Showing posts with label figures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label figures. Show all posts

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Newsflash: The USARS 2014 Dance and Figure Draw is Out!

A bit of roller skating news - the USARS Regional/National draw for the 2014 dance and figure requirements has been announced.

You can see it by CLICKING HERE.

Any skaters out there?  Are we happy with the picks?  Looks like it is time to start living at the rink again.  Happy skating!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

2013 Figure Dress #2 - The Galloping Peacock

Ok, so a few days ago I showed off my first attempt at a figure dress for the season.  It turned out alright, but it wasn't quite as impressive as I wanted it to be, so I decided to make a second dress for nationals.  Earlier this year I bought this fabric from the LA Fashion District:

My lovely peacock fabric.
I had some shiny blue/green mystique spandex in the stash and I though I would make a very peacock inspired dress.  Well, I had so many costumes to make for other people that making this dress kept getting put off.  It got put off to the point that it was the night before my family was leaving for nationals and this dress was still just fabric heaped in a sack.  After a last late-night practice and delivering my (nearly last) client costume, I finally started it.  At midnight.  Of the morning of the day we were leaving.  Eeep.

This dress was a bit more complex than some of my others - I first had to make a skating dress, then I had to applique the peacock panel onto it.  So first I made my self a dress, then I had to drape the peacock panel onto it (while I was wearing the dress), pin it in place, and then take off the dress to stitch it down.  Since it was very early and everyone was sleeping I didn't really have any help with this process.

By this point I had been getting very little sleep for weeks, and I had been inhaling glue fumes for days, so my thought processes were a bit... out there.  And after sewing like mad for several hours I started thinking my dress reminded me very much of the peacock costume from the skating spoof movie Blades of Glory.  In the film one of the characters has a silly signature move called the "galloping peacock."  Hence I gave it a name - The Galloping Peacock Dress.

Jon Heder as Jimmy MacElroy - in his peacock costume.
A full look at the costume.
So I finished stitching my dress together about 3 hours after we had intended to leave (luckily we were driving - this would NOT have worked if we had a plane to catch), spent an hour packing for the trip and we were off!  Since my family was going I was able to sleep in the car.  The first night in the hotel I spent trimming off the extra mesh fabric around the peacock applique, which took several hours.  During the next day's car ride I hand-sewed on several large pear shaped rhinestones.  I finished stoning the dress after we got to Albuquerque a just few days before skating my event.  All told I am sure I spent 20-30 hours making this dress, and it was absolutely worth every second of it.

Close up of the beading.
I used five different colors of glue on stones.
Close up of a sew-on pear shaped rhinestone.
More beading details.
I used several sizes of sew-on and glue-on stones to get the effect I wanted.
So, without further ado, I give you the dress:

The Galloping Peacock!
You can see the feathers extending onto the back.
A view of the side.
I had the panel run diagonally over my hip.
I used several colors and sizes of rhinestones so the entire design was covered.  The last photo is probably truest to real life color, though the main fabric changes from blue to green depending on the light.  For the sleeves I actually used a green mesh under a blue mesh to give the same color changing look.  All in all this may be my favorite skating dress ever.  Though, to be fair, this might have had something to do with it:

Bronze Medal at Nationals!
Yes, this will definitely be a dress to remember.  I have certainly had my fair share of pretty skating costumes, but this is one of my all time favorites.  I liked it so much that I picked up this peacock panel in a few more colors.  Maybe I will do a few variations on this dress next year as well?  Or use it in a non-skating context?  Only time and inspiration will tell...

And that is the last of my skating costumes for this past competitive season.  I made many many others, but they weren't for me, so I won't be showing them off on the blog.  I'm still skating, so I can assure there will be more practice dresses and competition outfits coming in the next year!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

2013 Figure Dress #1 - Teal Lace

I have been a bit slow in posting the skating costumes I made for competition this year because I was waiting for some of the good professional photos to come.  I don't have a lot of good photos of this particular dress because I only wore it at regionals, and the lighting was terrible.  I wasn't particularly thrilled by it, so I made a different dress for nationals (and I am glad I did - the new one is probably one of my favorite dresses ever; also at least three other girls were wearing the same lace - though in different colors - in my event at nationals).  Originally I had lace sleeves as well, but I felt like it had a sort of matronly look about it.  It looks more youthful without the sleeves, but it also looks a bit bare.  I tried to do a gradient effect with the rhinestones - I used darker stones at the top and lighter stones at the bottom - but the lighting was so bad the effect was lost when I actually wore it for competition.  All in all it didn't end up being one of my favorite dresses, but I expect I can still use it for tests or practices at regionals and nationals next year.

My aqua lace figure dress.
The back of the dress - very open back.
I will post my other two dresses in the upcoming days - next will be my very sparkly dance dress, and I will save my nationals figure dress (my favorite) for last.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Finished Object: 2012 Figure Skating Dress

Ok, I figure it is about time to post my finished skating costumes from this year - I started working on these at the end of March, and finished everything at the end of July.  I won't be posting a lot of the outfits I sewed, since a majority of them were for other people, but I can at least show off the costumes I made for me!  Since these outfits took about four months of sewing time, I figured I would milk them for as many posts as I could, so expect to see a lot of skating costumes over the next few days.

I thought I would start off with my figure dress for this year.  I wanted to go for a really classic look - the skating equivalent of a LBD - but I used a textured stretch velvet to hopefully keep it from being too boring.  While the execution is not 100% where I wanted it to be, and it took me several tries to get s dress I was happy with, I eventually ended up with a great dress.  It is super comfortable and easy to wear, and I really love it.

My figure dress at nationals.

I wore it for two of my events.

Here is a picture of the back.

A close-up detail of the beading.  (Photo courtesy of my sister)
I wish the texture of the fabric was easier to photograph - it is a nice textured velvet that has a silvery sheen and creates a wavy diamond pattern.  I have had it in my stash for a few years, and it finally felt like the right time to use it.  I used the velvet for the main body and the skirt, a thin lycra for lining, and illusion mesh for the neck and sleeves.  I used plain Swarovski sew-on rivoli crystals on the neckline, and glue-on Czech Preciosa stones in plain crystal (30ss and 20ss sizes) to create the bands.  I used Preciosa hematite stones to fill in the spaces between the large stones.

So, that's my figure dress!  I wanted something simple, elegant, and classic.  It ended up looking pretty much the way I wanted, and I really enjoyed wearing it.  Overall I am very pleased with this dress, and I hope to wear it a lot in the coming year.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Skating Equipment: Let's Talk Boots

Continuing on in my whirlwind tour of skating equipment, I have finally reached what is probably the most personal piece of all skating equipment - the boot.  While skaters tend to have strong preferences for their equipment choices, the boot is probably the one that skaters will argue, debate, and go to war over.  Possibly because there are so many options, maybe because everyone like to have something to argue about, but most likely because everyone's foot is different finding the right skating boot can be a long, arduous, and expensive journey.  I know it took me ten years to find a boot that I absolutely loved, and now my brand loyalty is set, but I did try several other boots in the meantime.  There have since been several new companies in the market, but I am quite comfortable and very happy with the boots I have now and I can't imagine going to another brand in the future.

*Disclaimer* I want to state that all of my reviews are opinions formed based on personal experience and are not meant to be an ultimate guide or reflect negatively on any of the companies or products I am discussing.  I am only offering my opinions in the hope that someone might find my comments useful or offer their own suggestions in the comment section.  Everything I have tested I have borrowed or bought myself - no sponsorships or anything like that.  Like buying a high-end sewing machine, skate equipment needs to feel right to a skater, and what I like might not be the best for someone else.  However, I have been skating a long time on a lot of different equipment, so I feel like I do have something valid to contribute to the discussion.

**Double Disclaimer** Boots are definitely something where it very much depends on the individual, their skating, their foot, and their price point.  Having a properly fitted boot is very important to both the longevity of the boot and the health of the skater's foot.  Don't buy large sizes hoping that your child will grow into them - buy a boot that fits and replace as needed.  Used boots are always an option if you can find them in the proper size.  Similarly, don't buy a boot intended for a world class athlete when your child is learning scissors.  You can upgrade your boots as your skills develop - while boots should last a fairly long time, they won't last as long as the plate (or maybe even the bearings depending on your cleaning habits).  The best investment is in a boot that fits both the skater's foot and their level and style of skating.  This may not be the most expensive boot, or it could be a costly custom masterpiece.  It just depends on the skater.

