Advanced Equipment Notes

  • Fitting, Moulding, and Lacing Your Boots

    Having boots that fit your feet properly is important in speed skating, just as in any ice sport. If the boots are too big, your feet will slide around in the boot and you will not have good ankle support. Speed skate boots need to fit snugly. The tendency for most skaters is to get boots that are too big, because they feel better when you first put them on. If you are thinking of buying your own boots, please discuss this with one of the coaches first. Once you are in the Competitive program, it is time to be thinking of purchasing your own boots and blades.

    To try on boots, you should wear a thin pair of smooth socks as they are best for skating in. Avoid wool socks or thick sport socks. Socks with ribs or bumps will often end up digging into your feet.

    If you are buying skates, send in a tracing of your foot made when you are standing evenly on your feet. They will use this to size up your skates for you. For the rental skates, we can estimate the starting size from your foot size. The sizing of speed skates varies a little from manufacturer to manufacturer so it is essential that you try on the rental skates for size.

    Once you have an approximate size, unlace the skate all the way and lift the tongue out of the way. A common error often made when trying on a pair of skates is not to unlace it properly. If the skater before you had a thinner foot, when you try to put your foot in it feels too small when in fact it could even be too big. Now, stand up and put some weight in the skate. Your toe should come close to, but not touch the end of the skate. Close means less than a centimetre. Make sure that your heel is right back in the skate when doing this: if it is not, you will end up with a skate that is too big. It is important that your skate holds your heel snugly so that it doesn’t move and you have good support.

    This first step gives you a good idea of boot size. At this point, you should re-lace the skate (see about lacing below). When you do this, the ankle may dig in. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is simply that speed skates are designed to fit snugly around the ankle and it may feel different from other skates. The second reason is that the top of boot in speed skates (and in some cases, the whole boot) is heat mouldable and may have been adjusted to fit the ankle of the previous skater. You can also mould the skate to fit your ankle to give the most comfortable fit and the best ankle support (see about moulding below). Ideally, when you tie up the laces at the top of the boot, there should be about 2 cm of space between the two rows of eyelets. If not, when the boot stretches a little with use, there may not be enough to take up the slack. With the rental skates, this is not always possible and occasionally a small piece of high density foam is required to be added to the tongue to correct this problem. Once you have a good fit on the boot, if you take care of them following the directions in the following section, they will serve you well for the next year or if they are your own boots, for many years.

    The blades should be of a size and set up to suit each individual skater. The sections of this guide on blades will give you more details, but the coaches can assist you in selecting and setting up your blades for you.

    • Lacing Your Skates

      There are several different ways of lacing your speed skates. Some of this is personal preference, some of this depends on your current speed skating level, and some of this depends on the particular boots that you have.

      The most important thing is to start with good quality laces that are of the correct length. The exact length depends on the size of your boots and the style of lacing that you choose. The key is to have enough lace to tie up the skates properly without having long ends or loops that you can get tangled in or trip over. It is your responsibility to maintain your laces in good shape and replace them as needed, even in the rental skates. You want to use thick boot laces or hockey skate laces. In general, avoid the really thick hockey skate laces as they don’t tie very well with speed skates.

      The first question is to decide if you are going to use one or two laces on your skates. The one lace system uses a single lace for all the eyelets. This is generally the simplest and works well for younger skaters. As you get faster and your skates get bigger, most skaters move to a double lacing system. One lace is used from the bottom up until the notch in the eye-holes. A second shorter lace (usually made by cutting a longer lace) is used in the top two holes. This allows the skater to adjust the tightness of each part of the skate separately.

      The second decision is how the laces are threaded through the eyelets. Most people are used to lacing the same way as they lace their shoes. That is, the lace is brought through the eyelet from inside to the outside. To tighten the laces, you grab and pull upwards, just as you would do with your shoes. When it comes time to loosen the laces, you just undo the bow and pull the eyelets apart. This is the system that most people are used to, so it comes naturally to them and it is easy to undo the skates. The problem with this method of lacing is that the laces are relatively free to slide so that it is difficult to adjust the tension along the length of the foot and the lace can loosen up if the knot slips a little or the lace stretches.

