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Inline Skates Buyers Guide - Everything Explained.

Inline Skates Buyers Guide - Everything Explained.

If you're new to the world of rollerblading then you could probably do with some beginners guidance when it comes to the skates, parts and hardware.

Most important thing first... determine what type of skating you are doing. The following guide is for adult inline skates for general use. So, skating along the seafront or in the park, commuting, leisure, fun, fitness and recreation.

Lets start by breaking down each component of an inline skate and best practice when it comes to choosing whats right for you:


Inline skates parts:

Liners - The soft inner lining of the skate. Usually removable (except for on a few skate models with integrated liners). Thick/Fat liners can often be more comfortable while thinner liners can offer more advanced control for the user. Most skates come as standard with pretty regular stock liners. You’ll notice that some more expensive models of skate have higher-end aftermarket liners included. Often these are thin with a dense foam for the best in both comfort and control.


Cuffs - This is the plastic supportive part around your ankle. It’s usually articulated allowing for some flexion of the ankle. Stiffer plastics (and sometimes carbon fibre) will offer more lateral ankle support. Stiffer is not always better; generally most people like a little bit of lateral flex but not too much.


Buckle - Comprising of a male part with ‘teeth’ which feeds into female ‘receiver’ part on the inside edge of the cuff. Some brands have fancy systems which allow the buckle to ‘remember’ the tightness it was set to during it’s last use. A small luxury, but definitely not completely necessary.


Mid-strap - This can help to lock your heel back into the skate securely. Not all skates have a mid-strap and you can get a pretty similar effect by purchasing long laces and wrapping them around the back of the cuff.


Cuff Bolts - The part that attaches the cuff to the lower boot. Some brands have cuff bolts which can be adjusted to move the cuff up, down, forward or backwards. The large majority of people do not find they need to change their cuff position though.


Wheels - Wheels for general-use 4-wheel inline skates are usually between 72mm and 90mm with 80mm being the real sweet-spot for beginners or skaters who are unsure what to buy. For 3-wheel skates (more on those below!) wheels range from 90mm to 125mm with the 100 or 110mm wheels being the popular choice with most people. They are also graded for hardness (or 'durometer'). 85A or similar is standard for an outdoor wheel and you can choose softer (so a lower number) for indoor skating if you want more grip (but you dont have to. Don't get too hung up on the durometer measurement, there's quite alot variation between brands so it's not a super accurate guide.


Bearings - This is the part which sits in the middle of your wheel and makes it spin smoothly. There are two bearings in each wheel. Bearings usually have different ratings from ABEC 1 to ABEC 9 (9 being the best quality). ...oh, and ABEC 11 is not a real thing, no matter what that seller on Amazon says.


Bearing Spacers - This is a small cylindrical part which sits between the two bearings in the wheel. It stops the bearings getting squished together into the hub of the wheel when the wheel-bolts are tightened. Most bearing spacers have an 8mm hole to accommodate the 8mm diameter bolts which come on most skates (the spacer hole must always exactly match the bolt diameter)


Frame - This is the part of the skate which attaches to the base of the boot/shell and houses the wheels. Frames are an important part of a skate as they can have a big effect on the performance of the skate. The stiffness of the frame material matters. A stiffer frame allows the skate to keep it’s speed more efficiently. Cast aluminium frames are stiffer than plastic frames and in turn extruded aluminium is stiffer than cast aluminium etc. Plastic frames still have a place in some applications, namely aggressive skates (for tricks) and for users who want more shock absorption.


Mounting Bolts - Two bolts per skate (one at the back one at the front) which fasten the frame onto the boot/shell which houses a threaded mounting plate in its base. The mounting bolts are fastened using an Allen key (usually 4mm) from the underside of the skate, ie you often have to take off wheels to reach the head of the mounting bolt.


Shell - The main part of the boot that your foot goes into. Shells often use shared-sizing, meaning that the same shell is used over two full sizes (for example a uk7 and a uk8 often uses the same shell). The skate then uses different size liners for each individual size, so a UK7 might use a UK7 liner in a uk7-8 shell and then use a UK8 liner ALSO in the uk7-8 shell. Look out for the Locoskates size charts listed in the product information for each product to discover if the skate you are interested in uses shared shell sizing and if so, what format those shared sizes take.


What’s the  difference between inline skates and rollerblades? 

Nothing, nada… They are just different words describing the same thing (a skate with all the wheels arranged in a line). Strictly, the term Rollerblade is a brand name, like Sellotape or Hoover, but over the years the word has been organically adopted by British and American skaters as an alternative term which rolls off the tongue a little easier than Inline Skates.

How many wheels should my inline skates have? 3 or 4 wheels?

