Archive for the ‘Skating’ Category

Downhill Skate Adventure in the Eastern Sierra

Saturday, August 10th, 2013
WARNING TO DECENT PEOPLE! Read no further. This piece is not for you. There are f-bombs all over this piece ‘coz that’s the way I f-bombin’ talk. [And retelling such an adventure almost requires it to capture the intensity of feelings! — Liz]

 by George Merkert

I was psyched when I read Scott Peer’s mail asking whether I wanted to head up to the Eastern Sierra for a little skate with him and a couple of his other downhill skater pals.

All I could think was, “Hell yes. I’ll skate it for sure.”

Also, since I was gonna turn 62 in a couple days, I was eager for maximum fun at all times. Real glad I’d been doing those Tabatas too but I’ll tell you why on that later.

First stop on Friday night was Nine Mile Canyon above Ridgecrest, California. I ain’t no whiner, OK? But Nine Mile Canyon has a good name if you want to figure out how far you skated but what it makes up for in name it lacks in thrill. Sorta steep but no braking turns to speak of and inline downhill guys like me like the challenge of having to brake hard, choose the right line, contend with skidding and get that, “I just fuckin’ hammered it!” feeling when you make it through a turn fast and pretty.

So, all in all, Nine Mile Road was a pedestrian beginning to what I’d hoped would be a rapturous 4 day roll down hills on skates …

Anyhow, we rolled down Nine Mile Canyon twice. I labelled the second run “2/3 of Nine Mile Canyon” on my Strava just to make sure everyone got what I was talkin’ about, see?

So just because you probably don’t know what inline downhill is I’m gonna tell you. It’s like a mashup of NASCAR and ski racing except that instead of skis you wear inline skates and instead of sliding down snow covered ski slopes you roll down paved mountain roads and instead of being surrounded by a metal cage your body has a sixteenth of an inch of leather or maybe nothing at all insulating it from the asphalt and instead of gasoline pushing you gravity pulls you down hill. Also, when you fall while skating down hill you slide a lot less than you do when you fall when you’re skiing.

Now I’m not sayin’ I’m brave and I’m not sayin’ I’m scared of a whole lot either but there were some big ass cracks in the pavement and it was almost dark by the time we got to Onion Valley Road on Friday evening. Some of the cracks were full of pothole filler and some were partially full of grass and some were full of nothin’ and I could barely see any of ’em.

My brand new Gravity Master inline skate brakes –– invented by my downhill skater pal and fellow traveler on this very adventure Craig Ellis –– are super effective but, I’m tellin’ you, it was dark. And I was a little afraid (OK. There. I said it) that I might find out too late that two inch wide cracks every 15 feet for three miles might rip the brake pads right off and leave me rollin’ over the edge of forever or, worse, slamming to a quick stop at the foot of an unsympathetic guard rail.

I’d skated Onion Valley Road 10 years ago before Gravity Masters were invented. In that era I used wheels-only braking techniques which basically means skidding in different ways to slow down but mostly snow plowing. It was terrifying.

This screen capture of a Roller Derby babe (see video here) gives you a good idea of what a snowplow on skates looks like from behind.

So, I sat out while Scott Peer and our skateboard pal Ian Thompson –– who on this trip was the main brain when it came to knowing where to find cool descents in the Eastern Sierra –– hammered the lower reaches of Onion Valley Road.

But we’d come back to this stretch of Onion Valley Road in the High Sierra above Independence, California later in this adventure and the outcome would be different …

I was all worried and shit about rain when I got outa bed on Saturday. But me and my pal Scott headed out for Mammoth Crest with ski boards lashed to our packs anyway. After hiking for four and a half miles we found what was left of V Glacier hiding under a rock cliff at 10,500 feet.

It was a sad thing to behold. What used to be not a mighty glacier but a respectable patch of snow and ice has become a quarter mile of soft stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I was sorry I’d forgotten my crampons because climbing straight up it still required kicking toe holds in the snow with ski boots and standing on the top edge where the snow nearly butted up against the rock cliff was still gnarly.

At the top there was a crack between the snow and the rock of about 6 inches to a foot wide that you really didn’t want to slip into. And getting up to that crack was plenty steep so that if you fell you’d for sure slide real fast into the sharp rocks in the moraine at the bottom of the snow patch unless you did an awesome self arrest with ski poles or something.

