Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

What Testers are Saying About the Flex Brake

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

FlexBrakeThe Flex Brake is a new approach to inline braking and speed control currently seeking funding through “Kick Starter.” When they reach a certain number of  pre-orders they’ll be able to go into production. Meanwhile, an adventurous few are already testing early prototypes.

I took a look at the Flex Brake video and Kickstarter page and then noncommittally shared links with my skate network. I avoided voicing my concerns about the design because I am not a tester and I did not want to negatively impact the company’s prospects for success.

What bothers me? Today I shared these three points in an email with Paul Kimelman,  a former student of mine who suggested I take a look at Flex Brake.

  • Flex_Brake_LogoThe bent forward stance is problematic. I personally suffer from low back pain, so bending forward to reach the brake leashes would literally be a pain. Secondly, that’s a dangerous position to be in: the skates may stop, but forces will keep the rest of the body moving dangerously forward, a head plant just waiting to happen!
  • The need to remember to grab a leash with your hands for an emergency stop also seems like a big deal to me.
  • The upright solution requires reaching for stuff attached at the waist. Not only is this pretty inelegant but it makes me feel sad to have to fetter a skater’s freedom that way.

Here is what Paul told me in his reply:

I only use the brake with the spring-retracting leash (attached at the waist), which I find less inelegant than knee pads and the like. I am not sure what you mean by fettering freedom. With the spring-retracting leash, it is never in your way and you do not even notice it. But, the loops are always easily available (they hang off the retracting part where your hands are). 
I agree that having to bend down to reach something at the boot would be unacceptable to me (my back and impacting balance as you say) but the leash is not like that at all. In fact, you have a much more stable stance than with any other braking that I am aware of, since your feet are balanced over your skates normally (vs. one dragging in some way), and it allows for easy “continuous” speed checking on downhill slopes, and turns just like a bike. Even when using the leash to brake, your hands are not held in any particular place – you can have them away from your body, since only pulling upwards affects the braking.

Read Paul’s full review and other user testimonials , or pre-order a pair of Flex Brakes on their Facebook page to be among the first to get a set when they are in production.

Mastering Gravity

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Here’s a photo gallery of my introduction (finally!) to Craig Ellis’s Gravity Master(TM) Skate Brakes – patent pending. Be sure to click a second time to get the full-size images.



Roller Derby: The Evolution of Roller Skating To Contact Sports

Thursday, May 30th, 2013
Following is a guest article submitted by Daniel Stratton of the U.K., where skating is hugely popular in all its forms.

What it is and Where it Originated

Roller derby is now a popular contact sport with over 1,250 amateur leagues in various countries in the world. Basically, it’s played by two opposing teams that are composed of five members each. Both teams are placed in the same track and they must roller skate in the same direction. The object of the game is to score points by lapping any member of the opposing team and this is usually done by a jammer. The jammer or the scoring player is designated by the team and it’s commonly the strongest player in the group. Every team member must protect and assist their jammer while preventing the opposing jammer from scoring. This sport requires good planning in terms of offense and defense strategies.

Roller Derby collision shot

Action shot from the blog

The sport of roller derby can trace its origin in the 1930’s when roller-skating marathons are really popular among the masses. The evolution of roller derby can be credited to Damon Runyon and Leo Seltzer who made this game into a more competitive sport. Due to their efforts, the first professional roller derby was launched in the 1940’s and made its debut in 50 US cities. It was also watched by 5 million spectators – making it the most popular contact sport during that time. However, in the next few decades it became more of a sports entertainment that favours theatrical showmanship over athleticism. During those times, matches were scripted and winners were predetermined. Television shows like “Roller Games” and “Roller Jam” presented a theatrical variant of this sport.

The modern revival of roller derby started in 2000 and it paved the way for an all-female amateur league which began in Austin, Texas. In just a span of 6 years there were over 135 leagues all over the US, and in 2006 various leagues was formed in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, New Zealand, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Dubai, Singapore and Egypt. Soon after these leagues were formed an International competition followed in 2007 and participated by several member countries.

Amateur leagues are self-organized and formed by roller derby enthusiasts. In fact, roller derby teams are made up of members from various walks of life like lawyers, nurses, housewives, students and government employees. The diversity of players accepted in these leagues has catapulted the popularity of this contact sport. Modern roller derby matches are commonly held in flat tracks, but several professional leagues prefer banked tracks because it’s more challenging and requires better team strategy.

Equipment and Aesthetics

Generally, roller derby players skate on quad or four-wheeled roller skates, and everyone participating in a roller derby match are required to wear high quality protective equipment which can now be bought via specialised online stores like These gears will include knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and most importantly a helmet. Optional gears may also be needed like hard case sports bra for female participants while protective cups are for male players. Most of these gears follow a set of colour patterns and design that is unique to the team.

