What should I Wheely be looking for?
I LOVE wheels, like any good skate equipment deficiency syndrome (SEDS) sufferer I could talk about them all day! I’ve recently cut back and tried to streamline my collection so I only have about five sets currently. I’ve compiled some information on the basic things to consider when buying or upgrading your wheels.
Derby wheels are a lot about personal preference and the best advice is to try many different combos until you find the perfect fit. Hopefully you will have a SEDShead on your team who won’t mind you trying out their collection!
The majority of Derby wheels come in two diameters, 59mm and 62mm. The main benefits of a smaller diameter wheel is they’re great for juking, quick acceleration and stops but may require more effort to maintain your speed as you have less surface to roll when you stride. With taller wheels you may find that it’s more effort to accelerate but, once you have, you are able to maintain the speed with less effort.
In layman’s terms, the lower the number, the softer & grippier the wheel, the higher the number, the harder the wheel. Most skate wheels are rated on the Shore-A durometer scale, hence the letter ‘A’ after the number, however this does not mean that all wheels with the same durometer rating perform the same way. For example, a wheel that may come with a basic starter package skate could be a 95a but not grip and roll as well as a 95a wheel with a higher quality urethane. Durometer ratings should be used as a guide and the same rating from different manufacturers will perform differently. Quite often newer skaters will find that they’re more comfortable on grippier wheels to begin with until they’ve built up the muscle strength to avoid slipping on harder wheels, as well as confidence, although after a while you may find that the grippiness holds you back, which is when you should upgrade further. If you like your wheels to make a noise or have a bit of slide when you plow, a softer wheel may not do that for you. Wheels ranging from 78-85a are generally better for outdoor use as they’re soft enough to roll over debris. Wheels ranging above that are better for indoor use.
There are two main types of hubs – plastic (usually nylon) and aluminium (alloy). Some wheels may be marketed as having an alloy hub when, in fact, they only have an alloy hub cap and a nylon hub behind it. Whilst an alloy hub cap will help with stiffness, it can’t compare to a fully alloy- hubbed wheel. Something to think about when deciding on hub material is that nylon hubs tend to flex more, not just on weight but on the skills that we use in Derby – jumping, hopping, stepping, sprinting can all play a factor in the stress you put on your wheel hub, that’s why alloy hubs are recommended a lot of the time when it comes to heavier skaters. The main argument for alloy hubs is not getting the hub flex – hub flex can help with grip but also leave your wheels feeling squishy when you use them. With an alloy hub, although the wheel itself can feel quite heavy in comparison to nylon, as they don’t flex under pressure this improves their roll and speed, they’re also often more expensive than nylon-hubbed wheels.
A “Pusher setup” is where you mix a softer set of wheels with a harder set of wheels and why some companies sell wheels in sets of four. The aim is to improve your grip without compromising your speed. The term comes from putting a grippier wheel on your skates in such a way that it helps you ‘push’ through your crossovers without sliding out. Whether the benefits are real or imagined there are many formations people try and it really is your own personal preference. A lot of skaters will put the four grippier wheels on the outside of the left skate and inside of the right skate, others will use a diagonal formation putting the four grippier wheels on the front outside and the rear insides of the left and right skates. I’ve tried both ways and the diagonal works best for me as the soft wheels are on my power points, which means I can really dig in on plow stops and crossover pushes. It also depends on the edges of your skates that you use the most. Something to think about when using pushers is what happens when you skate backwards, the formation is reversed, which may slow you down. Some skaters find having wheels of all the same durometer works best for them but try and give all variations a go before you settle on one way. Ideally you will want at least two sets of wheels including one for bouting on a slippery surface. If you have a pusher setup, think about having four middle range durometer wheels with four grippy and four harder wheels.
The idea of a speed groove (the deep ridge down the middle of a wheel) is to give you more surface to push off, effectively like you’ve got two wheels stuck together so you have two ‘edges’ to push off, flex on on corners and are meant to give you more speed. Some say it is just a marketing ploy and has no real benefit, really it’s just down to personal preference. Personally I find that the increased surface area needed to add an extra groove slows me down.
Surface & Weight
How any wheel responds has a lot to do with the surface you roll it on. Is it dusty? Polished? A few months ago we scrimmaged on what we now call “the floor of death”. It was so slippy you could not side push or lateral because your wheels came out from under you. Some of us survived better than others and that had to do with wheel rebound, durometer (soft) and our weight. Generally the lighter you are the more grippier a wheel you will need, the heavier you are the harder you can go without losing grip.
There are many different widths of wheels available but the most common are 42-44mm (wide), 35-38mm (mid) and 32mm (narrow). Wide wheels may give you more stability and, due to the increased surface area and lip, you can get a great push off them as well as a better grip as you have more urethane in contact with the floor. If you’re willing to trade some stability for agility narrow wheels reduce the chances of clipping wheels with skaters in a pack, can make you feel more agile and in some cases are lighter. The advice I give to the skaters in my league are if it feels like you’re skating with a bucket attached to your foot then give narrow wheels a try. If you’re looking for a middle ground ‘mid’ wheels are a great compromise and some come with a lip that will flex and aid in power transfer in your pushes.
The ‘grooves’ in a wheel are a by-product of the manufacturing process and do nothing to help with grip. There is an exception that can cause your wheels to lose grip – Glazed wheels. Glazed wheels will have a shine and feel like you’ve rolled in water when you try to use them for grip. Glazed wheels can be saved by regrooving or alternatively use it as an excuse to buy more!
To sum up, the right wheels for you might not be the right ones for someone else. Weight, skating style, floor condition, temperature, cleanliness, plates, cushions and a number of other factors will decide which wheels are best for you. Get out there, tear up the track and burn up some urethane until you find the ones for you!
by Minx Pie
#314 Shoetown Slayers
This article was published in Issue #2 of Lead Jammer magazine, and is re-used with kind permission.
Click below to see it as it was formatted and published in LJ.