About 75% of the recreational skates on sale at Locoskates have a 4 wheel configuration. 4-wheel skates are still much more popular with buyers for a multitude of reasons including, a lower overall ride height, more contact points with the ground, more choice, larger aftermarket parts availability and just general confidence in a product which has been on the market for longer.

Three wheel skates have their own advantages too though. The main one being that the placement of the wheels means that the skate has a lower ride-height vs a 4 wheel skate. Be aware though; they are lower 'for-the-wheel-size’ but almost all 3-wheel skates counter this by using bigger wheels than a 4-wheel skate does, thus, bringing the ride height up again. Bigger wheels keep their speed better but accelerate less well and have less control. In short, 3 wheel skates work well for straight line skating, endurance skating and rough ground.

Generally as an all-rounder though, we’d advise to stick with 4 wheel skates. We think that having that agility, control and all-round performance of a 4-wheeled skate would work best for most people reading a buyers guide.


Should I buy a skate with a hard plastic boot or one with a soft upper?

Hardboot inline skates are much more popular than softboot inline skates at the moment. Most people like the hardboot models for their support and solidity. There also just happens to be a larger variety of attractive options if you’re looking for a hardboot. You shouldn’t totally write-off softboots though, they are often lighter, more breathable and can offer a less constricted fit so if these things are important to you then you should still consider them. If you’re really stuck with what you should go for then it’s probably best default to hardboot. It’s what 90% of our customers are doing. 


- A softboot Inline Skate

What’s a Freestyle Inline Skate?

When softboot fitness skates ruled the market in the 90’s the term freestyle skates (sometimes referred to as Freeride or Freeskate) was used to described a new style of hardboot skate built with sturdier, heavy-duty features and a short, stiff frame for greater manoeuvrability. They were aimed at a demographic who would skate in tight urban environments and had a somewhat unusual crossover with the discipline of Slalom skating (later to be coined Freestyle Slalom... performed between cones) because of their ability to be agile. These days, those same Freestyle Skates are used by the majority of skaters who simply want a great, all-round skate for general use. Slalom skaters, however, have moved on to a more precise style of skate, usually built with Carbon Fiber rather than moulded plastic.

An example of what would be considered a Freestyle Inline Skate in modern times. Hard plastic shell, short & stiff (alu) frames and robust build.


An example of a Freestyle Slalom skate. Close fitting boot with integrated liner and a stiff carbon fiber shell. Can also be used for everyday, general use skating if you don't mind a little extra vibration on rough surfaces.


Frame Mounting - How do I know what frame mount to choose?

If you're reading this as a beginner skater then you are almost definitely going to buy a complete skate which is already assembled with the correct compatible frames out of the box, in which case you don't need to worry about the intricacies of frame mounting too much at this point. Later on, if you wanted to experiment with different frame and wheel set-ups on different boots then you'll need to make sure you're familiar with the compatibility of certain frames on certain boots. Take a look at our Inline Skates mounting explained article.


    Maintenance - How to take care of my inline skates.

    You'll be pleased to know that not much maintenance is necessary for recreational / fitness inline skates. In fact, it's pretty much only your wheels and bearings which are going to need the occasional bit of care. Occasionally you'll need to rotate your wheels because they will wear-down more quickly on the inside of the wheel vs the outside of the wheel. Many people find that their front wheels also wear more quickly than their back ones but thats not always the same for everybody. As a result of this uneven wear, good practice is to swap the front wheels with the back wheels and flip them over at the same time, so the inside facing side of the wheels is now the outside-facing side of the wheels. See diagram.


    How often should I rotate the wheels on my skates?

    This varies a whole lot because it depends on many variables. Namely; how heavy you are, how often you skate, your skating technique, the quality and size of your wheels, the quality of the surface you are skating on and how much you really care about having worn wheels! As a 70kg (11st) person who skates once a week on the seafront I might expect to change my (good quality) 80mm wheels once every 6 months to a year if I was being fussy.


    How should I service inline skate bearings?

    Honestly, most of us just give our bearings a wipe-over with a dry kitchen towel (or tissue) whenever we remove the wheels. Pop the bearings out of the wheels if you fancy doing a slightly better job. There's alot of talk online about deep cleaning bearings and re-lubricating them, but this is only worthwhile if you have REALLY expensive race bearings. For most of us, if a bearing seems slow-spinning or noisy after you've given it a wipe and picked away any stray hairs or fluff then it's time to replace them. It's a cheap part to replace with decent ABEC 5 bearings coming in at £20 for a full replacement (8 wheels).


    Understanding the intricacies of rollerblades can be tricky at times, especially as you start to delve deeper into customisation and experimentation with your set-ups. As one of the worlds leading skate shops we've got true enthusiasts on hand and we're happy to help over the phone and on email should you need some pointers. Locoskates' warehouse and shop is based in the UK, just south of London.

    Article by Jake Eley - 16/05/25

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