Wheels. There are lots of different types and brands. Slim ones, wide ones, sticky ones, outdoor ones. Ones for polished concrete, ones for sports courts, ones for all purposes. You get the picture.
So why are they important to derby?
Wheels are our main point of contact with the floor during our sport and can have a huge effect on our skating technique and speed.
For the purists out there who claim 'You can't call yourself a derby skater unless you can skate on any wheel. Wheels don't matter', this article is probably not for you.
In this article I will be exploring different set ups and the reasons why and how they might be useful for you in your games and your technique.
Sticky v Slippy.
We've all experienced at some point a ridiculously sticky or slippy floor.
Slippery floors tend to be the ones where you have no traction, are unable to gain any speed or acceleration and you wipe out with every jump or turn into the apex.
Sticky floor are typically those floors where you pick up speed a little too well and can't plough stop without falling on your face, those floors where even considering a hockey stop makes your ankles wince in horror and makes your legs ache before the warm ups even finished.
So why are these floor types important to our skating? Every skater will have a personal preference to how they execute their techniques but as a general rule you need to understand a couple of key ingredients in your own skating style to fully explore your techniques and see how a floor type can affect you.
Traction - (push or grip)
Traction is what helps you to accelerate or stop. It’s often called 'grip' or stickiness. It aids the wheels ability to apply friction to the ground under your weight.
The roll or 'speed' of a wheel is what keeps you moving and maintaining speed after you have used your acceleration techniques. A 'fast' wheel will typically help you maintain speed with less effort.
Slide is the wheels ability to not apply traction under pressure when executing moves. For some techniques such as stopping you will require some 'give' or slide to perform the move fully. If you don't have enough slide you can run the risk of injury as the sharp forces you apply during a stop can transfer to your bones and ligaments/muscles.
So how do you choose the right wheel or combination for you?
First of all I would invite you to study your technique. From accelerating to stopping, laterals to blocking and really think hard about how your wheels feel under your feet. Practice all of your starts and stops, really feel how you transfer your weight and the note the results when your in full stride.
Each wheel has a specific job when you're skating and if you can pinpoint the individual forces at work you need to pull off say, the perfect hockey stop or duck run you will be able to adapt your wheels to suit your needs.
Setting up your wheels is very much about trial and error. What works for one person wont always work for you. If you have some league mates with spare wheel or wheels that you're thinking of buying ask if you can try them.
The less I'm worrying about how my wheels are performing on game day, the more I can concentrate on playing my best. I've skated on the same wheels for the last 2 1/2 years and have tried (and subsequently sold on) a lot more over the 5 years I've been skating. I've settled on my atom jukes (original recipe) and can say I'm personally very happy with them.
Brands aside I tend to have the following wheels in my kit bag:
8x95a's (these are my go to wheels)
These 'stock' wheels allow me to mix up the combinations on any floor. When I'm jamming I like a fair bit of grip for juking with a lot of roll for top speed but when I'm blocking I like a bit more slide for ploughing and hockey stops.
Below are some of the combinations I tend to use and a short explanation of their benefits and what I use them for on what floor.
(images sourced from http://www.rollerderbyhouse.eu/rollerderbyhouse/technical/wheel-combinations.html)
Sports court (slippy/grippy) Futsal/plastic tile.
With floors such as Futsal or 'sports court' (the interlocked plastic tile floor) I find you lose a bit of the detail in the feedback you get from your wheels. I tend to use a general criss cross pattern to mix roll with grip or slide where applicable. I liken this to being able to get an 'in between' durometer where a 93a is too sticky and a 95a is too slippy.
Sports hall (slippy/grippy)
The one up.
This is my preferred floor as you get a lot of response back from your wheels and can fine tune your set up.
I tend to change individual wheels to suit the job I'll need to be doing that game. I may only have one 'pusher' or sticky wheel on my front inside to give me a bit of bite when accelerating but without compromising the slide I need for blocking on my back outside wheels.
As hard a wheel as I can get my mitts on. All one type of wheel for this instance.
Inside/outside grip (any floor)
I rarely use this combination any more but I found it useful when working on my crossovers. This set up provides you with extra grip on the inside edge (derby direction) of your skate allowing you to sit a little deeper into your stance without worrying about wiping out on the apexes.
I hope this article has been helpful in explaining how to use your wheels to adapt to different floors and styles of skating. Mix them up and try them all to see what feels right for you.