Buying your first pair of roller skates can be overwhelming. Boots, plates, wheels, trucks, slide blocks… there are so many parts for this little magical shoe to choose from. But worry no longer! Here is our beginner’s guide to roller skates – and some things you need to know before buying a pair of quads.
Hello and welcome to the fold. You have found a world within a world: The roller skate community!
May the floor always be dry and the paths smooth on your skate days!
Buying your first set of skates can seem like a challenge, there are so many options out there but we are here to help you make some decisions that will lead you to the right skates. You have two main options to first consider: A full custom set up, where you can choose everything from the wheels to the laces. This can be lots of fun but you will need some information to get you the right pair for you and your needs.
We then have package set ups. These skates come ready to roll with everything designed to work together: wheels, boots, plates and even laces! If this is your first ever pair of skates then maybe go for a decent package setup. You will get all you need to start.
So now, take a look at this flow chart to find out what style of set up is going to suit you the best. Then we will break down the roller skate to explain the most important parts. If you wish to create a custom build this will be very helpful.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty: What the heck is all this stuff and what does it do?
A – WHEELS, come in many sizes, width and hardness, known as durometer. Manufactures use the A scale the measure how hard a wheel is. You will see a number and an (a) the lower the number the softer they are. Cruising on paths and rough surfaces pick a 78a. For parks and ramps, anything around 98a/103a will be suitable.
B – BEARINGS, this is a type of cassette that carries balls inside and a type of lubrication to make sure you get a smooth ride. There are many brands out there with different materials. From metals to ceramic with either oil inside or grease. The bearings shouldn’t sound gritty. You can manually clean the oil based bearing but not the grease filled ones. Buying a good set in the first place will serve you well. Less expensive versions won’t run as nicely nor last long.
C – TRUCKS, also known as hangers and axles. These come with the plate and are usually narrow, which will serve for all skate disciplines. Your wheel and 2 bearings will fit to either end of the truck.
The truck sits into the pivot cup and rest on the king pin. You can buy wide trucks or use skate board trucks to modify them for skate park use. A wide truck will make it possible for the skater to grind on many types of ledges, copings and rails. (Grind: metal on metal, skater is parallel to the coping/ledge)
D – CUSHIONS aka bushings. Squishy sweetie looking blobs that keep the trucks in place and act as suspension. Just like sweets they come in a variety or hardness, colour and compound. You will get a set of these with your plate. You can purchase different ones depending on your preference.
E – KINGPIN If you are a Marvel fan this may conjure up a different image. However, on a roller skate it is the long piece of metal that attaches to your plate and houses the trucks and cushions. There will be a nut at the floor end of the bolt and can be trimmed if needed. (preferably with a power tool)
F – PIVOT CUP this is a small cup shape piece of plastic, nylon or rubber. You will get one with your plate. The pivot cup sits in the plate and the end of the truck sits in the pivot cup. You must check the pivot cup every so often for splits, breaks and wear. If the pivot cup fails the truck could become loose.
G – PLATE, the plate fixes to the boot with bolts. There are many brands which have different bolt position and combinations. (4 or 6 holes) Plate brands also have their own sizing chart. So for instance a size 6 roller skate may not necessarily need a size 6 plate. Each brand has their size charts online.
Plates also come in different kingpin angles. The two basic types are 10 degree and 45 degree plates. The 10° type give you a more stable feeling, while a 45° plate is more sensitive to the skater’s movement. That is why it’s used by dancers and artistic skaters. There are a few plates on the market which come in 15° and 20° plates. Do a search before you buy. It’s a good idea to think about the long term plan when looking into the plate for your skates. If you plan to add wide trucks and slide blocks, search which ones are suitable before you buy.
H – BOOT maybe the best bit! Soooo many options… Colours, shapes, styles and materials! It’s always best to try some on if you can. And buy a boot in your budget. When you start out it may seem like an expensive sport to get into, you need all this kit to get rolling but it’s worth it and look at the long term use vs cost. It can be a bit of a money pit to buy a lower grade material set up. Depending on the usage you may need to replace parts faster than if you were able to invest a little at the start.
Look at the type of roller skating you would like to do and find people doing that style, they will help you pick the correct boot type for your discipline. Bear in mind that many boots will actually cross over into other disciplines. For instance a roller derby boot will be ok in the skate park or dance skating.
I – LACES these are so very important, not for the obvious reason of holding your foot in place but because skate laces exist. They are stronger than regular laces and some are waxed to help stay tied up. All skate shops will have many colours and types available. Be aware a higher ankle boot will need a longer lace.
J – STOPPERS or toe stops. You will get some as standard with the plate but you can change these to other colours and compounds. Like wheels, you can get softer or harder stoppers depending on your personal preference and usage. Jam/dance skaters often take them out and use jam plugs or very small stoppers.
K – BLOCKS I added slide blocks to this list because I get asked about them a lot. This add on product is designed for skate park and street skating. For new skaters these are not a necessity. You can do everything without but you can get them in to start your ramp journey if you wish. Slide blocks are designed for sliding (skater is perpendicular to the ramp) along the coping (metal bar at the top of ramps). They can be an assist for dropping in (rolling into the ramp) and stalling (landing on the coping). Again there are many brands that offer different fitting methods and materials. Search your plate and find out what will fit and work best for you.
After reading the beginner’s guide to roller skates: try some on
There are lots of actual roller skate shops. Seek out these places and try on many skates to see what fits best. There are brands more suitable to a wide foot or narrow foot. If you are not near a skate shop or don’t have the means to travel then look to the roller skate community. There are many roller skate groups and CIB chapters all over the world. I am positive they will welcome you with open arms and would be willing to let you put a foot inside their skate to see if it’s a good fit. Be mindful that these beauties will be moulded to the skater but it’s a good enough indicator to test out the boot.
I wish you all the best on 8 wheels.