When it comes to style and aesthetics, roller derby players are exceptionally creative. As a matter of fact, league players skate under a “derby name” or pseudonyms which are often related to the player’s characteristics. These names can be comparable to aliases which are normally given to boxers. So, derby names like “The Slayer” or “Steam Rollers” are common among league participants.

Future of Roller Derby

Although the revival of roller derby was initiated by an all-female league, some newer leagues have introduced co-ed games or all-male teams. Roller derby is a sport for anyone who knows how to skate and has the physical capacity to play the game. Furthermore, even if some social groups view roller derby as an adult-oriented entertainment, it still has the qualities that can draw the youth into the game. After all, it’s a very competitive sport that requires strategy, skills and cooperation among team members.

There is also a strong possibility that roller derby will be included in the 2020 Olympics under the roller sport category. As of today, the sport is expanding along with its loyal followers. The media has also devoted their efforts in covering several known matches. Also, watching roller derby bouts are no longer a problem these days due to live online streaming and footage that can easily be accessed through the Internet.

Overall, roller derby is here to stay and there will come a time that it can even rival other popular sports like MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).


Announcing the New DXS Disk Brake Website

Sunday, May 19th, 2013


The motto just above Alex Bellehumeur’s email contact information says:

Will it so & so it Will

Anybody who thinks a few years of delay is going to discourage this accomplished inventor is wrong. The About the Inventor page on his new web site clarifies further, “…he has a passion for solving product-related challenges, currently holding 12 patents, with 3 more pending.”

Three potential licensees have tested the youth and adult prototypes and expressed interest, but none has signed a formal licensing agreement yet. It’s hard for me to imagine why not one has put this sport- and life-saving innovation into production yet. I still strongly believe the DXS disk brake technology is the best inline braking solution to a serious problem. Brake inventors approach me every year with new ideas (the latest of which I have yet to test). But the test results I experienced on the DXS compelled me to call it “My Dream Brake.”

Please explore the slick new website at where you’ll find photos, a video, testimonials and more of the latest information about the DXS. Then fill in the Contact Us form to share your thoughts. Anybody who does that will automatically receive a 10% discount when the skates go on sale.

Help Shape the Future of Skating!

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

I can’t believe it’s been five years since I tested Alex Bellehumeur’s impressive cuff-activated disc braking technology, currently named the 4XS system. Why isn’t this system available on inline skates yet? Because manufacturers just don’t get it. They underestimate how much and how many people care about staying in control of gravity and momentum when they’re inline skating.

My efforts to support Alex’s attempts to get the 4XS into production have probably helped raise awareness a little, but have not yet resulted in improving the safety of our current technology:

  • I wrote “The Brake of My Dreams” in 2007 and continue to update this article from Alex’s emailed reports.
  • I summarized a comparison of all of my Brake Test Results showing the 4XS as a clear winner over other technologies.
  • I created a Facebook page to socialize the 4XS technology.
  • I published a YouTube video to demonstrate the 4XS in action.

But we’re still waiting!

After two years of hearing skates with the 4XS brake will be on the market in the coming year — from two manufacturers — we are still waiting–and waiting, and waiting.

“[company x] continues to be a very poor communicator,” inventor Alex Bellehumeur reported recently. “This is very frustrating and I would like to begin exposing the product broadly. It would be helpful if you could provide me with contact names for any other candidates who might want to license the 4XS.”

Calling all skaters and their social networks

What if every member of every skating community sent out a query for contacts who are connected, passionate or funded enough to make a difference?

Whether you are a curious inline beginner, a member of an active skate community or somebody who would love the extra confidence while screaming downhill at top speed, I am asking you to search through your list of friends and contacts to share via email to Alex.

At the very least:

  • Submit a statement of support on the Alex’s Contact page and in return for your interest, you will receive a discounted price as one of the very first to experience this incredible breakthrough.
  • Become a fan on Facebook and invite your friends to join you.

Thank you! The results of our combined efforts could make a dramatic improvement for skaters and skating everywhere.

NZ Skater Stumps the Chump

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

A couple months back, I received a note from Susie, who lives and skates in New Zealand. I love answering questions from all over the world but she definitely won my heart when she confided as an aside, “I milk cows and like to skate as a way to vent, and I just plain enjoy it.”

I was able to offer generic advice up front, but once Susie placed her (first) order, she took off rolling on her own exploration to finally get the right skates to meet her own needs and skeletal configuration.

