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Parts of a Skate

At some point we’re going to talk about caring for roller skates, but before we do that it’s important to be familiar with the parts of roller skates. Now there are a number of designs of roller skate, and parts will vary a little from one to another. The most common styles of roller skates are high-top, speed (or low-cut), and inline (rollerblade). Below is a list of the major components that make up roller skates or rollerblades—we’ve thrown them all together for simplicity.


Every skate will have a boot. These are built of leather or man-made materials, usually depending on the expected use or need.


This is in every skate as well, but size and padding will vary by style of skate. It’s exactly like what’s in your shoes and has the same purpose.

Velcro speed strap

Also called a power strap. Used to secure the fit tighter than just laces can do, which helps to improve performance and safety.


This is the metal structure attached to the bottom of the boot that everything else is attached to. It can be made of a variety of metals.

The basic parts of a roller skate are pretty simple and easy to remember.Truck

This is normally considered part of the plate. If asked, most people new to skating would mistakenly call it the axle, but that’s actually inside the truck. The trucks’ biggest job is to help distribute your weight to each wheel depending on whether you want to go straight or turn.

Toe stops

The big rubbery knob at the front of a skate that acts as a brake for skates, intended to help with stopping and used in some skating tricks. Some toe stops are adjustable to help with tricks. If toe stops aren’t wanted, some skates might have toe plugs instead; toe plugs don’t help with stopping, just fill the hole where the toe stop would go and protect the skating surface (some varieties are lighted!). Rollerblades are more likely to have heel stops, which are usually rectangular like an eraser. Sometimes, there just is no braking method on a skate at all.


There are many different sizes, styles and grip or hardness levels in wheels. Some wheels even have lights in them, adding an element of safety (and coolness).


A part intended to reduce friction and control movement. For skates, these usually come in two sizes—seven millimeters and eight millimeters.

That’s Just the Beginning!

As you can see from the pictures, there are many more parts to skates and rollerblades. Some are self-explanatory, others not so much. You’ll learn each one and their importance to the safe or comfortable function of your skates as you continue to explore roller skating.

An exploded view of a roller skate shows the parts that connect trucks to the plate.

Skating Disciplines

In previous blogs, while talking about the skates that might be best for you, we’ve given passing mention to some of the many disciplines of roller skating. If you’re new to the skating world, you may be unfamiliar with the variety of skating you might enjoy. We’ll cover some of them here and try to avoid repeating ourselves.

First, you should know that competitive sports that use inline skates or roller skates are mainly governed by USA Roller Sports (USARS). USARS is recognized by both the International Roller Sports Federation (FIRS) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Its bylaws list only “speed,” “artistic,” hockey,” and “roller derby” as disciplines, but membership applications break it down a little more:

  • speed (inline speed skating)
  • recreation (fitness skating, jam skating)
  • aggressive (skateboarding, aggressive inline skating)
  • figure (artistic roller skating—including precision, figure, dance, singles, pairs)
  • rink hockey (quad skate roller hockey)
  • inline hockey (inline skate roller hockey)
  • roller derby

We’ll cover each of these in brief, to give you an idea of the diverse possibilities of skating. You can take it from there and figure out what best fits your skills and goals.

Inline Speed Skating

An example of a "paceline" in inline speed skating.Often called “inline racing” by participants, this sport is much like its cousin—ice speed skating. The similarity is so great that some competitors switch between the two during the appropriate seasons. These skaters will use tactics similar to those used in ice speed skating and bicycle racing, such as forming “pacelines” to save energy or teams designating one skater to hang back and save energy to make a final push for the win while the others try to wear out the competition.

Skates used in inline speed skating are specially designed and crafted for racing. Low-cut to allow for ankle movement, they’re typically made of some combination of leather, aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber, and/or fiberglass. They have three to five wheels, with three- and four-wheeled skates being most commonly seen, and often don’t have brakes.

Fitness Skating

As beneficial as jogging but with less joint damage, fitness skating is great for any age.Fitness skating is largely about long distances. Marathons. Roller skating burns as many calories in one hour as jogging and does about fifty percent less joint damage, making it a superior form of exercise that’s much more forgiving to anyone who’s just starting out.

