The humble toe stop.
They make you stop. They help you go. They're with you with every sharp change. Every derby stop, jam start and backwards brace.
The humble toe stop is an essential piece of hardware for any derby skater. These small pieces of material wedged in the end of your skates take a beating, they keep you up and they support you when you need it most. So while most skaters fascinate over which brand of wheels are the next big thing, why not take a moment to appreciate and understand your stoppers.
There are many different types of stoppers available for quad skates. From jam plugs to big footprint, small and webbed to wide and angled. All can provide you with a slightly different performance depending on your needs. We'll explore both size and material in this article as well as how to get the most from your stopper.
Natural rubber: (Gumballs/Roll line)
A natural rubber toe stop is often a lot softer than its plastic/rubber compound counterpart. They tend to be thicker in size and have a bit of 'bounce' to them. Having bounce is great if you prefer a little shock absorbency when your juking or need a little flex in your stopper to dig in when blocking backwards. They don't mark floors as long as you get uncoloured/natural ones and they can offer a softer and consistent feel. (disclaimer: coloured ones may mark the floor but check with your manufacturer)
Natural rubber toe stops wear down quite quickly and can be damaged when used outside. To maintain the longevity of your stoppers and save yourself being lopsided you should switch them over every so often (Especially if you have a dominant side for stopping).
Synthetic/rubber compounds: Bionics/Carrera
A rubber compound stopper can offer a little more traction and stiffness. This is due to the extra compounds (usually plastic base) mixed in with the rubber. A stiffer stopper can provide the user with a bit more feedback when in use as the bounce tends to be reduced in favour of extra traction. Extra traction can provide more stability and require the user to exert less effort when backwards blocking. Synthetic stoppers tend to be a bit more durable than all natural but the same advice is offered for longevity. Switch them over every so often so you don't end up wearing your dominant legs one!
The extra traction and stiffness can lead to less control when blocking and juking making the stops a lot quicker and more abrupt. A situation where this COULD be bad would be backwards blocking and rather than have some give/slide whilst holding the jammer you become too stationary due to your extra traction and are less able to let your stoppers slide maintaining your counter clockwise movements thus receiving a penalty for a stopped block. (Disclaimer - penalties are your own responsibility, not your kit)
Big or small?
This is totally a personal preference and also down to your own skating style. A bigger footprint will naturally give you a larger surface area with which to play with. A larger surface area can mean more stability and a better platform to dig in. Some bigger stoppers have started to incorporate lips or angle edges on them to allow the user to gain a little extra push when jumping or running.
A smaller stopper having a smaller surface area can provide a bit more punch when launching from it. With a reduced surface area your energy is concentrated into a compact area creating a more acute transfer point of force from your body through the toe stops. This can help towards a more explosive feel but with a smaller footprint you may feel slightly less stable than with a larger stopper.
Webbed or solid?
Some toe stops have little holes on them (bit like Swiss cheese) and some are flat the whole way across.
The idea behind having holes is that you can create little pockets of air which help you stick to the floor by creating little vacuums in the holes under weight. This is often described as 'bite'.
Smoother surfaced toestops can offer a bit more slide relying only on the material the stopper is made from as traction.
When to bounce and when to bite?
As a jammer (depending on your style) you will often find yourself using your stoppers more for accelerating off the jammer line and out of quick stops when escaping those pesky blockers. A smaller more biting toe stop could be useful for helping you feel your next move.
As a blocker you would traditionally find yourself using your edges more to block but when you do use your toe stops you may want a little softer experience. Maybe for when you've taken that big block and had to use your stoppers to recover or stop yourself from going over the boundary or simply when you're giving it your all holding that jammer or bracing your wall backwards.
A quick word on stem length....
So you'll probably see that you can get short or long stem threads in your toe stops the only difference being, you guessed it... Ones longer than the other. This is again a personal preference thing. I like my stoppers somewhere in the middle to help me switch between wheel work and stopper work without feeling like they intrude on my skating. Play around and find where your perfect height is.
A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE ON THREAD CARE:
I have seen and spoken to many a grumbling skater complaining their stoppers are constantly rotating or the grub screw won't tighten or loosen and their stoppers/nuts/grub screws have threaded... (Pass me the drill). Sometimes they just fall out mid jam too...
A couple of ways to avoid these problems:
1. Check your stoppers before you skate. Simple right? But seriously a little wiggle to see if they're loose will help you catch them early.
STOP!! BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK OF TWISTING THE STOPPER BY HAND TO TIGHTEN IT... DON'T!!
This is by far the quickest way to cross thread your toe stops/plate. Your toe stop is held under tension usually by a nut or grub screw tightening the plate. If this is tight already and you get tightening by hand you are placing extra pressure in the thread and it will wear the manufacturers thread.
Your plate will thread rendering it unusable with toe stops due to you either having to drill the sucker out when it gets stuck or worse no stopper will go back into it.
So if you have a loose stopper make sure you loosen off your nut/grub screw first so the plate relaxes, then gently, screw your stopper back. Only then get tightening the screw or nut back up. If they're rotating a little give 'em an extra half turn on the nut/grub screw.
If you have chronic loose stoppers you can use PTFE tape or plumbers tape around the thread and carefully screw the stopper back in. I wouldn't recommend using loctite or other thread lock unless you don't want to get your stoppers out again.
Another common problem people have is their nuts and screws get chewed making them nearly impossible to tighten or remove.
Solution? Use the correct tool for the job. Most Allen key heads will chew even if the key is a fraction smaller despite seeming to fit. Most plates will come with a correct size Allen key or a nut wrench but make sure you keep a small adjustable spanner in your bag for emergencies. When your but or screw is starting to look a little worse for wear replace it. These are cheap as anything and can be bought from your local skate store or DIY shop.
That concludes our little stopper adventure. I hope you've found it useful and don't forget to love your toe stops!