Do you know the anatomy of your skates? Everything rolls fine until you can’t roll anymore, and if your skates fail, you can’t derby. Whether it’s the plate that cracks, the toe stop that pops out, or bearings that fall apart… know your skates in order to efficiently maintain them, and always perform at the highest level.
The boot of your skate is attached to a plate. Nylon, steel, or alloy, the plate is what holds everything under the boot in place. The plate bends and flexes in response to your movements and body weight. There is a reason why nylon plates are mostly on beginners’ skates, and metal plates are on more advanced skaters’ skates. Nylon is light but also very flexible, therefore subject to breaking faster than metal. Metal can be heavy and too stiff however, and may still break under really intense pressure. That’s why alloys are very popular, since they provide flexibility and are lightweight. Bont even came up with the Quadstars as an answer to pricey skates, and the plates are nylon. Whatever your body weight and skating preference, there is a wide array of plates out there.
Now comes the nitty gritty.
I’m excluding Arius plates from this post, as these plates don’t have traditional trucks. Most plates have trucks, which look something like this:
The trucks are vital parts of your skates, as they are responsible for your wheel mobility. You surely heard from veteran skaters to “loosen your trucks” to give you more range of motion and improve agility. Again depending on your preferences, you might want tighter, or looser trucks. The truck angle might play a part in how comfortable you feel executing certain moves, like hockey stops. A small angle provides more stability than a bigger angle. Some plates combine 20 and 35 degree trucks to provide the best of both worlds.
The part of the truck that goes into the plate is called the pivot pin. The pivot pin is inserted into a tiny plastic pivot cup inside the plate.
When the pivot cups wear down, the skates feel out of control. The pivot pin sits snugly in this cushion, without movement.
Now the kingpin goes through the hole of your truck. Your truck moves around the kingpin. In order for the entire mechanism to work out smoothly, and for the ride to be as comfortable as possible, cushions or bushings are placed on either side of the kingpin. Cushions come in several hardness depending on your skating preferences.
These cushions wear out over time as well. Think of them as dampers. Dampers reduce mechanical vibrations, and absorb shock. When they can no longer absorb shock effectively, it’s time to replace them.
Your toe stop is screwed at the far end of your plate, right under your toes.
Depending on the type of plate, the toe stop is both screwed in and held firmly in place with either a washer and nut, or with a nut on the side. The side nut can wear out and lose its grip over time as toe stops get replaced, and constantly tightened. The washer and nut aren’t so much subject to wear and tear as the actual metal piece that holds the toe stop can get stripped, and literally come off the nylon plate. This is a common issue for skates like Darts, R3s and such. In response to this problem, many skaters super glue their toe stops so that they stay put. Obviously this solution foresees a new plate in the future.
The toe stop itself gets worn out over time, and requires to be adjusted in height or replaced. Proper toe stop height is measured in fingers, depending on how high you like them. Put the skate on the ground, and lift the heel, place your hand sideways and measure how many fingers separate the back wheels from the floor. When the skates come right out of the box, the toe stops will be at a certain height that might or not work for you. You also may like to have one foot higher than the other. Just like loosening your trucks, or adjusting the softness of your cushions, everything depends on your skating preferences.
This pretty much means you should try out as many setups as possible.
Last but not least, and probably a big culprit for noisy and slower skates, bearings! These tiny little greasy circles are inserted inside your wheels to make them roll. Bearings get dirty when not cleaned regularly. If maintained properly, they can last a really long time.
You must remove the bearings from your wheels before cleaning them. To do that, use a bearing tool or bearing press.
Once the bearings are out of your wheels, remove the plastic protective cap off the bearings so that the bearing cage is fully open, and the inside can be thoroughly cleaned with a special bearing cleanser. After the bearings are washed, let them dry, then put one drop of bearing oil in each bearing, close them up, and reinsert them inside your wheels.
Lots of information… I know. I heard “as long as it works, why should I worry?”. Some skaters only know how to change their wheels, and their knowledge stops there. Just think of your skates like a car. Your car needs oil change every once in a while in order for you to continue to drive. Understanding your gear gives you the ability to prevent bad breaks from happening. Given the oh so many variables of derby, limiting a few of them is surely helpful.
If you really can’t wrap your head around the many parts that make your skates whole, at least go to your nearest skate shop once a year to make sure everything looks the way it should.
Remember… Safety first!