Printed: Thursday, February 23, 2006
Frame Study
   Skater Report Charlotte, NC
   Friday, February 25, 2005

Big Wheels Keep on Turning

By Mark Farnsworth

Prior to 2004, it was rare to see skaters racing on anything other than 80mm or 84mm wheels. This past year, however, the frame and wheel market exploded. We now see skaters winning big races on 4x100, 5x90, 5x88, and hybrid wheel frames. I dont believe a single big outdoor race was won this year on the old 5x80 wheel setup. Many skaters still compete on 84mm wheels, but it seems like when it comes to race results bigger is better.

Im a fairly decent skater, but I dont have the technique, strength, and fitness of an Eddy Matzger, Chad Hedrick, or Theresa Cliff. If bigger is better for the top pros, is it also better for skaters like me with more limited athletic abilities? All season, I considered transitioning from 84mm wheels to a bigger wheel setup, but I put off upgrading because I didnt want to mess with equipment that was working well for me. I feared that making a radical change would require me to learn how to skate all over again.

Other members of my skating club shared my concern, so we decided to try and answer this question by performing a study that would put three big wheel skate frames to the test. I carefully designed the study to help us learn about the initial performance effects of switching to these frames. We used test frames on loan from the manufacturers, so performance as it relates to long-term adaptation could not be tested. Both SubZero and TRU REV sent frames for us to use in the study.

SubZero sent a 5x90 frame, as well as an interesting 90/80 hybrid design. The 5x90 frame is very light with an almost skeleton-like construction. The Subzero 90/80 frame is a high/low/high hybrid configuration. The design puts one 90mm wheel in front, two 80mm wheels in the middle, and two 90mm wheels in the back (i.e., 90-80-80-90-90). This results in a stack height that is lower than most other big wheel setups and is only one centimeter longer than a 5x84 frame. Both of the SubZero frames we tested are CNC milled and polished to provide a chrome-like finish.

SubZero 5x90

TRU REV sent us one of their 4x100 frames. Its manufactured from a solid block of aluminum and sports a cool, black annodized look. It was the lightest frame of the three we tested and was designed to accommodate standard bolt spacing. TRU REV also makes a 4x100 frame with 195mm bolt spacing, but since all the skaters participating in the study had boots drilled for standard bolt spacing we were unable to test their other 4x100 frame. TRU REVs design uses optimized wheel spacing to provide a stack height that is lower than most other 4x100 frames, but because it works on a boot with standard bolt spacing its longer than the other 4x100 frames on the market. Even with the increased length, however, the TRU REV 4x100 is still shorter than the SubZero 5x90 frame and only a little longer than a 5x84 frame.

TRU REV 4x100

To measure the performance effects of the frames, I selected a section of road that started with 1 miles of smooth pavement, followed by mile of very rough pavement, and then 1 mile of moderately smooth pavement. The course had no steep up or downhills. The majority of the terrain was slightly uphill or slightly downhill, with a bit more uphill than downhill overall. Two local skaters, Dave Wysochanski and Mark Sibert, joined me to help test the frames over the course of two weekends. Table 1 shows the stats for the three test skaters.

NAME WT HT Current Equipment
Mark Farnsworth 153 5'11 84-80-84-84-84
Dave Wysochanski 171 6'11 5x80
Mark Sibert 190 6 100-84-100-100

We used the first weekend to establish baseline data using our existing equipment. We each did four time trials on our current frame setups with 20-40 minutes of rest between each time trial. The results of these time trials helped us understand our individual response to fatigue, i.e. how much slower we each got with each successive time trial. We would use to this data to correct for the effects of fatigue when we time trialed the following weekend on the test equipment.

On our second weekend of testing, we each performed another four time trials on the same course. We all skated one time trial a piece on each of the test frames and a fourth time trial on our own equipment to act as a control for differing temperature and weather conditions. We spent about 30 minutes becoming acquainted with the test frames prior to each time trial.

In Table 2, I compare the results from our time trials on the test frames to the results from the corresponding time trials that we did on the first test day using our own equipment. For example, on the second test day I skated on the TRU REV 4x100 frame for my second time trial out of four. I compared this time to the time I got on the second time trial of the first test day where I skated on my existing equipment. After accounting for the effects of wind and fatigue, I was 3% faster on the TRU REV 4x100 frame than I was on my original equipment. For simplicitys sake, I am only providing the results of the total analysis in this article. I did, however, collect everyones data in a spreadsheet. If you are interested in seeing precisely how I arrived at these conclusions, feel free to send me an email at [email protected]

Skater SubZero 90/80 TRU REV 4x100 SubZero 5x90
Mark Farnsworth 104% 103% 99%
Dave Wysochanski 103% 100% 97%
Mark Sibert 102% 101% 98%

We performed a total of twenty-four time trials on the same course throughout the study. Our results showed a consistent performance increase with the SubZero 90/80 and TRU REV 4x100 frames. The three of us found the SubZero 90/80 frame to be the best performing by a slight margin. The results might have been different if the skaters had been given more time to adapt to the frames.

