Time for outdoor skating! Here’s some tips!

With spring FINALLY arriving in my neck of the woods, I managed to get out for my first outdoor skate. I thought I would take some time to share my outdoor tips (and I encourage you to share as well) because this is how most of us Dames got our training last summer when we had no access to venue space.

Be aware of moisture

Be aware of wet areas on the paths and roadways. Not only does wet pavement cause your wheels to slide out when you push, moisture can ruin your boots and wreck havoc on bearings. Moisture inside your bearings can cause them to rust and stop spinning effectively. Avoid puddles at all cost and if you happen to hit the odd splatter, dry off your skates and bearings as soon as you are done your skate.

Get some outdoor wheels

When buying wheels at any time, look at these three characteristics…

Durometer (the “A” rating): Ranges from 74A to 105A. The lower the number, the softer the wheel. Wheel durometer affects durability, shock absorption and grip on surfaces. For outdoor wheels having a lower durometer helps absorb the little bumps in the pavement and also kicks little rocks out from under your skate. Ever hit a peddle on a harder wheel? Not fun. Lower is best.

Size or Diameter: This is the height of your wheel. Shorter wheels are slower and more maneuverable while taller wheels give a smoother ride and are a faster. Choose a size based on how fast you’d like to skate outside.

Love, love, LOVE these wheels! And I use them in bouts too

Width: The narrower the wheel, the more maneuverable it is. Also keep in mind narrow wheels are less stable for new skaters, so don’t choose something that’s too narrow for your skill level.

My favourite outdoor wheels:

Radar Pure
78A durometer
66mm high
37mm width

These glide SO smooth on rough asphalt and can handle minor gravel. These are wicked fast too.

Check out the Rollergirl.ca website, for many options of outdoor wheels.

Get some outdoor bearings

Switching bearings between your indoor and outdoor wheels can be a pain and you also risk damaging them over time. A second set of bearings to leave in your outdoor wheels is highly recommended. Some gals use their old bearings for outdoor skating so they don’t really care if they get them dirty or wet. But there are some bearings on the market that are fully encased, making it more difficult to for dirt and moisture to get in. These are pricey, but if you don’t like taking apart your bearings and cleaning them, it may be worth the money.

If you don’t have a roller skate shop near you, you can go to your local skateboard shop and talk to the crew there. Skateboarders are just as hard on their bearings (even harder because they almost exclusively skate outside) and they should know which ones will be best. Don’t forget, if you get your bearings from a skateboard shop, you’ll have to buy 2 boxes worth.

You can also buy bearing guards which can help keep dirt and debris from entering your bearings. Google that to find available options.

My oldest bearings go in my outdoor wheels and I wear them until they lose their spin. You can also purchase wholesale industrial 8mm bearings for a decent price. Surf the interwebs for a dealer near you.

When you go out… protect yourself…

Yes, you will get second glances when you go out skating in full gear. You might even get laughed at. Who cares! You are not skating on a smooth, predictable surface anymore. As some gals can attest it only takes a rock, a pedestrian or even a curb to get in your way outside. There is nothing worse than bashing your knee during a pleasure skate that keeps you from practice or injuring yourself in a way that keeps you from your job.

Don’t be stupid. Gear up. Especially if you’re going out to get your sweat on. But do your league a favour and wear your team shirt. You may drum up some new recruits or fans while you’re out and about.

Recommended: I have a summer set of knee, elbow and wrist guards. They are a bit lighter than my derby set so it’s not so hot to wear when it’s +30. I use these for casual skates. I often go without elbow pads for casual skates as well and on rare occasions, sans helmet. On days when I’m skating for training, I will do full derby gear, as I have had some pretty awesome spills when I get my speed on. You’ll get tan lines from wearing your gear in the summer. Just accept it.

Staying upright

Rookie mistake when skating outdoors (and in derby): coasting on two feet and locking your knees. There is nothing worse than face-planting in public. The best way to avoid falling is to always have your feet in motion by step skating. Why? If you’re on one foot and lose your balance or hit a rock that jostles you, you can put your other foot down to regain your balance. If you’re afraid to pick up your feet and coast down trails with intermittent pushing, your face will break your fall if you lose it. For the love of derby gods, pick up your feet!

