Putting them together
Ok, the skates showed up in a box, completely dismantled of course. It wasn't too hard to figure out how to get them all together though. The boots have two slots in the bottom with a slideable bolt that is used to tie the frames to the boot. The wheels each get two bearings with an internal floating spacer. An axle then screws through the wheel setup directly into the frame. Putting it together was easy. One difference from rec skates is that the position of the frame that holds the wheels is movable relative to the boot since the bolt that connects boot and frame is laterally adjustable both in the slot in the bottom of the boot and in the slot in the top of the frame. I have come to realize that positioning the frame can be potentially hideously complex, however, I started out with the default position with the holes in the bottom of the boot centered in the holes in the frame. That turned out to be an ok first guess. Another noticeable difference is that it is much easier to take off and put on wheels on the speedskating frame than on rec skates. Finally unlike rec skates, each boot uses two bootlaces, one long and one short.
Rolling for the first time
I couldn't resist taking them for a quickie exploratory spin down the sidewalk. A bunch of things jumped out immediately. In the Spiritblades my foot had lots of room to float around and the only real attachment was at the lower leg above the ankle and across the top of the foot to a lesser extent (where the two buckles were located). The speedboots have a pretty intense full-ankle grab to them. The laces kept the boot snug to the top of my foot but most of the gripping is around the ankle. There isn't any leg grip since the boots don't go higher than the ankle area so whereas I was controlling the boots with my legs before, now I am controlling them with my feet. Accordingly, the speedboots require a lot more ankle strength than the rec skates, but I'm ok with that. I also noticed right away that the longer wheelbase of the frames gave much more front-back stability than the four-wheeled rec skates had. That's a plus. Some panicky leaning-back that would have required quick corrective action on rec skates to keep from going over backwards was easily supported by the longer frame behind the speedskating boot. As anticipated, there is no brake on the speedskates. Since I didn't know how to T-stop, and since a spinstop with longer frames will need some adjustment, and since it was getting dark, I called it a wrap for the first try, pleased at having gotten out the door and back without major trauma. :)
Rolling in the park
Friday was a beautiful day so a slightly extended lunch was spent on wheels in Central Park. The first order of business was figuring how to stop so I experimented with T-stops around the Mall. I had always just used the brake on the back of the rec skates before, but that isn't really an option on the speedskates. The T-stop turned out to be not too difficult, although it required some experimenting to get the dragging foot to slow me down without a violent spinout. I got it mostly worked out and headed for the loop. Skating the loop was doable, but somewhat problematic. I was still trying to control the skates with my legs rather than my feet. As a result, the frame didn't really get oriented well under my weight leading to some friction and sore spots. Still, I made it all the way around and didn't wipe out on the hills so I figured it was a success.
Saturday's weather was even nicer, warm and sunny. Heather got new Solomon TR7's for our anniversary which she was itching to try out so we hit the loop together. The difference between Heather's old Spiritblades (which never really fit her very well) and the TR7's (which fit great) was tremendous. She and I whipped around the loop three times, a record for a season-initiating outing. While Heather was enjoying her new skating setup I was learning more about my own. I came to realize that the lateral flexibility provided by a low-cut boot would let me constantly adjust to keep the frame centered under my weight. This lead to improved power and also considerably less ankle-friction. I also realized that I had positioned the frames somewhat suboptimally for my skating stride, and was able to figure out how to make some front and back adjustments to them which also helped. Even so though, my feet still got a little chewed up. The leather inside the boot and my feet are gradually coming to a mutual understanding.
