I’m posting this on my blog to avoid text-dumping in a roller derby fresh meat group on Facebook. When I upgraded my roller skates at the beginning of this year, I did a lot of research on the subject of skate plates, which I’m going to post a text summary of here.
For those who are here from my literary posts and who may be unfamiliar with the term, the “plate” is the main mechanical part of a roller skate – it’s the metal or plastic part that runs along the bottom of the skate. To the plate are typically attached two trucks, which are an axle-and-spindle arrangement that allow the wheels to turn at an angle to the direction of travel. The whole arrangement resembles a simplified diagram of a car’s undercarriage.
Where I mention weight numbers, these are for my skates – a size 8 Riedell 495 boot.
Most of my links will be to FastGirlSkates.com – where links go to a different shop it’s because FGS doesn’t carry the plate in question. Regardless, I encourage you to shop local; if you have a roller derby pro shop in town (like Derby4All in St. Paul) support them first!
First of all are the low-quality nylons – these are the Powerdyne Thrust (if you’ve got an entry-level Riedell skate, you’ve probably got these on it), Sure-Grip Probe (see above but substitute “Sure-Grip” for “Riedell”), and Pilot Viper. They’re not “bad” in the sense of being deficient – I skated on the Thrust for a session and nylon plates ARE more forgiving than aluminum for a complete newbie – but they all have the same flaws – they twist (seriously, I can grab my Thrust plate by the wheels while attached to my skate, and visibly twist it), and they’ll eventually break, especially if you’re a heavier skater. Any of these will at best be a sidegrade from what you’ve got right now.
The higher-quality nylon plates (the Pilot Eagle and Crazy Apollo) use either a stiffer plastic (Pilot) or fiberglass stiffeners (Crazy) to produce a plate with better torsional strength. A lot of blockers apparently also use the RC Sports Sunlite plate, which is a super-light nylon plate stiffened through use of a lattice construction down the plate. It’s designed to be used en masse by roller rinks so it’s probably a fairly tough plate – it needs to survive abuse by completely unskilled skaters after all. The Sunlite is also cheap; you can buy three Sunlites for the $140 cost of a Sure-Grip Avenger Aluminum.
The second-cheapest alloy plate I found regardless of material was the Sure-Grip Invader, the original 45-degree plate. This one’s the second-heaviest plate I found at 519 grams. The Invader is ok if you need a 45 degree plate and cost is your primary concern. Since cost is probably NOT going to be your primary concern, let’s leave this one in the mists of history and move on. I’ve noticed that with the exception of the PowerDyne/Grn Monster Arius, 45 degree plates are universally heavier than 10 degree, because they need a longer and stiffer (and therefore heavier) kingpin to resist cracking.
Another low-end alloy plate is the PowerDyne Triton, which is by far the heaviest plate I’ve seen at 559 grams. The Triton comes with a number of entry-level Riedell and Grn Mnstr skates. If you’re starting on this, literally anything you can change to will be lighter.
Just $10 more expensive is the Sure-Grip Avanti Aluminum – for $100-or-less, this one’s a champ. The Avanti is very light and stiff – it’s a 10 degree plate that uses the same box construction as the 45 degree Avenger (get to that in a moment). I haven’t skated on this but it’s very similar to the Avenger and presumably my comments about the Avenger will apply to it except where marked.
At $120-140, the Sure-Grip Avenger Aluminum is my current plate (with 7.75% Minnesota sales tax I paid just under $130, but your price may vary depending on what kind of deal your store can get with its distributor). The Avenger is light (I’m wearing a size 5 Avenger plate in a traditional mount, the Size 5 in aluminum comes in at 471 grams), fast and agile. The received wisdom is that a 45-degree truck is less stable but more maneuverable than a 10-degree one (experienced skaters that transition to the 45 call this “squirrely”); the lesson to be learned from this received wisdom is, work on your ankle strength and balance! There’s something to be said for this received wisdom; I can tell when I’m starting to get tired because my skate will start wobbling when I’m doing one-foot glides, but when I’m fresh or skating on both feet there’s no significant difference. From an appearance standpoint the starkly angular lines and slick black finish of the Avenger Aluminum are a serious winner.
Rounding out the sub-$160s (and I set the bar at $160 to include this) is the PowerDyne Rival. The Rival I did a fair amount of research on because it was, well, my rival to the Sure-Grip Avenger when I was necking down my choices. The Rival is a lovely plate – it’s not quite as inherently agile as the Avenger, but it’s certainly not a slouch, and like all aluminum plates it’s quite stiff and therefore translates much more of your stride into forward motion than a nylon. It’s also a very durable plate – it’s a touch heavier than the Avenger, but like the Avenger it’s made of fairly thick cast aluminum and it’ll take you beating the hell out of it for several years. I know many rollergirls who roll on the PowerDyne Rival – it’s a tough competition grade plate, and it’s just gorgeous with a powder-grey finish.
$180 AND UP:
At $190, Sure-Grip has the Avanti and Avenger again, this time in their trademark magnesium. Their magnesium plates are substantially lighter than anything else on the market, but mechanically the Avanti and Avenger in magnesium are identical to the same plates in aluminum, so my remarks on them earlier also apply to their more expensive variants. Tear O’Bite of the Nashville Roller Girls rolls on Avenger Magnesiums. Sure-Grip’s magnesium plates come in white and look really attractive next to the black aluminum Avenger.
I have a LOT less information on plates above $200 because I mostly ruled out skates above this price point early on in my information search, but here’s what I have.
For $200 we have a pair of plates with oddball kingpin angles: The 16 degree Pilot Falcon and 20 degree Crazy Venus (in anodized aluminum in a number of gorgeous colors for just $20 more). What little I’ve been able to find about these plates seems to suggest that they’re a modestly happy medium between the 10 degree and 45 degree plates, but I’d like to hear more from people who actually skate on them.
The $225 Roller Derby Elite ProOctane 7000 is an interesting one because for years and years, roller derby skaters have been warned away from skates and equipment manufactured by the Roller Derby company (which gets its name because it was founded by Leo Seltzer, who invented roller derby in the first place back in the 1930s), but their Elite line appears to be stepping up the quality to be equal to what Riedell, Sure-Grip, Bont, and other skate companies are offering. Time will tell.
The Pilot Falcon Plus at $250 is exactly what it says: A Falcon, plus – the plus in this case being the adjustable truck pivot pin.
At $300 is a plate that a lot of top-level skaters roll on: The PowerDyne Reactor Pro. It’s a very lightweight laser-cut aircraft aluminum plate, so I feel pretty confident in saying that if you buy this one it will last you a long, long time. The Reactor was developed to address problems with its predecessor, the Revenge, which was infamous for cracking and cost PowerDyne/Riedell a lot in terms of reputation for making top-level plates.
The most expensive plate that I’ve looked at is the $350 PowerDyne/Grn Mnstr Arius. As skate plates go you’re looking at the Lamborghini: Uncompromising top-level performance, for the price of a fairly good low-end bicycle.
The nice thing about skates is that even super-high-performance skates are still relatively cheap; you can buy a complete custom top-level skate with all the best parts for under $1200 (high-end bikes cost twice that much, easily), and that there are competition-grade options available at many price points. Now go out and build yourself some badass skates!