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Roller skating15 Apr 2010 at 18:41 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Tuesday night, as I was lacing my skates before leaving the office, I was chatting with a colleague about roller-skate ball bearing maintenance and joking about riding my ball bearings to death. Actually, this is not a joke – I do ride them to death, as this photograph taken twenty minutes later attests.

When your ball bearings start looking like these – you may have waited too long before replacing them…

The good news is that when spilling their guts all over the pavement, ball bearings don’t seize too brutally – the inertia of my 94 kilograms helps a lot. But they do brake hard enough that powering on is not a realistic option … Consider yourself lucky if you don’t find yourself catapulted forward – your reflexes count less than the sheer luck of the event not affecting the front wheel.

My ball bearings lifecycle management process begins with the precious set of new ones reserved for racing. After a while, they are shifted to the long distance raid pool – where some performance must be counted on, but where time is not critical. Mediocre bearings from newly purchased skates enter at that stage. Later they end up in my urban skating pool, where constant shocks, humidity and utter lack of maintenance get the better of them after a few months of commuting – though some of them last much longer.

Sometimes the street soot accumulated after wet rides slows or even blocks rotation – but that is usually nothing that a good downhill ride won’t fix. At the end of their lives, the ball bearing are slack – I suspect that once they become slack they degrade exponentially.

I used to meticulously clean my ball bearings using this tedious method – but I no longer that that time as I don’t believe it is worth it. I recently discovered the Bont method of just shaking the ball bearings in petrol and two stroke oil at approximately 50:1 ratio and leaving them to dry on a towel… Now that is fast enough for me – I’ll try this method and see if I can extend my ball bearing’s life a bit.

Consumption and Cycling and Roller skating12 Oct 2009 at 0:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

As a preamble, let me declare that I am in no way affiliated with Princeton Tec and that I stand to gain or lose nothing by expressing my opinions about their products.

A year ago, I needed a light for both cycling and skating, powerful enough for seeing and being seen in urban traffic, and with the capability to rapidly switch between the two modes, which means helmet mounting. So I went searching the web. Among the most interesting finds was Bike Magazine’s December 2007′s test of eight LED trail lights – the Princeton Tec Switchback are HID not LED, but the tests were otherwise informative. I ended up with a shortlist of two candidates : the Niterider TriNewt and the Princeton Tec Switchback 3.

As MTBR’s light shootout illustrates, the Switchback 3 is far from being as powerful as the Nite Rider Trinewt, but it has twice the autonomy (six hours at full power) which is important because on a skating raid I want reliable lighting that can last the whole night. Its list price is 40% lower price and it features a blinking mode which I find useful for surviving the daily commute among zombie drivers with mobile phones. Considering the startled looks on people’s face when I ride across town, I’m guessing that the Switchback 3 is plenty powerful enough for that purpose – it even gets me well noticed in daytime, especially on blink mode.

But power is not everything. In addition to the power, the Switchback 3 has a well designed beam pattern with enough reach for moderately high speeds in the dark, and enough width close up for seeing what you are sticking your wheels into. The two outer beams provide the reach, and the diffused center beam provides the breadth. The regulated power supply ensures stable lighting power whatever the state of the lithium-ion battery (which charges in two hours). With battery, the Switchback 3 is 300 grams heavier than the Nite Rider Trinewt, but if I need to lose weight I’ll start with some body fat. In addition, the weight of the light itself is very low and the hefty remote battery can be stuck near the center of gravity, where its weight is not a concern.

The whole system is watertight – even the connectors are very well designed. During the year it endured heavy rains with no problem although one handed connection and disconnection is a bit difficult with wet gloves.

The lamp not only looks solid – it most definitely is very solid. Skating in a traffic jam, as I passed a stationary dump truck I ducked under its rear and forgot about the light topping my helmet, thus underestimating my height. The light smashed hard into the dump. While my head strapped to the helmet stopped my upper body, the rest continued and I fell down on my ass. The light took the full brunt of the shock of my skating 93 kilograms – backpack not included. That was enough to make it pop out of its otherwise sturdy quick-release tool-less helmet mount, but I was able to slide it back in right away and it is still as secure as before. There is now a dent in the frame, but the frame played its role right as the slightly recessed optics did not suffer the slightest. The system has been performing nominally ever since.

I love this light and I think that my security on the road has markedly improved since I have been wearing it. Here is another review from Crankfire and one from Metro Sucks – both go along the same lines.

My only gripe was that the extension cord was too short. For applications such as roller skating raids and even for exploring the catacombs of Paris (hint – mount it on the side of the helmet to avoid bumping into the low ceiling all the time) really for anytime a backpack is worn, the original extension cord is perfect for having the accumulator pack in the backpack and the lamp on the helmet.  But for strapping the battery on my bicycle frame while using the light on the helmet mount, it is far too short. Of course, mounting the lamp on the handlebars would not require an additional extension, but on top of the additional flexibility, helmet mounting allows me to point the beam towards the direction from which I want to attract attention – for cycling and skating, that provides appreciable extra security in dense urban traffic. So I went looking for an extension cord that is longer than the one supplied with the package, but did not find anything like that.

I asked Princeton Tec support for help and the extremly helpful Rob confirmed that instead of a longer cord I could chain two of the original ones. But I only had the one shipped with the lamp and searching for Princeton Tec Switchback extension cord only yielded pages of shops displaying the description of the accessories kit sold with the lamp. None of those seems to sell the cord itself.