      The second and preferred way of lacing is to thread the laces from the outside to the inside of the eyelets. Using this system, the lace binds between the tongue and the eyelet so that the lace doesn’t slip as you are tying it up or as the laces stretch. This system has two apparent disadvantages for many users. First, instead of the usually pulling up on the laces to tighten, you have to pull sideways across the skate to the opposite side as you tighten. This is not the way we are used to tying our shoes and it can seem awkward at first. The second disadvantage is that you have to lift up on almost every eyelet as you undo the laces to let them loosen the length of the skate. However, you can adjust the tightness as you move up the skate and the laces won’t slip as you tighten them. With younger children, adults have to be careful not to overtighten the laces using this system as it is quite easy to do. If you are using a two-lace system, the top lace is laced in the usual “shoe” manner. In all cases (i.e. one or two laces), the top eyelet is always laced from the inside to the outside, so that the bow is on top.

      If you have trouble lacing your skates, please talk to one of the coaches.

    • Moulding Your Skates

      The top part of all the rental skates can be moulded to make them more comfortable and a better fit. To mould the skates, they must first be heated. The safest thing to use to heat the top of the skates is a hairdryer. If you hairdryer is not powerful enough, you can use a heat gun. However, you need to be very careful with a heat gun as it can get too hot and burn the leather or otherwise damage the skates. IF YOU NEED TO MOULD A PAIR OF SKATES AND YOU HAVE NOT DONE SO PREVIOUSLY, PLEASE ARRANGE A TIME WITH ONE OF THE COACHES OR EXPERIENCED SKATERS TO ASSIST YOU.

      Wear a pair of leather gloves or some other form of hand protection when heating the skate. Apply just enough heat to make the area around the top of the ankle soft and pliable. Then, place the skate on your foot. Make sure it is not too hot when you do this, or you will burn your ankle. Press the top of the boot to fit your ankle and then tie up the boot so that it fits snugly but not too tightly. Allow the boot to cool so that the top of the boot becomes hard again. When it is hard, take the boot off. It is best to heat and mould one skate at a time. You may find that you have to do it a couple of times to get the boot just right or at some point during the year. However, do not repeatedly heat and mould the skates. If you are having a problem, talk to your coach.

      Some skates that you purchase are totally heat mouldable. That is, not just the ankle area but the whole of the boot can be moulded. None of our current rental boots fall into this category and so the following directions should not be followed. When boots are totally heat mouldable, there are other more extreme measures that can be followed to mould the boots. If you have them, follow the manufacturer’s directions to mould the boots or contact them for more information. The general procedure is as follows. First, remove the blades, all bolts and other removable accessories, and the laces. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F (some skates such as the Bont Boxer recommend a lower temperature – remember to follow the manufacturer’s directions). Once it is at temperature, turn the oven off. Put the skates right side up on a cookie sheet and slide into the oven. Leave for 20-30 minutes and then check to see if they are soft and pliable. You don’t want them too soft nor do you want to burn them. Once they are mouldable, remove them and adjust the parts of the skate that you want to adjust. When they are cool enough but still pliable, put your foot in to make sure that the fit is right. If it is, allow them to cool on your feet. Do not stand up in the skates while they are cooling and be careful not to pull hard where the leather meets the boots. The glue will also soften with heating and you don’t want to pull them apart. You should be able to re-lace the skates and tie snugly (but not too tight) once they are out of the oven. This will help them hold their shape. You may have to repeat the procedure during the year so that the skates take the new shape well. If you have to repeat the heating to make them soft, always heat the oven first and then turn it off. If you put the skates in with the oven on, the hot elements could seriously damage the skates.

  • Blades

    (Based on previous articles by Mike Murray, Coach and former National Team Member and Ian Henninger, former Executive Director, OSSA but changed to reflect the opinions of former SSPEI Head Coach Alastair Cribb)

    Looking for the right blade for your skates? Why do some blades hold a sharp edge longer than other blades? Why and what benefit is a harder steel blade? How important is the thickness of the blade? What about offset? What about rocker? What about bending? Should I buy my own blades? These are some of the important questions asked about blades.

    • Hardness & Thickness

      The hardness of blades generally runs from a Rockwell of 50-65, which is not a big difference for performance purposes. The harder the blade (the higher the Rockwell reading) the longer it holds an edge and the slightly better the glide. However, it also takes longer to sharpen. The harder the blade the more brittle it is and the greater the chance of its breaking.

      Bi-metal blades are not made of two metals but they do have two different hardness. The bottom of the blade is harder for a better edge and finer grain than the top, which is fastened in the tube and is not as brittle. Many of the top short track blades offer both single metal and bi-metal blades.

