Since the roller skate was invented in 1760, skates and related equipment, such as wheels, have gone through many changes. The resurgence of competitive roller derby in the mid 2000s helped bring a renewed focus to skate wheel technology, and wheels are now manufactured to perform on a wide range of indoor and outdoor surfaces.
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"Indoor vs. outdoor" is one of the most basic differentiations in roller skate wheels, and those terms mean exactly what they say. While any skate wheel can be used either indoors or outdoors, the two types are engineered to perform better in one or the other.
Roller skate wheels are made of polyurethane--a plastic--and rated according to durometer, or hardness of the polyurethane compound. Hardness ratings for roller skate wheels generally range from mid-70s to mid-90s, and the higher the number the harder the wheel.
Indoor wheels often have a higher durometer rating than outdoor wheels. Harder wheels are faster and more durable, but better for use on very smooth surfaces because they don't absorb bumps; softer wheels are more "grippy" and forgiving on rough surfaces.
Outdoor wheels are often wider than indoor wheels, giving more opportunity to absorb bumps and roll over cracks or rocks.
Indoor wheels are engineered with speed in mind, and in the late 2000s narrower speed wheels were introduced to increase maneuverability and decrease friction.
Outdoor wheels, along with often being larger, usually have rounded edges that are less likely to catch on obstacles
Indoor wheels are designed with flat edges, giving the skater a defined "lip" to push off of when striding and making it easier to gain speed.
Both indoor and outdoor wheels will work on any skate with removable or interchangeable wheels, and many people enjoy roller skating on just one type of wheel wherever they go. However, if you are interested in improving your skating experience and getting the most out of your skates on a wide range of terrain, even having just one set of indoor wheels and one set of outdoor wheels will provide a noticeable difference.
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