Susie Clicks “Ask Liz”

AskLiz linkHi Liz, I need some advice.  I have very narrow feet with long toes, and after a while of skating, my left foot tends to move so that I land on the inside sole. Yes, I will take up your advice for the “tilted skate” item but I want to go for larger wheels. I am looking at the K2 Celena 90, RB Activa 90 and RB Tempest 90—the last two because of their lacing and lateral adjustment options.  Which is best? Bear in mind I have narrow feet and want a larger wheel but am trying to keep that foot flat in the boot.

Hi Susie, After reading about the features of all three skates, here are my thoughts:

  • K2 Celena is comparable to the Rollerblade Activa in the areas of cuff support, bearings, frames and wheels. I have long big toes and bunions: one pair of K2s I was given were too narrow for my wide forefoot — a good indicator for you!
  • (Just noticed a higher-performance K2 on sale for $98, though the frame is probably too long for your tastes)
  • The Rollerblade Activa has cuff support like the Celena (I have more to say about that below) with the added benefit of lateral frame adjustment, which I think you’ll need because you said you pronate with the left foot.
  • The Rollerblade Tempest has a slightly lower cuff, something that promotes balance and ankle strength, though it MAY feel a little awkward at first. Lower cuff gives you a longer, stronger stride. You also get the lateral frame adjustment, but your foot may be too narrow for this skate.

I recommend you order the Rollerblade Tempest 90 from Inline Warehouse. This company has an excellent shipping and return policy. You should immediately replace the stock insoles with SuperFeet or get some custom-fit sports insoles to prop up that pronating foot. You will also want to adjust the left skate’s frame toward the inside of your sole. I pronate with my right foot when I’m tired, even after the above remedies, but it doesn’t prevent me from continuing on to complete a great workout.

Also, consider ordering the K2s in the same shipment from ILW, knowing you will be returning one pair and getting your money back. Just a thought — but it will help you compare the width of both brands.

Keep milking those cows and skating!  😉

Rollerblade Tempest 90: Fair Fit, Sluggish Bearings

A few weeks later, Susie wrote to me again.

I asked you some time back about the choice between the Tempest 90 and the Activa 90 for narrow feet and you suggested the Tempest.  Well I have them but am a little disappointed in the speed (or lack of).  They have SG9 bearings and the Inline Warehouse people suggested that maybe they aren’t good enough for them but I should persevere as they may need a good run in to loosen them up a bit.  I know they are slow to get to a good speed but once there should glide well. But I couldn’t seem to get them to that speed so I tried them going down a hill, just gliding, and my girlfriend beat me on her RB 78m wheels. To say the least I was a tad put out, as I did want to beat her. That’s why I got them in the first place.

What do you think? Should I just keep using them in the hope of “breaking them in,” or opt for new bearings?  Inline people suggested Swiss Bones.

Not what I was hoping to read! So I replied, “Well, Susie, at least the narrow foot issue was resolved! This dragging feeling is not good, and I’d be terribly disappointed too.”

After giving her a few pointers on checking each bearing on each wheel to try and identify if one bad bearing was the source of her slow rolling, I suggested she write back to Inline Warehouse for next steps. In her next reply she was trying hard to remain optimistic, saying, Thanks for the advice. I’ll have a little play with them to maybe narrow the wheel problem down a bit.  On a bright note, I have ankles that turn out and after I adjusted one of the boots to see what that would do, it has improved markedly, so we are getting there.  Fingers crossed the bearings improve.

Rollerblade Activa 90: The Final Answer

Below is the most recent email I received from Susie. She has been so diligent in pursuing the skating experience of her dreams, and so forthcoming in our emails that I asked for her permission to print this latest note as a sort public service message to all of my readers.

Hi Liz, You may remember I sent you an email a few weeks ago asking your advice regarding the above skates and ankles that turn badly but at the same time wanting the speed as well. In the end I chose the Tempest 90 and boy, was that a mistake.  The speed wasn’t there at first and I feel that with these skates there is definitely a breaking in time. But worse, my ankles turned to water and even the lateral adjustment wasn’t enough to counter them–although it did help to improve my stance.  When I got tired, there just wasn’t the support I needed, even though I had my ankles strapped, bought the SuperFeet inserts and EzeeFit booties as well. Things were looking grim.

THEN as a last resort I got the Activa 90’s and wow! Instantly I could tell the difference.  I still strap one ankle (push-off leg). I don’t fall out of them anymore or skate on the insides.

I had no idea a higher cuff could make such a difference. I found out the hard way that for me this is essential.  I haven’t had to use the lateral adjustment on these skates, but I do like to have the option if I need it. Best of all, I can now beat my mate in gliding, so now she has to skate to keep up with me if I’m going downhill.