Also, a word on breaking in boots.  If you get brand new boots (not used, but new-new) and they are made out of leather (as many boots are) they should feel just a bit tight when you first put them on.  Leather does stretch a bit, so if the boots are perfectly comfortable right out of the box, then when they stretch out a bit after wearing them, they will end up being a slight bit too big.  You should not put on brand-new boots and go out and try crazy things right away.  Boots should have a break-in period, and you should break them in slowly.  When I have followed Harlick's break-in advice (skate 4-6 hours with only two hooks laced, then 4-6 with 3 hooks laced, then go fully laced) I find that my tongues and the tops of my boots break in properly.  If you lace them up all the way and try to skate, it forces the tongues down, and you get a painful crease on the top of your toes.  If you gradually lace up the boots, it lets your skating and knee bend force the tongue forward, so it will curve with your leg as you bend.  Too many skaters don't properly break in their boots and it causes pain and discomfort for the entire time they use them.

Since there are so many boot options out there (thanks mostly to the ice skating industry - ice skaters replace boots 2-4 times a year, so they spend quite a bit more than roller skaters who tend to keep boots for 1-10 years at a time), I am going to discuss what a skater should be looking for in a boot, then look at the different manufacturers.

Figures:  In general, a figure boot should be fairly stiff because you don't want your ankle to move around too much while you are skating.  You are trying to minimize motions and hold everything in place to create a smooth, perfect edge.  You do want to be able to bend your knee forward during take offs and somewhat on turns, but in general you want a fairly rigid support.  For skating the smaller loop circles it might be preferable to have a somewhat less stiff boot to get more bend, but I always solved this problem by not lacing the top of my boot all the way up - I would only use 3 hooks instead of 4.  For most skaters the figure boot will probably be the stiffest boot you have.  Figure boots tend to last a long time and so I would say that once a skater is done growing it is worth investing in a top of the line boot, since they will have it for many years.  Also, many skaters will use old boots for loops and new boots for figures to help extend the lifespan of the boot.

Dance:  Dance boots, at least for roller skaters, tend to be fairly soft.  You want to be able to get deep knee bends and strong toe points to create a dramatic look on the floor.  If a boot is too stiff it can be difficult to do this.  For dance, the stiffness should very much depend on the height, weight, and ability of the skater.  If a skater is using a boot for freestyle and dance (or dance and free dance) they might want it to have slightly more support, but in general you want only soft or medium boots for use in dance skating.  Dance boots can last anywhere from 1-5 years, though I know some people who have used theirs longer

Freestyle:  Freeskating requires a stiffer more supportive boot than dance skating, because the skater is landing difficult jumps and trying to balance during fast spins.  I would say the range of support will vary the most in a freestyle boot - skaters just learning single jumps will do fine with a medium support, whereas skaters doing double and triple jumps will want extra support for their landings.  Freestyle boots tend to wear out the fastest, but even then most skaters can get a couple years of use out of a single pair of boots.

With that in mind, let's take a look at where we can get boots:


Edea

Edea is one of the newer boots on the market, made in Italy and distributed by the same people as Roll Line, it has quickly taken strong hold of the skating market, with many world champions in both Ice and Roller using Edea.

Pros:  These boots seem to last incredibly well.  I know a skater who could destroy boots within 6 months, but was able to keep the same Edea boots for 3 or 4 years.  So they seem to be a good investment.  They are designed to use lightweight and breathable materials, and people who like to use them find them very comfortable.  They come in a range of stiffnesses and styles, so there should be a style appropriate to every skater.  Also, compared to some custom boots the prices are very reasonable, especially since they seem to last so long, and they have some boots at lower price points.  This is quickly becoming one of the most popular roller skating boots, especially among younger skaters.  It is probably the most popular boot for freestyle today, and is growing in popularity for dance, though I have not seen as many people make the switch to this boot for figures.  This boot also seems to be quite popular world-wide, with many of the top skaters in other countries choosing Edea.

Cons:  These boots only come in stock options, there is no custom boot.  These boots can be "shaped" but it is a special process not like the heat molding that other boots can use, so you have to go somewhere that is specially equipped to do this process (Skates US can perform this).  Also, because the boot is so stiff sometimes it can make the skater's leg line and toe point less appealing.  And while there are a lot of skaters who have switched to these boots and are rather liking them, my observation is that people either tend to love them or hate them.  Those who like them and make the switch don't want to skate in anything else, ever again, and those who try them and don't like them can't wait to get their old boots back.  Personally I find the backs of the boots too high (even on the cut down models) and so I have never owned a pair, and am not likely to do so.  However, I do know many people who swear by them, so again this goes back to individual fit and taste.


GAM

GAM boots are  Canadian boot company and they are not used much in roller skating.  I don't actually know anyone who has used them, but apparently they are a fairly popular ice boot?  I don't really have much to say, due to lack of knowledge, but if anyone has any advice feel free to speak up in the comments!

Pros:  It looks like there are many styles, the boots seem to be well padded, and they have a nice classic look to them.  Google searches found them on sale at a few places, and the prices seem very reasonable, especially since these look to be made almost entirely out of leather.

Cons:  These seem to be mainly an ice boot, and are probably too stiff for many roller skaters.  Also, I don't know anyone who uses them or where to get them, so they might be difficult to find.



Graf

Graf is another Canadian company that mainly produce hockey equipment.  In fact, they are so hockey focused you won't see any figure boots on their website, but you can still find them at online stores and rink shops.  I knew someone who skated in Graf boots for many years.  She had very narrow heels, and these were the only boots that were able to hold her feet in place until she got a full custom boot.

Pros:  These boots are well made, nicely padded, and seem to hold up very well.  They have a nice classic look to them.

Cons:  They are hard to find, only come in a limited range of styles, and may be too stiff for many roller skaters.  They are also fairly expensive, without any options available at a lower price point.


Harlick

Harlick is an American boot company that create hand-crafted leather boots.  Although they have stock options available, they really are much more of a custom boot company.  Because of this, they can cater easily to the needs of every individual, and you really can create the ultimate boot of your dreams.

Pros:  The customization options on these boots can let you get the perfect fit, stiffness, and style options you want.  You can have a classic white boot or a crazy colorful boot with swirly designs.  Harlick boots are used by skaters in all disciplines, but with the emergence of Edea these are now more favored by figure and dance skaters than by freestyle skaters (though many top freestyle skaters use Harlick boots as well).  These boots hold up very well (mine have been going strong for over 5 years), and personally I find that they are the best, most comfortable boots I have ever owned.  The company will even do refurbishments on the skates (replace tongues and padding that wear out) for reasonable cost, so that can be done to extend the lifetime of the boot even further.  They are my favorite, so I am somewhat biased, but I really love them.  They are handcrafted in California, and quality is really evident.

Cons:  Yes, even though I love them dearly, there are many people who don't like Harlick boots, and so I feel I must at least present their opinions here as well.  First of all, these boots are expensive.  I admit it - I didn't buy them for years of skating because I thought the price was too high and I didn't want to spend that much money on a gamble.  Of course, when I was going through 2 sets of stock boots a year, well, the cost adds up there too.  So although they are expensive off the bat, I have to admit that as fas as cost per wear goes, these are probably the cheapest boots I have ever owned.  And I have done much better in competition since buying them, so that is a point in their favor as well.  So, yes, the expense is there, but if you are a dedicated skater then it is justifiable.

Some people don't like the fit.  Fair enough.  As with any footwear, if you don't like the fit, find another brand.  I went to an ice skating pro shop that sold many different brands of boots and had them fit me and look at my feet (we told them up front that we weren't buying boots that day - just considering options, but they were more than willing to help us).  The owner of the shop said my foot would probably fit best in a Harlick boot, and after that a Klingbeil.  So, to be fair, I had a professional opinion before I bought my first pair of custom boots, and if you have access to someone who is knowledgeable and not biased, I recommend this before investing in any high-end custom boot.  Since it is custom, you can't try it on until it is finished, so that can be something of a problem as well, and possibly why people who don't like the fit of Harlick boots are so loud in their complaints.

