Archive for the ‘Skating’ Category

Paying attention to trail hazards

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

It was a beautiful spring day for a roll on the trail.

My ski season doesn’t end until after Memorial Day, but with the arrival of spring, the early Daylight Saving time and our first hot spell, I chose a day in late April for my first skating workout of the year. I literally dusted off my skates (we’ve just survived a complete kitchen remodel), and hit the streets, relishing the faint vibrations of urethane on smooth pavement.

It was after 10 am when I entered the Iron Horse Trail, already crowded with cyclists, walkers, joggers, and folks pushing baby strollers or walking their dogs. I gave a friendly wave as I passed a silver-haired gent on inlines, fully geared, as I was.

Awareness pays off

I had an unusually strong focus on safety that day. With the participants at an upcoming Camp Rollerblade on my mind along with my recent writing assignments for the safety team at the company where I work, I felt compelled to track the safety hazards I encountered during my 45 minutes on the trail:

  • twigs and other bumpy surface debris remaining from the winter
  • dogs darting about both on and off their leashes
  • clots of people and the frequent need to pass them from behind
  • trail users not leaving any room to pass, not paying attention
  • converging opposing traffic competing for passing room
  • reduced visibility and a blanket of moist leaves in the shade
  • bumpy transitions from street to trail at intersections
  • gaping cracks just the right width to snag my wheels
Photo of patched crack in asphalt on trail
Step on a crack and break your own back!

“Hm,” I mused. “Flat and car-free as it is, this is really not a great trail for beginners today.”

However, because I know how to avoid or handle the worst of these common trail hazards, I relished stride after stride in my Spark Pro skates after such a long time away from them.

A canine altercation

A few miles out, I approached a pair of ladies at a trail-side bench with two large, friendly-looking dogs on leashes. Suddenly a little pooch darted out from behind them and sprinted toward me, barking furiously. I braked to a screeching halt as one woman leaped up, grabbed him, and delivered a spanking, yelling, “Bad dog, bad dog!”

Meanwhile, the other woman released her shaggy charges in the excitement. They came trotting over to greet me, wrapping the leash that connected them around my legs. “Well, now we’ve got another problem,” I grinned. I didn’t feel a need to chastise the lady who was beating the smaller dog. She was obviously mortified over his antics.

Extricating myself from the leash, I continued skating up the trail. After encountering an entire classroom of middle schoolers a bit further ahead, I finally decided my workout was half finished and did an about face. Heading back, I managed to slip unseen past the “bad dog,”who had just wriggled out of his leash and again dashed away from his handler. I completed my first skating errand of 2012 by stopping in at my mobile phone store and then skated back home to have lunch in my beautiful new kitchen.

Tricks Aren’t Just for Kids

Sunday, June 10th, 2012
(Updated article from 1996)

Because all the world is not a stage (flat, smooth, protected), I make time in every lesson to help my students work on real-world skills and drills designed to improve overall balance and agility. Aside from the safety aspect, it’s always fun to have a frisky move or two to impress your friends.  As always, gear up before experimenting.

Get Air

How are your hopping skills? Being able to get both skates off the ground at the same time is a prerequisite to hopping up a curb. Out in the real world, this is an essential safety skill: it’s often necessary to hop over an electrical line seen at the last minute. Try your first hops on the lawn or carpet and remember these key points:

  • Do start from a crouch for good springing power
  • Do push off from a flat foot so you go straight up
  • Don’t spring off from your toes (or your skates will roll backwards
  • Don’t spring off from your heels (or your skates will roll forward and you will land on your rear)
  • Don’t go for height until you’ve mastered tiny hops while rolling at a slow speed on the pavement

Curb Coolness

 Since curbs are an inevitable part of skating in most locations, you might as well look cool rather than geeky. Make sure your practice spot is in a low traffic area.

Skating off a curb is the easy direction, so let’s learn that first. A word to the wise: don’t approach too slowly, or your brake can catch on the edge of the curb where it might trip you.

  1. On a sidewalk, head for your first curb at an angle, not in a straight line. This makes it easier to keep your balance.
  2. As you approach the edge, make sure your knees are bent and hands visible near your waist.
  3. Push one skate forward about half a skate length. Not only will this improve your fore-to-aft balance, it will make your first “descent” less traumatic.
  4. Do not jump up as you go off the curb. Just relax and roll off, letting your body drop the short distance to the pavement.

Hopping up onto a curb requires self confidence in your ability to clear such a towering obstacle. You must know you can jump at least six inches high and land without losing your balance. Here’s how to build up your confidence:

  1. To warm up, practice on the flats, jumping over cracks, leaves or invisible curbs. See how high you can pick up your feet.
  2. When you jump, try to tuck your feet up and out to one side so you can actually slap one of your heels. Once you can do this easily, you know you can jump high enough to clear the curb.
  3. Now you’re ready. Roll towards a likely curb, preferably at a corner where you can continue rolling on the sidewalk after you land.
  4. Just before you reach the curb, hop high and make sure your feet and knees come up high, too. If you need to, use your arms to help throw yourself upwards.
  5. Land in the ready position with one foot advanced for balance. After the first curb they’ll all be easy.