Fitness skates are similar to inline racing skates, as the central idea is speed, but are typically high-cut. They’re usually three-wheeled, with the wheels being noticeably larger than average. There are some four-wheeled varieties, as well as step-in versions that you can strap over a normal shoe to cut back on how much you have to carry and reduce the time needed to switch between modes of transportation.

While not technically fitness skating, people have also built exercise regimens around skates. Sometimes this is called “rollerobics.”

Jam Skating

Jam skating can range from simple footwork to breakdancing.A form of freestyle skating referred to by many different names, jam skating is dancing and doing dance-style tricks to music. Born more or less in the disco era and often associated with disco music, over time jam skating has branched out to many other genres of music. There are different types of jam skating, including shuffle skating, power (“breakdancing”), ground breaking, and footwork. Jam skating picked up momentum in the early nineties, and there are still competitions for jam skaters to swap techniques, perform, and “battle.”

Originally, jam skaters wore roller skates with artistic high-cut boots and toe stops. In the early eighties, jam skaters found that the low-cut boots of speed skates plus jam plugs for stopping allowed for greater agility. Some jam skaters still use roller skates, but most jam skaters prefer the flexibility of speed skates.

Artistic Roller Skating

Artistic figure skating has clothing and routines that are similarly elaborate as those in ice skating.Think ice skating, but where participants are wearing roller skates or rollerblades instead. In fact, artistic roller skating and ice skating are so similar that participants routinely switch from one to the other. However, artistic roller skating is thought by many to be more difficult than ice skating because of the weight of the skates, the shallower angle that has to be taken to remain steady, and the lack of tracings. Sub-disciplines in artistic roller skating are diverse:

  • Figure (similar to ice skating’s compulsory or “school” figures)
  • Freestyle (jumps and spins)
  • Pairs (freestyle for two people, includes lifts)
  • Dance (couple)
  • Solo dance
  • Precision (team skating, akin to synchronized ice skating)
  • Show teams
  • Creative solo/freedance

When it comes to the skates used, this is a form of skating where roller skates dominate. Roller skates were what were first used, and they continue to be preferred over rollerblades. Unlike in some other styles, participants wearing roller skates don’t compete against those wearing rollerblades. And with so many different disciplines, the build of skates varies widely in materials, wheel size, and bearing size.

Quad Skate Roller Hockey

While not as physical as its inline cousin, quad hockey players still have to wear some protective equipment.Known by a variety of names the world over, quad hockey consists of two five-person teams (four skaters plus a goalkeeper). Teams have a minimum of six players and a maximum of ten. The five-man team is similar to inline hockey, but a major difference between the two sports is that inline hockey allows more physical contact. It used to be known as “hardball hockey” in the United States until late 2008, at which time the United States Olympic Committee decided to use the more common “rink hockey” to reduce confusion.

There’s minimal regulation for skates when it comes to quad hockey. Skates must have two pairs of wheels, and the diameter of those wheels must be three centimeters or larger. Brakes are permitted on the front of the skates, but they must be no larger than five centimeters.

Inline Skate Roller Hockey

Inline hockey looks very similar to ice hockey, but has noticeably different rules.Inline hockey looks virtually identical to ice hockey except for the skates and playing surface. However, that’s where the similarity ends. The rules differ noticeably, and games tend to be faster because there are fewer players than in ice hockey. Teams are comprised of sixteen players, but only four (with the goalie making five) from each team are on the ice at any one time. It’s also much less physical than ice hockey, with stiff penalties for things like body checking, but protective equipment is still required for competitions.

Given the variety of demand this sport puts on rollerblades, there’s currently no special design for it. If you focus on one aspect, you’re bound to sacrifice in another. The best thing to do is start with an off-the-shelf variety and determine if something else is needed.

Roller Derby

The first roller derby team of Beirut, Lebanon, has young women from many Middle East countries.Born from competitive endurance “derbies,” this contact sport consisting of multiple “jams” (matches) where two teams of five players roller skate counter-clockwise around a track. During each jam, a chosen “jammer” attempts to lap the players on the opposing team; teammates play both offense and defense by attempting to hinder the opposing team while protecting their jammer. Modern roller derby is a sport dominated largely by amateur all-female teams, though there are increasing numbers of male and unisex teams, as well as junior divisions.