Some people think the boots are too tight when they get them.  See my point about breaking in boots above - leather stretches, so I really do think it should be just a bit tight when you first try them on.  Similarly, these boots come with instructions for breaking them in - if you don't follow them there will be weird fit issues with the boots.  Just because you have been skating for 30+ years doesn't mean you get to skip the break-in process on new boots.

Some people did have problems with the boots separating at the heel, especially on freestyle skates.  Most skaters who had this problems switched to the Edea boots, and I don't know anyone who has been having problems with this recently, but I did hear of quite a few incidents when I started skating.  There is a warranty period on these boots, but it is not that long, so many skaters were upset over having to pay for repairs.

Everyone complains about the length of time it takes them to make boots - 6 to 12 weeks, even on stock options.  Boots are built to order, so it is going to take a long time.  Especially after they have large fitting sessions with many skaters placing orders.  They tell you this up front, and I would rather they take their time and build my boot correctly than do a sloppy rush job.  I think that (especially now that I sew) I have a greater appreciation for the time and effort that goes into handcrafting anything that is supposed to fit the human body (and, let's face it, fitting the foot makes fitting pants look like child's play), so this doesn't really bother me as much as it does other people.  I mean, yes, I want my boots now, but I don't think it is a valid complaint to hold against the company.

Finally, because Harlick focuses mostly on custom boots and seems to sell mainly in the US (with most of their fittings happening on the west coast) it can be difficult to get a pair unless you can get to a fitting or trust the person who is fitting you.

(I realize my cons list is longer than my pros list, but since my personal opinion is that these boots are perfect and I won't wear anything else I didn't want to be too biased).


Jackson

Jackson boots are another Canadian company, and they offer a wide range of styles and prices.  I used Jackson boots for many years (the styles have been changed recently and what I used isn't produced anymore) but I had problems with their durability and eventually decided to switch to a different brand.

Pros:  These boots have many styles, come in many widths, are easy to find, and are heat moldable to get a better fit for each skater.  You can get a decent lower-end boot for a newer skater at a reasonable price, and the width options make these boots more favorable to people who have wide feet.

Cons:  Most of the lower end boots don't seem to last particularly well (I had problems with the backs of my boots splitting down the reinforcement seam), the heat moldable material tends to hold on to foot odor much worse than the leather or Clarino lined boots I have used, and the higher quality boots are probably too stiff for many roller skaters.  Overall I would say these are a good introductory boot, but I don't see many skaters using them at the higher levels, and it is hard to find a used boot because they get worn out before they get outgrown.


Klingbeil



Klingbeil is another American based custom boot company.  They are based on the East coast, and tend to go to have more fittings there than on the west coast, at least as far as I am aware.  Their fitting process is a bit different from Harlick, but seems to give good results.


Pros:  Most people who get these boots seem to love them.  They say that they are perfectly comfortable right away and have minimal break-in time.  Their production time is faster than Harlick, and they provide full custom options as well.  The price is also slightly less, though once you get into custom boot options you are going to be spending a lot of money either way.  Their fitting kit seems to be easy to use, even for someone who isn't incredibly experienced, and the boots seem to hold up well, though I have only seen them being used by figure and dance skaters, so I can't speak to how they will hold up to the rigors of freestyle.

Cons:  As with other custom options, you have to wait for the boot to be made, it is costly, and you want to trust the person doing your fitting.  I have heard some reports of boots coming in the wrong color (not sure if it was the company's mistake or the fitter's error), and most people (even those who swear these boots are perfect) seem to send the boots back once or twice for fixes.  Some people who switched from Harlick boots did not like these as well, and some liked them more.  I think it depends a lot on the shape of the skater's foot and what they are skating.


Riedell


Riedell is probably one of the more popular boot companies, especially for beginning skaters.  They offer more options for beginners than most other companies, but they also offer boots that will work for skaters at the world class level.  Some skaters start out in Riedell and never want to switch to anything else, and others start there and then switch to other boots as their skating develops.

Pros:  Riedell is very conscious of having an ice and roller market and has different lines for each.  I know a world class skater who uses the Imperial for freestyle skating, and adult skaters who have gown up in 297s and won't use anything else.  I have also heard that the 336 is a good all-around boot for a serious beginner.  Some of the boots in their ice line would probably be most appropriate for figures, and they do offer custom boot specials.  Their prices are fairly reasonable.

Cons:  People tend to fit into Riedell boots very well or not at all.  I started in Riedell boots, but because because they weren't very complimentary to the shape of my foot I broke down a pair of 297s in about 6 months and got painful blisters on my heel.  The prices have gone up from when I started skated (this is true of all boots though - their prices follow the prices of the leather market), and a lot of the classic styles that were popular when I started (like the Silver Star and Gold Star) are no longer being produced.  Most of their boot options are geared towards ice skating, so there isn't as wide a range of boots for the roller skating market.


Risport

Risport is another Italian boot company that makes a wide range of leather boot for ice and roller skaters.  This brand seems to be more popular in Europe than in North America, though I have known a few people who skated on these boots.

Pros: These are well made boots that last a long time.  I have heard that they are fairly comfortable but very durable.  They have a nice leather construction, but seem to be adopting some new materials to make their boots lighter and stronger.

Cons: These boots can be difficult to find in the US, and I have heard that they can be fairly expensive due to import costs.  One skater complained that they were far too stiff and never really felt broken in - they really do seem to be designed more for world class level skaters or for ice, but I have heard that they are a nice figure boot.


Snyder

A few years ago Snyder plate company decided to design their own boot.  It was fairly soft, and the bottom of the soul was completely flat (boots tend to be curved to fit ice blades, but roller plates are flat) and so was only useable for roller skating.  I used it as a dance boot for about a year, and while it was nice, everyone who had one seemed to have problems with it.

Pros:  Designed for roller skating, nice soft boot.  It was a good dance boot, but not really suited to figures or freestyle.  It would have been a decent boot for a newer skater.

Cons:  The tongues always seemed to slide or bend in awkward ways for everyone, and most skaters only used the boot for a year because of this.  I also know of a few people who had problems with the heel separating, and they just didn't generally hold up.  They were also a bit expensive for the problems that the skaters experienced.  I don't know if you can buy these boots anymore.


SP Teri


SP Teri is another one of the more popular boot manufacturers.  I know a lot of people who skate on SP Teri and love them.

Pros:  A nice, classic boot that is well liked by most people who skate on it.  The construction is good and most people seem to be able to use these boots for many years.  There are several stock options available, and custom boots as well.  The stock boots come much more quickly than stock options from Harlick, which is appreciated by many skaters.

Cons:  I haven't actually heard of any negative complaints with these boots, other than perhaps the price.  I had a personal incident with a salesperson from the company who I felt treated me rather rudely, especially when I was inquiring about ordering custom boots, so I have something of a personal dislike of them and won't use their boots.  It is nothing against their product, which is rather good, but more that I was offended and insulted and I don't want to give them my money.  Most people seem to have fairly good experiences with the company.



So... whew.  That is a lot of skating boots!  There are many more options for boot brands and styles than there are for a lot of the other skating equipment we have discussed, but since fitting a foot can be difficult I think having these options is better than not having them.  So, tell me - what boots do you all use?  Do you have a custom or stock boot?  Are you using the Edea, or one of the older boot companies?  What is the most important factor - price, comfort, or longevity?  Do you have a strong brand loyalty, or are you still trying to find your perfect boot?  Discuss!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Skating Equipment: Let's Talk Plates

Although I have already done an extensive number of in-depth posts on my transition to Roll Line plates, I thought I should do a more general post for my skating equipment series.

*Disclaimer* I want to state that all of my reviews are opinions formed based on personal experience and are not meant to be an ultimate guide or reflect negatively on any of the companies or products I am discussing.  I am only offering my opinions in the hope that someone might find my comments useful or offer their own suggestions in the comment section.  Everything I have tested I have borrowed or bought myself - no sponsorships or anything like that.  Like buying a high-end sewing machine, skate equipment needs to feel right to a skater, and what I like might not be the best for someone else.  However, I have been skating a long time on a lot of different equipment, so I feel like I do have something valid to contribute to the discussion.

