Any skater can understand the importance of roller skate boots or wheels, but most people don’t give roller skate plates and trucks adequate credit for their importance. In this post we’re going to explore the point behind having plates and trucks on your skates, what they can be made of, and help you determine what type you might need.
What Are Plates?
Plates, along with trucks, are the part that connect the roller skate boots to the skates’ wheels. As you might expect given its name, the plate is the mostly flat piece that runs along the bottom of a skate.
Sizing them depends mostly on your comfort with skating; the wheelbase is measured from the center of one axle to the center of the other and often listed in both millimeters and inches. Different models may have different measurements. The key for novice or casual skaters is to be as accurate as possible to get the most stability; for more experienced skaters, a slightly smaller plate can improve agility.
What Are They Made Of?
Plates may be made of nylon or metal alloys. Nylon is ideal for anyone confined by a budget. They’re lightweight, so they can help those prone to fatigue. On the most low-end of models they can be flexible and weak, but modern nylon plates typically have fiberglass reinforcement that make them more durable. These are the best plates for recreational skaters and for occasional competitive play.
Metal alloys encompass aluminums and magnesium. A plate made of aluminum alloy may mean cast aluminum, aircraft aluminum, or 6000–7000 aluminum. Cast aluminum is very heavy, but economical. Aircraft aluminum includes basic aircraft aluminum, extruded aluminum, and lightweight extruded aluminum; each is lighter and more performance-oriented than the one before. 6000–7000 aluminum is an ‘elite’ aircraft-aluminum plate that’s lighter than nylon but also performs better. A magnesium-alloy plate is the next step up, being lighter, more rigid, more responsive, and more durable than nearly all aluminum plates.
If you’re a heavier skater, say, over two hundred pounds, a metal plate is going to be your safest bet.
Kingpins are what connect plates and trucks. They’re always set at an angle that generally ranges from ten degrees to forty-five degrees. The best angle for a skater is based on personal preference and related to stability and agility. A ‘smaller’ angle, such as ten degrees, offers the most stability and allows for an upright skating stance while a ‘larger’ forty-degree angle offers more agility. Reversible kingpins make turns easier still by allowing the front and rear wheels to turn in the same direction.
There are different types of kingpin nuts that further customize your skating experience. One type can be adjusted generally (standard) and another specifically (micro-adjustable) to apply a unique amount of pressure to the cushions.
What Are Trucks?
In our post on the history of roller skating we covered that the invention and application of trucks to roller skates made them much easier to control and led to the first boom in roller skate popularity. So what do they do? Trucks attach to the plate using kingpins, and the axles on which the wheels are threaded pass through a part of the truck.’ Trucks make turning easier and quicker, and they have a nut that can be adjusted to make them more responsive and increase turning speed, but this also makes them less stable.
What Are They Made Of?
Trucks are usually made of aluminum, which makes skates heavier, but for now there are no cheap alternatives. The trucks have to be metal because they’re where the majority of the wear and tear happens on a typical roller skate.
It Looks Crowded in There…
Plates and trucks are separated by rubber cushions or ‘bushings’ that help you turn. Stiffer cushions offer more stability while softer cushions sacrifice stability for agility; similarly, normal cylindrical cushions are more stable than conical cushions, but conical cushions allow for faster turns.
Cushions are the centerpiece of the “single action” or “double action” plates. Single action means that there’s just one cushion on top of the truck; this causes the skate to sort of snap over, which can be useful on banked surfaces, but they’re sensitive to the littlest movement and aren’t best for novices or disciplines where control is the most important factor. By contrast, double action plates have two cushions—one on either side of the truck—and the addition of the lower cushion makes a skater’s motions less dramatic and offers greater control.
Along with the cushions, some skates have a ‘jump bar’ or ‘jumper.’ This flat piece of metal connects the trucks and helps with turning and stability. They’re removable, but since they’re involved in the structure and support of the skates, it’s not recommended.
Do Rollerblades Have Plates and Trucks?
Inline skates (rollerblades) don’t have plates or trucks per se, but they do haves ‘frames.’ Frames are the part to which the axles are threaded and the wheels attached. These are where the power comes from during skating, so frame stiffness is important. With that in mind, flexibility, weight, and stiffness are the most important factors of frames. Frames often have cutouts that might look cool, but have the purpose of reducing weight while maintaining structural integrity. There are three common types of frames:
- Plastic frames are the least expensive to make, so their cheapness makes them a common feature in beginner-level skates. This helps make the skates cheaper as well, but it also means they’re not as sturdy. They’re also often heavier than other frame types, which makes the skates heavier and can increase the onset of fatigue.
- Aluminum frames are usually lighter and stiffer than plastic. This makes them more efficient and long-lived, but you’ll pay a little more for those benefits.
- Carbon frames are mainly for advanced and professional skaters who need extra reinforcement, strength, and weight reduction for their discipline.
Time to Truck Along
As you can see, plates and trucks are quite important to an easy and enjoyable skating experience. There are a lot of small parts involved, so it can be tempting to pull them off and set them aside during maintenance and cleaning, but they’re the foundation of your skating experience. Take care of them!