      The thicker the blade is, the less chance of it bending or breaking. There is a balance between the amount of surface area in contact with the ice and the amount the blade digs into the ice. In principle, a thicker blade may glide slower than a thinner blade due to the slightly larger face in contact with the ice, increasing friction. However, the thicker blade does not cut as deep into the ice or ruts as it distributes the force to the ice over a greater area, thereby reducing the amount it cuts into the ice and hence its resistance. If you are heavier, you are more likely to bend a blade and have the blade dig further into the ice. In this case, you may want to have a 1.25 mm blade. Otherwise, you can go down to 1.1 mm blade.

      The differences in the thickness and hardness are relatively minor however and are normally not the main reason for selecting a blade.

    • Blade Length

      Blade lengths range from approximately 12-17 inches. There are many items to consider in determining the best blade length for you. Your body weight, foot size and technical ability are all important factors that must be considered. For younger skaters, it is best to stick with the shorter blade lengths (12″ to 14″). As you get heavier and increase your speed, a longer blade length will be desired (15″ to 17″). You should contact your coach to assist you in determining your proper blade length.

    • Blade Offset

      What exactly is offset? An offset skate is a specialized speed skate designed for short track racing. This skate is designed to allow the maximum amount of body lean by the skater in an effort to counter balance the extremely large centrifugal force acting on the skater in the tight turns. The blade is “offset” on the boot; in other words, it is not centred under the foot of the boot. The blade is moved slightly to the left of the boot, which allows the skater to lean further without the left side of the boot contacting the ice. If the boot does contact the ice, the blade then loses contact with the ice resulting in a fall. Most short track speed skates now come with detachable blades that can be moved, allowing the skater to create a custom offset.

      How effectively a skater sets the offset will directly impact on his/her performance. The general concept that too much offset will have as negative effect on performance as not enough offset still holds true. Not enough offset may cause a high calibre skater to fall at high speeds due to the contact of the boot with the ice. Too much of an offset will reduce the efficient transfer of power to the ice surface particularly on the straights and will have a negative affect on the balancing skills of the skater. A skater must find the optimal level of offset where performance is maximized.

      Every skater will have a different amount of offset depending on personal preference. Factors affecting the amount of offset include technical ability of the skater, the maximum speed the skater can attain, and the physical size and leg angles of the skater. As a skater’s maximum speed increases, the amount of offset will increase. A skater racing the 400m in 55 seconds will require little, if any, offset while a skater racing the 500m in under 50 seconds may require significant offset of his/her blades.

      Finally, the physical body build of the skater is an important factor. When comparing skaters of equal ability, the skater who is taller and heavier and skates in a lower body position (upper leg to lower leg angle equal to 90 degrees) will require more offset as the angle between the skate and the ice decreases at full extension of the leg. As the length of the leg increases and, as the lowering of the centre of gravity of the skater increases, the skater will require more of an offset than that of a skater who is shorter and skates out of a higher body position (upper leg to lower leg angle greater than 90 degrees).

      So, how do you adjust your offset? Let’s start with some general rules. With little or no lean in the corner, there is no advantage to the offset blade. As a skater progresses and starts to lean on the corner, then an offset blade may become of assistance. The general tendency however is for the skaters to want too much offset too soon. The most common reason for boots hitting the ice in young skaters is incorrect corner technique (generally pushing back instead of perpendicular to the corner). If offset is used to correct this instead of correcting the technique, this will create problems as the skater improves and increases their speed.

      Once a skater starts to use an offset blade, it is important to adjust the blade appropriately and to keep track of the offset. Thus, the offset of the blade must be marked. This is so that if the skate blade slips, we know where it started and also so that if adjustment is required, we know where we are starting from. There are several ways to mark the offset. If you are using rental skates, please do not write on the boot or score the bottom of the boot to mark the offset. This becomes very confusing once a number of marks have been made on the boot. The best way to mark an offset is to use a small strip of tape. You can either put this alongside each blade bracket to mark its location or put it under the bracket and write on the tape.

      In order to find the optimal amount of offset in a minimal time, a very methodical approach must be followed. This process should be conducted early in the season so as to be completed before the major competitive events of the year. Once the optimal offset is confirmed, it should remain constant for the season unless major changes occur in your maximum speed or technique. To begin the process of finding the optimal offset set both blades closer to the centre than you think is optimal. Place a piece of the black electrical tape (the edge of the tape on the edge of the bracket) on the bottom of the boot. Do this for both skates on the front and back brackets. During a high-speed training session, see if you are rubbing or hitting your boot on the ice in the corners. If your boot is making contact with the ice, offset the blade to the left by a millimetre. Move or mark the tape to reflect the change. If contact is not being made between the boot and the ice move the blade and tape closer to the centre of the boot. The tape acts as a reference point to mark where the blade was when you go to adjust the blade. The tape will also allow the skater to take his/her blades off for any reason and allow the blades to be put back on with the correct amount of offset. When offsetting the blade, be sure to move both the front and the back of the blade, in a 2-to 1 ratio (front and back). The back, in most cases, will remain more centred than the front. To test if the offset is enough, the skater must skate at maximum speed. The real test comes in actual competition as the extra pressure and adrenalin will push the skater to faster speed.