The skating plate is definitely the portion of the skate where you want to make a good investment, as most plates stay with a skater for years, and are often only replaced when the skater's foot changes size.  My recommendation is to buy the best plate you can afford, as it will be the part of the skate that lasts the longest and a skate made with higher quality materials is much more durable in the long run.  That being said, often times the best plate is not the most expensive plate.  As with wheels, there are many different styles of skate plates that are best suited to different types of skating, so you should first have an idea of what you want to accomplish, then decide which style of skate is best suited to your needs.  As with my previous posts, the discussion here is limited to artistic skating - Derby, hockey, and speed have different needs and will have different opinions about the best type of skates.


Roll Line


Roll Line has come to dominate the skate market, especially in the area of skate plates.  With styles suited to the beginner all the way through world class competitors, there is probably a Roll Line plate to meet your needs.

Figures:  Roll Line offers several styles of figure skates.  The main ones are the Giotto and the Ring, although they also offer Raffaello skates for newer figure skaters.  I have tried both the Giotto and the Ring, and distinctly preferred the Giotto because I felt like it had a more consistent curve while still having great response and quick turns.  The Ring plate was a good figure plate, but I felt that it was not quite as stable as the Giotto, and while it was touted as a great loop skate I found that it was very difficult to create the right amount of pressure to have enough control of the skate around the crown of the loop.  I have not tried the Raffaello skates (they are sized for younger skaters), but the skate is set up to have a similar action to the Giotto, so I assume it will have similarly stable feel.  I would like to point out that the Giotto plates have a size exchange program, whereas the Rings and Raffaellos do not, so for growing figure skaters, it might be best to invest in a Giotto right away, rather than buying new plates every time your child grows.

Dance:  Roll Line probably has the widest range of options for Dance skates.  Because skaters who only do compulsory dances don't need toe stops, they can use plates that don't have spaces for toe stops, or plates that have removable toe stops.  Skaters who want to use the same skates for dance and freestyle will need a plate with a removable toe stop, although some skaters do skate dance with toe stops in their skates (I tend to trip over toe stops when I have tight footwork, but some skaters don't like to skate without them).  World class dance skaters need to do compulsory dances (without toe stops) and free dances (with toe stops), so most of these skaters choose plates with removable toe stops, although some simply use two pairs of skates.  Options for toe-stop-less plates include: Ring, Giotto, and Raffaello, and options for the dance plates with removable toe stops are: Dance, Energy Steel, Mistral, Mariner Cup, and Variant plates.  I have been skating on the Dance plates this past year and love them - they have a slightly lower center of gravity and I find I can get much deeper edges with more stability than I could on my old Atlas plates.  However, the Dance plates only seem to come in limited sizes, so if you don't fall in that range or need a half size then the next best option is probably the Energy Steel.  I imagine that this would feel like skating on the Giotto, which is an excellent plate.  Since dance skaters aren't placing the force on the axels that a freestyle skater would, there isn't really a need to pay more for titanium axels, and the Steel version should work just fine.  Only the Variant and Energy plates have size-exchange programs, which is why I would recommend those to families with growing skaters.

Freestyle:  Freestyle skaters have, by and large, almost completely gone to using the Roll Line plates, especially those skaters at the highest competitive levels.  Freestyle skaters (obviously) require a place for a toe stop, and they put far more stress on their skate than a dance or figure skater, so the options for the freestyle plate are somewhat narrowed by this.  For freestyle I would recommend: the Matrix or Energy Titanium for older high level skaters, Energy Steel for mid-level skaters, or the Variant for beginning level skaters.  While you could use the Mistral or Mariner Cup, they are made from a slightly less strong alloy than the Energy or Matrix plates, so for fully-grown skaters doing double and triple jumps, it is probably advisable to invest in the more expensive plates.  Again, only the Energy and Variant have size-exchange available, so that might be something to consider when deciding which plates to buy for growing skaters.

Pros:  These are most popular plates in the US (and possibly the world) right now, and they provide excellent stability with fast reaction times and have enough models and styles to suit a skater's specific needs.  They also have 5 hardnesses of urethane cushions and 3 hardnesses of rubber cushions, so it is easy to tailor a skate's feel to the individual who is skating on it.  Since these skates are still in production, it is possible to get replacement parts and fix them should something happen (I have seen titanium axels break when a skater landed a triple jump... not often but it does happen on occasion).  Also, other than the Matrix plates (and some parts on the Dance and Ring plates), most Roll Line parts are interchangeable, so that makes it easy to swap cushions and other parts between plates should the need arise.

Cons:  Only some models have size-exchange programs, and not all models come in half-sizes.  Roll Line plates tend to be expensive (most of the plates used by serious competitors range from $350-$1000, but even the lower end models are at least $200), and they are new enough that there aren't a lot of used ones lying around (perhaps this is a plus, as it speaks to their durability?).  Compared with Atlas plates, changing cushions is a pain, as is making constant adjustment to the action (such as switching between figures and loops).  Also, the SkatesUS is pretty much the only distributor, so if you are looking for a specific part you have to call and talk with them, and most parts are not easily orderable from the interent.


Atlas



Before Roll Line took control of the market, Atlas was the top figure plate in the US.  Many skaters are still using Atlas plates today, especially for dance and figures, though much less in freestyle, at least at the top levels.  It is a bit more confusing to keep track of all the Atlas plate models and designs, but most of them are identified with a year, and some of them are specified as having a steering damper, while others are not.  In general, the models without a toe stop were designed for figures and dance, while the models with a toe stop were designed for freestyle and dance.

Pros:  These are still excellent plates, especially for figures and dance.  I prefer the Atlas plates for loops to any of the styles of Roll Line plates.  In general they are about the same or slightly less expensive than the Roll Line plates.  Skates US also offers a size exchange program (it seems to be valid for all models), and so these can be very cost effective skates for the grown skater.  Because they were used by so many skaters who have now switched to Roll Line, you can often find used plates for much cheaper than new ones.  Also, it is very easy to change cushions and adjust the action on these skates.

Cons:  These plates do not seem to have held up as well for freestyle skaters as the Roll Line plates do. Because they have been going out of favor, it is increasingly difficult to find parts.  The manufacturers have been trying to push urethane cushions to compete with the Roll Line plates, but for Atlas the rubber cushions are far superior.  Also, unlike the Roll Line plates, many of the various version of Atlas plates do not have interchangeable parts, so you have to be very careful and very specific when you are looking for replacement pieces.


Snyder


Snyder skates used to be the ultimate in skate plates, but were replaced in popularity by the easily adjustable Atlas, and now Roll Line plates.  Most skaters who use Snyder today have kept them from the late 80s/early 90s.  Current models of Snyder plates seem to be popular with the Derby, jam, and session skating crowd, but are not as popular with the artistic group.  Several models are available, including the Deluxe, the Imperial, and the Advantage, with figure, dance, and freestyle versions available.  I have never used a Snyder plate myself, but my sister used one during her last year of skating.

Pros:  These skates were very popular, and it is usually easy to find some used plates or old spare parts.  Many skaters still love the Snyder plates, and you will occasionally see them being used by an older dance skater.  These plates are generally less expensive than the Roll Line plates, at least when compared to the high end models.

Cons:  In general these skates are heavier than the Atlas or Roll Line plates, and so were not as favored for freestyle skaters doing jumps.  They also seemed to be more difficult to adjust and I have been told that (in the 80s and 90s at least) they didn't hold up as well to the rigors of freestyle as the newer plates did, so many skaters made the switch to Atlas or Roll Line at that point.



STD



STD (Skating Technical Development) aside from having an unfortunate acronym also seems to have an unfortunate reputation.  These skates are "made in Spain" although I have heard from other sources that the skates are actually made in China and distributed from Spain.  Many people consider them to be poorly executed knock-offs of Roll Line Equipment, and the (few) people who have been able to acquire them in the US have not spoken well of their quality.  There has been speculation over the durability of the carbon fiber plates, and most people who consider these skates go with the Roll Line instead.

Pros:  They come in pretty colors, lots of styles, many sizes.  You want a bejeweled skate?  They got it.  Also, since they seem to be a Roll Line knock off, some adventurous souls have reported using a Roll Line truck on a STD plate to have the ultimate mix of style and control.

Cons:  These plates are impossible to find in the US, and I haven't heard of many people using them in other parts of the world either.  Apparently there are a few dance skaters who like their wheels, but, in general I haven't heard any favorable comments about their equipment.  With prices comprable to Roll Line (and shipping and import costs making them prohibitively expensive), honestly, I can't see why you wouldn't just go with the real deal.