Just a note for those out there who don’t have a skate shop or knowledge about which is best for them: I wanted to skate outside on roads which aren’t the best for smoothness, and to go at a good speed. But with ankles like mine, all the speed in the world won’t cut it if the discomfort is so bad you have to stop skating and walk…So get the higher cuffs with the option of lateral adjustment: that’s my 10c worth of advice.

Thanks Liz, for your advice. I love your website and whenever I get over to America I’ll look you up.

When Outdoors is Out of the Question

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

It’s getting to be that time of year again.

A few years back, I purchased a ProFitter 3D Trainer because it would allow me to work on building strength and balance along with my cardiovascular fitness. This is an ideal sport-specific workout that’s perfect for when the weather is too ugly to train outdoors.

Pro Fitter 3D photoFor skating, the slide board-like action reinforces the  side-directed push that’s key to stroke quality. This directly works the  muscles that deliver  efficient, powerful strides.

The side-to-side repetitions also build strength in my lower body for alpine skiing, my favorite winter sport. I can tailor the slide resistance by changing the configuration of four sets of bungee cords on the bottom side  to create more tension (to build muscular strength) or reduce the tension (which requires more balance).

Check out this video clip of me using the ProFitter 3D Trainer. (Requires Quicktime). In this clip I am in an upright stance with my weight centered while my feet float back and forth. This method strengthens my core muscles (great for skiing moguls!). It is also possible to move the entire body back and forth to focus more on lower body strength.

Thanks to its portability, I can easily store the ProFitter behind my office door when I’m not using it. When I’m ready for a workout, I set it up wherever the view out the window is prettiest. When an outdoors workout is possible, it’s great to put some stimulating music in my ears and get a quick half-hour workout on the deck overlooking my garden and the cow pasture out back.

Using this device is a little noisy and takes a bit of practice. And yes, at $599, the price is a bit steep. But for me, the opportunity to cross train specifically for my two favorite sports while building strength, balance and endurance—in the comfort of my own home—makes it totally worth the investment.

Not everyone can skate (after all)

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Eighteen years ago as I was writing the early chapters of my book, Get Rolling, the Beginner’s Guide to Inline Skating, I had already forgotten that it took about 20 hours of practice before I was finally able to skate without feeling like a klutz. Once my tentative, awkward, uncoordinated days were behind me, all I could think of as I wrote my book was:

Wow! Anybody who can walk can skate! I need to tell the world about this!

And that is when I became a certified instructor and began offering skating lessons to demystify the sport for adults.

Skater with full padding, including ski poles and innert tube around waist

Safe skater?

Reality check

Despite my invariably encouraging words and practice tips to every one of my beginning students for nearly 20 years, I am now ready to admit that inline skating is decidedly not for everybody.

Ten-plus years ago, I was teaching fairly athletic people who came to me primarily for braking tips. But today’s typical beginners come to their first lesson with less balance, coordination and fitness. I am not sure why this is so, unless it’s due to broader cultural awareness and acceptance of the sport overall.

And then there is the subject of fitness. On my FAQ page I try to set very clear expectations for two types of beginners. See myanswers to:

I used to think that this expansion of the sport to a wider base of participants was a good thing, but now I have concerns. I am beginning to suspect that I have probably empowered more than a few of my students with just enough skill and confidence to go out and get injured through skating—the exact opposite of my goals as a certified instructor!

The blessed few

Over my 20 years of teaching, I have seen one or two successes among those who started from zero aptitude. I fondly remember one fairly fit, normal sized gal who continued to tremble and freeze with fear even after dozens of lessons. She finally achieved her dream of skating on a flat sidewalk (and became a close friend)—after three years and five trips to Camp Rollerblade, totaling over 100 total hours of instruction.

Skaters’ aids

Because I like to support inventors who are trying to make the sport safer for more participants, I have tested many skating aids. I have been disappointed to find that many of these hide or totally remove a key element of the joy of skating: skaters would be carrying a broom, gripping a pair of handbrakes attached to cords running up the legs, experiencing dragging wheels when tipped a certain way or in reverse. This is not the skating freedom that inspires people to dream of joining the sport!*

Recently I was testing yet another invention for skaters with special needs when I stopped to chat with a couple who’d observed me as I rolled by. The woman was my typical student’s age. She made this point and it hit home: “You know, there are a lot of other enjoyable outdoors activities a person can do with a lot less risk of falling. Why not choose one of those?”