      Remember, most skaters put too much offset on their blades. Make sure, in discussion with your coach, that you are not trying to compensate for incorrect corner technique with an offset blade. Correct your technique first, then adjust your offset. As always, consult your coach for clarification and guidance in this important process.

  • As a result of a freak accident leading to a bent blade in an international competition, bending blades is now a part of speed skating. For younger skaters, a bent blade is not necessary nor even desirable. However, as skaters progress, a bent blade can be of great assistance in skating the corners at higher speeds.

    So, what is a bent blade? When we say a blade is bent, we mean that it has been carefully bent with a special blade bending instrument along its length. The bend on both blades is in the same direction and follows the turn of the corner for left hand turns. The bend is a good news/bad news issue. It does assist you to be more stable in the corners and it enhances your ability to skate tight turns. The advantage comes from the increased contact of the blade with the ice as a skater leans in on the corner. This gives more contact for grip and power on the push and the bend means that the skate now wants to track around the corner. There are three main disadvantages. For younger skaters, this means that the skates will not turn to the right as easily and the skates can have a tendency to track left when they try to glide straight. We want our younger skaters to be versatile skaters, being able to turn in all directions and to have a good sense of control of their skates. For older skaters, the left skate is bent for the corner and a lean to the left, so that on the straightaway, when you lean to the right to push with the left skate, you have less contact of the blade with the ice and lose some power. Further, the bent blade is less efficient during the glide phase of the straights. The benefits of the enhanced stability and turning capacities of the bent blade outweigh the very slight decrease in performance on the straight-aways for an accomplished skater. However, until you have mastered the corner and have a good lean, a bent blade can even hinder your performance. The third disadvantage is that the bend is one more thing that must be monitored and corrected as a skater progresses and as the bend is changed with time. An over-bent blade can not only cause a significant loss of performance on the straight-away, but can cause a skater to over-turn on the corner. Bending and re-bending skates can eventually cause a blade to lose strength and the ability to hold its bend.

    The bottom line is that individual technique is the most important first step. Bending blades is something that is handled by the coaching staff and Equipment Manager. The Club has a blade bender and special gauges for monitoring the bend. Therefore, we don’t provide a description of the process and technique here. Do not try to bend your own blades. If you have concerns about the bend in your skates, talk to your coach.

    The bend in a blade is unique for each individual, and depends on a variety of factors, a little bit of science, and a little bit of art. As a skater progresses, we may first increase the bend and then straighten the skate as they develop more lean. Once skaters have good technique, then bending blades becomes more important. A change in the rocker (intentional or otherwise) may also require adjustments to the bend. Remember, having no bend is better than having a bad bend or too much bend. In fact, if the bend is too much, the blade will then touch the ice on the front and rear portions of the blade when skating at high speeds (see above for how to check that your rocker and bend match). This will definitely have a very adverse affect on your turning performance.

  • Rockers

    (the end-to-end curvature of the bottom surface of the blade)

    The rocker of a skate is the amount that the blade deviates from being perfectly flat. A hockey skate has a far larger rocker than a speed skate and a short track skate has a larger rocker than a long track skate. A short track rocker generally ranges from 7-9 meters in radius. It is normally a constant radius with the high point at the mid point of the blade. A template of your proper rocker is a good idea to provide a precise check. So, at the beginning of the season, track your rocker on a piece of paper as a reference. A poor rocker is one of the most common problems skaters have with their blades. It is very easy to change the rocker in just a few sharpenings if it is not done properly. The Club has gauges that can be used to check your rocker. You can also purchase your own. Competitive skaters who are sharpening their skates regularly should check their rocker at least once a month, and preferably every few sharpenings.