Piranha/Shark/Cristal/Hudor/Paioli


Apparently there are some new plates out of Italy?  I am not sure who exactly is the manufacturer, but according to this website, they are being favored by several world champions over the Roll Line plates. It looks like they are focused mainly on freestyle skaters with their Piranha, Shark and Cristal models, as well as figure skaters with the Hudor (is the name an homage to the old Hudora skate that many people loved by is no longer available and was difficult to acquire even back in the 80s?), with the Paioli models geared towards the younger skaters.  As is often the case, the rest of the world will hear/test/see new skating equipment long before it becomes available in the US (Komplex wheels perhaps excluded), so it remains to be seen if/when these plates will become popular in the US and if they will overtake the Roll Line market share (somehow I am doubting it, as I can't imagine anyone in the US acting as distributor for various reasons), but I will be very curious to see how the news of these plates spreads and if they start popping up on various competitors (if they do, my bet is we won't start seeing them until January - after worlds).

The Piranha - A top of the line freestyle skate.

The Super Shark (notice the actual etching of a shark?  It makes me giggle)

The Cristal - looks most similar to the Roll Line design.

The Hudor.  I would be very interested in trying this out for loops
These skates look like they combine the best of the Atlas (top down action adjustment, rubber cushions for figures) with the best of the Roll Line (interchangeable parts, plate shape to minimize weight and maximize strength, urethane cushions for free skating).  I find the double toe-stop screw to be fascinating (logical, perhaps, for those attempting triples) and ponder how the action would feel in comparison to the Atlas and Roll Line plates I have been skating on up to this point.  As they are new I don't really have a feel for how they would hold up under the rigors of training.  I suppose if I ever get really curious or find myself in a situation where I am desperately needing plates and unhappy with my options, I can always order some from the UK.


Other Plates


There are many other plate brands that do or used to exist.  I know that the Labeda dance plates were favored by many world class dance skaters long ago (some people still use them today), and the old Hudora plates were much beloved by loop skaters, but as with much skating equipment, they were either too specialized or hard to find and not generally adopted and have fallen out of use today.  Kompelx has hinted that they are developing their own brand of plates, so it should be interesting t see how their model compares with the Atlast/Roll Line/new Italian plates.  There are many other brands of plates that are still in use today (PowerDyne, etc.) but these plates are not generally used by artistic skaters, and so have been left out of this discussion.


Conclusions


Well, I use both Roll Line and Atlas plates, because I feel that they have their own special niche for the types of skating that I do.  I haven't really used any other types of plates (well, I used a Sure Grip skate package when I first started) so I suppose I am a bit biased on my comparisons, but right now Roll Line has such a dominance in the market that I don't even know if it is possible to make other comparisons.  I will be excited to see if these new Italian plates shake things up a bit, but I expect that Roll Line will continue to dominate the US market for the next few years at least, if not much longer.

So, what about you skating readers?  Which plates do you use?  Which have you tried, and what did you like or not like about them?  Have you heard anything (good or bad) about STD plates or these new Italian plates?  Do you find yourself wanting to try them, or are you incredibly loyal to the skates you are on now?  Please discuss in the comments!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Skating Equipment: Let's Talk Bearings

Since my sewing has been completely focused on skating costumes for others recently, I have very little to show, I thought I would continue my Skate Equipment review series so that I at least have *something* to talk about.  My plan is to do a weekly skate-part review post until I have covered a majority of the skating equipment in reasonable depth.  Last week I talked about wheels, so today's post is the natural progression from there - today I will be talking about skate bearings.

*Disclaimer* I want to state that all of my reviews are opinions formed based on personal experience and are not meant to be an ultimate guide or reflect negatively on any of the companies or products I am discussing.  I am only offering my opinions in the hope that someone might find my comments useful or offer their own suggestions in the comment section.  Everything I have tested I have borrowed or bought myself - no sponsorships or anything like that.  Like buying a high-end sewing machine, skate equipment needs to feel right to a skater, and what I like might not be the best for someone else.  However, I have been skating a long time on a lot of different equipment, so I feel like I do have something valid to contribute to the discussion.

Like wheels, there are a number of different companies that sell skate bearings, and every skater seems to have their own preferences.  I will admit up front I have a rather biased opinion and a very specific preference for bearings, so you may want to take my reviews with a grain of salt, although I will point out that I have come to my conclusions after many years of skating, so they weren't come to randomly or without experience.

Skate bearings are comprised of ball bearings inside of a casing, usually with a protective cover of some sort.  They come in 7mm and 8mm sizes - the 7mm size is most often used for artistic skates, where the 8mm bearings are used for skateboards and outdoor skates.  You need two bearings for each skate wheel - a total of 16 bearings for one set of skates.  Most bearings are given an ABEC rating, and many people assume a higher rating indicates a better skate bearing, which is not necessarily the case.  The ABEC rating deals with Tolerances, but won't indicate how smooth a bearing rolls, or how long it rolls bearing weight.  Like durometers in wheels - ABEC ratings won't necessarily help you pick a better bearing or choose the best bearing between different brands.  It is better to test the bearings and decide for yourself.

Bearings, unlike skate wheels, can have a much longer lifespan if they are properly cared for and maintained.  Skate wheels round, flat, wear down, and have to be replaced.  If a skate bearing is cleaned (with acetone or alcohol), dried quickly (so as not to rust), and properly lubricated (ah, the debate over bearing lubricant is vast and varied - people have been known to use everything from WD40 to rifle lubricant to brand-name bearing lubes) then they can, in theory, last many, many years.  Some people clean their bearings as often as every two weeks.  I have to admit, I am very bad about cleaning my bearings, and whenever anyone else has cleaned them I notice a very sharp decrease in performance, even when compared to the dirty un-cleaned state.  I recently acquired some Bones Speed cream lubricant and the Bones cleaning bottle system, and I plan to experiment with bearing cleaning in the near future.  If/when I get around to it I shall do a how-to review post at that time.  At this point when my bearings get old, I tend to replace them, but I am thinking/hoping that if I am a bit more proactive about my cleanings I can be a bit more cost-effective with my bearing habits in the future.

So, with that being said, let's look at the options:


Bones

I will come out and say that, without a doubt, Bones bearings are the best skate bearings available today, by far.  I have been skating on Bones almost since I started, and any time I try anything else I am disappointed.  For years I skated on the classic Swiss Bones, but lately I have fallen in love with the newer Swiss Bones Labyrinth bearings, which have an extra protective shield to keep out dust and dirt.  You can see a full list of their product line here.  All of these bearings are made in the larger 8mm size for skate boarders, but most are also made in the 7mm size for roller skaters.  I have tried the Bones Swiss (fabulous), the Bones Swiss Labyrinth (even more fabulous), and the Bones Reds.  I will say that a few years ago I tried some of the Bones Reds (these are made in China as opposed to the higher priced Swiss bearings which are, clearly, made in Switzerland) and I was not impressed.  Recently I was able to try a newer set of Reds and they were AMAZING.  Very fast, very smooth.  I think there have been some improvements made to the Reds line, and I would be confident in recommending these bearings as well as the Swiss bearings, though I will say that I do not have a good sense of how long the Reds last in comparison to the Swiss bearings. I have been known to wear the Swiss bearings for several years (at least in my figure skates) without a cleaning.  They last forever - and the newer Labyrinth ones last even longer.  I have been using some Labyrinth bearings for nearly a year, and they are just as silent as the day I put them on.  Truly, I cannot say enough good things about these bearings.  I will say I had the opportunity (once) to test out another skater's set of ceramic bearings.  They were nice, but I did not notice a drastic enough difference from my regular Bones Swiss to justify the extra expense (the ceramics are 2-3 times more expensive than the steel bearings).  You can read about why the company shuns ABEC ratings here, and about how they have developed their products over the years here.

Pros:  Excellent bearings, simply the best.  They roll smoothly and fast right out of the box, they last a long time, and they are available at many price points (you can get Reds for about $40, Swiss around $75, while the ceramics are over $200).  The company is dedicated to making great skate parts, and I have been extremely satisfied with the quality and consistency of their products.

