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How To Buy In-line Skates

In-line skating is a fun, healthy activity for people of all ages. The various types of in-line skates include recreational, aggressive, speed and hockey.

Types of In-line Skates

There is a skate type for each style of skating and level of expertise.


  • Designed for a leisurely rides in the park or around the neighborhood, and fitness activity
  • Comfort and durability are priorities
  • Usually made with a hard outer frame and a soft or hard boot
  • Typically equipped with 4 wheels with a wheel size from 70-80 mm


  • Designed for a skating style that includes stunts, jumping, riding rails, and half pipes
  • Aggressive skates are designed to be very solid and sturdy
  • Smaller, hard wheels provide maneuverability and durability
  • Skates include special modifications to allow skaters to ride rails and ramps


  • Lighter and less robust than recreational or aggressive skates
  • A completely different skate designed strictly for fast skating
  • Longer frames with a fifth wheel for more stability and longer strides
  • Larger wheels enhance acceleration
  • No braking system


  • Similar in style and construction to traditional ice hockey skates
  • Very durable, with leather uppers and significant padding for protection
  • Usually have a lace-up closure system
  • Smaller wheels enhance turning ability
  • Sometimes have--large wheels in back and smaller wheels in front--for control
  • No braking system


  • Designed with a wider forefoot, narrower heel, and higher instep
  • Lower cut in the back accommodates a woman's calf

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Skate Construction

Each style of skate has a number of similar components.


In-line skating wheels are usually made of polyurethane, a molded compound that allows for different thickness and wheel hardness.

  • Size
    • Typical wheel diameters are from 70-80 mm
    • Larger wheels are designed for speed
    • Smaller wheels are designed for maneuverability
  • Styles
    • Recreational skate wheels
      • Recreational skates usually come with 70-72 mm wheels for a low, stable center of gravity
      • Midsize wheels are 72-76
      • Higher grade recreational skates come with larger wheels (up to 80 mm) to allow faster skating
    • Hockey wheels
      • The stability and maneuverability of smaller wheels are desirable to hockey players
      • Hockey wheels tend to be more tapered than other wheels for better stability in a turn
    • Fitness and cross-training wheels
    • Agressive wheels
      • Very small wheels (55-67 mm) are best for stunt skates
      • Wheels this size are also very hard to withstand grinding and jumping
    • Speed wheels
      • These wheels are larger (78-80 mm) and to assist acceleration and energy return
      • Race wheels have the thinnest profile of all wheels for more speed but less stability
  • Changing your wheels
    • To avoid excessive, uneven wear, they need to be rotated at least once a week, or after every use for agressive skaters
    • Wheels should be changed when they show excessive wear on all sides. Skating with worn wheels is unsafe.
  • Hardness
    • Wheel hardness is measured in durometers. Lower numbers indicate a softer wheel and higher numbers indicate a harder wheel.
    • Durometer is denoted by the suffix "A" (example - 80A)
    • The typical recreational in-line skate wheel is 78A or 82A
    • Softer wheels are good for winter and provide a softer ride.
    • Harder wheels are better in the summer when the pavement is hot and the wheels tend to soften.


  • Frames hold skate components in place
  • Most recreational frames are made of aluminum alloy or nylon and fiberglass composites.
  • Make sure the frames you select are designed for the type of skating you plan to do
  • Metal frames are stiffer, faster, and lighter, but typically cost more


  • Materials
    • Recreational skate uppers are usually made from synthetic materials that offer durability, comfort and breathability
    • Hockey skates are usually made of leather composites
  • Liners
    • Many boots contain a cushioning liner usually made of a foam material
    • Sometimes reinforced along the toe and sides for protection (in hockey skates) or increased stability
  • Hard shell
    • Constructed of molded plastic and similar to a ski boot
    • The lower half covers and protects the foot
    • The upper half wraps around and supports the ankle
    • The two halves are connected with a hinge system that allows the ankle and boot to flex forward naturally
  • Soft boot
    • Made with an external (and sometimes internal) plastic cuff to provide support, like a hiking boot
    • Provide a good fit and performance
    • Very breathable and lightweight
    • Generally secured by laces


  • Bearings are the seven or eight balls at the center of each wheel
  • Each bearing has an ABEC rating that indicates the precision of their manufacturing
  • The higher the rating, the more precise the manufacture and the better the performance and speed
  • The general ABEC range is ABEC-1, ABEC-3, ABEC-5
  • Bearings are either serviceable or non-serviceable
    • Serviceable bearings have a metal shield with a removable "C" ring, or a plastic/rubber type removable shield. These may be taken apart to be cleaned, lubricated or replaced.
    • Non-serviceable bearings have a metal shield that protects them. These only need to be wiped off with a clean cloth.
  • Bearings don't need to be cleaned after every use, but if they become wet, they should be cleaned and dried
  • Never lubricate the outside of a bearing because that will attract dirt and contaminants


  • Most manufacturers offer different braking systems
  • The most common form of braking system is a pad or cylinder on the rear wheel that stops movement by applying pressure on the heel
  • Hockey skates and speed skates normally do not include braking systems
  • Most brake pads have a "wear line" that indicates how much performance is left in the brake. The brake pad should be replaced before this wear line is reached.
  • Some manufacturers do offer mechanical braking systems that make stopping easier to learn


  • There are two primary forms of closure systems on in-line skates
    • Buckles
      • Found mostly on recreational skates
      • Skates with buckle closures are the quickest to put on and take off
      • The number of buckles varies from 2 to 5
    • Laces
      • Similar to regular shoe laces
      • Less expensive than buckle closures, and offer a uniform closing
      • Allows for more adjustment variations
      • Usually found on hockey skates

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Determining Your Skate Size

  • Determining your proper skate size is essential to a comfortable fit
  • For the perfect fitting skates, see our Skate Size Chart before making your purchase decision

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