    So, what should your rocker be? A flat rocker (bigger rocker radius) is the best for gliding, but a bigger rocker (smaller rocker radius) allows better turning and mobility. In general, for skaters at the level of our Club, a rocker of 8 or 9 meters is appropriate. Rockers of 6 or 7 may also be used as your speed increases. Just what the rocker is depends on your skating style, how fast you skate, and how much bend you have in your blade. You should consult with your coach if you are interested in changing or adjusting your rocker. If you are having trouble turning or if you find yourself turning too easily, you should check your rocker. A quick way to check that your bend and rocker are not seriously mismatched is to put the blade on a perfectly flat surface. Slowly lay the skate over as if you were leaning into the corner. The skate blade should lay down flat against the surface (the surface must be absolutely flat – be careful because many seemingly flat surfaces are in fact warped). It is okay if the ends of the blade remain off the surface, but if the centre of the blade lifts up leaving a visible gap, then the rocker and the bend don’t match. This will result in the blade losing a grip on the ice in the corner and the skater may fall.

    You can correct or adjust your rocker by hand by adjusting the manner in which you sharpen you blades. Skates can also be sent away to have a specific rocker ground into the blades. There is currently no one on PEI with the appropriate equipment to rocker long blades and they must be sent away. Therefore, when required, we generally adjust rockers by hand grinding.

    • High Points, Flat Spots & Hollows

      For most speed skates, a straight edge and the skate blade held together should contact each other only for two centimeters. If they contact for more than this distance, the skate has a “flat spot” and if, upon holding the skate and straight edge up to the light, light can be seen between the ends of the flat spot, the skate has a “hollow”. You can also look for flat spots and hollows using the curved rocker guide and sometimes by holding the two blades together. Flat spots and hollows are to be avoided because they interfere with the natural action of the skate blade on the ice, causing lack of control and an inefficient push. If you have a hollow on your skate blade, it becomes almost impossible to turn properly and even the straight-ways can become difficult.

      Hollows and flat spots can be both visually and audibly detected. If a straight edge makes a clicking noise or jerks when it is rotated over the surface of the blade, it indicates that the normal curvature of the blade has been altered. A normal blade will allow the straight edge to pass soundlessly along its length.

      The high point of the skate blade is the point where the blade has the most steel. The position of this high point is critical as this is the place where the force of the leg push is transmitted into the ice. The high point should be directly under the center of gravity of the skater when in the skating position.

      This spot can be located in a couple of ways. A visual sight can be made along the side of the blade. The high point can be estimated by this method very quickly. Another way is to place the straight edge along the skate blade and find the center where it touches the blade with an equal gap at each end.

    • How to Correct Flat Spots & Hollows

      Proper sharpening (see section on sharpening) will ensure that a rocker stays constant and that the high point will not move. If you are faced with a pair of skates that have a hollow or a flat spot along the rocker, it is necessary to have an understanding of what you are facing and how to remedy it. When the rocker was first made on your skates, a special and very precise rockering machine was used. These machines are available at all training centers and in a few clubs. If your rocker needs adjusting, a very precise and time efficient way of correcting the problem is to use one of these machines. The second way is to grind the blades by hand. Flat spots can be eliminated by increasing the curvature of the blade at the ends of the flat spot. Mark out the flat spot with tape on the tube so that you know exactly the extent of the problem. Remember you are trying to make a flat segment of blade into a curved segment of blade. If the flat spot is towards the back of the skate, sharpen over the back end of the flat spot, towards the front of the blade. Do not grind on the flat spot itself as this will only increase the problem.

      Remember, what you take off on one end must be removed on the other end also in order to retain the overall curve of the blade. With flat spots, a little spot-specific grinding with the coarse side of the big stone is usually all that is needed to restore a proper rocker. Check frequently with the straight edge. When it passes smoothly and continuously over the blade, the flat spot has been removed. Do a complete sharpening after the corrective work has been done.

      For a hollow, the process is similar except that it is more concentrated. A hollow is essentially two high points with a low spot between them. What you want to do is to remove the high point which is closest to the end of the blade by grinding down from that point to the end of the blade.

      Marking the extent of the hollow with tape will help you to focus your grinding attempts. Never grind in the hollow part. All you are trying to do is to reduce the second high point to a normal curvature.

      If the high point is too far to the rear of the skate, it can be moved forward by grinding the blade from the high point back to the end of the steel. This will lower the back part of the skate blade and push the high point forward. If the high point is too far towards the toe of the skate, it can be moved backward by grinding over the high point and the blade from there to the toe.

      Remember when doing this that you must also grind down the other portion of the blade so that you do not get one end being ground down more than the other. It does not take much grinding to move the position of the high point, so check frequently either with a straight edge or visually.