Good gear does not make you a good skater, but it does help you perform to your potential. Derby gear is also expensive (like most fun things!), so you should take care of it. You want it to last as long as possible, and be in the best condition so you can get the most out of it.
To this end, I regularly check my skates for wear. Boots and laces scuff and tear, toestops and wheel-nuts come loose over time, pivot cups crack, and in the worst case plates and trucks can bend or break. Plus there’s the grunge; hair wrapped around axles, dust in bearings, crap stuck to wheels. Regular skate maintenance will keep your gear at its best for longer, which means you can skate to your best ability, and not bleed cash all over the floor every time you take a hit.
First thing every skater should do is invest in a skate tool. I got a Powerdyne Y tool (see photos below), other people swear by elephant tools. Either way, it will allow you to adjust your kingpin and axle nuts, and your toestop nut if you have one. You should also change out your bushings/ cushions straight away, the ones that come with most stock skates are rubbish. The cushion is the little rubber bit that sits between your truck and your kingpin. Think of it as a spring, it compresses and allows your truck to move, which means your skate can turn without lifting your wheels. The ones that come with stocks skates are usually very hard which means that you feel nice and stable when you’re standing up, but you may as well be trying to turn a semi-trailer if you try to use your edges to turn! Cushions are less than $20 a set and the hardnesses can be mixed which makes it the quickest and easiest way to customize your skates. I suggest you start with a medium hardness and once you’re stable and ready for more, try mixing soft and medium, then go down to entirely soft if you desire.
Once you’ve been skating for a while, you’ll need to clean your bearings. Depending on how clean your venue is (and how often your skate), you should do it every 3-6 months. You can’t really clean bearings ‘too often’ so don’t worry that you’re going to damage them! Otherwise, if you notice that your wheels aren’t spinning freely, or if you hear a grinding noise when you skate, then you’re due for a clean. There are heaps of tutorials out there so I won’t go through the whole process, but it really is simple. A bearing puller will make the process a whole lot faster and easier, but you can remove bearings from wheels using a screwdriver or something similar if need be. You’ll need a solvent (there are specialty ones on the market but I just use metho), a lubricant (again, plenty available but I just use sewing machine oil) and something such as a sewing pin to remove the bearing shields. Pop them all out, wipe them down, give your bearings a good shake in a jar of solvent, make sure they dry, give them a dab of lube and pop the shields back in place (note- if you bend or damage a shield, throw it away. Forcing a bent shield back into place will interfere with your roll and possibly damage the bearing. The shields are just to prevent dust, if you turn it around so the open side is facing inside the wheel it will have the same effect).
Here on the left you can see my grime-coated outdoor bearings and wheels as I was removing the shields (along with my Y-tool and bearing puller). On the right are shiny and clean bearings and wheels. The wheels I just wiped over with warm water and soap, if they’re super-coated then you can use a toothbrush or scourer to get the ick off.
I also took my first foray into plate mounting. I was lucky enough to win a voucher for skate gear from Roller Derby Australia earlier this year, and immediately used it to upgrade my plate. When I first started I elected to get a good boot (Bont Hybrid) which came with a nylon plate. The fibreglass sole of the Bont compensated somewhat, but at my weight I had concerns about using a nylon plate, especially as I was starting to scrim and getting close to bouting level. After loads of research, I decided on SureGrip Avengers. The lightness of the magnesium gives me no advantage over the aluminum since I’m a giant who doesn’t sprint, but the mag was easier to acquire so that’s what I chose. They arrived in the post on the same day as my Wizards of Aus shirt, so I was a very excited derbygirl.
I watched and read every tutorial I could find about mounting, measured, measured again, and panicked until I couldn’t put off drilling holes any longer. I elected for a sport mount- not as aggressive as a short forward, but still slightly in from the heel making you carry your weight forward as well as meaning closer axles for a smaller turning circle. Here you can see my marked centre line and where I wanted the front axle to sit, as well as the collection of nuts, bolts, trucks, stops and tools that appeared as I dismantled my old plates.
After much swearing from both myself and my husband, I had a newly mounted set of Bonts on Mag Avengers. They didn’t take too long to get used to. I fell on my butt a few times when I tried to rock back on my heels on the first day, but my lateral cuts are now much better and I no longer fear snapping my plate when doing agility and jumping drills. Not to waste the old nylon Pilot plate though, I bought a cheap pair of soccer boots, shaved off the cleats and mounted them for use as outdoor skates. Now I don’t have to change my wheels when I hit up the footpaths midweek, win-win! Because it’s a long, 10* plate it’s actually perfect for outdoors as it’s very stable. I just won’t be taking them to the skatepark any time soon!
Finally, the most simple thing you can do to look after your gear is to air it out between sessions. Don’t leave your gear bag in the car all week. Other than your mouthguard melting during summer (no really, it happens), and being a prime target for thieves, you should air your gear out whenever possible. The only thing worse than damp, sweaty pads, is putting on pads that are still damp several days later. And now they smell. Because your sweat and dead skin cells have created a bacteria wonderland that you’re now going to rub all over yourself (and teammates) for several hours multiple times a week. No thanks! The damp can also affect the leather and metal components of your skates over time, so when you get home from practice unzip that bag, pull out your skates, and let your pads dry! You should also wash them semi-regularly too, either every couple of months or when people complain about the smell: whichever comes first! You can do it by hand in a laundry tub, or put them in a delicates bag or pillowcase in your washing machine (do up all the velcro first!). A good slosh of vinegar will kill those pesky bacteria, as will a nice dose of UV if you dry them in the sunshine afterwards. Don’t make a habit of leaving your gear in the sun though, prolonged exposure will break down plastics and rubber which will make your pads much less padded.