How to choose the right wheels for roller derby

Written by jen philion
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Roller derby has made a comeback across the U.S., Canada, and even overseas, since the sport's rebirth in Texas in 2001. Derby games, or "bouts," are played in a wide variety of venues on many different surfaces: cement, concrete, wood, rubber sport court and more, all varying in degrees of slickness. Figuring out the right wheels to wear for an upcoming bout will help you play your best, allowing you to focus on the game instead of your skates.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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    Familiarise yourself with a variety of wheels. Companies such as Sure-Grip, Atom, Radar, Heartless and others make wheels either specifically for or suited to roller derby. Skate on as many different wheels as possible; borrow or swap wheels with teammates to have access to a wider variety.

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    Learn about wheel durometer or hardness ratings. Wheels come in different hardness levels that affect shock absorption, speed and grip, and determining the correct hardness of wheel to use is crucial to skating your best. Durometer is usually measured on an A-scale; 74A is a very soft wheel and 95A a very hard wheel. A small difference in ratings can still translate to a big difference in feel and performance.

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    Find out what kind of surface you will be skating on. Is it concrete? Polished concrete? Outdoor pavement? Rubberised roller rink? Hardwood? The slickness of the surface will help you figure out how hard a wheel you should use.

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    Ask the host team what wheels its players use on that floor. Most teams are willing to share that information. Make sure to ask about players in different positions. Also, ask teammates or people you know in other leagues for wheel recommendations that will work on that surface.


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    Consider your size, position and skating style. If you are a small, speedy jammer, you will likely want to wear different wheels from a large blocker. In general, the larger you are, the harder wheels you can wear--weight will help your traction. On the other hand, a smaller player who needs to skate fast will often require softer wheels to provide more grip.

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    Narrow the range of wheel durometers that you're considering based on your research and personal skating style. Go through your own wheels, ask to borrow wheels, or, if necessary, buy new wheels to find two or three sets that will meet your needs.

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    Arrive at the bout venue early enough to give yourself time to experiment. Bring a skate tool so you can quickly change wheels. Skate the floor with each set of wheels you brought.

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    Practice starting, stopping, turning and changing speeds, and skate several fast laps to get a feel for how each wheel performs. This should give you the information you need to choose the best wheels to wear for the bout.

Tips and warnings

  • Consider mixing and matching. While wearing a full set of soft wheels will give you a lot of traction, it may also slow you down. Wearing softer wheels on the left sides of your skates and harder wheels on the right side can give you a good balance of grip and speed.

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