Boots, Bindings and Poles
For boots and bindings in roller skiing, the equipment is essentially the same as for cross-country snow skiing and the considerations for their selection remain the same as for cross-country snow skiing. For poles, the criteria for length selection is the again the same as for cross-country snow skiing except that for roller skiing you don't need baskets. Instead you need to ensure that you get tungsten carbide tips robust enough for tarmac and other hard surfaces You must specify this when you buy them or you can retrofit them to existing poles.
Safety equipment is especially inportant when skiing at speed on hard surfaces.
The remainder of this page will concentrate on -
A Guide on How to Select Roller Skis
Some different aspects of roller skiing: racing, technique training and touring
A debate has been going on for years now about exactly what sort of roller skis we should be using: barrel wheels, narrow wheels, racing rollers, and what we should be doing on them (skating, classic or both). Probably, if there was one, simple, right answer, we would have found it by now and everyone, except the perverse, would be skiing on more or less the same equipment. The fact that everyone uses completely different equipment probably shows that there is no one correct answer, but in this article some thoughts are offered which, if you're looking to buy roller equipment or update existing equipment, might help you come to a decision. Anyone with a different view is welcome to contact SSE so that these pages may contain a better balance of current thinking.
There are many, many different types and makes of roller ski – here are just a few
Narrow or wide wheeled rollers?
It is conventionally believed that roller skis with wide wheels will be more stable than those with narrower wheels. This may be true in general terms, but two other factors are also important: the shape of the wheels and the position of the wheel axle relative to the bar (body) of the roller. Wheels with flat tops will be more stable than those with rounded tops, irrespective of the overall width of the wheel. So a flat topped wheel of about 3 cms wide will, of course, be more stable than a racing roller with very narrow, rounded-top wheels but might also be more stable than a 5 cm wide barrow wheel roller, if the wheels of the latter really are barrel shaped. Also, rollers where the axles are above the level of the bar will normally be more stable than those where the axles are in line with the bar (this is the so-called caster effect, and proof can be found elsewhere). This may well offset the differences caused by wheel width and shape.
An example of the stable caster effect, with wheel axle above the level of the bar
In this debate, it is often assumed that it is better, especially for beginners, to start on more stable rollers, the idea being that, in particular, this prevents novices from skiing with their feet too far apart or turned inwards, trying to compensate for the lack of stability. However, a number of other factors are relevant in this debate: existing balance skills, self-awareness, presence of a coach, type of boots and ultimate skiing aims. Using more stable rollers will not automatically lead to good foot position and, for example, using more stable boots and bindings on less stable rollers may lead to greater overall stability than less stable boots or shoes on more stable rollers.
1) Wide, fairly flat wheels that should be stable
2) Fairly Wide wheels where the domed shape makes them relatively stable
3) Narrow, racing wheels, which tend to be unstable
Moreover, if you are sufficiently self-aware to know what position should be adopted, are willing to work on developing good balance and foot/body position, or are likely to spend a lot of time being overseen by a coach who can correct any errors that creep in, there may be no more problems starting on less stable rollers than if you ski without these attributes on more stable skis. Three wheeled roller skis are not considered in this article but, even if these are usually considered to be inherently stable, some SSE coaches can attest to the fact that it is easy to develop bad foot positioning and poor balance even on these. Finally, if you want/hope to move quickly on to faster roller skis, starting by purchasing slower, more stable skis may, in the long run, be money wasted.
Fast, medium or slow rollers?
For the purposes of this guide, fast rollers will be considered to be racing rollers, medium rollers to be those roughly equivalent to skiing on snow and slow rollers to be those which are slower than skiing on snow. With this in mind, two conclusions could already be drawn in respect of racing rollers: they should be used only by people who have already developed good balance, body position and technical ability, and they should be used only for racing, not for training. The reasons for not using racing rollers for training are, usually, that they do not provide a sufficiently demanding physical workout and they are insufficiently representative of skiing on snow, requiring a somewhat modified technique. Both of these are true, in general, but if you want to be a dedicated roller ski racer, with no interest in snow skiing, these considerations may not actually apply.
Examples of fast to medium roller skis, l-r: racing skate with urethane wheels, classic with rubber wheels, skate with hard rubber wheels.
Examples of medium to slow rollers, l-r: combi with urethane wheels, classic with rubber wheels, combi with rubber wheels (note that the Start combi would be considered medium-fast in its skate version, while the Swenor classic can be fast, medium or slow depending on wheel speeds)
The situation is not, though, so clear cut between slow and medium rollers. It is conventionally considered that slow rollers are 'better' because they provide a more demanding physical workout and tend to be more representative of skiing on snow. These are not, however, always true. If the rollers are very slow, they simply do not glide long enough or far enough to be equivalent to on-snow skiing (except, possibly, in very slow snow conditions). So it is easy and tempting to develop a rather rapid, short skiing style simply to keep the rollers moving, rather than a slower, longer style, maximising glide and balance on each leg, which we should be developing.
It does not follow, either, that if you can ski at the same speed on rollers as you can on snow, the rollers are equivalent to snow skis. You are really looking at equivalence of physical effort and glide/stroke timing rather than ground speed, and this equivalence could be achieved with a pair of roller skis which are somewhat quicker (perhaps 5 – 7 kms/h quicker) than snow skiing. Taking a ski speed of 15 kms/h, if you were to aim for the same speed on rollers, you would either be using too little effort on faster rollers or too much effort on slower ones than you would be using on snow.
A strong case can be made for any skier to use both slow and medium rollers, the former to provide the necessary workout, the latter to develop technique, balance and body positioning similar to on-snow skiing. As with more or less stable skis, though, very slow rollers should be used only by those who already have sufficiently well developed technique and balance to prevent them developing a technique which works only on the roller skis and does not then transfer to snow skiing.
