roller derby wheel guide
The nitty gritty guide. To keep things simple we've generalized the information in this guide, keep in mind that there are always exceptions.
What is durometer? (hardness)
- The lower the durometer the softer the wheels (78A wheels are softer than 98A wheels).
- The softer the wheels the more grippy they are (78A-88A wheels are very grippy and used on slippery floors - 98A wheels are much less grippy and used on sticky floors).
- You must match the hardness of the wheels to the level of grip of your floor. If your floor is slippery you will need grippy soft wheels. If your floor is sticky you will need hard slippery wheels. However, there is more to it than just the durometer, read on...
- Beginners generally do better on softer wheels since soft means grippy and grip means control.
What diameter wheels are best for derby? (size)
- In general, taller wheels are faster, but also less stable and heavier.
- In general, smaller wheels are lighter and more stable, but tend to be slower.
- The most popular wheels used for roller derby are either 59mm or 62mm tall. If you are a beginner we recommend you stick to one of these sizes.
- Wheels bigger than 62mm are generally used for outdoor skating. Tall wheels are fast but too unstable for derby skating.
- 50mm (super tiny): There is currently only one type of roller skate wheel on the market this size that we know of. They are very agile and light but also very slow.
- 59mm (derby): Our favourite wheel size for derby. 59mm wheels are slightly smaller than the standard (62mm) which makes them lighter and more stable yet still fast enough.
- 62mm (derby): Standard derby size - most common wheel size for indoor wheels.
- 65mm (outdoor): 65mm wheels are normally used for outdoor skating. The extra height makes them fast but not stable enough for derby.
- 70mm (outdoor): Pretty much as tall as a roller skate wheel can be without biting the plates or stoppers. Only ever used for outdoor skating. The extra height makes for super fast wheels but also makes them heavier.
- The profile (width) of a wheel affects how much surface area is in contact with the floor. Generally speaking, this will affect the grip and speed of the wheel.
- Wider wheels are more stable but also heavier and less agile.
- Narrower wheels are less stable, more agile and lighter.
- Small skaters (under 5’3") should stick to narrower wheels (38mm or narrower) since they do not need the extra stability, and likely prefer the added agility and lightness.
- Skaters moving from an ice skating or inline skating background should avoid 44mm wide wheels. If you're used to a narrow footprint then wide wheels will likely feel clumsy.
- 31mm (super narrow): Wheels like these offer amazing agility and are often super light but do not offer as much stability or grip as wider wheels. Not good for beginners.
- 35mm (narrow): A nice step between 31mm and 38mm wheels. Once again probably not the best choice for beginners.
- 38mm (slim): A very popular width for derby as they provide a great balance of agility and stability. Great for all skill levels.
- 44mm (wide): Very stable but a little clumsy. Due to the larger surface area, wide wheels provide better grip than narrower wheels (for the same diameter and durometer). Good for beginner skaters.
Which derby wheels are best for heavy weight skaters? (over 200lbs)
More Grip: Heavy weight skaters will get more grip from their wheels than average or light weight skaters will. You may wish to go one step harder in durometer to compensate. For example if, on your floor, skaters with an average build tend to ride 90A to 93A, then you may wish to try wheels between 93A and 95A.
*Some heavy weight skaters choose to go two or more hardness levels. Start with one step and take it from there.
Wheel Flex - Rigid Cores: When skating some of your stride's energy is lost into the flexing of the urethane tire and core of your wheels. This is called "wheel flex" and can make it feel like you are skating in molasses. Due to extra body weight, heavy skaters suffer from this phenomenon worse than others, so it's important for heavier skaters to get wheels with larger rigid cores. Solid aluminum cores are the best, but any high quality super rigid core will do the trick.
Which derby wheels are best for light weight skaters? (under 120lbs)
Less Grip: Light weight skaters will get less grip from their wheels than average or heavy weight skaters. You may wish to go one step softer in durometer to compensate. For example if, on your floor, skaters with an average build tend to ride 90A to 93A, then you may wish to try wheels between 88A to a 90A.
Why does the wheel core material matter?
Solid Aluminum: In terms of performance these cores are the very best available. They are ultimately rigid and offer superior energy transfer. They tend to be a little on the pricey side. The only downside of this type of core is the weight. As of this writing, the lightest aluminum core wheels that we are aware of are 800 grams for a set of 8. Other aluminum core wheels weigh up to 1kg. For comparison's sake, the lightest nylon cored wheel that we are currently aware of 580 grams.
Nylon Cores: Most affordable wheels have spoked nylon cores. These are light but less rigid. This means poorer energy transfer during skating, which translates into a slower more sluggish feeling. As we explained above this is especially true for heavier skaters.
Hollow Cores: These are somewhat in-between spoked nylon cores and aluminum cores. Usually around the $100 price point for a full set, these wheels are light with minimal wheel flex. The capped cores are nice and rigid even for heavier weight skaters. These cores are made of various materials including nylon, fiber glass and other high quality plastics.
Most skaters strive for a light weight skate setup. The easiest and most affordable way to reduce the weight of your skates is to purchase light wheels. At the time of this writing the lightest wheels we are aware of weigh 530g and the heaviest weigh 1.2kg.
To put that into perspective, an average pair of roller skates weighs between 2kg-5kg, with most skates weighing in at about 3kg. A weight reduction of up to 600g, thanks to lighter wheels, makes a very noticeable difference.