I asked Rob again and his reaction utterly surprised me – he simply offered to ship me an additional extension cord… Free of any cost ! That is support above and beyond the call of duty. The Switchback’s price led me to expect good support, but I have often been disapointed by other companies pretending to care. That was not the case with Princeton Tec : those guys plainly turned a slight gripe into complete satisfaction – with a cord now long enough I have nothing left to complain about. Considering the cost of an extension cord, one could see their reaction as just good commercial sense – a happy and probably returning customer for a few dollars, but it is not everyday that I stumble upon a supplier with that sort of intelligence. It looks like I am not the only one to have had that sort of experience with them. Thank you Princeton Tec – next time I need a lamp for anything, you can be sure you’ll end up shortlisted at least !

Consumption and Roller skating17 Jan 2008 at 5:58 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Let us make it clear from the start that apart from the color and the number of wheels, those two skates have not much in common. The FSK Crossmax is my trusty urban assault vehicle, rugged, comfortable and quick to react to the unexpected. But on the open road, the Crossmax feels like short legs. So I took advantage of the winter clearance sale to acquire cheaply the Fila M100 I had been coveting. My feelings after a short test ride are about the same as anyone trying 100 millimeter wheels and carbon shoes for the first time, but I guess I’ll get used to the bigger and stiffer legs.

Since a picture is worth 10^3 words let me show you the graphical impression I had when I dropped the newcomers next to the incumbent pair :

Now you understand what I mean when I say “bigger legs”, especially if you realize that the Crossmax is anything but a toy skate.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy the potential for powerful pushes, sheer speed and efficiency in long distance raids, but I’ll definitely need to upgrade my maneuvering technique. And I’ll most certainly keep using the Crossmax for everything but the great wide open !

Roller skating10 Aug 2007 at 15:09 by Jean-Marc Liotier

“When I started skating I pronated terribly, all I did was chase the fastest skaters and tried to keep up at all costs even if this meant pronating for miles. This is the incorrect way to start speed skating”.

When I read that last year, I recognized myself and realized what was wrong with my skating… And luck has it that the author of this statement follows though with a complete step by step method to introduce beginners to speed skating.

One year later I am nowhere near mastering even a quarter of what is explained there, but I can already attest that even that quarter will definitely change your skating and pull you from eternal stagnation.

Just focusing on working the outside edges is a radical departure. It is something I still have to think about and it will still be a long time until it becomes automatic, but the rare times when I am doing this correctly I can feel that I am more efficient and that working on it is the way forward toward better skating.

The method is very well presented with plenty of detailed small video loops and a great progressive approach to make sure that everyone can scale that learning curve. So don’t delay – take a look at it, try the exercises and come back often, it’ll pay !

Roller skating10 Jul 2006 at 22:24 by Jean-Marc Liotier

This morning as I was cruising on my way to work some idiot had the bright idea of overtaking me and then tailgating me with an obviously hostile posture. Hopefully not on purpose he crushed my left skate under his front tire. As I went down writhing in pain he merrily went on his way and fled the scene like a true automobile weasel. In the shock of the moment I could not remember the make of his car and even less his license plate. But I do intend to go to the police and file a complaint against him in protest against violence toward rollerskaters. Meanwhile I indulged in a little open-letter style rant in french to blow some steam off…

Considering the beating that my left skate took I feel lucky that I got away with just a badly sprained ankle. I must even say that I am pleasantly surprised about how much my 2004’s FSK Crossmax protected my foot. Had the skate not shielded me and absorbed part of the stress my ankle would certainly be in a very sorry state with probably a few ripped ligaments. So now that I’m back in the market for a pair of urban mobility skates I shall certainly buy another pair of semi-rigid freestyle skates, and very possibly the same brand.

Since I won’t be skating for a while I have plenty of time to ponder my purchase…

Roller skating03 Jul 2006 at 14:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Last week-end I got a first taste of speed skating at Le Mans 24 hours thanks to the nice people at AstraZeneca who kindly invited me to be part of their team. I took a few pictures of the event from my point of view as a first-time racer.

I ran the 4.18 km lap in 9’22″ on average. Even after my fastest lap in 9’01″ I was far from exhausted… I discovered that the secret behind fast racing is not so much physical performance as tactical choices : riding with the right pack changes everything ! I knew that in theory but finding out in practice was an epiphany. The tactical dimension makes speed skating much more fun than I thought it would be.

I achieved those results on my pair of 2004′s FSK Crossmax with 237mm chassis. From what I understood, I did quite well considering the limitations of my hardware. My large T-shirt and baggy shorts were probably also a significant drag. So next year I’m getting proper racing skates and tight fitting clothes… Only pushing below 9″ shall satisfy my need for speed !

I’m glad I found an excuse to splurge on exotic hardware but I’m afraid my progress may have as much to do with improving my skating technique… Double push here I come ! Meanwhile I recommend the excellent howtos published by the highly competent LondonSkaters.

Roller skating01 Jul 2006 at 0:13 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The powerstraps on my pair of 2004’s FSK Crossmax have worn out a long time ago – friction from the buckle got the better of them. Apparently I am not the only one to have broken a strap on FSK skates. This article by Steve Davidson at Londonskaters describes how to replace it with a ratchet strap. But I was not aware of that solution at the time so I bought a pair of Myth “G-Strings” velcro straps – a type usually favored by quaders. After a year of use I must say they served their purpose quite well : ankle restrain has been adequate. The main drawback is the clumsy manipulation of a strap not anchored to the skate, especially the heel cable that was tricky to put in the right place in a hurry. The plastic covering on that cable soon gave way but the rest of the strap has been sturdy enough to remain functionnal in spite of moderate urban abuse. So overall I am quite happy about how those straps extended the life of my trusty roller skates.