I get asked about wheels more than anything else, which is OK because I love talking about wheels! I'm a little bit of a wheel hoarder and have tried more than my fair share of different types and combinations in the past. Wheels can be a complicated topic, with lots of numbers and options flying around, so I've put together this handy guide to help you through the confusing world. Like most things in roller derby a lot of it comes down to person preference so I would recommend that you try a few options and see what works for you but I hope you'll find this a useful starting point!
Durometer, often shortened to duro, is the hardness of the wheels. The higher the number the harder and slidier the wheel, the lower the number the softer and grippier it will be. However, different manufactures and different brands may vary in how they feel, dispite the same rating. In general terms, for roller derby if you are a heavier skater you may prefer to have harder wheels and lighter skaters may prefer something softer. However, this might change depending on the floor you are skating on. Newbie skaters generally prefer a softer grippier wheel in order to develop confidence as sometimes the slide that comes with harder wheels may feel a bit scary! However, having grippy wheels may hold you back in learning new skills such as hockey stops where wheel slide is your friend. Roller derby wheels usually come in the range of 88a - 97a. You might like to try Radar Prestos Reckless Ikons or Heartless wheels for roller derby.
Outdoor wheels come in the range of 78a - 84a, the higher end of the scale often being referred to as hybid wheels. These are soft enough to allow you to roll over the rougher surfaces you'll encounter outside. You might like Reckless Bliss Radar Tofu Radar Flyers or Reckless Envy The envy are a hybrid wheel and at 84a could take you from outdoors to indoors.
For skate park riding, especially indoors harder is better! Many skate park wheels come in 101a, like the Radar Varsity and Radar Varsity Plus.
A pusher set-up is where you swap in a softer set of wheels, typically three to four rating numbers lower than your harder set to improve grip just where you need it. This is a reason why wheels tend to come in packs of four, not all eight! It is a very personal choice for where you place your pushers so its worth trying out a few set ups. There are some wheels which do the hard work for you: Reckless Morph wheels have a mix of duros prebuilt into the wheel, with softer edges for better grip. This is becoming an increasing popular idea for roller derby skaters... and the colours of them look ace!
For roller derby, you'll usually find wheels in 59mm (low) or 62mm (standard). The main benefits of smaller diameter wheels is that they are easier to accelerate and the lower position to the floor makes them more stable. Taller wheels may take more effort to get up to speed but once there they are easier to keep rolling. If you are looking for 59mm wheels, you might like Radar Presto 59 or Reckless Evader. If 62mm is more your thing, try Radar Presto 62 or Reckless Ikon.
For skate park riding, a smaller diameter might feel better still. Try the Radar Varsity and Radar Varsity Plus which come in 57mm.
Wide wheels might help give more stabilty and, as there is more surface area in contect with the floor, give better grip. You might want to try Radar FlatOut Sonars. Narrower wheels are more agile and can reduce the chances of wheel clipping when skating in close proximity. Wheels for roller derby come as narrow as 31mm, such as the Radar Diamonds, but if this is too much for you, Heartless wheels come slim at 35mm and Radar Presto and Radar Bullet are both 38mm.
There are two types of hubs: plastic or alloy. Plastic hubs, usually nylon, are lighter and are often preffered for this reason. Traditionally, plastic hubs tend to flex more so are not usually recommended for heavier skaters. However, lighter skaters may also benefit from alloy hubs, particularily if your skating style is more towards jumping, hopping, fast acceleration and springing off your wheels quickly (i.e roller derby!). The extra stiffness of alloy hubs will help you get more out of these actions. You might like to try Radar Diamonds.
New developments have seen some high performing plastic hubs, such as the Tiger hubs in Radar Prestos. These 2-piece hubs have been developed to have less flex than traditional plastic hubs but maintain the benefits of lighness. And now at a new price of £49.95 you'll get way more bang for your buck.