Like artistic skating, this is a discipline where roller skates are required for all players. In some rules sets referees are permitted to wear rollerblades, but generally both players and referees wear roller skates. Skates used by players usually have a low-cut boot and are made of tougher material than normal skates because of the demands made on them during competition.

Did You Find Something You Like?

It might seem a little overwhelming at first, but the great diversity of disciplines shows that roller skating is still alive and well despite how little most people hear about it. You may find you enjoy one, two, or more, so pull on your skates and don’t be afraid to try everything!

While we did say that special skates are preferred for these disciplines, the great news is that any of them can be explored with the same sort of roller skates or rollerblades that you can rent at the rink or buy off the shelf of a sports store. Those were the types of skates originally used when these disciplines were in their infancy, after all.

So if something interests you, go for it!

Roller Skating Tricks

Some would call it “having fun,” others “showing off.” Either way, there’s no arguing that learning tricks on roller skates or rollerblades pushes you to improve your balance and explore your potential.

Unfortunately, there’s no special, speedy recipe for learning tricks. As with all things, “practice makes perfect.” To be able to do tricks, you have to skate a lot and know by heart the basics of skating before you should attempt anything. This will mean practicing and becoming confident in such things as:

  • standing steady in skates
  • skating forward
  • taking turns at speed
  • staying stable during turns

The above aren’t the only things you should practice—you should even practice falling (carefully!) to reduce the amount and severity of injuries that may happen while you try to learn tricks. You can also practice your footwork by weaving between small cones.

Only when you’re absolutely sure you’re ready should you begin trying tricks. And when you do, make sure you have plenty of space to move. You don’t want to kick anyone or be kicked.

Skating Backward

Skating backward always looks fun. It’s also a good place to start because all tricks will rely on your comfort in skates, and skating backward isn’t too departed from what you’ve already been practicing. It’s a great “step two” in building confidence and branching out into other tricks.

There are two easy ways that you can learn to skate backward. The first we’ll cover is the easiest.

  1. Find the flattest area you can.
  2. Balance your weight equally on each leg, but don’t lock your knees.
  3. Be sure you’re comfortable in a slight squatting position and not afraid to fall.
  4. Push your legs out to opposite sides and then bring them back in while making a slight figure-eight shape. You should start moving backward.

The second way to skate backward is by starting from a still position. Shift most of your weight to one leg while pushing off with the other. Push of one of your legs out and then bring it back in to make an S shape (half a figure eight).

The Moonwalk

This one is pretty easy for those who are comfortable with skating backward. That said, it does require toe stoppers on your skates so you can push off; if you don’t have those then you’ll have a hard time, especially if you’re still just beginning to work on tricks.

Start with the wheels of one skate on the floor and the other skate propped up on the toe stopper. Push off with the stopper and glide backward on the other skate. Alternate the positions of your feet so that the skate that was propped up is flat and the flat skate is propped up. Push off with the stopper and glide backward. Switch feet again and repeat.

Once you learn the motions, you can perform it at your own speed. Here’s a video to help you visualize, along with two other tricks you can try:

Never Stop Trying!

Anyone who’s ever learned to do tricks—or taught them to others—will tell you that learning them well takes time and dedication. You should, of course, be proud of yourself for completing a trick successfully. However, it doesn’t make you an expert, and no matter how cautious you are you’re likely to fall during a future attempt.

That doesn’t mean you should give up! Just be patient, wear your protective gear, look out for others, and remember that it’s all about having fun.

The Health Benefits of Roller Skating

When you think of roller skating, you might first think of very fit men and women cruising along a beach boardwalk in some glamorous, sunny location. At a glance, it may seem like these people skate because they’re fit. But the likelier possibility is that they’re fit because they skate.

The health benefits of roller skating are well documented, and the great part is that those who work it into their lives have a fun way to work out that’s easy on their bodies for years and years. The following are some of the health benefits of roller skating.

It’s a destroyer of calories.

Everyone’s looking for ways to get rid of fat. The average man is likely to burn about ten calories per minute while skating; the average woman is likely to burn about nine calories per minute. Add this up over the course of an hour of skating and you can unload anywhere from 300 to 600 calories. Even if you can only manage a half-hour of roller skating, that’s about 250 calories. Do that five times a week and you’re torching roughly 1250 calories. Cha-ching!

It moves your body and is easy on your joints.