Later on, while hiking through the moraine after we were done skiing, Scott DID fall onto a sharp ass rock and even though he bruised ribs, leg and ankle he skated the next day. Scott’s a tough guy.

So, up at the top of the glacier I was real careful when I kicked out a flat spot so I could put my ski boards on. Real careful.

I skied slowly out onto the snow to set up my first turn. Holy shit! It was steep, man.

I stopped to reassess.

Scott Peer said, “How long since you skied? Last time we hike/skied summer before last?”

“Uhhhh. Yeah,” I said.

“Well, nothin’ about this is a warm up run so be careful.”

“Uhhhhh … OK,” I said, and made a jump turn. The little ski boards spun like a hard thrown yoyo and I found myself falling over the tips right onto my fa … No! I pulled it out and stayed upright on those little skis. Tried not to lean forward so far on the rest of my turns and it worked out.

Scott Peer made 8 quick turns with aplomb and scampered back up V Glacier for another set.

I got another run to Scott’s three additional and then we hiked back down to civilization.

Very civilized civilization.

Nearly snoozing in the jacuzzi at Craig’s condominium complex, I woke up when two women jumped into the jacuzzi with me. Thirty minutes later I had a new business associate who’ll probably wind up helping us with our Thai elephant project but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

While Scott and I were hiking and skiing on Saturday Ian played golf with a college woman ranked 6th in the NCAA.

“Hardly any women can drive a golf ball further than me but she did,” Ian said.

Like I said, this was a very civilized adventure.

And take no offense, Ian! I’m not calling you civilized. You’re the least civilized golfer I know definitely. And you’re definitely the only guy I know who habitually whacks golf balls into the bottomless canyons off the top of our dh skate routes.

You’re still Mr. Nuclear to me.

Meanwhile, Craig was lapping Minaret Road using the mountain bike bus and Lake Mary Road using that faux SF cable car on wheels that hauls tourists around.

Besides Lausanne and Mammoth Lakes, California, I don’t know of any other city in the world in which you can use public transit to lap downhill skate routes.

Craig’s salt and pepper hair, lean frame and red leathers make him a colorful character. He also gets out in the streets where people can notice him. He entertained other mass transit patrons with 33 miles of downhill skating inside Mammoth Lakes city limits on Saturday.

While skating his dh marathon plus seven miles Craig met up with a 15 year old skateboard kid who was also lapping Minaret Road using the bus. Kid was way impressed when he learned that Craig is pals with James Kelly who is the 2012 Downhill Skateboard World Cup Champion.

After he finished playing another round of golf on Sunday morning early, Ian had us rolling down Tioga Pass by 11am.

You feel exposed on Tioga Pass because the road crawls along the side of several massive rock faces. A trip off the cliff side of the road would be an airy deal for sure.

It’s steep and fast but the turns aren’t very challenging so though we rolled fast and free I’ll rush back to Tioga Pass the next time for the view and not for the downhill skating experience.

Next up is a place I’ll head back to to skate at first opportunity, though. Before I tell you it’s name imagine ski racing down Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It’s steep, turny, narrow, filled with uphill traffic and highly illegal.

So that’s what skating down Sonora Pass east side is like. Especially the steep and turny part. The uphill traffic on Sonora Pass is cars and trucks instead of hikers like on Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The occasional sheriff or CHP you see on Sonora Pass reminds you about the illegal part.

On the drive up we stopped to marvel twice. Once was just as we started up the pass. There was one of those yellow traffic signs with a black icon of a truck slanting up at a hairy angle and saying, “26%”.

You can no sweat ski backwards down a 26% grade but on inline skates or a skateboard 26% is as gnarly as skiing on a slope steep enough that you can reach out and touch it with your hand without bending your knees.

We all laughed nervously except for me (‘coz I was the only one who wasn’t scared) and got back into Craig’s Lexus SUV which vehicle I recommend highly for downhill skating adventures.

The second time we stopped to marvel was at a chicane so steep that it made everyone (except me) choke with fear. The first of the two turns bent to the right and the second, with exactly 0 feet of distance between it and the first turn, bent hard to the left.

Both turns were so steep that we knew instantly that these two turns were on the 26% grade that the sign at the bottom of the hill warned about.