Safer alternatives

For those who can’t bear to give up the dream of skating, I suggest sticking to the safety of indoors rinks where there are walls, carpets, benches to rest on and no automobiles.

* The one invention I continue to eagerly support is the 4Xs cuff-activated brake. I am still convinced by my testing that this system offers the safest and most effective stopping power available today. (Fingers crossed for entry-level models scheduled for release in spring of 2012!)

Your brains are showing!

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

During my weekend skating jaunts on the local multi-use trail in Danville, it tickles me to see families enjoying the outdoors together—getting a little exercise on foot, bikes, scooters, or skates; walking the dog; and just generally sharing quality recreational time. What a great way for parents to share the fun and benefits of playing outdoors as a family! I always hope the kids are building memories that will guide their values as adults, and that they, too, will make it a point to participate often in the great outdoors with friends and family.

But there is one misguided family value I wish I could influence. When I see bare-headed parents bicycling with their helmeted kids, I have to wonder, what are the children learning from this? That helmets are kid stuff? There should be no double standard here. The adult head is made of stuff that is much more brittle than a child’s. When an adult skull hits the pavement it’s going to be at a higher speed due to height and with more weight behind the impact. The whole family needs the protection of properly fitted helmets when participating in wheeled sports!

And this brings me to my second issue. If the child’s helmet is tipped back to expose a large expanse of forehead, there is a significant risk that it won’t be protecting that part of his or her brain in a forward crash.

In the rare opportunities where I get a chance to interact with the family, I jokingly say to the child, “Uh oh, your brains are showing!” and then advise the parent that by shortening the front straps, the helmet will stay forward on the child’s head—assuming it isn’t too large to stay put in the first place.

Spread the word: there is a right way and a wrong way to wear helmets. See my August 2009 Orbit article, Proper Helmet Fit, for more details and a diagram showing how to adjust a helmet so it offers the safety and performance for which it was designed.

And if you skate bareheaded yourself? Remember, all it takes is just one slip!

Size 6 Skates 4 Sale

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

My southern California pal Debbie Merrill (instructor to the stars!) is on a de-cluttering mission. Lucky for my skating friends, she wants to offload her extra gear in the photos below. She asked me to help sell three pairs of pristine Rollerblade brand skates plus other gently used skates (all ladies size six) and a pair of figure skating frames. Her beloved, one-of-a-kind custom Fila skates are still practically new.

These are not your toy-store skates. They are the quality  and brands I recommend myself, and typically sell for about $200 – $350. Debbie is asking $150 or your best offer. Please contact her directly if you are ready to make a serious offer.

More details about the skates and Debbie’s contact details are below the photos. Click a photo to see the entire and larger version on a new browser page. Click the larger version to examine the full size image closely.

Rollerblade Activa TPS — Green and silver, brand new size 6 with a great heel brake, pull-up lacing system, soft mesh boot. Great for recreational beginners, advanced beginners, or intermediate skaters.  Retails at $200; Debbie will take best offer.

Fila skates — Used only twice, 76 milometer wheels,  size 6, featuring a very hard and supportive leather boot, aluminum frame, lace-up with Velcro strap. These skates were custom, one-of-a kind and no longer found or sold. Retailed at $350; Debbie will take best offer.

Rollerblade Twisters — Brand new size 6 with shock absorber, 76 millimeter wheels, ABEC 6 bearings,  hard shell with laces and and buckle. Debbie and I both enjoyed the Twister which is good for beginners and coned slalom courses. Retails at $250; Debbie will take best offer.

Rollerblade Problade Junior — Brand new in sexy red, white and silver, these are designed for speed.  Features 84 millimeter wheels, and a low cut, hard  leather boot with an aluminum frame and ABEC 8 bearings. A great value retailing at $350; Debbie will take best offer.

Viroll quad 4-wheel skate — Brand new, featuring a ventilated soft shell with strap and clip,  gigantic 100 millimeter wheels, and rubber toe brake  in front. Good for off road and recreational skating. Retails $300; Debbie will take best offer.

Aluminum frame and wheels only — Great for figure skating and toe jumps, featuring a rubber stop in front, mount on any boot or ice skate. Retailed for $200; Debbie will take best offer.

Landroller skate — Brand new size 6, designed for off-road (dirt) skating. Features a lightweight aluminum frame, high proficiency polyurethane tires, low resistance bearings, air ventilation system built into the boot with reflector feature on sides. Retails for approximately $350; Debbie will take best offer.

Debbie Merrill
Skate Great USA School of Skating
PO Box 3452
Santa Monica, Ca 90408
(888) 866-6121

Check out Debbie’s New book, The Raw Truth to the Fountain of Youth at: