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As with so many ’90s things, roller-blading is back. Even Chris Evans does it. Even if the last time you strapped on a pair of roller blades (also known as “inline skates”) was your eighth-grade best friend’s roller-rink birthday party — there are plenty of modern options out there for all experience levels and road conditions.
There’s a lot more to picking out a pair of roller blades than requesting your size at the roller-rink rental counter, though. If you’re going to invest in a pair of roller blades, you’ll want to consider the number and size of the wheels, the length of the frame (the part that the wheels are attached to), and the stiffness or cushiness of the boot, which all affect control and maneuverability. We talked to eight roller-blading instructors, retailers, and skating enthusiasts about the best blades for recreational skating, city skating, aggressive skating, and more.
Several of our experts recommended roller blades from K2, a 25-year-old inline-skate manufacturer that also makes helmets and pads (don’t forget to get these too!) Page Baker, a doctor of physical therapy and member of the Central Park Dance Skaters Association, says that K2’s skates with a Boa closure — which is a dial that tightens laces when you turn it — and 80 mm wheel size make it “much easier to gain velocity, do toe-heel moves, and tricks like the grapevine.” Kate Timofeeva, a personal trainer and roller-blading enthusiast, also recommends K2 blades. “The best feature is that they are very comfortable!” she says. Timofeeva also likes that they are “very good quality, affordable for a beginner,” and are a stylish option. “They have a nice design and they look smaller on the feet I’d say, not bulky like other ones.”
Brian Long, of Shop Task skate shop, also recommends blades from K2 for men and women. He says that the men’s and women’s models are the same, just with slight fit differences. Both “use a soft boot-style shell, which generally does not give as much support as a harder-shell skate, but makes the skate lighter weight, slimmer and allows for a more precise, accommodating fit.” Long describes the Boa lacing system as “an amazing feature” for soft-shell inline skates, which “allows you to turn a dial to tighten the laces, making it very easy to get a nice snug fit.” The 84 mm wheels are good for general-purpose outdoor skating, he says, and “big enough to be smooth over bumps and cracks, but not so big that it makes the skate significantly more difficult to control.”
Arnav “Sonic” Shah, a skating instructor and member of the Empire Skate Club of New York, says that “$100 to $200 is what you’d want to invest as a beginner, not anything less than that. Beginner inline skates tend to have more cushioning in them, so they’re a little more comfortable off the bat.” He recommends blades with a heel brake for beginners, which he says is “super, super important because there are a lot of ways to stop on skates, but as far as it comes to bang for your buck, easy to learn, and being very effective, a heel brake goes a long way.” Rollerblade’s RB Cruiser skates meet these qualifications, and come recommended by Teshia Robinson of RollATL, who says “sometimes basic is best and this skate is definitely a deal.” These inline skates can also carry beginners to the next level when they’re ready: “The wide boot comfortably fits most foot types, and the frame is removable for upgrading to a more advanced wheel setup in the future if wanted,” Robinson says.
Shah calls Rollerblade’s Twister Edge a “good intermediate option,” noting that intermediate inline skates tend to come without the heel brake included in beginner pairs. Long says that Twister Edges are some of the best sellers in his store, “have a slightly slimmer shell,” and can come either with four 80 mm wheels or three 110 mm wheels (typically four wheels are a better choice for a less advanced skater, and a more advanced intermediate skater might want to try three wheels).
Blades with four wheels are generally a good choice for less advanced skaters because they put the foot lower to the ground and give you more control. Long calls these “some of my favorite skates on the market right now” and praises their combination of a hard shell with 90 mm wheels. “The 90 mm wheel is the most stable option in many situations because it allows you to sit a bit lower to the ground … and extends in the front and back of your foot a bit more, giving you better balance. It is a large enough wheel size that you can have a very smooth, easy ride without having too much limitation on maneuverability when it comes to the length of the frame.”
Robinson recommends the Rollerblade Macroblade ABT, saying, “Skaters love the comfy boot and fun colors, and the adjustable brake makes stopping easy.” She also notes that “the traditional four-wheel setup with smaller-size wheels and excellent price point make this a perfect skate for beginners or those looking to get back into inline skating.” Alex Shulgan, of InMove Skates, also recommends the Macroblades, naming them as a “good recreational skate.”
“There’s a trend toward three-wheel skates; instead of four smaller wheels, we’re getting three bigger wheels,” Shah says. “Three bigger wheels are still very maneuverable, but they let you go faster. This is a recent change. It puts you higher off the ground, which means you want a boot that’s more supportive and higher quality.” Shah and Shulgan both recommended Powerslide inline skates, and Robinson specifically named the Powerslide Next. She says, “Skaters love the maneuverable, speedy three-wheel setup, sleek look of the skate, and comfort of the wider boot. It’s perfect for experienced skaters wanting to do some urban skating around the city or their local bike path!”
And for a less expensive three-wheel option, Robinson recommends the Rollerblade RB110, which she calls “one of the most affordable three-wheel skate setups, perfect for urban skating.”
“City skates are for not-ideal surfaces,” Shulgan says, when a skater would be making “a lot of stops, maneuvers, some jumps, and so on.” For city skating, Shulgan recommends skates with “strong foot support (especially ankle support),” a shorter frame with 80 mm wheels, and skates that “bounce well” and have a heel anti-shock system that will help you feel more comfortable while maneuvering hard surfaces. He recommends FR 1 inline skates as a good example of city skates. Long also recommends the FR1 inline skates, saying, “The boot on this skate is very rigid and supportive. With a harder shell skate, the boot is a lot more effective in helping you balance on top of the frame, and also allows the skate to move more precisely with the movements of your foot.”
For aggressive skating — think street skating with grinds and jumps — Alex Burston, a Manchester, U.K.–based skater, and part of BHC Wheels, a skate shop and community, calls Razors Shift inline skates “a very durable skate with lots of benefits,” his favorite of which is the quick-release frame system, which, he says, “allows you to shift from recreational/speed wheels to ‘aggressive’ wheels and frames really quick and with no tools needed.” He also praises how comfortable the roller blades are and likes that they have “a really good lace system.”
Nils Jansons, also of BHC, recommends Roces-brand roller blades, which also have the profile of a good aggressive-skating roller blade. “It’s like with shoes,” he says. “You have to like how they look to fit your style and how they feel, then you can enjoy wearing them and learning to blade. Of course, size and quality of wheels, bearings, and the rest of the essential parts matter depending on your skill. If you’re a beginner, then with smaller wheels you’ll find better balance. Bigger wheels will ride faster. Smaller wheels are better for landing gaps and doing grind tricks. So all depends on what you want to do. Most importantly find the skate that feels good on your feet and have fun.”
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