While we drove on up the pass above the chicane we looked for a landmark, road sign, change in the road surface, change of scenery … something to warn us of when we were about to enter this gnarly set of turns on the descent.

Ian said all cheerful-like, “Don’t worry. You’ll know when you’re in it.”

Thanks two fuck-loads for that useful advice, Ian. ‘Coz if we don’t know BEFORE we’re in the turns so we can slow way the hell down we’re not gonna BE in ’em at all for very long. Good thing there are giant bushes with whip tentacles alongside the road in those turns. That way skaters can’t avoid being punished for making a bad turn.

So, we got to the top of the route and took a fast roll down the west side of the pass just to check it out. Ian assured us that we could dare to skate it without scouting it first and he was right. It was steep but not too turny.

Back at the top of Sonora Pass again and ready to skate down the eastern slope of it we all listened to Ian’s advice.

“Steep and straight as hell at the top, boys. Then you got a right hand sweeper. You’ll roll 50 plus easy. Gotta go slower than that on the turn. All I can say is control your speed.”

In business I call those moments when you don’t have enough information but you gotta make a decision anyway “gulp and go” moments.

We gulped (well, everyone except me gulped ‘coz I wasn’t scared) and went.

I rolled out first and did what I thought was a hell of a good job controlling my speed. Craig Ellis, inventor and most experienced user of Gravity Master brakes, thought I wasn’t trusting my brakes enough. He shot past me like a German Shepherd chasing a rabbit and started to disappear into the future.

I wasn’t havin’ it.

I tucked up tight and rolled down the straightaway faster than I was comfortable rolling on this steep turny route the first time I’d ever skated it. I started to reel Craig in and felt good about it too.

I rolled up on Craig and got within a single digit number of feet behind him when all of a sudden I was in that chicane with a 26% pitch and rollin’ WAY TOO FAST!

I panicked and hit the right brake as hard as I could and steered it through the turn.

Without any time to think about what I was doing I slammed on the left brake and steered it through the left hand turn.

Suddenly, at the exit of the second turn I was comfortable again.

That is, until I saw Scott Peer passing me on the left side in a tight tuck and Craig disappearing ahead of me again.

I tucked up tight and tried to track ’em down but it was too late. They were gone.

I hadn’t used Craig’s Gravity Master brakes enough to know that even on a 26% slope you don’t have to use all of their potential to slow you down enough to turn safely. In panic mode I’d braked three or four times harder than I’d actually needed to.

So both Craig and Scott got away from me, goddammit.

So call me a shill if you dare but Gravity Masters change the game. I’ve been terrified plenty enough times on steep, gnarly routes in the Alps, Rockies and Sierras. I like the security of having too much braking power.

We didn’t see Craig for a long time after that. We thought he might be in the ditch and so drove up and down the hill a couple times looking for his body.

Came to find out that he’d skitched a motorcycle up an uphill section of the route that we were convinced was so long that he wouldn’t skate up it in his leathers. So, we didn’t search for him beyond that point even though after the uphill section there’s a couple more miles of downhill left before you get to the floor of the Owens Valley.

After letting the motorcycle pull him up the uphill section, Craig had rolled all the way down to the Marine Corps Winter Training Camp.

When we finally found him we gave Craig shit ‘coz we were lovin’ his Lexus and his Gravity Masters.

We found some speed down Monitor Pass east side too. Monitor is fast and straight.

On one of the long straights on that route I lined up on Scott from about 100 feet behind him with the lowest tuck I could force myself into.

I roll faster than him on straights anyway because I’m way heavier than he is but when I caught Scott’s draft it was like being shot from a cannon.

Not that I mix metaphors except when I have to but I bet that when I passed him Scott felt just like he did that time he was hitchhiking on the freeway and a Greyhound whooshed by and spun him around.

The pitch of the road stayed steep and I kept my tightest tuck on. All those Tabata intervals paid off ‘coz I was able to hold a tight tuck without losing leg strength for much longer than I could have only a few months ago. Maybe those sets of high rep squats played a role too. (

Any which way you look at it tucking tight on a steep slope makes speed, ok?

Next thing I knew my long, six wheel skates were wandering all over the road. I shifted my weight back a little ‘coz that’s the cure for high speed wobbles.

My skates kept wandering.