Cons:  Many people will complain about the price of the Swiss bearings, but I really feel that you get what you pay for - I haven't found another bearing that rolls as smooth or lasts as long as the Swiss.  If the price is such an issue you can always go with the lower priced Reds.  Also, I have heard that some freestyle skaters damage the bearings from falling so often or landing jumps with so much force.  However, I think that other bearings would also have similar problems dealing with these stresses, and I would definitely NOT recommend ceramic bearings to freestyle skaters because of this.  These problems might also be lessened by rotating the bearings (or wheels) more frequently so that the stress or landing is not placed so heavily on the same bearings over a long period of time.  Figure and dance skaters do not have these problems because they are not constantly applying forces at weird angles to the bearings.  Also, I have noticed that many people don't list the bearing size (7mm vs. 8mm) when selling these on the internet.  You have to be very careful about what you are buying in terms of size, style, and quantity to make sure you get what you want.  Also, it can be difficult to get some of the varieties from the local skate shops - the standard Swiss and Reds seems to be in stock often, but I haven't had much luck getting the Labyrinths anywhere but the internet, and most people look at me like I am crazy when I start raving about them.


Qube

Qube bearings are the other big name is skate bearings.  I know several people who have been using them for the past few years and seem to like them, although I thought they felt slow compared to my (old and dirty) Bones Swiss.  I have (briefly) tried a set of the ceramics and 8-balls, and did not notice a discernable difference between these bearings, although I thought both were slower than the Bones Swiss.  Overall I was not impressed, though I have heard that these bearings do tend to last for a long period of time.

Pros:  Cheap.  You can get a set of the lower end (Juicy) bearings for about $25 and a set of ceramics for a little over $100 (half the cost of the Bones).  And I have heard that these bearings last a long time and are easy to clean.  They are also fairly easy to find on the internet and at skate rinks and are usually labeled with the size to make for easy ordering.

Cons: Not as fast as Bones.  I think that is my complaint about every bearing company that isn't Bones.  Also, apparently some of these come packed in grease, instead of coming pre-lubricated.  You might not be able to use these bearings right out of the box, and instead have to clean and lubricate them before a first use.  I am lazy and spoiled, and this seems like too much work when I compare it to using Bones bearings which come ready to work.






Other Bearings

Fafnir:  Fafnir is a German company that still makes bearings, but they no longer make skate-specific bearings.  When people gush about Fafnirs they are usually referring to bearings from the 70s and 80s that were the ultimate in skating parts.  Some people still have a set that over 30 years old but is well maintained and they claim it is faster and better than anything on the market today.  Pros: This is apparently the best skate bearing that ever existed.  Cons: They are no longer produced, you can't buy them, and anyone who has a set isn't willing to sell them.  I have seen some, but never used any.  They are spoken of in reverent hushed tones, as one would discuss a much-missed deceased relative.

Roll Line:  Roll Line has their own set of bearings (the Carbon J) and used to have another set called the "Micro Mini" bearings.  I have tried both and liked neither.  They felt incredibly slow and not as smooth as the Bones or even Qube bearings.  Pros: You can get them from the Roll Line rep and they don't have a shield, which prevents damage to the shield and problems with the bearings.  Cons: The shields prevent dirt from getting into the bearings and messing up the ball's motion, so, in general, I would think not having shields would be a bad thing (at least on the super dusty floors I skate on).  Also, for $75 you might as well get a set of Bones Swiss.

Komplex:  The Komplex wheel company has also been selling Komplex bearings.  I was able to try some, and, while I found them to be slightly better than the Roll Line bearings and comprable to the Qubes, they still don't hold a candle to the Bones bearings, and at the same price I see no reason to not go with the Bones.


Others:  There are various other bearing companies (such as Bevo, Kwik, BSB, etc) that offer bearings at various price points.  I haven't tried them, and I don't know anyone who uses them.  I do know someone who buys industrial bearings for $1 each and uses them in their freestyle skates because they seem to take a beating better than the Bones bearings.  I have a set of these and while they are fine (better than the Qube bearings even) they don't have the roll one would want in a dance or figure wheel.  Also, because this is one of those things where "I know a guy who knows a guy" I can't really point you in a specific direction because I don't know the brand or where he gets them.  I just know I have a set and I like to use them for resistance training because they are slow but not too slow.


So, there you have it - my take on skate bearings.  Clearly, you will have to pry my Bones out of my cold dead fingers before I will willingly make a switch to another brand, and even then I would be more willing to clean my old bearings than try to find acceptable new ones.  Do any of the skaters out there have a preference?  Are you all Bones junkies as well, or do you like to roll on Qubes or something else?  Are you vigilant in your bearing cleaning practices, or do you (like me) use your bearings as they came out of the package until they stop rolling?  Do you still swear by your Fafnirs?  Feel free to discuss in the comments!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Skating Equipment: Let's Talk Wheels

I did a fair bit of talking about skate equipment this past year as I documented my transition from Atlas Plates to Roll Line Plates (and something of a transition back on my loop skates).  I thought it might be fun to do something of a series on skating equipment and the options available.  Since I am an artistic skater these posts will focus on artistic skating needs - I won't be dealing with the vast options available to those who specialize in speed, hockey, or derby, whose equipment needs are very different from my own.

*Disclaimer* I want to state that all of my reviews are opinions formed based on personal experience and are not meant to be an ultimate guide or reflect negatively on any of the companies or products I am discussing.  I am only offering my opinions in the hope that someone might find my comments useful or offer their own suggestions in the comment section.  Everything I have tested I have borrowed or bought myself - no sponsorships or anything like that.  Like buying a high-end sewing machine, skate equipment needs to feel right to a skater, and what I like might not be the best for someone else.  However, I have been skating a long time on a lot of different equipment, so I feel like I do have something valid to contribute to the discussion.

So - let's get to talking about wheels.  The skate wheel is (or at least should be) the part of the skate that comes in contact with the skating surface most often, so in some sense it has the greatest impact on how a skate "feels" on a particular surface.  Skating surfaces vary from slick to tight, from rough to glass-smooth.  The floor type (wood, cement, etc.), coating (various types of plastic varnishes), and upkeep will determine how the floor feels.  Though everyone loves a tight, fast, smooth floor this isn't always an option.  And you can't change the skating surface.  You can, however, fairly easily change your wheels.

As far as skating equipment goes, the wheel is (most often) the cheapest component of the skate.  Since the wheels have to deal with constant friction, they tend to wear down the quickest, and need to be replaced more frequently than any other skate part (except perhaps for toe-tops on freestyle skates).  In general most skaters I know replace their wheels once a year (around May/June before summer competitions), though many skaters have a "practice set" of old beat up wheels and a "competition set" of nice shiny new wheels.  Most freestyle and some dance skaters (and maybe a few figure skaters) carry multiple sets of wheels in various hardnesses so they can quickly adjust their skates to the rink conditions.

There are two numbers to pay attention to with wheels - diameter and durometer.  The diameter is the size of the wheel.  Most wheels are 57mm (small, often used for freestyle or by young children) or 63mm (large, used for figures and dance).  Some wheels also come in 55mm (freestyle wheels), 60mm (loop wheels), or 62mm (dance wheels).  The smaller wheels keep your balance point closer to the ground, which can make it easier to balance when doing tricky things like spinning or landing jumps.  The larger wheels will give more roll with less effort by the skater, which is important for things where you will be balancing on one foot without pushing for long periods of time (for dance and figures).

The "hardness" or "durometer" of a wheel will determine how it feels on the floor.  The higher the number, the harder the wheel, and the more slippery it will feel when you skate on it.  As with many things you are trying to find the perfect balance - too slippery and you will feel unstable, too sticky and you will feel like you are skating through peanut butter.  There are two scales - a plastics D scale (usually ranges 35-65) and a urethane A scale (usually ranges 80-105).  Often these numbers are not consistent between companies, so a 96 from one brand may be softer than a 95 or even 92 from another company.  This can make it had to determine what to order when you want to try out new equipment, but if you get lucky you can often test out the equipment of others before investing in some for yourself (not always an option, but nice when it does exist).

Right now there are several popular brands of skating wheel in the US:


Roll Line


Roll Line equipment has taken the skating world by storm the past few years - their wheels seem to be the most popular in artistic skating circles by far.  They are mainly carried and distributed by SkatesUS and they have several varieties that are intended for specialized purposes.

