My background like so many other roller skaters is Roller Derby. I learned back in 2010 and when I started ramp skating that the wheel option was limited. There were a variety of derby wheels, skateboard wheels or super soft outdoor wheels, more for recreational use. Quads have seen a huge resurgence in to the skate parks over the past few years. New and old skate brands are taking note of our need for suitable roller skatepark products. I have been lucky to skate on many set ups and try out wheels, now I use the same wheels in concrete parks and on wooden skate parks. I only change my ramp wheels to a different set when skating outside on the rough surfaces of the streets.
Let’s discuss the science behind the wheels we use in the park
Just so you know I’m not a physicist but this is what I have learned. If you take the wide large wheel typical of a roller derby skate. This wheel has a greater circumference. What does this mean? This means it will travel further distance per rotation than a smaller wheel (like a skateboard wheel) but due to its higher rotational inertia (which measures how much an object resists changing rotation in linear motion) requires more force to get moving, but once moving will cover more ground with less effort.
Compare this to a smaller wheel like a skateboard wheel where the distance covered per rotation is reduced but it takes less effort to get moving due to its smaller mass! Therefore, ramp wheels need to maintain a decent diameter but reduce the mass for optimum ramp riding. We do have 8 wheels over the skateboards 4 (less drag/friction) and we do not need all the mass of the derby wheel to cover space faster as we have gravity to play with.
Why buy a park specific wheel?
In my experience you really don’t want much grip when skating ramps. It will be slower for sure and you will need to work harder but grip on a transition is not a great thing, you want the wheel to move when you do and not be stuck sticking to the ramp. This could lead to accidents! I can understand if a new skater does not want to go fast but before long that extra grip and mass won’t feel as nice as slimmer, harder wheel. When I get asked “what wheels shall I take to the park” I usually say, the harder the better but also stick with what you know for the first couple of sessions, you know your wheel and your set up. No one nails it first time so go have fun, take your time and enjoy playing with gravity. I do not believe in a magical piece of kit that will unlock that trick for you but there are loads of products out there designed to make the experience smoother, faster, give you more control or whatever it is you are looking for on your skatepark journey.
So when you buy a wheel you need to take notice of the size (diameter) and the hardness (durometer)
Size is measured in millimeter and as discussed doesn’t want to be too big. Something between 55mm-58mm will suit. The hardness measurement is called durometer. Most manufacturers use the A Scale, which is a 100-point scale. The higher the number, the harder the wheel. Some manufacturers may use the B Scale, which measures 20 points lower and allows the scale an extra 20 points for harder wheels. For example, an 80b durometer is the same hardness as a 100a durometer. I have never ever seen a B scale wheel but its curios to note here.
What does this mean for performance?
Hard wheels like 100a, 101a
Good things: super fast on smooth surfaces and will make slides and grinds easier.
Not so good: will feel nasty on rougher surfaces.
Medium hard wheels like 95a, 97a, 99a
Good things: quite fast on most surfaces will absorb some impact and vibration. Still making slides and grind work.
Not so good: some speed is lost but that’s it really. (These are my favorite park wheel variety)
Soft wheels like 80a, 88a, 90a
Good things: will go fast on rough surfaces, terrains like tarmac and pavements. Super absorbent of impact and vibrations.
Not so good: no slidey fun, best keep these types of wheels for outdoor cruises.