Holy shit! I’d found the speed limit for these Cado Modus Pro Downhill inline skate frames (designed by Dave Lambert and Craig Ellis). I never thought I’d find a limit to how fast these frames could roll without wobbles but there it was.

Now every move had to be the right move. The wind was strong and gusting and the thought of crashing at that speed made me cold inside.

Veeeeerrrry slowly I straightened my back a little. A gust blew me towards the yellow line. Veeeerrrry slowly I steered back toward the center of the right hand lane.

When I opened my hands I felt the air catch them and jerk me back a little but I was ready for it and adjusted my fore/aft balance to compensate.

As the air pressured each newly exposed part of my body as I stood up I slowed considerably. Soon the wobs went away and I rolled it out.

At the bottom of the hill Scott and I compared GPS data. Scott’s Garmin said he’d topped out at 50mph plus a little.

My Strava said I’d topped out at 61.3mph.

That’s too big a disparity to discount without explanation and I gotta believe that Scott’s Garmin has better circuitry in it than the GPS in my iPhone.

However, I did find the top speed of my Pro Downhill skate frames which is very fast. And I did get one hell of a slingshot off of Scott in a steep straightaway.

But I’m still not gonna put 60mph on my business card like Barbie Bont does because in both our cases it wouldn’t be true.

I’ll claim 55mph, though, and maybe a little more. How about 58?

Monday morning we flew down Lower Rock Creek twice, Pine Creek Canyon (which is a box canyon with thousand foot high cliffs with so many confusing crags and cracks and irregular shapes that it makes you dizzy if you stare at ’em too long) and then headed for Onion Valley Road.

Like I said before I don’t claim to be brave but I’m not scared of all that much either.

One thing I AM scared of, though, is Onion Valley Road west of Independence, California.

In 2003 or so Tim Huber and I cruised up to the top of that 10 plus mile route in his Jeep.

I used skidding to control speed in those days.

Controlling your downhill speed with skidding thrashes skate wheels but since you could buy down the oversupply of inline skate wheels for a dollar a wheel in 2003, it worked out.

Anyhow, I snow plowed through the 10 or so hairpins at the top of Onion Valley Road and very nearly lost it on every single turn.

I wasn’t as strong in the legs then as I am now and so ran out of leg strength by the second or third hairpin. I had to very carefully marshall what little leg strength I had left. I had to find enough stopping power to slow down for 8 sharp turns after my legs were nearly finished. The road was too steep for me to stop completely so it was a balancing act.

It was like being Philippe Petit and running out of leg in the middle of your wire between the World Trade Center towers.

When I reached a part of the road flat enough that I could stop completely, I was beyond relieved. It felt like I’d cheated death.

So, on Monday, July 29, 2013, there I was again riding up Onion Valley Road and getting psyched up to skate it.

The engine in Scott’s Subaru started to get a little hot so we stopped climbing a few turns below the top of the route.

I got out of the car and put my gear on hoping that no one else knew how scared I actually felt.

Scott and I started rolling. I started brake testing immediately. I wanted to be rolling slowly enough that I could stop completely with a snow plow in case the cracks ripped the rubber brake pads off of Craig’s Gravity Masters.

Scott had no such qualms and rolled out confidently.

After testing the Gravity Masters on about 15 cracks I got confident too and let that ole gravity fuel pull me as fast as it could.

Once at at least 40mph I braked hard to see if the cracks would snatch away my brake pads when I was rollin’ fast. But all was well. Cracks had no effect at all on the braking power of the Gravity Masters.

I let it rip.

Somewhere down past the turny part of the route I caught up with Scott. We both braked hard for both cattle guards and walked over them. Maybe next time we’ll have the eggs to jump ’em.

When we got back to the campground we were using for a staging area, Ian was nowhere to be found. He’d told us that the cracks fucked with the steering of his skateboard so much that he didn’t want to skate the Onion Valley route. Thus, we didn’t look for him up the hill.

Besides, if he’d gone up the route we couldn’t’ve missed seeing him since Onion Valley Road doesn’t intersect with any other paved roads, right?

We looked for Ian all over Independence. No one in either of the food marts, the Subway shop, the court house nor the police station had seen him.

After we described Ian to a dog walker the dog walker said, “Oh, if he’s around here someone will notice him. We don’t have too many guys who look like him in Independence.”