Your knees are your shock absorbers and if you hit debris while your knees are bent, your body is in the perfect position to absorb and/or react if you stumble. Locking your knees or standing up straight impedes your ability to react and will cause your body to ‘tip’ instead of ‘absorb’ if you hit a rouge pine cone. Keeping fluid by bending your knees will keep your upper body relaxed as well. But remember to keep your hips and shoulders square and core tight to maintain your balance.

Your feet will feel “weird”

The vibration from skating on a bumpy surface will reverberate into your feet and up into your legs. It may cause your feet and/or shins to get tingly or even burn. Softer wheels will lessen the sensation. But the more you skate outside, the more you will get used you it!

Momentum is your friend

Skating slow on a bumpy surface will have your upper body lurching forward every time you hit a larger crack or debris because you don’t have enough speed to go over it smoothly. Always skate within your skill level, but understand that a sidewalk crack may cause you to stumble forward if you don’t have the momentum to go over it – like a car needing momentum to go over a speed bump. If you have a stable skating stance with bent knees and are picking up your feet, recovering from those stumbles will be easier.

As you skate on different outdoor surfaces, you will learn how to adjust your momentum to  surface with little lurching.

If curbs and sidewalk transitions make you nervous

Stop. Then step down/up from them using your toe stops to help stabilize yourself, then continue skating. Build your confidence in stepping on/off curbs at a stand still and work up to navigating them while rolling. Remember that roads are curved toward sidewalks so water runs off into storm drains. Be sure to compensate your body position to keep your balance. No matter your skating ability, always slow before entering an intersection so you can stop quickly if oncoming traffic doesn’t give you the right of way.

Finding places to skate

For the beginner, skating outside can be pretty intimidating. But I found my stability increased much faster by skating lots outside. Learning to negotiate gravel, pine cones and road intersections forces you to be aware of your surroundings and makes you pick up your feet… both good skills for a beginner. Plus navigating curbs makes you do little hops and steps that are common in pack work.

If you can find a clean parking lot or abandoned stretch of road to skate around on, that’s fabulous. For me, I really enjoy skating for endurance. The longer the path the better.

Try this: Map your favourite routes using a Google map or use an app on your smart device to record distance and speed of your outdoor skates. If you have kids, push them in a stroller/chariot or push them while they ride a bike to add fun and fitness.

Here are some of my favourite trails around Lethbridge. But there are many, many more. You can access the Lethbridge pathway map by clicking here.

My favourite skate routes. Google will map the distance as you draw the routes. Or use a fitness/motion app that tracks your speed and distance as you skate.

Orange route: Westside bike path loop – 3.16 mi or 5.08 km
Great for beginners. Very few intersections to navigate through. Gradual hill climbs and good opportunities for fast skating.

Blue route: Indian Battle Park riverbottom – loops range from .5 mi or .7 km to 3.55 mi or 5.71 km. Also has stairs for dryland training.
Great area for variety – lots of paths to choose from. Good for beginner/intermediate. Some short hills, but are easily avoidable if you’re not comfortable with speed. Surfaces vary from super smooth to bumpy. Lots of pedestrians, dogs and kids to watch out for. Debris from trees can cause hazards on windy days and is prone to flooding during rainy season. Great on hot summer days because of the shade from trees.

Red route: Pt 1 – Green strip to Henderson – 3 mi or 4.82 km
A nice cruise. Good for beginner/intermediate. Road intersections should be handled with caution, as some don’t have smooth transitions. Paths are generally clear but watch for gravel and pine cones. There are some sections where the path is terrible, but they are short-lived. Some short hills and opportunities for speed.

Red route: Pt 2 – Henderson loop – 1.76 mi or 2.84 km
A fun trail if you want to be seen by everyone! Make sure you take the trail furthest from the north side of the lake for the best ride (avoids most of the cobblestone path). Adjust your speed based on pedestrian traffic. These trails tend to be very busy. Keep to the right and announce to pedestrians what side you are passing on when you come up behind them. Cool air from the lake keeps you cool on the hottest of days.

Green route: Industrial trail – 3 mi or 4.83 km
Flat, smooth and few intersections. Great for a beginner. Very little debris except at intersections. Better on weekends due to decreased industrial traffic. Very little shade. Not recommended on hot days, great for early morning skates! This leads to new trails in the far north side of the city.

