The JH Juggernauts are sponsored by the following gear companies. Check out their websites for the best in derby gear and apparel. Keep in mind that we get great discounts, so league members can order with our special discount codes. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
New to Derby? Looking for some gear upgrades? Here are some helpful hints about what to look for when purchasing gear from our very own training director, Dramatic Pyrony.
Unless you’ve had some past experience in the roller skate market, you’re going to want to shop for a skate package, rather than choosing your parts individually. Buy a skate package advertised as being suitable for derby. You don’t want to end up with something designed for jam or figure skaters. We use our skates very differently. Most derby suppliers offer packages directed at freshmeat, and these are a perfectly acceptable way to get started. Most of these packages are based on either the Riedell R3 or the Suregrip Rebel boot. You’ll get either a synthetic or lower quality leather boot and a nylon plate. These skates will be padded, should be relatively comfortable and fit well right out of the box, and the plates are light weight, which is good for those just learning. The main downside is durability. Freshmeat skate packages don’t usually last more than a season or two. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Given a season on the track, you’re going to know what you want and be excited about an upgrade anyway!
A note on fit: skates come in men’s sizes. A general rule of thumb is to order two sizes smaller than your women’s shoe size. So if you wear a 9, you’d want a size 7 skate. Keep in mind that most skaters like a tight fit and often order a half size smaller than their shoe size would indicate. If you have a synthetic boot, it should fit well right out of the box. It isn’t going to stretch at all. Try on your teammates’ skates before ordering if you can.
Once you move beyond the world of freshmeat packages, your options grow exponentially. Synthetic or leather boots? High or low cut? Nylon or aluminum plates? Regular or short-forward mount? The choices go on and on. The best advice when choosing skates is to try out anything you can. Get on your teammates skates. See what you like or don’t. Visit a skate shop while you’re traveling and demo some different models. Buying good skates over the internet is really challenging. Call a reputable skate shop for some help. If you do decide to go with something fancy to start, or if you’re a seasoned skater looking for an upgrade, here are a couple of words of wisdom:
- Leather boots fit differently than synthetic. You want them super tight to start because they will stretch and mold to your feet over time. The first few practices in new leather boots should be painful. If they aren’t, your skates are too big.
- All aluminum plates are not created equal. A lot of skaters will buy the least expensive aluminum plate thinking that anything other than nylon will be an upgrade. This, unfortunately, isn’t true. A low end aluminum plate will be heavy, and in some cases less responsive, than a nylon one. The less expensive metal plates also have a history of issues with breaking (it has to do with the way they are cast). If you’re going to go aluminum, wait until your budget allows you to invest in something high quality. Several of the Juggernauts skate the PowerDyne Revenge plate and love it. But beware the low-end aluminum!
- It is absolutely worth whatever fee you have to pay to have your plates professionally mounted. We do not currently have anyone in the league or in town who has the expertise to do this well, and while directions abound on the internet, if you run into trouble, you’ll be on your own.
You’re going to want a skateboard helmet. Bike helmets are fine to get started, but they aren’t designed to protect the parts of your head that are most likely to get knocked in derby. A fair number of Juggs recommend the S-1 Lifer helmet. It’s certified for multiple impacts. The Triple 8 SweatSaver is also popular, but if you whack your head, you’ll have to replace it, as it’s not certified for multiple impacts.
If you spend extra money on any piece of derby gear, INVEST IN KNEE PADS. Derby skaters spend a lot of time on their knees, especially new skaters. You will fall on them constantly. Don’t skimp on knee pads. The knee pads that come in most freshmeat packages are not cushioned enough for derby, so try to upgrade as soon as your budget allows. Smith Scabs and 187 pads are popular choices. Many manufacturers make neoprene gaskets that go under knee pads. These offer some extra cushion, but mostly they serve to keep your pads from slipping, which is important. Even a really good knee pad won’t help if it’s cushioning your shin. Buy whatever elbow pads and wrist guards make you feel comfortable, but the quality of these is less of an issue. Most seasoned skaters use the cheapest ones out there, and only bother replacing them when the stink gets too much to bear.