After searching him up for more than an hour Craig said, “Independence is tiny. If he isn’t in town then he hitchhiked to Reno or LA. Or else he’s up the hill and off a cliff …”

I said, “Too bad he left his god damn phone in the car.”

Scott said, “It’s not charged. That’s why he left it.”

I said, “Oh.”

Scott went back to the campground staging area while Craig and I waited at the town park with hopes that Ian would show up there.

We were on the phone with Scott when Scott said, “He’s here! He just showed up in someone’s pickup truck. They came from up the hill.”

Ian is a master hitchhiker so I wasn’t surprised that he was hitching. I was still mystified, though, by how come we hadn’t seen him hitching up or rolling down Onion Valley Road when there’s only one way in and one way out.

“Well,” Ian said, “I decided to skate it even though it had cracks so I hitched a ride part way up. On the way down I rolled into a turn too hot and bailed off of my board. I ran it out and didn’t fall but my board flew off the cliff. You guys must’ve rolled by while I was over the edge rock climbing down to retrieve my board.”

Craig, Scott and I stared at Ian. None of us could think of anything to say.

Ian said, “I know. I’m a crazy fuck.”

We loaded up the cars and drove back to LA.

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).


Switching to Two Wheels

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

After 20 years as a formal publication and the voice of Get Rolling, the quarterly Get Rolling Orbit Inline Skating Newsletter is going into quiet retirement.

What does this mean?

  • There will be no more mailing list and no more email announcements.
  • People who follow Get Rolling with Liz Miller on Facebook or Sk8teacher on Twitter will continue to have access to my posts there.
  • Orbit archives prior to May 2010 (when I started using WordPress) will still be available on
  • With social media delivering my communications whenever I have something to say or share, the GetRolling home page will change less frequently, at least for now.

What’s next?

  • Last year I retired from active teaching but I still continue to support the Skate Instructors Association (SkateIA)
  • I will continue assessing and supporting inline brake technologies that I believe deserve a place in the market.
  • I will continue to add blog posts whenever I have something to say, but likely my articles will be more about fitness, biking and adventurous vacations.
  • Similar to when I started skating in 1982, I am now pursuing mastery on my new road bike. I have a performance bike and try to maintain a “performance body,” but I am years behind in bike handling experience and confidence, with 2/3 of my expected lifespan already gone. My keys to  road biking success are not so different from when I was learning to skate. Incremental improvements come from:
    • the positive feedback of minor improvements every time I ride
    • the desire to not look like a geek and to keep up with biking buddies
    • many quality hours on the bike and muscle memory drilling (practice, practice, practice!)

I’d love it if you want to continue following the next 20 years of my active lifestyle  through Facebook or Twitter. If not, it’s been spectacular and wonderful having all of you in my life!

45684_511439348903022_1552890913_nLiz Miller
Author of Get Rolling and Advanced Inline Skating
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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.

Pursuing Mastery

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Some experts believe it takes ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in any particular area. That means if you average ten hours of skating a week (assuming other time commitments to family and a job), achieving world-class skills would take about 20 years. The studies showed it wasn’t innate talent that brought success to the now-famous people, it was lots and lots of hours doing something they were passionate about.

Whether or not you’re aiming to become a world-class skater, it is smart to tailor your hours of practice to achieve improvements sooner rather than later. Below I share tips that have helped my students over the years, and that continue to help me when I’m learning something new (always).

Click to access lessons

Quality Practice Time

  • Skate at every opportunity, three times a week at a minimum; otherwise progress is slow and may even regress.
  • Build your skating skills in the most beneficial sequence, starting with foundational moves. (See right.)
  • Once you learn the proper mechanics of a move, do repetitive drilling to build intuitive muscle memory.
  • If a group of skaters in your area meets regularly to roll around town, join them whenever you can.
  • Skate with more advanced partners to get tips and and try their moves.
  • Skating agility is just as important as efficient, powerful forward motion. Spend plenty of practice time working on drills that focus on balance, turning skills, flexibility and quick responses.
  • Find ways to measure your progress. For example, track distance skated, completion time, and improvements related to your repeated drilling.

Dealing with Fear

Those skaters who look so fearless whizzing down a long, steep slope or doing gravity-defying tricks have encountered and dealt with many, many situations over the years. They look confident and coordinated because years of experience has taught them what tools work and when to use them.