There are tons of new path systems in newer neighbourhoods that aren’t on this map. Go and explore!

Get skating!

So for those who are about to venture into the out-of-doors, I hope this helps a bit. I would love to hear from others about your favourite wheels, bearings or gear you use outside. No more excuses, freshies! Get out there and skate your asses off!

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How I clean my roller skate bearings

Before a game we try to get together as a team and do an evening of skate maintenance, which often leads to bad lube jokes (likely due to the fumes of all the cleaning products). It’s a great way to bond as a team and last time it lead to us all painting our nails the same colours in preparation for the bout.

Last week I went ahead and cleaned 2 full sets of bearings on my own. Without the distraction of lube, fumes and nail polish, I figured I would document how I do it and share with y’all.

Things you’ll need

Containers, dirty bearings, bearing puller, a small screwdriver or nail file, cleaning agent of your choice, rags, canned air, lube, etc.

**DISCLAIMER: My way isn’t necessarily right, but the procedure is what I’ve picked up from reading, talking to other derby gals and asking questions at skate board shops. If your way works for you, keep doing it!!!! If you see me doing something glaringly wrong, please speak up!!!!!

Removing your bearings from your wheels…

The best way is to get a bearing pusher/puller. Most multi-use skate tools have them. Below is a video of how to get them out. It’s sort of a wiggling/round-and-round motion. It’s easiest to pull from the back of the wheel, then push your tool through the middle of your wheel to pop the other one through and out.

Bearing tools are available at most skateboard shops.

How to tell if your bearings are dirty…

If they look like this…

I know the focus is off, but you can even see the grime on the bearings in the background.

Then they are dirty.

If you hold them between your fingers, give them a spin and they make grinding noises or don’t even spin to the count of 1, then they are dirty.

Wiping surface dirt from your bearings help a little, but if little grains of dirt get caught between the balls inside the bearings, you need to take them apart for a deeper clean.

Before I go on, inspection…

It’s important to also inspect your bearings for loose parts & make sure they aren’t lopsided. Remember we are putting a lot of pressure on our bearings by almost always leaning in one direction. I’ve never had it happen to me yet, but I imagine bearings will eventually start to bend over in the direction you’re leaning in over time, especially if you don’t rotate them. So if they are clean, lubed but still don’t roll well, they should be ditched or made into a keychain decoration.

Taking apart your bearings…

Before you take apart your bearings you should wipe all surface dirt away with a towel. My bearings have removable crowns on the back. You must be careful when removing them to avoid cracking or breaking the shield. I use a small eyeglass screwdriver to gently pry the crown off the back.

The dollar store sells cheap little screwdrivers perfect for this job.

There are many different styles of bearings on the market and how you take them apart varies. The bearings shown above have an easy-to-remove crown. However if you also remove the rubber shield on the other side, the little balls will fall out and roll all over your floor. Don’t do that if you have these types of bearings. A commenter below said that with these types of bearings its usually easier to remove the rubber shield and keep the crown in place. So do what works best for you. (Thanks to Rink Rolled for the info)

Bearings that have 2 rubber shields on both sides usually have spacers in between the bearing balls to hold them in place. Use a safety pin to pry out both sides of the rubber shields.

Bearings that are fully encased in metal, aren’t able to be taken apart to be cleaned (to my knowledge). But Rink Rolled says this…
“Bearings with metal shields can be cleaned (except cheap sealed ones). Metal shields are held into place with a metal C-ring along the outside of the bearing. The C-ring can be removed with a pin and the shield will come right off.”

Edited to add (Dec. 23, 2011)
I found this great video that shows the different ways to take apart bearings. Check it out!

What to use to clean your bearings…

Once all my crowns are removed, I put all my bearings in 70% rubbing alcohol. Better yet, if you can find 99% alcohol (you usually have to ask for it behind a pharmacy counter) do it. Paint thinner and kerosene also work but they stink and those are hard on your skin. Bearing-specific cleaner purchased at your local skate shop is also an option. Some use environmentally friendly options as well, but be careful in what you choose because if there is any film or residue left on those little balls, they won’t roll nice. EG: Dish soap isn’t great for bearings.

Soak em if you got em!

My rookie mistakes!

