This week I decided to take on the intimidating task of changing my own plates, mostly because I was told it was like pulling teeth to get any shop in Ottawa to do it for me. For anyone who’s never done this before, you literally disassemble your whole skate to the point where it’s just a boot. And then, depending on the plates, you have to drill holes in your precious babies.
Am I a professional skate maintainer? NO. Am I armed with some often misguided confidence? YES. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I advise just anyone to do it? Um, I’m not so sure. On one hand, I do believe that the average new derby skater doesn’t know enough about her skates or how they “tick” so this kind of exercise is extremely educational. On the other hand, it can be expensive if you mess up and it’s tough to get everything reconfigured the way you like it. So here are a couple of lessons that I learned if you’re considering modifying your skates yourself in any way, even if it’s not as drastic as what I did.
1) Read up! There is a quite a bit of information online, but the best source I found for instructions on installation was by Sin City Skates. You also have a lot of wisdom in your team so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
2) Don’t do this in a hurry. It took me about 2 nights to disassemble, mark, drill, assemble, cut screws, install trucks and finally wheels. The marking and drilling especially take patience and should not be rushed. You have to skate on these babies when it’s all done so you might as well take the time to do it right.
3) Use the right tools. For me, this was a Dremel for the drilling and cutting of the screws. I have freakishly small hands and though I’m quite handy with a drill, the Dremel was just the perfect size to give me precision and that illogical confidence that I needed. I’m also a serial renovator so we have a tool room full of wrenches which were also critical.
4) Know your skates before you change them. After you make a change, you need to be able to compare how they feel different. If you don’t have a baseline knowledge to start, it’s hard to measure improvements or losses in comfort and performance. If you have it though, you can diagnose if it’s the configuration or the part that is the problem. If you don’t think you know your skates, then start small. Trade wheels with your derby wife and get to know what hers feel like. Ask if they’re harder, softer, wider etc. and take note of how they change your skating. Once you can tell the difference, move on to something else, like loosening your trucks.
5) Most changes can be reversed. In the end, I drilled 2 new holes in each skate. Could I put my old plate back on and forget my massive failure if I messed up? You betcha. If you loosen your trucks too much, would you wobble at first and then clue in that you need to tighten them? Probably. The worst thing that usually happens with skate maintenance is that you buy a part which you end up not liking but the actual modifications are reversible. You can always go crying to Plow’her if you don’t know how to fix what you did…that was my backup plan.
When it’s done, there is something amazing about having a skate that performs exactly as you have asked it to. I’ve only been on skates for about a year and a half, and though I’m a pretty confident skater, 80% of my skate knowledge was learned this winter when I got curious and just started tweaking parts here and there. Don’t be scared to try something new, but maybe put the Dremel down for now. There’s plenty of time for that.