You don't have to be an artistic skater to get a workout from roller skating, but it doesn't hurt.As you roller skate, your arms and core balance your body while your legs and glutes move you forward. Keeping muscles strong and coordinated helps prevent injuries and keeps skaters active and limber as long as they stick with it.

The fluid motion of skating lets you enjoy movement similar to running and dancing without damaging your joints. The University of Massachusetts conducted a study and discovered that when it came to impact shock, skating caused less than half the damage to joints that running did.

So when done for the same amount of time, skating aerobically offers the same benefit as running, but doesn’t do the same amount of damage. That’s great news for skaters of all ages who may want or need to protect their joints.

It improves coordination, balance, and agility.

Some people have no problem keeping their balance, but for many it doesn’t come naturally. Balance affects walking and how a person does some things and plays certain sports. It’s important to have good balance, which cuts down on the energy expended for regular activities such as walking or sitting. It also helps reduce or eliminate fatigue. Since balance is so necessary for successful roller skating, even unsteady people will learn tricks and techniques to improve balance.

Roller skating is gentle on joints, making it possible for skaters of all ages to reap the health benefits of roller skating.What does this mean as far as parts of the body? A steady core is important to balance. Roller skating achieves this by forcing the use of lower back and abdominal muscles to stay upright and help you move forward and backward. Matching balance to leg motion improves coordination. Agility comes along on its own as you get stronger and more coordinated.

It makes your heart stronger.

Heart disease—which includes strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular diseases—is a killer. It’s so prevalent in the United States that from coast to coast it’s the leading cause of premature death for both men and women. According to the National Heart Foundation, roughly 787,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease each year. This is shocking enough, but thanks to the stresses we endure, heart disease continues on an alarming uptick.

Fortunately, roller skating has been recognized by the American Heart Association as aerobic exercise that’s effective at strengthening the heart. Research conducted at Germany’s University of Konstanz found that moderate roller skating increases a person’s heart rate to anywhere from 140 to 160 beats per minute. Skating at top speeds increases the heart rate to around 180 beats per minute. Keep your heart toned and help it help you. Go skating!

It improves endurance.

Roller skating is a workout for your entire body.Roller skating can boost muscle endurance as much as it does muscle strength. If you skate outdoors and add a few uphill climbs to your route, you train your muscles (and your heart) to function more efficiently. That means you’ll be able to skate farther and do other workouts without getting exhausted.

It’s great for cross-training.

Given all of the above, the fact that roller skating offers the same health benefits, calorie burn, fat burn, and leg development as jogging means that athletes who need a way to stay in shape during the off-season can grab a pair of skates.

It’s a mood booster.

How often do you see someone roller skating while unhappy? With the variety of music, lighting, health benefits, and social activity, roller skating is one of the most fun workouts you can get.

It’s a social activity.

Yes, social activity is a matter of health. Obviously, being with friends and family is good for your head, but social contact also boosts things like immune function. And in the context of being active, there’s evidence that having an exercise buddy increases your likelihood of sticking to a regimen. So if your friends suggest meeting up and sitting around, suggest going skating instead.

You can skate pretty much anywhere.

Are you in a rink? On the street? On a paved trail? Are you ever on any smooth surface at all? Well, you can skate there, so get to it (just make sure you have permission, if you need it)!

When You Don’t Have a Beach

The notion of skating along a beach boardwalk is a romantic one, but isn’t always doable. The good news is, for most people who don’t live in those sunny locales, it’s still possible to skate at a roller rink and get the same health benefits as the boardwalk cruisers. So strap on your skates and get fit!

Should You Skate Indoors or Outdoors?

If you love to roller skate, you probably look for as many excuses as you can to visit the rink. And while indoor rinks are open year-round, sometimes finding the time or a way to get there is difficult. You may have considered skating outdoors at times when the stars aren’t quite aligning for you to get to the rink. But you may have questioned whether it’s a good idea to skate outdoors without a skate park or other designated area.

The great news is, it’s always a good idea to skate, indoors or out. It’s good for your mind and body, and if you choose to skate outdoors it’s completely possible to skate even without a special place to go. Still, there are some things to consider before putting on your skates and cruising your neighborhood.

Should you get roller skates or rollerblades?