Heel-Toe roll

Here’s a stunt to impress your friends. (For this one, you must have only one heel brake.)

  1. Coasting slowly on smooth, flat pavement, with knees flexed and your feet close together, raise both arms out to the sides for balance.
  2. Lift the right heel (or the heel of the skate with the brake), so that you are rolling on that skate’s front wheel plus all four wheels on the left.
  3. Shift your weight back slightly, so that it is evenly balanced over both skates.
  4. Push your left skate forward and in line with your rear skate, and tip up the toe until you’re rolling on just the back wheel.
  5. Now that you are rolling forward on one toe wheel and one heel wheel see how far apart you can spread your skates apart–without falling down!


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.

Skater Crossing

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Your friendly crossing guard is here to point you to a few choice inline destinations shared from friends across the Internet.

  • YouTube – A unique style of skating was all the rage in France in 1923. (Thanks to )
  • YouTube – Off-skates training for Olympic ice skaters in 1953. (Thanks to Mike van Erp,
  • Inline Planet – Get the latest inline skating news and views
  • See how new instructors are cultivated across the globe by ICP International.
  • Destination Florida! – Anybody who has just graduated from Camp Rollerblade with all of the basic skills (stopping, turning and skating at least 5 miles) will enjoy this 5-day skate tour.
  • Long Beach Shoreline trail  – A classic! Enjoy harbor and city skyline views as you head up the middle of the sandy beach on this 17-foot-wide(!) bike and pedestrian path.

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.

Breathing Lessons

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Do you need breathing lessons? This question might sound ridiculous, but if you want to skate long distances efficiently, you must be able to get all the oxygen your hard-working body needs.

Here is how to find out how you currently breathe: sit up straight, place your hands on your stomach below the belt line and take a very deep breath. Did your hands move in toward your spine? If yes, you have just filled only the top portion of your lungs. Your diaphragm stayed tight, blocking the path to a full intake of air. Inline skaters (and all humans)  need a rich intake of oxygen with every inhalation.

Because breathing habits are usually developed over a lifetime, re-learning proper breathing starts with awareness. Learning to watch and control your breathing offers other benefits, too. It takes your mind off worries, helps you feel more in control, and slows the hectic pace of both your mind and body, all very healthy side effects!

Meditating skater
Don’t try this at home, kids!

On the Mind-Body page of my Get Rolling Off-Skate Training section, I describe three breathing exercises for skaters to try:

A friend turned me on to  The Extraordinary Breath, a book by Donald and Lynne Rubbo. It is a great beginner’s guide for gaining all of the benefits from fully breathing. You can download and share this ebook freely with the authors’ blessing:
“We want to make this easy-to-learn, profound breathing system available to the entire world, and give people a time-proven way to be proactive in their own health and well-being, to make deep breathing and positive thoughts habitual and to allow the citizens of our world to live their lives with clarity of purpose, greater happiness and stronger connections to nature and to one another.”

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!)

My Morning Skate on the Iron Horse

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

On a recent gorgeous summer Sunday morning, I decided to see how the northern section of my local favorite skating trail was faring. I hadn’t been there for awhile because I prefer to get my skate workouts on the southern section of the Iron Horse Trail where there are less intersections. The central section’s trees behind the high school tend to drop a lot of leaves and twigs on the trail. (I still have a scar on my knee from that stretch.) Also, loitering teens tend to block the trail right behind the school.

On this day, I decided to accomplish two goals with my skating: get a nice workout while researching updates for the Iron Horse Regional Trail, Central entry in

As usual, my endorphin high kicked in and gave me that blissful feeling of love for all humankind. It’s a good thing, because there were lots of humans of all kinds sharing the trail with me!

For the first time ever, I saw a lady walking her bird. She had fastened a cage to a baby stroller and was pushing that down the asphalt, acting like this was an everyday occurance.

At every intersection I came to a stop and looked both ways before crossing, especially important where shrubbery blocks the view. A pair of boys of about 10 or so in age decided to race me after one crossing, sprinting up the trail alongside me. I kicked into high gear and pulled away.

Nearly everybody was courteous and made way for oncoming traffic, even those  I approached silently from behind. People with dogs on leashes kept them in check as I passed. However, an oncoming pair of cyclists was paying less attention and I had to yell to prevent a head-on collision with one.

It was disappointing to note that the trail conditions on this stretch of the Iron Horse have deteriorated quite a bit since I last skated it, possibly due to budget cuts or the extra-wet winter we had in 2010/2011. Longitudinal cracks have opened up in many places, with gaps wide enough to grab and hold my wheels. Both ends of both bridges have raised lips that would trip any skater not paying attention well enough avoid them. There was so much tree debris on the shady section behind the school that I fear the park district has not been able to pay for sweeping.

On the return trip, I stopped to chat with an elderly gentleman wearing an official looking East Bay Regional Park hat and the label “Trail Safety Patrol” on the back of his shirt. We shared tips on the the near-impossible task of getting kids to wear their helmets properly (buckled and over their foreheads) as they zip by.

Next week I’ll be doing my normal workday morning skating workout on the sunny southern section Iron Horse Trail, dodging kids on bikes as they head to school. And I will be filled with love for all humankind once again!

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!