Figures - For figure skating (tracing the circles) Roll Line offers Giotto and Magnum wheels, in various hardnesses.  In general, you want the figure wheel to be as slippery as possible so that you reduce friction and travel around the figure circle with minimal effort.  However, some skaters find the slippery wheels hard to push with, and either use one of the lower numbers or use a combination of hardnesses so they can have a "push wheel" to get extra traction.  Personally, I prefer the 61D 63mm Giotto wheels - they can be a bit slippery to push, but I find that they have the best roll and are excellent for performing turns.  I don't really care for push wheels; I find that the inconsistent wheel material creates a weird drag when doing turns and it makes it very difficult to get a perfectly balanced shape to the turn.  I have found that the Giotto wheels tend to hold up very well - I usually only have to replace them once every 2-3 years, and I am a fairly obsessive figure skater.  The edges do tend to round after doing a lot of loop skating, but only after very heavy use.  I have tried the 60mm loop wheels, but I did not like them.  I found the shift in the balance point made it difficult to get the roll I like to have around the crown of the loop, and I thought there was too much slow down when I was doing paragraph loops (two circles with one push).  I do know other skaters who like having the lower balance point though, and find that the loop wheels help them quite a bit.  They tend to be a bit shorter and smaller than I am though.  I don't know anyone who uses the Magnum wheels, and have never tried them, so I can't really comment on how they feel or wear.

Dance - For dance skating it seems that Roll Line's most popular wheels are the Grease dance wheel, which are 63mm and come in three hardnesses - 97A, 95A, and 92A.  They also offer a few wheels in 62mm sizes - Olympic Blue (93A), Forester Gold (90A), and Formula 88 (88A).  Most skaters who use the Roll Line wheels seem to like the 95A Grease wheel.  I have been using this wheel for the past two years or so, and I really rather like it.  It feels stable and grippy, while still having enough slide to do some nice turns.  Some people (myself included) like to mix hardnesses on the Grease wheels - using a checkerboard combination of tighter wheels on the inside front and outside back and slicker wheels on the inside back and outside front.  Since I have been skating on some fairly tight floors this year, I have been using a combination of the 95A/97A wheels, and switch to all 95s when I encounter a slippery surface.  Although some people would count this as a negative, I really like the width on these wheels.  I feel like the size adds extra stability when skating fast and deep edges.  However, I do know some people who find these wheels to be incredibly slow and there are some coaches who think that they should only be used by world class dance skaters.  Luckily I have a coach with the opinion that the skater should wear what is best for them, and has been amenable to me trying out different equipment over the years.  These wheels also seem fairly robust, though I do notice that the edges round down more quickly than those of my figure skates.  I usually need to replace my dance wheels about once a year, sometimes twice.  Although I really like these wheels it seems that, unfortunately, there is a new design this year that seems to produce a lot of whistling and whining.  The fins on the inside hub are now curved and there is some speculation that this could be the culprit.  Others swear that the noise goes away after you break in the wheel.  My new set of wheels make a ton of noise, and I find it incredibly annoying, but I am hoping that a prolonged break-in period will help this problem go away.  Only time will tell.

Freestyle - Since I am not a freestyle skater I don't have any first-hand experience using these wheels, but I do know a lot of people who use them.  Most freestyle skaters tend to have at least one set of each hardness of wheel - Leopard (99A), Mustang (97A), Panther (95A), and Fox (92A) - and many skaters mix and match to get the correct feel for spinning and landing jumps.  The most popular hardnesses seem to be the Mustang and Panthers, though I know just as many people with Leopards and Foxes, so it is difficult to say which wheels are the most popular.  These wheels also come in a "Light" version which is 55mm in size (as opposed to the normal 57mm), though I have heard that the Light versions also make the whining noise, and I don't know anyone who uses them.  Roll Line also offers 57mm Giotto and Magnum freestyle wheels, but I don't know anyone who uses these either.  One thing of interest - while dance and figure skaters always seem to want to discuss the hardness in numbers, the freestyle group only seem to know the wheels by their animal names.  One time I was helping someone change wheels and I was asking if they wanted 92's or 95's on their skates and all I got was a blank look.

Pros:  Overall Roll Line wheels seem to be the top wheels on the market.  They have wheels for every discipline in multiple hardnesses and sizes which make it very easy to find wheel to suit each individual skater.  Their wheels are very popular, so it should be fairly easy to borrow wheels from someone to test them out for yourself.  In general I would say that these wheels are well designed, work well, and last a reasonable amount of time.

Cons:  As with many things, you often end up paying more for the brand name.  I would say that Roll Line Wheels tend to be on the more expensive end of skate wheels, but I would also say that you get what you pay for.  However, for people who like to mix-and-match wheel hardnesses, the cost can add up in a hurry since you can only buy Roll Line wheels in full sets of 8.  That means if you want some push wheels for figures you are going to have 6 extra wheels sitting around.  Which, in theory you will use eventually, but it does make the expense much greater up front.  Some people complain that the wheels tend to get flat spots very easily, but I have only had that problem when I had to do a quick t-stop when I was going very fast to avoid a collision.  Harder wheels will tend to get flat spots more easily than softer wheels, and it does seem that the newer the wheel, the more likely it is to get a flat spot.  These wheels also tend to discolor within a year, which bothers some people more than others (not something I am overly concerned with, but some people dislike the yellow/green color these wheels turn with age).  The other problem seems to be this new issue with the whining noise.  It remains to be seen if this will be resolved, but it looks like many skaters are starting to search for alternative wheels because of this annoyance.


Komplex USA


The Komplex wheels are the latest wheels to hit the skating world.  The company started with skating wheels, and seems to be expanding to other skate parts like bearings, toe stops, and (eventually) skating plates.  To my knowledge, the wheels were first seen at the US Nationals last year, and seem to be quickly spreading in popularity.  Like Roll Line, Komplex has a full line of wheels for each skating discipline.  It is rare to see a new company break into the skating world and have their products become so popular so fast.  I think a competitive price point and endorsements by many world team members have helped these wheels become quite popular quite fast.  It seems that many skaters in other countries have been testing out these wheels as well, and most people seem to be giving them favorable reviews.

Figures - Komplex offers their 63mm Angel figure wheel in several hardnesses.  I was able to test out some Angel wheels recently (52 hardness, with 51 hardness push wheels).  I found that these wheels offered excellent grip for pushing (almost too much since I am so used to my super slick Giotto wheels) while still having a nice slide on the turns.  However, I also found that these wheels tend to lose their roll much faster than the Giotto wheels do.  I was able to get a stronger push and was going much faster at the start of the figure, but lost a lot of roll and ended the figure slower than in my Giotto wheels, despite having a stronger push to begin with.  I was not able to test these wheels out for loop skating, however, but because the loop circles are smaller it is possible that this loss of roll would not have as large an impact.  I would love to test out the hardest Angel wheel (56) to see how it compares with the hardest Giotto wheel (61), though in general I think I will stick with my Giottos.  I do think it might be worth testing out a set of the 52s on loops at some point in the future though.

Dance - There are two types of Komplex dance wheels at the moment - Bolero wheels and Tango wheels.  I have been lucky enough to test out some of each.  The Tango wheel are only recently released to the market and are on the urethane A scale.  I tested out the hardest of these wheels - the 96A yellow Tango wheels.  I really liked the size/shape/feel of this wheel but it was incredibly slow.  I think these wheels should only be used on the slickest of surfaces, and honestly I would recommend the Roll Line Grease 92A wheels over the Tango 96A wheels if you need something for a slippery surface (noise problems and all).  Of course, you could always use these for strength and endurance training - it takes a LOT of effort to go anywhere on these wheels!  I do, however, rather like the Bolero dance wheels - I have been using a mix of the 40 and 43 hardnesses, and this has provided nice roll with enough stability due to wheel width but also enough slide on the turns.  I think I would recommend the 40 hardness in general, and the 43 hardness only if you are skating on a very tight floor.  These wheels feel slightly more slippery than the Roll Line Grease wheels, but the initial slickness seems to wear off after the wheels have been skated in for a while.  It does seem that these wheels flat fairly easily, especially when they are brand new.  In general I really like these wheels and they are absolutely silent - no noise problems like the new Grease wheels!