The diameter of your wheels affects every aspect of outdoor skating.You may be used to using quad skates (roller skates) in the rink but have been thinking of trying out inline skates (rollerblades). You might wonder if it’s possible to transition to rollerblades, or even to continue roller skating but add rollerblading to your list of skills. In fact, there are many people who both roller skate and rollerblade, and no matter whether they’re inside or outside, they may choose to do either. Join them!

That said, it’s true that—objectively speaking—roller skates are “better” for rinks while rollerblades are “better” for outdoor skating. The design of each type of skate is, technically, better suited for one environment or the other. However, there’s no reason to force yourself to use rollerblades outdoors if you prefer roller skates, and no reason to force yourself to use roller skates indoors if you prefer rollerblades. Either type of skate can be used either indoors or outdoors.

If you’d like to explore some of the unique qualities of each basic type of skate to determine what’s best suited for you, check out our blog that compares roller skates versus rollerblades.

Is it more expensive to skate inside or outside?

Skating indoors usually involves admission and rental fees, so it may seem like skating outdoors would be cheaper. After all, if you skate outdoors it’s free; you may believe buying skates is the only expense.

The reality is that skating safely outdoors means paying for more than just the “right” skates and obeying local rules about road and sidewalk use. Safe outdoor skating means wearing protective equipment for your head, wrists, elbows, and knees that Outdoor skating may not be cheaper than indoor skating after safety gear is taken into account.aren’t usually required in a rink. It means wearing a high-visibility vest or jacket and small lights or glow sticks that will make you more visible, especially if you choose or are required by law to skate on roads alongside cars and trucks. Most of all, it means the regular purchase of new sets of wheels for your skates.

Meanwhile, if you only ever go to a rink and pay the admission and rental fees, the expense of skate care falls entirely on the rink. You may have to pay for protective equipment if you want to wear it, but unlike on a road or sidewalk, a normal long-sleeved shirt and long pants will be adequate protection against minor injuries in the event of a fall. High-visibility gear is completely unnecessary.

So if expense is a concern, read our blog on skating safety and be thorough in researching exactly what you’ll need.

What’s up with the wheels?

If you’ve spoken to outdoor-skating friends, they might have complained about having to buy wheels. And if you’ve done even a single online search about skating indoors versus skating outdoors, the amount of talk about wheels is probably the first thing you noticed. The reason for that is that outdoor skating is pretty brutal on wheels.

If you ever imagined that you might skate from home to the rink and then back home, it’s better not to unless you have another pair of skates to switch with. Wheels made for rinks are harder, less comfortable on hard surfaces, more likely to slip, and don’t handle obstacles well. Wheels made for outdoor use are more comfortable on road and better for running over debris, but their softness means they’re slower and will wear out faster than rink wheels. So they’ll need to be purchased more often. “Hybrid” wheels designed for both environments are still going to be slower indoors and prone to slipping outdoors, which impacts their fun factor in both arenas.

Wheel replacement is a frequent expense for outdoor skating.

Wheel size is also a consideration. Indoor wheels are usually smaller for fast turns, while outdoor wheels are usually much bigger so they can tackle outdoor debris easier. Choose one over the other and no matter what, you’re going to be sacrificing something.

Fortunately, it is possible to simply have a set of indoor wheels and a set of outdoor wheels and swap them when you get to the rink and right before you leave. Most varieties of wheel and skate are compatible. Still you may find you don’t like splashing through a puddle that was deeper than you thought and then skating indoors in wet boots.

The Final Verdict

As with many things, where you should skate depends on your needs, preferences, and resources. Indoor skating is best for:

  • Overall safety
  • Consistent environmental conditions for year-round skating
  • Tricks that don’t require speed

Outdoor skating is best for:

  • Changing views
  • Can be done at any time of day or night
  • Tricks that require speed

Whatever you choose, safety should always be a primary goal. Then it’s time to lace up and get rolling!

Roller Skating Safety: “It’s All Fun and Games Until…”

When it comes to roller skating, it can be tempting to dive in and get to the good stuff, particularly if you’re indoors and don’t have to worry about cars. But what’s the point of getting into the play if you have to quit early because you or a friend gets hurt? Taking a few minutes to give safety its due will ensure hours of fun.

Rules and Regulations

First and foremost, when you’re at a rink it’s important to listen to and obey rink staff at all times; also, know and obey rink rules. If you’re skating outdoors, all road rules and neighborhood ordinances still apply. Rules are there for everyone’s safety, not to cramp your style.

