If you really want to know how a thing performs, test it under extreme conditions. For road skating protective gear, the ultimate test is downhill racing. Downhill racing pushes protective gear to (and past) its limits. This is due to high speeds (over 50 mph at the ESPN X Games) and the fact that after a downhill crash, the skater slides farther than on level ground, since the hill is falling away from under him (or her). A protective gear failure in a downhill racing crash can mean a trip to the hospital.
In my many years of downhilling, I've had several high-speed crashes, and partial success in escaping injury free. So, letís cover the gear from the ground up.
Knee pads are often the first thing to hit the pavement, and need to stay in place while you're sliding. Make sure they have sturdy straps and are tight enough that you can't move them around easily.
Hip pads are often overlooked, but if you crash mid-turn you could get really nasty road rash on your hip. Crash Pads and ASI both make very effective underwear-style hip pads, which are like bike shorts with pads on the hips. Baseball sliding shorts also work pretty well, and you can get them in most sports stores. Another approach is to put pads inside a pair of bicycle shorts. With these, the outer pants can move some, but the undergarment stays put and protects you. You can buy shorts made for hockey or aggressive skating, or sew pockets and pads inside any loose pair of shorts. Sometimes when I'm downhill training, I wear padded outer shorts over padded underwear.
Hands are fragile, essential to our lives, and prone to injury in crashes. I've been wearing full weight hockey gloves in most of my high-speed crashes and have never had a serious injury with them. They protect against wrist injuries, thumb injuries, abrasions, and pretty much anything else that could happen to the hand. They're hot and heavy, but you can easily take them off when you stop for a break. For gentler skating, standard wrist guards should be worn at all times.
Elbow pads need to stay put when you slide, too, so be sure they have sturdy straps and a snug fit. Mylec makes some very effective--and inexpensive--elbow pads with two plastic pieces and a hinge at the elbow.
I always wear a good helmet when I'm skating, and make sure that the straps are adjusted to keep it in place. Be sure to adjust not just the chin, but also the front-to-back adjustment. Sunglasses are key to reducing eye fatigue, and your chances of developing cataracts later in life. You can reduce your chance of crashing by increasing the traction you get from your skate components.
Wearing protective gear is key to advancing your skating skills. By reducing the fear of crashing, being fully geared allows you to be more focused on your skating, to skate more aggressively, loosen up, and just have more fun. Of course, there's always some risk, so don't assume you're invincible just because you're well armored.
- Use softer wheels (e.g., 78A durometer instead of 82A).
- Buy new wheels. Fresh wheels have better traction and are more stable than worn wheels.
- Stock up on brake pads. The traction from a good heel brake can help you escape many high-speed close calls.
- Use 5-wheel skates, which have better traction and stability than 4-wheelers.
Even pro downhill racers wear heavy armor--thatís how we stay healthy long enough to get fast. So ignore the comments about how much protection you're wearing; just suit up, and have fun!
Scott Peer has competed in ESPN's renowned X-Games downhill event, and gives clinics on his techniques in southern California.