Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
I have spent the last few months skating on a set of 8x104mm “Track Grabbers” from Hyper Wheels – the result of my opportunistic retail endeavours at the Berlin Marathon expo last year. The intention was that I would use these to see me through a couple of winter seasons.
However, with the benefit of hindsight I think it was poor choice and I won’t be going back to these particular wheels… which is a shame, as I still have 3 new set. If anyone reading this wants mates’ rates on a set of 8x104s let me know (currently price: 1 vino tinto at the Flemming)…
Whatever wheel size and setup you like to skate on, I think that there is a good case to be made for spending a little time each year on a setup different to your norm – it’s something I picked up from a clubmate a couple of seasons ago. Like the majority of speed skaters at present, I use a 4x110mm setup for most of my training and racing. However, I also like to mix it up, and over the winter I will often switch to a smaller setup: typically 4x100mm, 4x104mm or 4x105mm – it just depends on what I’m able to get my hands on cheaply! I stick to flat setups because from a practical perspective they are easier to manage, and I don’t really buy into the perceived advantage of a mixed size (3+1) setup.
Firstly, let me say that I believe the advantage of larger wheels is often overstated and is dependent upon a skater’s strength and ability to maintain equivalent form in order to get the most out of a bigger setup – larger wheels aren’t going to automatically propel you to the front of the pack if your technique is still substandard. That said, there is no doubting that most skaters with reasonable technique can benefit and be faster for the same work by adopting larger wheels.
The first advantage that I see of dropping down wheel size over the winter is one of shifting one’s perspective after the racing season is over: the importance of good form comes more into focus, as you cannot simply rely on the superior roll of large wheels to cover up technical deficiencies. It ties in nicely with the emphasis on honing technique that we work on over the winter.
The second advantage is the psychological one when the time comes to move back up to your usual wheel size as you move into the pre-season phase. Getting the natural speed boost from stepping up to a larger wheel size feels great!
For me, this switch happened this past weekend as I swapped out the 104mm Hypers for my trusty 110mm 85a Bont Mayhems. Although these are not a new set, having seen me through at least 1500km of road skating over the last couple of seasons, they are still in really good nick with plenty of life left in them.
It was transformative. The immediate increase in speed was startling. On my normal time trial (which consists of skating continual 2.9km laps around Battersea Park @ 140bpm) my pace immediately improved from roughly 3:10/km down to 2:52/km – an immediate 9.5% increase in speed. Let me repeat that: 9.5 FRICKING PERCENT! This was a very pleasant surprise… and a huge confidence boost as I’m about to enter the peak training phase – my pace is now right around where I was hoping it would be at this stage of training.
My clubmate Richard once told me that he got an instant 3-4km/hr increase in rolling speed on the flat when he swapped his old worn wheels for set of new higher quality race wheels just before a race, and I was always skeptical of this until now.
While I knew that the Hypers were not the best quality wheels and likely slower than a good set of race wheels, I must confess that I underestimated how just how much slower they were. The overall performance difference between a 104mm wheel and a 110mm wheel should not be anything like 9.5%… more like 2-3%, at most.
I haven’t had the experience of skating on many of the current top wheels from the major wheel manufacturers (Matter, MPC, Atom), and don’t consider myself a wheel snob. However, in my experience, the Bont Mayhem is probably the best wheel I’ve ever skated on, ticking all the important boxes: roll, rebound & grip. It’s such a shame that Bont have discontinued them and are currently selling off their remaining stock – I think I’ll buy a new set as my race wheels for Le Mans.
What is the takeaway message here? I think there are a couple.
Firstly, with wheels, you pretty much get what you pay for, but like with anything the law of diminishing returns is in operation. The cheapest wheels are cheap for a reason – they’re slow and not particularly nice to skate on.
The mid-quality wheels are that still use single-band technology such as the Bont G4 Highrollers, Matter Super-Juices & Atom Matrix are much, much better. They are a bit more expensive, but are a joy to skate on. This should be no surprise ans they are effectively the race wheels that everyone was using up until about 5 years ago.
The newest wheels that are now marketed as flagship “race wheels” such as Matter G13, MPC Road War & Atom Boom all utilize an inner “flex band” and currently compete with each other as the best wheels that money can buy. Although undoubtedly a step above the best single-band wheels, they can easily run you $20-$25 per WHEEL… economics comes into play at some point, and it doesn’t make sense to skate on these race wheels every day.
Secondly, while it’s possible to persevere with cheap, slow wheels and run them down to the hub before investing in a new set, this can be self-defeating if they are holding you back from maximizing your technical gains. A good wheel is inherently faster than a poor quality wheel because it has superior roll, grip & rebound due to the more advanced construction and material compounds used; this also also makes it more pleasant to skate on and therefore easier to lay down good technique. Having confidence in what’s under you and the “feel” of the wheels is everything. Working on the finer points of technique such as:
are far easier to do on good wheels that give you grip and feedback, instead of feeling dead and unresponsive.
While I will still like the idea of stepping down to smaller wheels over the winter, I think I have learnt a lesson and will stick to the best quality wheels I can afford rather than let price dictate what I skate on; cheap wheels are a false economy and, worse, will take much of the enjoyment out of your skating. It’s utterly pointless to invest in state of the art custom boots that run a grand or more, and then fit them with substandard wheels.
Use up the life in a good set of wheels by all means, but don’t flog them past the sell-by-date – leave that to the street skaters who t-stop at every junction. Budget generously for decent wheels, and just enjoy your skating!