Skate Size

Choosing skates of the right size is a matter of safety.

This might not seem like it’s that important, but proper skate size isn’t something to be taken lightly.

What if you grab a pair of skates that are too small? At best, they’ll pinch your feet and make you miserable; at worst, they could make it harder for you to stay balanced. At the opposite end are skates that are too big, which will make it harder for you to get momentum when your feet are sliding around inside.

So make sure your skates are the right size. Most skates have their size marked on them—if they don’t, ask for help.

Proper Clothing

Roller skating is one of those things that you can do in pretty much any clothing you like: tee-shirt and shorts, sweater and jeans, whatever! We do recommend choosing clothing that will help you stay cool—roller skating is a workout—but if you’re concerned about injuries, a normal long-sleeved shirt and pair of jeans will protect against most minor injuries in a rink.

But whether you’re in a rink or outdoors, it’s important to wear clothing that fits. That goes especially if you choose to wear long legwear. If too long, jeans can get caught up in the wheels of your skates and trip you. Make sure you aren’t your own worst enemy when you’re skating!

Protective Equipment

At roller skating rinks, protective equipment like helmets, wrist protection, elbow pads, and knee pads are often optional. So if you’d prefer to bring your own, we welcome you to do so. However, you are fully responsible for your personal items at all times.

Watch What You’re Doing

Keep in mind that a public skating rink is going to have skaters of various levels of experience on the floor at the same time. You may be very skilled, but the people around you may be less experienced and slower to react. It’s important to accommodate them. Always be on the lookout for slower skaters or fallen skaters whether you’re skating forward or backward, and make sure no one is around you  to get hit if you decide to show the rink a few tricks.

Safety Isn’t Just For Indoors!

Wearing protective equipment is never a wrong choice!What’s listed above are key safety factors for indoor roller skating. If you’re going to skate around your neighborhood, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions to protect yourself and make yourself more visible to others.

  • Wear protective gear at all times. You know your (neighbor’s) dog loves you, but it hurts when he tackles you. It’ll hurt more if you’re in skates. Road rash is also worse when you’re in skates. So make sure you’re wearing a properly fitted helmet, wrist protection, elbow pads, and knee pads to reduce or prevent injury from falls.
  • Wear a high-visibility vest or jacket. You’ve likely seen road crews, joggers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and dog-walkers (even dogs) wearing bright yellow, green, orange, or even pink clothing. Especially at dawn and dusk, they almost seem to glow. It might seem ridiculous to wear “hi-viz” clothes like that because you’ll be stared at, but being noticed is the whole point.
  • Use reflective striping. Reflective striping or piping can be found on some jogging shoes, jackets, and safety vests. This will boost your visibility to others. It usually comes in a silver-gray, yellow, or orange color.
  • Carry safety lighting. Flashlights will do in a pinch if they’re bright enough, but it can be problematic to carry them while skating and typically only alerts anyone coming the opposite direction—you stay invisible to traffic behind you. Joggers and dog-walkers (sometimes the dogs, too) often have small blinking lights that can be clipped onto clothing to warn vehicles that they’re there.
  • Glow sticks work too. These can be purchased in either the single-use snap-and-shake variety or a battery-operated form. They usually have a loop that you can string a spare lace through, which you can then secure to a backpack or belt loop—that way the glow stick will swing and be even more noticeable, and if your skates use laces you’ll have one for an emergency.

Of course, these tips should never be taken as a replacement for basic road safety practices. The good news is that the same rules that apply when you’re a pedestrian apply when you’re skating. Be extra careful if you’re just getting started skating, always know what’s going on around you, use your hands and arms to signal your intentions, and keep in mind that sudden movements could startle the drivers of nearby vehicles and cause an accident.

It might seem like a lot to ask, but with time it will become second nature. In the meantime, even if you plan to skate mostly outdoors, you can always polish your skills at a rink.

Inline Skates vs. Quad Skates: Which is Best?

Here’s an ongoing debate in the roller skating world: Are quad skates (roller skates) or inline skates (rollerblades) better? As with many things it mainly comes down to the needs and goals of the skater, which we can’t know, but we can cover a few general considerations to get things started.


