If you’ve ever shopped for a pair of roller hockey skates, you’ve noticed they come with different wheel configurations. Originally, most hockey frames used 76mm wheels straight across the bottom. (See the Suregrip H305 or Kuzak Team frames). Then someone thought it would be a good idea to change it up. Now it seems that each manufacturer has its own style.
Wheel Sizes Vary Across Brands
Bauer’s OneUp uses a 72-72-80-78 configuration, Mission’s HiLo setup is: 76-76-80-80, Reebok/CCM’s Tri-di is 72-76-76-80, Tour skates uses Labeda’s Hum’er chassis that runs 80mm wheels in each position. Finally, there are Sprungs that also use a flat 80 setup.
It’s hard to know what to choose!
To make sense of it all, let’s look at the principals behind the technology.
Why Length Matters
As a general rule athletes who want stability, glide, and speed choose equipment that places more surface area on the ground. When more maneuverability is desired, something shorter is preferred. This is true across multiple sports: Downhill skis vs. freestyle skis, long board vs. skateboard, BMX vs. road bike, etc. The same is true for hockey.
When hockey skates first came out, they were 76 all the way across with generous spacing between each wheel. The long wheelbase helped with speed, but lacked tight handling. To combat this, two methods were employed. The first and most obvious method was to reduce the size of the gaps between each wheel. Tighter spacing created a shorter wheelbase.
Second, the chassis was rockered to mimic an ice hockey skate blade. This essentially “shortened” the wheel base since no more than three wheels would contact the ground at the same time.
The Invention of HiLo
Another idea emerged. Someone figured out that (4) 76mm wheels were equivalent in length to (2) 80mm wheels in the rear position and (2) 72mm wheels in the front position. Using the SAME wheelbase length, the skater’s forefoot would now be closer the ground. Bringing the ball of the skater’s foot closer to the ground would accomplish the following:
- Place the skater’s posture in a more sprint-like position.
- Increase stability
The logic behind this can be seen by comparing a sports car to an SUV. The less stable SUV is more likely to rollover because it is higher off the ground, altering its center of gravity. Similarly, a skate with 80mm wheels all the way across is less stable than a skate with 72mm wheels. However, a skate with 72mm would be less efficient in terms of speed. (See our wheel buying guide for more info) By using the 72/80 HiLo setup, the skater would, in theory, have the best of both worlds.
72/80 Setup vs 76/80 Setup
All the same principles of the HiLo chassis apply if all four wheels are in contact with the ground. The only difference is the 76‘s will have a slightly longer wheelbase and a slightly flatter angle.
Unlike the HiLo chassis, the Tri-Di’s I’ve seen are rockered so the front wheel is slightly elevated. It only touches the ground when the skater applies pressure towards the front of the skate. The forward pressure then causes the rear wheel to lift off the ground. In this case only three wheels are in constant contact with the playing surface, shortening the wheelbase considerably.
There are two chassis I know of using all 80mm wheels: the Hum’er chassis by Labeda and Sprungs. The front two wheels on the Hum’er have very little clearance. In some cases the sole of the boot is concave or hollowed to accommodate the large wheels. This allows the skate to have the angular shape of a HiLo without reducing wheel size.
Sprungs are by far the most unique of all roller hockey skate frames. They are rockered like an ice skate which means only two wheels are contacting the surface at a time, but because of the suspension, this changes depending on the amount of pressure applied. We’ve reviewed these frames in detail in a previous post.
How Different Size Wheels Affect Your Skating
By now you’ve probably concluded that the different wheel sizes affect three different factors:
- Efficiency (speed)
- Foot position
So which skate frames are best? The answer, as with most equipment, is the same: It depends on the skater. You have to find what foot position is comfortable for you. Then decide what’s more important to you: speed or maneuverability. In summary, you want to use the shortest wheelbase possible without sacrificing your desired stability and speed.
The following article was a great resource for writing this post: http://skating.thierstein.net/Knowledge/Inline_Skating_Rollerblading_Knowledge_Rockering.html