Without that depth of experience, new or dicey situations will make most adult learners tense if not outright terrified. Tenseness and fear create a physical tightness that may result in real danger because it can change our center of gravity and limit our range of motion and flexibility.

Here are some tips to reduce the fearfulness and build more confidence:

  • Spend lots of time practicing your skills (see above)!
  • Learn and obey the Rules of the Road. You’ll see experts disobey, but save those shortcuts for later when you have the skills to deal with the situations they present.
  • Repeatedly replay in your head your favorite “good save” when you did something right to avoid a big crash or mistake.
  • When tenseness is freezing you up, slow and deepen your breathing and tell yourself, “Pretend I’m relaxed!” This may melt some of that tension away and make you safer.
  • One less thing to worry about: keep your gear in great shape by performing regular maintenance.


Understanding Balance

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Based on the article “Plumb Perfect,” written for the May/June 2004 edition of Yoga Journal by Roger Cole, PhD, a certified yoga instructor and research scientist.

I like to encourage skaters at all levels to practice one-foot balance poses to improve agility, coordination and confidence. Such practice also delivers better control over a constantly shifting center of gravity during the motions of skating so we can become more efficient with each stroke. This article discusses how alignment, strength and attention affect your balance practice.


Tree poseBalance is the result of aligning our bodies with the earth’s gravitational pull. With both feet firmly planted on the floor, you may be unaware of the fine adjustments going on within your feet, spine and legs to keep yourself upright. You mastered this first balancing act in early childhood even before learning to walk.

Imagine you are standing erect with a lead-weighted fishing line dangling from the ceiling right in front of your nose. When you shift from standing on both feet to a one-footed balance pose such as Yoga’s Tree Pose, the bulk of your body moves slightly to one side and the plumb line will no longer line up with your nose. On raising your knee, you automatically shifted and re-centered your weight to compensate for the new asymmetrical position in order to stay balanced upright.


One-footed balancing requires strength to compensate for the extra work that prevents you from toppling. In order to stabilize your alignment with gravity, you naturally engage the muscles located at the outside of the hip joints (called the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus). Muscles in your support leg’s shin, outer calf and foot are also working hard.

Warrior 3The great news is that with practice, the amount of muscular involvement diminishes. “The better you get at balances, the less muscular effort you need to maintain them,” says Dr. Roger Cole, PhD, certified yoga instructor and research scientist. “This is because you become more skilled at using your bone structure to support your weight, rather than wasting muscle energy to do so. You also waver less, so you need to make fewer and smaller muscular corrections.”

Even if you do your balances close to a wall for support, each attempt to hold a difficult one-foot balance makes you that much stronger and closer to attaining it.


Dan on rocker boardSensors in all parts of our bodies are constantly sending signals to the brain. Our eyes help us interpret which direction is up, and the mechanisms in our inner ear dictate the sense of balance. Nerve endings in our limbs and in the bottoms of our feet indicate current body position.

We make adjustments in response to all of these signals to maintain balance. So whether you happen to be standing quietly, balancing on a wobble board, or skating hard and fast, your nervous system is constantly monitoring your position, determining the necessary positional corrections, and sending messages to all the involved muscles to contract or relax.

One way Yoga improves the mind-body connection is through the focused concentration that is required to achieve balance in the more challenging poses. Each time you try one of these, you also get a little stronger in the muscles that shape the pose and make balance possible. And finally, after you master a one-footed pose, the resulting improved agility blesses all of your physical activities—skating and non-skating—with more coordination and confidence.

Empathy Enhances Learning

Friday, April 5th, 2013

“Frankly,” he confided, “I’ve been doing this sport for so long, I can’t really empathize with her learning issues.” The truth comes out.

The instructor’s perspective counts

Teaching skating

Beginners want to be on a real trail ASAP

What a difference the teacher’s level of empathy makes to the beginner who is at the bottom of the skills ladder, where each stance, each movement must be learned from scratch in the proper sequence to build one skill at a time …to just feel safe skating on a local trail …to dance through slalom cones.

It’s not really the instructor’s fault. Skating is learned over time like other sports that require a lot of practice to gain incremental achievements in muscle memory, bit by bit. Subtle adjustments in positioning and balance are constantly taking place in the body without conscious awareness. Once we find success, it’s easy to forget how it all came together, especially if we aren’t paying constant attention.