The first time I washed my bearings I used soap and water. I let them soak too long and the little balls were literally rusting before my eyes. If you’re going to use water, make sure you have a way to dry them FAST! When I saw them rusting, I panicked and grabbed my hair dryer and frantically started blow drying them on the hottest setting. Don’t do that either because it kinda shrinks the outside rubber shield which helps hold your bearings together. If you have a hair dryer with a cool setting and want to try that out, go for it. More about drying your bearings below.

Cleaning the crowns…

One of my teammates told me to not wash the crowns with chemicals or rubbing alcohol as it can break down the plastic. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but now I give them a warm soapy water bath and get the dirty grunge of lube and dirt off with a toothbrush, while I let my bearings soak in the alcohol. Then I rinse them in water. To finish the crowns, I give them a quick rinse in the rubbing alcohol, to ensure any leftover residue is gone, then towel dry.

The crowns get really gross when mixed with your lube and dirt.

Cleaning the bearings

I give them a good scrubbing with a toothbrush, shake them in the alcohol and repeat until they are clean. Then I towel dry them to get rid of the excess moisture.

Brusha, brusha, brusha

Don’t have a brush? Here’s an even BETTER option!

After you take them apart, put all your bearing pieces in a water bottle, fill it alcohol and shake it for 20 minutes. This advice comes from Coach Pauly himself! Under most circumstances, the friction of shaking the bearings in the alcohol is enough to get them clean.

Edited to add (Dec. 23, 2011)
Below is a great video that explains in detail how to clean bearings. Some of his techniques are different than what I outline, so you can choose what works best for you!

Drying the bearings…

If you use paint thinner, that stuff evaporates very quickly. Other cleaners may need a little help to dry before the bearings start to rust. If I can’t find 99% rubbing alcohol and use a lower percentage, I use canned air and give them a blow to make sure. But if you’re lucky to know someone who owns a mini air compressor, that’s a cheaper alternative. Give them a good blow to ensure all moisture is out of the bearing.

Its recommended you have more than one can handy for this job because the cans freeze up and lose their blowing power with constant use.

Inspect your bearings

Make sure the balls are smooth, no pits and the inside track is clear of debris or other issues.

Putting your bearings back together…

Using the little screwdriver that I used to pry off the crowns, I position each individual ball to approximately match up with the sockets of the crown.

Sometimes you need a steady surgeon hand...

Then I press the crown in. If everything’s lined up nice, it should snap in easily. Careful not to push too hard to crack or break your crown.

Dont force it! Use your screwdriver to reposition balls while the shield is sitting loose on top if its not snapping in easily.

If you have the bearings with the spacers in them, all you have to do is snap the rubber shields in place.

What if your bearings fall apart during the cleaning process?

Watch this video…

Add the lube…

This can be done before putting on shields/crowns or after. But it also depends on the kinds of bearings you have and how they are put together. I’ve done it both ways, mainly because sometimes I forget before replacing the shields. I do one drop on opposite sides of the exposed bearing, though I’m told one drop is also good enough or maybe do 3 drops for good measure. You don’t need to use skateboard lube for this. You can go to Canadian Tire and purchase 3 in 1 automotive oil and use that as well. Speed cream that hairdressers use for their clippers and other devices is just fine too. Essentially, any kind of lubricant on the market that is meant to reduce heat and friction will work on your bearings… another Coach Pauly tidbit.

Give them a spin…

Put the finished bearing between your fingers and give it a spin! It should have a nice WHHHHHIIIIIIRRRRRRRR sound (but not tin-sounding, otherwise you need more lube), come to a smooth stop and roll for a decent amount of time. If you hear odd noises coming from your bearing or if it stops abruptly during spinning, you probably shouldn’t use it anymore. Or you can try to soak them overnight and give them another shake or brush to try and make them come back.

Keeping your bearings cleaned and maintained is a good way to extend the life of your bearings which in turn, helps you save money. Make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to do this process and it’s way more fun doing it in groups.

Happy cleaning!!!!

**EDITED TO ADD Talk to your local skateboard shop tech guy for more information about cleaning bearings! They skate in way more dirty/nasty areas than we generally travel too and are a wealth of information! They also sell fancy cleaning containers to help clean your bearings more effectively!