So you wanna skate in the street? Good for you!
Most skaters can and should learn to appreciate the benefits of daring to skate on the street. Street savvy allows you to avoid the crowds on the boardwalks, use bike lanes to commute to work, explore a back country road, or roll along with an after-hours group skate in the downtown business district.
As anybody might guess, the stakes are higher in the street. To avoid injury, it's vitally important to stay alert to all that is happening around you--this means no headphones. Keep track of everything in the range of your peripheral vision, and don't assume motorists will see you. Above all, wear the gear--all of it.
Make sure you are up to speed on the local ordinances before you take to the street. A citation is sure way to ruin your adventure. If you have one, contact your local bicycle transportation agency for local information and maps.
The best place to get started on the street is in bike lanes, which are often great commute routes as well. Here, you share the same rights and have the same responsibilities as bicyclists. Try to stay within the striped lines when possible, and use hand signals to make it clear to motorists what your intentions are or what you want them to do.
Wearing a helmet and the rest of the protective gear serves to alert drivers to the fact that you are moving much faster than pedestrian speed. This is especially important in helping to prevent "right hooks," where an overtaking motorist suddenly cuts across your path to make a right turn. In these days of cell phone users driving on autopilot with one hand, it's even more important that your helmet serves as a visual signal to alert them of your presence in the bike lane.
Some low-traffic roads are suitable for in-line touring and commuting even though they may not offer the protection of bike lanes. In rural areas, the shoulder may be narrow and gravel-strewn. Watch out for extra debris in driveways and mind the boot closest to the traffic: you don't want to get clipped. If the road is narrow, stop stroking or swizzle the traffic-side leg when a car approaches from behind so that it has room to pass without crossing the center line, and you don't get clipped.
Frequently, the best ski cross training (i.e. slalom skating) is found on back country roads or in quiet hillside neighborhoods. If you need the whole lane in order to make effective turns on a steep hill, make sure you don't obstruct traffic. Once you have made the choice to occupy a lane, hold your ground until you can safely return to the shoulder, but don't allow the situation to force you onto going faster than your abilities allow.
The safest way to practice and improve your street skating skills is to participate in a group skate. Weekly guided tours have become increasingly popular in cities and towns across the US and Europe. Since many take place at dusk or after dark, it is wise to know the terrain and pavement quality in advance. Look for group skate listings in regional sports publications or through an inline specialty shop, and then call the contact person for information before attending the first time. For after-dark tours, find out where to purchase reflectors and/or lights to attach to an outfit of light-colored clothing.
Depending on the chosen route, the city's tolerance level and the number of participants, it may be possible to temporarily overtake an entire lane in the street. This is more likely to happen if the skaters stick together in a large pack and follow the same route from week to week. Don't drop back from the pack because not only are you less safe, but group skate organizers have a harder time managing the crowd effectively. Imagine the Paris Friday Night Skate with its 20,000 and more skaters strewn out over several miles, tying up city traffic for hours!
When you encounter brick paving, in-street railroad tracks, deteriorating pavement, wood slat bridges or any other surface rough enough to slow your wheels, be sure to enter with your feet scissorsed at least one skate length apart (front-to-back, not in width). This gives you a much more stable platform to accommodate the sudden lurch. When your weight is tossed back after the front skate hits, your back skate is there as a solid support.
With just a bit of street savvy, common sense and protective gear, you are all set to enjoy a wealth of skating adventures and new-found freedom for many years to come.