Andy done for the day
Speed clinic in Brooklyn
Sunday April 2nd was the season's inaugural introductory speed clinic, held in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. It was supposed start at Grand Army Plaza in the park at 10:00am which seemed like a reasonably civilized time. I thought my feet would hold up ok so I put on some bandaids and headed out there. Of course, the trains took longer than I figured they would, and I didn't really know where Grand Army Plaza was, so I showed up somewhere else in Prospect Park, about 20 minutes late. I wasn't surprised not to see anyone. I headed out along Prospect Park's loop, keeping my eyes open for potential speedskating groups. I found them about half a loop later, at a semi-circular road just off the loop where they could practice without having to dodge joggers or bike-racers. There seemed to be more than a dozen people there, most on speedskates (called "fives"), but a significant number on rec skates (called "fours"), which was perfectly ok too. The clinic was being run by Marcia Woodfield, with help from Robert McDermott and Jessie (sorry, don't know last name). I missed the first part of the clinic which was on how to balance on the wheels (I think this might have been the "skate with your foot" lesson that I figured out the hard way) but was welcomed in by everyone. We went over everyone's names again, which I promptly forgot but there was a Phillipa, two different Rays, Lucy, Julie? Desmond? and lots of others which I'm sure I'll gradually get figured out. Marcia then led us in a "push with your heel" drill where you push yourself along by sculling one skate while gliding on the other. Then we did a drill on how to use pushing with your heel to do the classic speedskating stride. Jessie had some really helpful pointers about how it's important to keep your pelvis tilted inward (lower pelvis forward, upper pelvis back) so that your back curves in a smooth arc all the way through the tailbone leading into the legs. If the pelvis is not tilted inward, it can lead to a concave counter-curve in the small of the back which causes unnecessary stress and backaches as well as stealing power away from the stroke. He also said that after the pushing skate finishes its recovery by circling back around that the wheels should touch down like an airplane, gently and without clopping down, possibly leading slightly with the back wheels. Robert told us that there should be a forward knee kick just before the set-down which would add some forward momentum and set the skate down about a half-skate-length ahead of the gliding skate. We all practiced that up and down the small road several times with everybody pretty much getting it to work for them. More people kept on showing up so that by now the group was up to something like 15 or 20 people and we moved out onto the loop proper to practice skating in a "paceline".
A paceline is a line of skaters closely following each other, skating at the same pace. In this way the cumulative multi-skater-object (the paceline) has significantly less wind resistance than would the sum of an equal number of individual skaters. The technique of skating in a long snake with other skaters to lower cumulative wind resistance is also known as "drafting". At reasonably quick speeds most of the resistance to forward progress is from the wind so drafting provides tremendous energy savings and allows the paceline to go much faster for the same energy expenditure than an individual skater could go. First we learned paceline etiquette. You are supposed to follow the person in front of you as close as is reasonably possible, and match their stride as exactly as possible. If you are going to touch the person in front of you, it is polite to tell them "contact" before you do, and to contact them with the back of your hand as gradually and as gently as possible on the very lowest part of their back just above their waist. When everyone does this, the paceline can "accordian" as necessary to maintain good spacing without anyone getting either run over or pushed over. It is the responsibility of the first person in the paceline to both call out and point to any obstacles that might arise, since people in the back of the paceline won't be able to see anything on the road in front of them. Each person in the paceline then propogates the signal down the line by pointing at the obstacle. It is important to remember that people are pointing at stuff that you should look out for and avoid, and not at the direction you should go. To leave a paceline, you stand up, raise your hand, announce that you are leaving, and leave laterally to the outside side of the paceline without slowing down. This prevents your leaving from making a huge gap in the line that people behind you will have to fight to close up. We also learned the overriding rule of paceline skating: NEVER BRAKE IN A PACELINE. Set up with the etiquette and practicing good classic stide technique, we all headed out around the loop. It worked out really successfully with no disasters and everyone keeping reasonably in the draft of the line. We went until we got around to Grand Army Plaza again, where the formal clinic broke up. Even more people were waiting at the Plaza though, to do some extra-credit paceline practice, so those of us who could stick around gave it another shot with a little more speed. This paceline soon broke up into several smaller pacelines, each going at a slightly different speed, in what I think is a typical kind of racing paceline dynamic. I tried hard to keep up and mostly managed to do pretty good. Jessie, clearly a skating expert, cruised along both in and out of the paceline, before eventually striking out ahead on his own. I finished the loop by skating with a couple of other people (sorry, don't know the names yet) who graciously let me draft behind them in two-person micropacelines. After finishing up at the Plaza again, I headed for home, having learned a lot, met and re-met lots of friendly faces, and getting some quality skating exercise.
Some final observations
Towards the end of the second loop around Prospect Park I noticed that the person with whom I was drafting had switched cadence from classic stroke to the double-push so I switched over as well to see how the new skates would perform. The increased level of edge control made possible by the greater flexibility low-cut boots allow means that it is possible to quite ferociously attack the under-push portion of the double-push. I found the difference from rec skates to be dramatic. Since the under-push is the "bonus push" of the double-push, I can see how the double-push on speedskates has come to be pretty much the racing standard on wheels. The downside was that with boots not-yet-broken-in, using the increased edge control in the double-push meant that my feet got a little more chewed up, but nothing radically bad.
April 29th, 2000: Racing on the new wheels for the first time!
Send me suggestions!