I wish that I could tell you that inline skating is just a simple highly predictable activity. I wish I could tell you that you only need to skate on a particular road and all the surfaces would be uniform. By uniform, I am of course talking about no obstructions, no debris, no gravel, none of that. You don’t have to worry about small pebbles that may block or obstruct your wheels sufficiently enough so as to throw you off your center of gravity and cause you to fall.
Unfortunately, if I were to say that to you, I would be lying to you because, let’s face it, we live in a very uncertain world. And while your particular area might have predictably great roads, it’s anybody’s guess how long the clean part of that road can go. We’re not just talking about public roadways here, we’re also talking about sidewalks, even park trails.
Believe it or not, there are many park trails in the United States that are badly maintained. It really all boils down to how big the budget of your local jurisdiction is. If you live in a small town or a municipality that has a tight budget or, worse yet, a city that’s down on its luck, you can bet that parks and recreation areas are probably the first budget items to feel a cut in the budget.
This is very understandable, actually, because such cities probably would prioritize schools. They probably would prioritize health services and other more pressing concerns. With that said, you need to be aware of what could go wrong if the surface that you’re skating on is badly maintained, is badly cleaned up, or just has flaws on the surface.
Quick Overview of Different Road Types
When you’re on the road, there are many different road types that you need to be aware of. First of all, asphalt may seem pretty straightforward. Asphalt of course involves applying tar-like substance, either from industrial materials or from more natural materials, heating it up, compressing it, and then applying it to the road’s surface. Once it’s applied to the road surface, a heavy piston machine will roll over the surface to flatten it out. Freshly laid asphalt is nice and hot and flat. Sounds awesome so far, right?
Well, the problem with asphalt depends on its composition. Depending on the contractor, there might be some fillers that may react negatively to rainfall or snow or salt used to handle snow during the winter. The end result is the same. The asphalt surface starts pitting, then it starts to crack, then large holes appear. Where do you think potholes came from? This is bad news because if you think potholes are a headache, if you run over them while driving a car, imagine how it would feel to roller skate over them.
Asphalt can be a serious problem because its degradation is actually quite predictable. Asphalt is not really meant to last forever. The whole point of asphalt is to lay a bed every few years. You lay it out, and then the city would scrape it up after a few years, and then lay out a new bed.
This practice also is in conjunction with some jurisdictions where a lot of people make money through infrastructure projects and they get paid a lot for taking out asphalt and laying on a new bed. As you can probably already tell, there’s probably some space for corruption here. I’m not making any accusations, but it would not be surprising if that’s part of the game.
Knowing what you know now about asphalt, you may be thinking that concrete surfaces are much better. Well, not quite. Again, it depends on the concrete. Some concrete mixes are actually intended for 20 years or 30 years.
I know it sounds crazy, but there are concrete roads that have been around forever and they are built so well that they have withstood the test of time. It doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or it’s baking hot outside or it’s snowing, they’re still in pristine shape.
Unfortunately, those types of roads in the United States are few and far between. For the most part, we have concrete surfaces that need upgrading every decade or so. What does this mean to you? Well, when the concrete cracks, it can crack very deeply. It doesn’t involve pits like asphalt surfaces.
The way inline skates are designed, small pits and small disturbances on the road can actually be handled by your skates. In fact, your wheels are so low profile and so small and so thin that they can actually pass the force of the obstruction to the rest of the skate and, paired with your forward propulsion, you can actually brush it off.
You’ve probably experienced this first hand several times. You feel the bump on your foot, sometimes you even feel it with your body, but it’s not strong enough to throw off your center of gravity. When you get thrown off your center of gravity, this is where it gets nasty because your center of gravity dictates how straight you go, and also dictates the amount of control regarding your direction. Now, if your center of gravity is disturbed for some reason or another, it’s too easy for you start tipping.
Now, normally, if you’re not moving when you tip, you can easily adjust your body to right yourself and you’re still standing. No drama, no hassle. Now, compare this to a situation where your body is moving at a high rate of speed because you’re skating downhill or you’re skating down an incline, and you get tipped off your center of gravity.
You have less margin for error. You are dealing with a very short window of time to right yourself, otherwise, you’re going to begin tipping and tipping until you reach a point where you really have no control. You really cannot right your body. You cannot position your body the right way and the inevitable happens and you tip over. Just hope at that point that you have the proper safety gear.
My advice for rollerblading on concrete is to try to set your vision in such a way that you have a “buffer” of 30 feet. You look 30 feet ahead to see if there are any obvious cracks, any obvious debris, so you can at least try to slow down or try to move to the side or do whatever evasive maneuvers that you need to make to prevent getting thrown off your center of gravity. You need to maintain this.
While this piece of advice looks awesome on paper, unfortunately, if you’re out there enjoying the great outdoors skating away, it’s very easy to overlook this and end up spilling.
All Other Terrain
It’s usually not a good idea to go on terrain that is part rubble, part rock, part grass. It’s going to be a problem because your inline skates can only handle so much obstruction until all that misdirected energy slows you down or tips you off your center of gravity.
Inline skates, like it or not, are intended primarily for flat surfaces. They just do a lousy job of propelling you forward on any other surfaces. Use them for what they are intended for.
Still, I understand that in many situations, you really cannot choose the surfaces you skate on. I get that. This is especially true if you are skating on a roadway that is so badly maintained that there’s actually grass or lots of dirt on it. But do yourself a big favor and try to stick to the flatter parts.
This is really the best advice I could give you because on such mixed surfaces, you really can’t be too sure that the flat surface is enough to handle your weight and speed. Really, you’re basically just rolling the dice. You’re hoping for the best and, unfortunately, in many cases, you’re just playing the wrong bet.
So to avoid any unnecessary heartaches, try to avoid mixed surfaces altogether. This means you should skate on flat surfaces in the center section. This reduces the possibility of you hitting a soft spot or hitting some dirt or any other flaw on the road’s surface that can lead to you spilling.