Freestyle - Again, I haven't tried these myself, but I have seem more and more skaters trying them out. As with the dance wheels there are two types (both 57mm) - the freestyle Angel wheels and the freestyle Ghibli wheels.  The Angel wheels range in hardness from 38 - 56, providing the largest durometer range of any wheel brand that I am aware of.  The Ghibli wheels look to be made out of the same compound as the Tango wheels, so I can only assume that they will feel similarly grippy and slow (possibly a good thing for skaters trying to land jumps on very slick surfaces).  Most skaters using these wheels seem to have a mix of 45/48 hardnesses, though I have seen a few with a mix of three or more hardnesses on their skates.  Freestyle skaters tend to go through wheels the fastest (spinning tends to round down the wheels quite a bit), but from what I have seen it looks like the Komplex wheels tend to flat or wear faster than the Roll Line wheels.

Pros:  These wheels are less expensive than the Roll Line brand wheels, and in most cases come in a wider range of hardnesses.  When you order wheels, you can order a full set of 8, or you can order a customizes set, and specify how many wheels of each hardness you want - making it very easy to get a set of figure wheels with push wheels, or get a mix-and-match set of freestyle and dance wheels.  They seem to be growing in popularity, so it should be fairly easy to find a set and test them out.

Cons:  Each wheel hardness comes in its own distinct color.  While the most popular versions tend to be made in the white or neutral grey shades, mixing and matching wheels can tend to make someone look like they are skating on a bunch of fruit loops.  Some coaches (and skaters) might not like this crazy colorful look, and might not want to go with these wheels because of it.  I know a few skaters who won't try them because they only come in 57mm size and not 55mm.  Also, it seems these wheels flat very easily, and because of that they might need to be replaced more often than the Roll Line wheels.  It is debatable if these wheels have better roll than the Roll Line wheels, some skaters feel that they do and others feel that they don't.  From my experience it seems that the amount of grip and roll of these wheels varies much more with the hardness of the compound than do the variations in the Roll Line wheels, so it might take a skater longer to find exactly the right combination of wheels for them to feel comfortable.


Roller Bones


The Roller Bones Wheels have probably had the greatest staying-power in the wheel market  - they were popular when I started skating over a decade ago, and they are still popular today.  The Roller Bones wheels are used mainly for dance, although there are a few people who still like them for freestyle.  They aren't really used by experienced figure skaters too much as they tend to be a bit too sticky.  They are an excellent wheel for a new artistic skater who doesn't yet have specialized skates - these wheel probably have the best combination of grip, roll, and slide of any wheels on the market today.    These wheels used to come in a wider variety of hardnesses (98A, 101A, and 103A) and colors (white, black, whiskey, red), but now seem to only come in 101A and 103A in black, white, and clear.  There are two sizes (57mm and 62mm), and two varieties - the Elite and the Super Elite.  The Super Elite have a plastic hub for the bearings (this is awesome - you can literally press them in by hand) but also come new with grooves around the outside of the wheel.  The wheels feel really slow until the groves get worn down, which can take weeks or even months of skating.  I prefer the Elite wheels - no grooves so they are super fast out of the package, and cheaper to boot.  Personally I like the 101A wheels over the 103A wheels, but I know people who won't skate on anything other than 103s.

Pros:  These are probably the fastest wheels on the market.  People who have been skating on other wheels will put these on and fly around the floor.  This is why so many skaters like them for dance.  These are also probably the best multi-task wheels, so I think they are great for skaters who are just starting artistic skating because they will good if you are using one set of skates for figures, dance, and freestyle.  Also, the price is decent and these wheels tend to last a long time.  There are fewer flat spot issues than with other wheels, so they are a good investment.  And, although this is rather vain and somewhat trivial - these wheel (especially the white ones) look very pretty on the floor.  They tend to retain their original color much better than the Roll Line wheels.  Also, in the ever changing skate wheel market, you know something with this much staying power has to be good.  Not to mention that practically everyone has a set lying around - so it should be really easy to find some and try them out.

Cons:  Despite all the good points this wheel has going for it, I don't actually enjoy skating in it all that much.  Although the part of the wheel that contacts the skating surface is actually wider than the Roll Line or Komplex wheels, because of the design, on the skate it actually feels the most narrow (Komplex and Roll Line have a tapered edge on the backside of the wheel that push it out farther onto the axel of the plate).  Personally, I do not like this.  Some skaters prefer this because the feel less likely to trip when doing footwork, but I find it makes me feel like I am going to slip when skating on deep edges.  Also, on the Roll Line plates especially, you will need to have additional spacers to push the wheels farther out on the axel, because otherwise the wheels have too much side-to-side wobble, even when the axel nut is fully tight.  I find these wheels to be slippery when I am trying to do edges, but tight when I am trying to do one-foot turns.  I did skate on these wheels for many years, and I still have a set of the 101s that I use on occasion, but in general I prefer the Roll Line and Komplex wheels for use in the harder dances that have deeper edges and one-foot turns.


Other Wheels


Star:  The Star wheels are a hard to find figure wheel.  They have several levels of hardness, and are preferred by some skaters to the Giotto.  Some people say that the hardest Star wheels are even slicker than the hardest Giotto wheels, and thus feel that they get better roll around the figure circles.  However, I have heard that these wheels can be expensive, they are hard to find (in the US at least), and I have seen fewer and fewer skaters using them in recent years.

Snyder:  The Snyder skate company has been producing skating plates in the US for quite some time - they used to be quite popular, but are now used much less by artistic skaters in favor of Roll Line and Atlas (these still seem to be very popular with the Derby crowd though).  Recently, Snyder also started making skate boots and wheels.  I have only seen a few people use the wheels, and they usually move on to another brand within a year.  I haven't skated on them myself, and don't know anyone who uses them, so I can't really speak to how they feel.

Hyper:  The Hyper brand of wheels is no longer made, but occasionally you will see people sporting a really old pair of Hyper Tracer figure wheels or Hyper Dance wheels.  I did use the Hyper Tracer figure wheels when I first started skating, and liked them, but I prefer the Giotto wheels for turns and length of roll.  I tried the Hyper Dance wheels once - they were not good.  Probably the slowest wheels I have ever skated on.  Ever.


STD:  STD is a skate company that mainly seems to be sold in Europe.  Many of their products looks like knock-offs of Roll Line and Komplex wheels.  The only place I have found selling their wheels is SkateCrazy - a UK based online retailer.  I have heard that there are some European skaters who like their MEST wheels, but in general I have not heard many reports about their wheels (favorable or otherwise).  No one in the US is using them, as far as I am aware (import and shipping would make them far more expensive than Roll Line or Komplex here), and so I have very limited knowledge of how these wheels actually perform.


Conclusions


So, overall it should be pretty apparent that the wheels you use have a lot to do with what you are trying to accomplish.  Wheels are one of those things that every skater needs to test and feel for themselves.  While general recommendations are good, it is hard to be really confident with your selection unless you try it out for yourself.  Personally, I am a fan of the Roll Line wheels, but I am recently starting to like the Komplex Bolero for dance, at least on tighter surfaces.  I am probably going to stick with my Giotto wheels for figures and loops, while I might bounce back and forth between the Roll Line Grease and Komplex Bolero wheels for dance.  If the Roll Line whining issue doesn't resolve itself, there is a strong chance of me switching strictly to the Komplex wheels in the future.

There are many (many many) other brands and styles of skating wheels, but these are the ones most often used in the artistic community.  Over the years I have seen the popularity of various skate wheel wax and wan, but there always seems to be something new to try, as well as something falling out of popularity and off the market.  The population of roller skaters has seen a drastic decrease since the 70s and 80s, with the number of artistic skaters being dramatically reduced because of it.  With such a small market to sell to, sometimes it is a wonder we have as many choices as we do, but other days it feels very limited.  Unlike other skate parts (like boots) where we can benefit from the popularity of ice figure skating to have a wide range of choices, artistic roller wheels are unique to our ever shrinking sport, so it is always exciting when new companies (like Komplex) offer something new to the skating market.

So, any other skaters out there?  Did I miss any of the big wheel brands?  Which wheels do you like?  Have you tried the new Komplex wheels and what do you think?  Do you switch your wheels depending on the skating surface?  Do you have brand loyalty, do you like to try out the latest thing, or are you still lamenting the loss of the Hyper Tracer Figure Wheel?  Discuss!