Anyone who’s ever been roller skating can probably remember their first time in skates, and the best words to describe it are likely “awkward” and “scary.” And why not? When we put on skates we’re giving up two flat, stable platforms that are easy to balance on (those underappreciated feet) for a bunch of wheels that by design are ready to roll away and take whatever they’re supporting with them.

So particularly for novice skaters, stability at slow speeds is key. Standing upright on skates even for just a second or two is empowering for new skaters of all ages.

Which means roller skates, in this aspect, are superior to rollerblades. The former usually consists of a soft shoe resting atop four wide wheels spaced evenly in sets of two, which makes them a little more forgiving and flexible if a skater staggers for some reason; by contrast, rollerblades usually consist of a soft layer inside a rigid shell that stiffens the ankle and reduces flexibility, and the protruding wheels in front and back can trip up an unprepared skater.

Roller skates are great for tricks, but in most cases are better suited for the indoors.

Not that you can’t learn to skate on rollerblades (of course you can, and rollerblades are probably better for outdoor learning), but the learning curve is going to be much steeper. Let’s face it—it’s far easier to stand and walk on a plank of wood than it is the rail of a fence.

That also shouldn’t be taken to mean that only novice skaters have any use for traditional roller skates. Many people who trick skate do so in roller skates, because for some tricks the stability of roller skates makes it easier to do several tricks one after another. The stability of roller skates is also useful in roller derby, where the pushing and shoving of the opposing team is common and staying balanced is key, and for dancing when jam skating.


Historically, the point of wheels is to move something easier and faster. A horse dragging a sled with a flat bottom is going to mover slower and work harder than the same horse pulling a wheeled cart. If we’re trying to get from one place to another, speed helps us be timely. From a poetic angle, speed has been likened to freedom and flying.

In any case, there’s no doubt that in certain conditions, moving quickly is exciting and daring (and who doesn’t like to go fast every now and then?). In that regard, rollerblades are the best. There’s a reason inline speed skaters don’t use roller skates, and that’s simply because roller skates just aren’t as fast as rollerblades.

There’s a lot of science behind why, but it can be explained easily by the design of the rollerblade compared to a roller skate—especially when it comes to the wheels. Looked at head-on, the wheels of a rollerblade are narrow, somewhat oval-shaped, and taper slightly to where they touch the floor. The wheels of a roller skate, however, are broad and don’t taper, which leads to greater friction and, as a result, slower speed.

Another clue is in the rigid frame of the average rollerblade, which encourages more stable turns at higher speeds by stiffening the ankle and forcing a skater’s entire body to lean. To not fall under those conditions, a skater has to be moving fast. The same physics apply to ice skating, bicycles, dirt bikes, and motorcycles.


This is a fifty-fifty issue.

Rollerblades are faster than roller skates, but less stable at slow speeds.

With the wheels in a single line, turning in rollerblades is a matter of leaning to one side or the other. This is very useful and greatly simplifies the effort of a turn . . . if you have the luxury of taking wide, sweeping ones. Even at speed, there’s little that can be done to trim a turn in rollerblades; the typically rigid shell and long wheelbase make sudden, sharp turns awkward at best and can throw a skater off balance in an instant.

So when it comes to cruising in a rink, rollerblades are second best. There’s no question that roller skates can handle sudden turns in confined areas and completely beat out rollerblades. It’s the difference in turning radius between a bus (rollerblades) and a car (roller skates)—the car will win every time.

However, the narrower and lower profile of rollerblades is superior when it comes to handling debris or imperfections in the skating surface. The long wheelbase that widens turns means less effort is needed to move around blocking objects.

Which type of skate is the best to start on?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. What’s going to be the “best” skate for new skaters is entirely dependent on whether they know what their environment and ultimate goal will be.

For skaters who’re going to be skating more on roads or sidewalks, rollerblades are more forgiving of imperfections in concrete and asphalt than roller skates and offer superior balance in the front and back (where a skater’s weight is likeliest to be while accelerating and stopping). Rollerblades are also going to be the skate of choice for roller sports where speed is important.

For casual skaters or those who prefer to stay indoors and cruise, roller skates offer greater stability at lower speeds, inspiring confidence and helping to avoid accidents in confined areas. Roller skates are also going to be ideal for trick skating and sports like roller derby, where staying balanced is more important than being fast.