Several roller ski manufacturers provide wheels of different speeds, and changing wheels usually requires little more than a spanner. Having more than one set of wheels is not a cheap option (a set of wheels may be 50 % to 70 % of the cost of the whole roller ski) but if, for example, you want classic rollers with medium speed wheels for normal use, and fast wheels for occasional racing, then having two sets of wheels may be a good option.
Soft or hard wheels?
It is usually considered that harder wheels are quicker than softer ones and this is probably true. However, it is possible to find quite fast roller skis with softer (i.e. rubber) wheels, if the wheel bearings are good. The debate here is probably more about wheel wear than hardness. It is a bad idea to use softer wheels for skating, where they will wear quickly and be costly to repair, whereas softer wheels for classic roller skiing may give a 'feeling' closer to that of snow. Beyond these considerations, though, other factors such as stability and speed are probably more important than the type of wheel.
Skating, classic or both?
People often say that we should be spending 60 – 70 % of our time skiing classic and only 30 – 40 % skating, because the former gives a more demanding, thorough workout, especially for the upper body. This, however, results from the unstated assumption "Because, as a racing skier, you will be skiing both classic and skating, then ..."; if the starting position is "Because you do not want to do anything other than skating, then ...", the conclusion might be somewhat different. There are probably advantages in doing both, because it makes you into a 'complete' skier and because there are cross-over benefits from one style to the other. But in the same way as there is no obligation on a track runner to run on the roads or do cross-country, or a cycle time triallist to do road racing or mountain biking, there is no de rigueur requirement for any skier to do both styles.
It is probably true that it is easier to reach a reasonable level of competence in skating than it is to reach the equivalent level in classic skiing and, if the intention is to give a beginner a feeling of achievement and the ability to ski with others, this is an important consideration. If you want to do only skate skiing, then training by skating, together with other dry-land training, will give all the strength and fitness requirements.
On or off road?
There are now, on the market, a few what might be called “all-terrain” roller skis. Their big advantage is that, as their name implies, they can be used on many more surfaces, such as grass or gravel paths and where the rollers considered previously in this guide can. On asphalt, the roller skis referred to above give a smooth ride, while all-terrain roller skis with pneumatic tyres also roll well. Their two main disadvantages are that they tend to be heavy (heavier than snow skis and heavier than other roller skis) and, partly as a result of this, skiing on them does not feel much like skiing on snow. But if you live in an area without safe roads with a smooth, asphalt surface, or you simply enjoy skiing off-track, such skis widen your possibilities.
Two examples of all-terrain roller skis
So what rollers should I be using?
From the above analysis, it is difficult not to conclude that, if you are to be a complete, rounded cross-country skier covering all eventualities, you need six pairs of roller skis, one each for classic and skating of slow, medium and fast speeds, total investment around £1000 (and this doesn’t include all-terrain rollers!). The possibility of having different sets of wheels cuts this number down, and it is perfectly possible, with some makes of roller, to have three sets of classic wheels which would cover slow medium and racing speeds.
It is certainly true that if you are not intending to do out-and-out roller ski racing, there is no need to have racing (fast) roller skis and, even if you do, the number of classic roller ski races probably mean that there is no need to have fast classic racing skis, so this has already saved you £300+. In fact, in Britain, it is perfectly feasible to race on medium roller skis, especially those with harder, urethane wheels, if the aim is to have fun rather than necessarily winning.
It could be said that there is a need to have both medium and slow roller skis. At the medium level, you could be inclined to opt for two separate pairs, classic rollers with rubber wheels and skate skis with urethane wheels. Some prefer the 'feel' of rubber wheels for classic skiing and this combination avoids the problem of wheel wear (rubber wheels do not wear very quickly if used uniquely for classic skiing), although you may be reasonably happy with rollers such as the Start Combis, with urethane wheels, or the Marwe 590 with rubber wheels, used both for skating and classic, if you really only want one pair of roller skis. However, Start Combis can be a bit too fast to really be considered 'medium', while Marwe 590s would probably be considered ‘slow’. One further possibility (in addition to having wheels of different speeds), which can save some money, is to have a single pair of roller skis but more than one pair of wheels, changing one pair from skating to (ratcheted) classic when changing styles.
Few would find a single pair of rollers which are both sufficiently slow and can be used for classic and skating without the problem of rapid wheel wear associated with skating (Marwe 590 Combi rollers may be one exception to this). On balance, and for the average skier, if the options were limited to only one or two pairs of roller skis, you could go for medium skis rather than slow skis. Opinions may differ on this, but it may be better to train on rollers which are similar, in terms of technique, timing and balance, to skiing on snow than it is to use slow skis but, while getting a good workout, risk developing a sort of technique which does not then work on snow. There are, after all, many other ways of getting a good, ski-specific workout. One final consideration, in all this, is that if you land up with four (or six) different pairs of roller skis, when are you going to find the time to get out and practice on them all?
So, ultimately, a number of options exists. If budget and training time are limited, you could go for one or preferably two pairs of medium speed roller skis, with wide rubber wheels for classic and thinner but flat-topped urethane wheels for skating or, even, a single pair of Combi skis with urethane or harder rubber wheels. If the budget and training time are not so limited, then you could add one or two pairs of slow roller skis or different sets of wheels of different speed if you don’t mind changing wheels. If you have unlimited budget and unlimited training time, or if you are willing to build up your stock of equipment over a period of time, then why not go all the way and buy the five, six or more pairs needed to cover everything?
LINKS TO MANUFACTURERS AND RESELLERS
The photos used in the article are illustrative only. There are many different brands and types of roller skis available, and SSE does not endorse any particular ones.
Text - Adam Pinney. Updated – August 2014 AAP