedom. This made skating less strenuous, which increased its popularity. The bearings were organized in 1908 with the “cup and cone” innovation, which caused the bearings to actually roll in a sealed casing rather than rub or slide against the wheel or axle.

Toe Stops and Toe Plugs

A toe stop—of a sort—was first recorded in the mid-1870s; it was a rubber pad secured to the front of the skate. Similar ideas were patented, but never made commercially, in 1908. The 1940s is when the toe stop found its common use. Like the toe picks on ice skates, toe stops are used for jumping off of and to assist in sharp, fancy moves. Their usefulness in quick stops and turns made roller skates much more useful than rollerblades in early roller hockey.

You’re likely to see jam skaters with toe plugs. The toe plugs’ job is less to assist with stopping a skate and more to protect a rink floor by plugging the hole a toe stop would normally be bolted into. Their smaller size and lower profile makes harder skating tricks possible. Like roller skate wheels, they’re made from polyurethane and come in a rainbow of colors.

Inline Skates

Historically, rollerblades actually came before roller skates, since the goal was to mimic ice skates.As mentioned at the start, the first roller skates were actually inline skates (rollerblades). But they never really caught on because they did little more than move in a straight line. Quad skates were the first to get the improvements that allowed for precision skating and techniques that were more like that seen in ice skating, so they pulled ahead in popularity in pretty much every field.

But since 1990, inline skate technology is pushing the longtime boundaries of what inline skates can do compared to quad skates. Roller skaters have seen the advancements and advantages of inline skates, particularly when it comes to speed, and now in national competitions speed skaters and hockey players use inline skates exclusively. Other skating disciplines require greater maneuverability and so have been harder to satisfy, but manufacturers continue to work with variations in wheel location, height, and alignment to provide a worthy product.

How Far Has Roller Skating Come?

In 1906, men’s roller skates cost $4.50 per pair. Extra wheels were just thirty cents. It was so inexpensive a sport that even during the Depression most people could afford it. In modern times, skate prices range from fifty dollars for an off-the-shelf pair to well over fifteen hundred for complete custom-molded sets. Top competitors will go to this expense to boost their game and suit their equipment preferences.