One of the most frequent questions we get from new skaters is about wheels, and it’s by far the hardest to answer. The ideal wheel is a function of so many things: your size, your skating style, the surface you’re playing on. Wheels aren’t cheap, and unfortunately, the ideal wheel for our practice space in Kelly is not the ideal wheel for Snow King, and neither of those is likely to be ideal for other kinds of surfaces we encounter. Over time you’ll accumulate an arsenal. In the meantime, here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Hardness matters. The main feature skaters look for in a wheel is its hardness, which is described with a number (and sometimes a letter) ranging from 86-100. In general, a lower number means a softer wheel and a higher number means a harder wheel. Softer wheels will grip more but roll slower. Harder wheels will be faster, but you will feel like you have less grip. Size matters here too. A lightweight skater doesn’t have as much weight pushing down on her wheels and may prefer a softer wheel than her teammate even on the same surface. Likewise, larger skaters may want harder wheels.
- Wide versus Narrow. Wide wheels (usually about 44mm) are good for speed and grip. Narrow wheels (usually 38mm) are better for agility. Which you prefer depends entirely on your style. Sample your teammates wheels and see what you like.
- You can mix and match wheels to get different results. Most wheels are sold in 4-packs to allow for mixing. Some skaters like a softer wheel on the inside to grip through the turns and a harder wheel on the outside for better push and speed for example. You can play around with what is most effective for you. Keep in mind that while you can mix hardness, you don’t want to mix widths.
- Check in with the experts. There is some great wheel advice out there. I’d particularly recommend this chart from Atom Wheels/WFTDA and any of the advice articles posted by Sin City Skates.
So what does that mean for our surface? We spend the majority of our practice and bout time in Snow King, which is a “polished” concrete floor. The surface isn’t nearly as slick as the description makes it out to be, but it will feel slippery to you if you’ve primarily skated at a rink or at the Kelly gym. Most skaters are comfortable on a wheel somewhere between 88A and 95A in hardness. If you’re a newer skater and less sure of your feet, you may want to stay at the low end of that range. Same is true for lighter weight ladies. If you’re comfortable on your skates, or if you’re more powerfully built, you’ll want to pick something on the higher end of that range. If you’re totally overwhelmed, just use whatever comes with your skates, or buy a narrow 93A wheel, which is a nice compromise. If you’re an experienced skater, know that it is virtually impossible to get the slide you need to plow stop in a new 88A wheel (a bald 88A wheel is another story entirely). If you want to plow stop in Snow King, you’ll want to skate no less than a 91 or a 93 hardness.
Keep in mind that the Snow King floor tends to eat wheel grooves and bald wheels quickly (which reduces the grip), so you may want to stick to lesser expensive wheels and replace them regularly, or buy an inexpensive set for practice and save the nice ones for bouts. You are also going to want a cheap set of outdoor wheels for skating the pathways!
Some specific suggestions (these are Pyro’s personal preferences/biases):
Radar Zen–outdoor wheels, about $30 for 8
Radar Flat Outrageous–88A, about $60 for 8, this is a great beginner wheel or a good “pusher” for experienced skaters, it’s also cheap
Radar Flat Out–the Flat Outrageous in a wider profile for those that want a more stable platform, it also has a “speed groove” (a prize for anybody who can figure out whether that serves any benefit!)
Heartless Wheels–these come in a variety of hardnesses, $45 for 4, I haven’t used them but know they are a favorite of some friends who like a narrow and light wheel
Atom Juke 2.0–this is my favorite wheel ever!, comes in 88, 93, 95 and 97. $50 for 4. The Juke is a slimmer profile (38mm) If I could afford it, I would skate a mix of 93 and 95 all the time, but at the rate Snow King eats wheels, I haven’t felt justified in investing in these yet.
There’s a lot to know about bearings, but for now I’m just going to suggest that you buy Bones Reds. They are about $30 for a box and very high quality for the price. There are cheaper bearings out there, but they don’t last very long and they kind of suck, even when new. If anybody asks about cleaning bearings…it stresses me out and so I don’t do it, nor do I know how. I just spend $30 3-4 times a year and replace them.