It's an exciting time for many teams who are prepping for their participation in the WFTDA or MRDA champs, but for most of us, this is our off season, or at least a less busy season where maybe we're working on skate skills or recruitment. So, what better time to take a look at your skates and see what you put them through last season and make sure that they're gonna be up to the task when you step it up again for 2018! I'm sure you've been maintaining them regularly...cough...but in case you haven't...

Here are 5 things that you should definitely check during the off season.  If you're like "Dawn Cherry, this is too long, so much talking, just tell me what to do!" there is a quick guide below.

1. Bearings

This is a classic that most people know about but is sooooo important for things like speed and consistency of your stride.  Bearings control your movement forward and backwards and a poorly performing bearing can mean you feel unsteady or slow, or even like you're tripping occasionally. If you hear a grinding noise coming from your feet, it's probably your bearings that need some love. Grinding bearings will make them hotter and are more likely to result in a blow out.  Not the good kind where you win by hundreds of points, the kind where you're sad that your bearing exploded mid stride.

With the wheels still on, spin them and see if they actually spin freely. Inspect for rust and dirt around any of the open gaps. Sometimes bearings just need a bit of grease because the grinding is just metal on metal with no more lubricant.  But if adding a bit of grease doesn't help, it's likely either there is debris in them or there is rust, so you'll need to clean them. Another blog on how to do this later!

2. Cushions

Your cushions are what gives your wheels the ability to be dynamic instead of static like inline skates. So they need to be either squishy or hard depending on what you like. Like all urethane, they harden and compress with time.  If your cushions aren't in good shape, you'll feel like you're fighting your skates a bit, like where you could get quick responsiveness before, you now feel slower with your lateral movement. If you find yourself loosening your trucks to the point where there is actual play between the parts, sliding up and down the kingpin, you need softer or newer cushions.

Cushions sit in cushion cups. If you see them bulging out of their cup with rounded sides, or if, when you take the cup off, there is a visible notch where the cup was, you probably want to change your cushions. Also, if they were transparent before and are now cloudy or discoloured, even when you wipe them off, this may be a sign that they are hardening. 

3. Kingpins

This is really important but often overlooked.  Many kingpins are pressed up through the plate so if you don't see a nut where the kingpin attaches to the plate, you don't need to worry about this (Powerdyne Thrust, Sure-Grip Avenger).  If you do see a nut, you want to make sure it's tight, like really tight.  Loose kingpins mean that the threading on your kingpin is taking way more pressure than they can handle. Ruin the thread on your kingpin and they can be replaced.  Ruin the thread in your plate and you may need to replace your plate. Hence why it's good to check.

Wiggle your kingpin side to side. If there is movement, they are loose.  If you loosen your trucks and the whole kingpin also rotates, they are loose. Please tighten them!  There should be no lateral movement at all.

4. Toe stops

Toe stops are more and more important for derby players, and we need to be able to rely on them without thinking about it. It's pretty common to wear them down unevenly because of a favoured foot. A worn down toe stop means you'll slide when you're expecting to brake, and you may ruin the surface you're skating on.  True story, I've seen sparks.

Check your toe stop to see if you're past the wear mark, many have a line that indicate when you are getting close to the stem.  Or, on lighter coloured toe stops, you can actually see the end of the stem.  If your toe stop rubber wiggles on the stem, is chunked or about to expose metal, replace them.  If they are wearing unevenly, or more on one foot, switch them. Round ones can and should be rotated for prolonged lifespan. Diamond shaped ones can only be switched  to the other boot.  While you're at it, check that your toe stop doesn't have curved marks on the side of it.  If you see repeated marks, you likely have wheel bite (the wheel touching the toe stop) this means you need smaller toe stops or tighter trucks.

If you have the kind of toe stop that is held in place by a washer and a nut, check that the washer is still cone shaped or waved. If it has been flattened, you'll need to replace them because your stops will start to come undone randomly.

Lastly, check your plate. Take your toe stop out, and make sure the threads aren't jammed. I know skaters that haven't removed their toe stops for years and when it comes time, they can't take them out. Look inside the hole to see if you've been wearing your stops too high and it's made a dent in your sole. If you have carbon, fibre glass or rigid soles, this is pretty bad and can cause them to crack. Choose a short stemmed stop if you need them that high.   

 

5. Pivot cups

Pivot cups allow your trucks to...you guessed it...pivot. They ensure a predictable, smooth range of motion when you put weight on each wheel. Where your cushions allow for movement, your pivot cups support it, distribute it and ensure that the movement only occurs in controlled directions.  Pivot cups are one of the most critical parts of a plate and they take a beating. You can think of them as the cartilage in a joint.  Softer pivot cups tend to wear through. Harder ones can crack. A worn down pivot cup can mean that your plate is taking all the weight and worst case, it can wear through the metal. 

If you see your pivot cup extruding from the hole it sits in, replace it. If you can move the pin side to side in the cup, replace it. If your pivot pin isn't actually sitting in the base of the cup, replace it, unless you have adjustable pins, in which case, lengthen them.

 Quick Reference

 Part Why do you care? What to look for? What to do?
Bearings Speed and Consistency Grinding sounds, rust, dirt Oil them and then if that doesn't help, clean them.
Cushions Movement Bulging, cloudy or discoloured urethane Replace them, try a different hardness
Kingpins Stability Wiggle, or movement when loosening trucks Tighten, ensure no movement.  If there is even when tight, bring it to a skate shop
Toe Stop Stopping and control Stem showing through, wiggle, uneven wear, flattened washer, poking into boot Rotate them, replace them, buy shorter stem
Pivot Cups Even predictable movement Extruding from the hole or side to side wiggle of pivot pin, space between pin and cup. Replace them, adjust pivot pins.