Outside of our formal testing, I asked the study participants and some other skaters to give me their general impressions. From the start, I suspected that different skaters might prefer different frames based on their physical build, individual skating style, and existing equipment. The impressions of those who tested the frames confirmed this theory.

Tom Welch, for example, is an experienced indoor skater who tried out the SubZero 5x90 frame at indoor speed practice. At six feet tall and 190lbs, Tom is a big guy who felt right at home when he tried out the SubZero 5x90 frame indoors. He experienced almost no adaptation time and did a hard, two hour indoor practice on the frames without feeling any slower or hesitating on his crossovers. Tom felt that the big wheels and extra length allowed him to fully utilize his size and power and gave him more leverage in the turns. Tom loved the way the frames felt for indoor pack skating, training races, and relays.

Mark Sibert, who was already skating on a 3x100 frame (i.e.100-80-100-100), commented that he felt most comfortable on the TRU REV 4x100 because it was closest in height to his current setup. Dave Wysochanski, the other study participant, felt most comfortable on the SubZero 90/80 because it was most similar to his normal configuration, the traditional 5x80 frame.

For me, the SubZero 90/80 felt similar to a standard 84 frame but with improved roll from the bigger wheels. I was instantly comfortable on it and felt that my form needed only the slightest adaptation to accommodate the greater length of the frame. It felt very smooth going over rough pavement and the bigger wheels seemed to encourage me to use a longer push and a slower cadence. I felt 100% natural on this frame after only 10 minutes of easy skating.

All the testers agreed that at higher speeds the height of the frame became much less of an issue because faster speeds generally give you increased stability. Everyone also agreed that the low stack height on the SubZero 90/80 frame seemed to make climbing hills easier because you were able to push harder at slower hill climbing speeds.

The SubZero 5x90 frame, on the other hand, was a bit higher and much longer than my current setup. My ankles felt wobbly and it took a while for me to find a frame position that I liked. I needed to position the frame slightly more to the inside than normal in order to find a good balance point. Even after 20 minutes, I still felt unnatural at slow speeds. Once the frame was moving at speeds above 12mph, however, the unnatural feelings went away. I could take long, powerful strokes and feel just fine. On uphills, though, I felt unstable. I think the length made it difficult for me to move my feet quickly. On downhills, the frame felt rock solid.

The TRU REV 4x100 frame felt a lot higher than what I was accustomed to. Even though this is the lowest 4x100 frame on the market, its still much higher than an 80mm or 84mm frame. Once again, at low speeds, the extra height made me feel unstable. When I reached speeds above 12mph, however, it became more and more stable the faster I went. At full speed, the frame felt quite natural to me and the 100mm wheels seemed to hold their speed extremely well. In many ways, the TRU REV 4x100 felt quite similar to the SubZero 5x90, but because it was lighter and shorter it felt better on uphills.

Of all the frames we tested, I felt the TRU REV 4x100 frame was the one that required the most adaptation time. Even without full adaptation, though, I was faster on it in the time trials than on my original frame. I believe that if I spent more time on this frame I could become comfortable with the extra height and skate even faster than I did in the time trials. In addition to the performance improvements, the big wheels simply feel like they hold their speed better.

In summary, if you like the feel of a 5x84 frame, the SubZero 90/80 will probably feel like an easy transition for you and in our testing it was the fastest frame. If you are already skate on a 3x100 or want to try a 4x100 setup, TRU REV provides a light and stable frame that fits a boot with standard bolt spacing. If you are a large skater with a powerful stroke, the SubZero 5x90 may help you use your size and power to full advantage. SubZero, TRU REV and other manufactures also make other configurations that you may want to try.

This small, informal frame study will by no means put an end to the ongoing debate over which frame and wheel size configuration is the best. But, the good news is, that if you have been considering an upgrade to bigger wheels, it really does look like they are faster right out of the box. If your experience is similar to that of our testers, you will probably see an immediate 1- 4% improvement in speed. When you more fully adapt to the frames you might make even larger gains. In the words of Ike and Tina Turner, Big Wheels Keep on Turning

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