Seeking the beginner’s perspective

Skating instructors all know that building muscle memory through repeated practice and drills builds the coordination that ultimately delivers success with even the most complex moves.

However, we are often challenged by the extraordinary needs of a seemingly hopeless skating student. “How could he be so stiff?” “Why can’t I get her to shift her weight to the rear skate?” Instructors with a level 2 certification are equipped to detect and correct most stance issues. But often what’s more important is refining what is going on in the hidden core muscles that have so much influence on sports motion. Most important of all, is your attitude.

Here are three key tips for dealing the most challenging student needs:

1. Do you use the word “just”? As in, “Just narrow your stance…” or “Just shift your weight…” This is a dead give-away that you are not on the same page as your student. If he or she could “just” do anything, they’d be doing it already! So just stop saying “just.”

2. Are you right-foot dominant? (or left?) The reward for favoring a foot or a direction is effortless and even thoughtless performance. That is a detriment to teaching, however. Take some time to perform the skill being taught in your “bad” direction. Carefully analyze what’s going on in your body throughout the move so you can better describe and teach it to a struggling student.

3. Is your student unfit? Assign not just lower body exercises such as lunges, but add basic core fitness moves that help the skater strengthen the front, sides and back torso. Suggest Yoga to help the person gain better body awareness: what’s in there and what happens when a particular muscle is tightened or loosened?

My readers may already know that this year I have been struggling as a road biking beginner. I’m amazed at how much I have to learn about weight distribution, core engagement, balance, riding on the road, turning, wobbling, and safe stopping (with clipped-in feet). Boy, do I have renewed empathy for my skating newbies!

When the Going Gets Rough

Friday, March 8th, 2013

One fine day while skating in farm country, I found myself flying over a freshly plowed field of dirt clods at high speed. The cow grate across the trail had been a big surprise as I raced to catch up with another skater! That was my most memorable test of hitting the rough in a Scissors Coast. Fortunately, my helmet and an instinctive tuck and roll made this a non-event–except for the embarrassment!

In real life, we learn that skating is not always about smooth, dry pavement and uneventful outings. Whether it’s a rough spot on the trail or street, that dreaded wood-slat bridge, or slippery conditions, your safety (and fun!) depend your ability to handle unfriendly surfaces. Here are two techniques that competent skaters use to survive such situations.

Scissors coast

Scissors coasting stanceThe Scissors Coast is the best position to cross safely over a section of rough stuff (brickwork, uneven, bumpy) or slippery conditions (oil, water, wet leaves). It’s also a savior for unexpected bail-outs like my cow grate experience.

In the Scissors Coast, your wheels form a longer, more stable platform, and you are very close to heel-braking position, should you need it. After your front skate hits a surface that slows it down, having most of your weight back on the second skate greatly extends the amount of front-to-back “lurch” space, as opposed to both of your front wheels suddenly slowing or stopping at the same time.

To move quickly into a Scissors Coast, advance one skate about a boot-length ahead of the other one, with skates no wider than hip width. Your weight is ¾ on the back foot and ¼ on the front foot, with both knees bent.

Use the Scissors Coast when you have enough momentum to fully cross problem pavement. The faster you roll across, the less jostling you feel from a bumpy surface and the easier it is to keep your balance. If it’s a puddle and you have good enough balance, ride on one skate so you’ll only get one set of bearings wet.

For a high-speed emergency bail-out or if the surface looks especially bad, get your hands up and in view, shift more weight to the rear skate, and tighten your stomach muscles to stabilize your upper body on impact.

Don’t forget Stride 1

As the building block for excellent skating technique, Stride 1 is commonly known as the beginner’s stride or Duck Walk. But using this “V” stance with weight on the heels is also very useful in dicey situations. Stride 1 maximizes your stability and control because your strokes and glides are shorter than you normally skate, and your feet remain closer to your center of gravity.

Use Stride 1 if you get caught in the rain, need to get up a narrow uphill or bridge, or when you don’t have enough momentum to use the Scissors Coast. Making lots of short, quick strokes allows you to keep moving forward without slipping or stalling. You will also find Stride 1 useful to get across a narrow or densely crowded section of trail.

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