Sunday, March 21, 2010

Freeline skates... feasible for transport?

After my bike was robbed [smiley face indicating that I'm loudly shouting "cunt!"] in November or so, I figured I'd experiment with alternative forms of transport, hoping to find something more casual and less stealable (i.e. something I don't leave outside my house only locked to itself might be appropriate).

Doing a bit of looking around online, I was intrigued by so-called "Freeline" skates (Wikipedia article appears a bit anaemic), which are very much like the old snakeboard, albeit without the connecting bar between the two plates. To propel yourself forward, rather than kicking off the floor like with skateboards and inline skates, you use your hips, legs, shoulders, arms and whatever you can to swing your body weight around and turn your feet so the skates follow a kind of S-curve.
It's called "non-holonomic motion" and I found it very difficult to understand via textual descriptions which were far superior to this one, so basically you just have to try it until you get the knack, which took me quite a while on the Freelines.
So I picked up a pair on eBay around Christmas (very expensive too, ended up around €110 delivered from the UK).

The initial hurdles

1. Standing on the skates without doing the splits. As you stand on the skates, the axis of movement is just off horizontal so the skates want to slide out to your left and right and you accidentally do Jean-Claude Van Damme sidesplits. Most people, including myself, can't really do that without our legs falling off and exploding, so you quickly learn to control the relative position of the skates with your inner thigh muscles.

2. Rolling across the room with losing your balance. This is presumably the same with any kind of skates/skateboard, but exacerbated by the fact that these behave in a slightly more unexpected way due to the wheels being angled slightly differently: there is a distinct left skate and right skate, so when they're side by side the wheels make a shallow V-shape. Getting used to this means rolling back and forth on flat ground by a railing or low wall so you can pull/push yourself and keep steady with your arms, until eventually you can coast a few metres unaided. Or get a friend to hold one hand and walk back and forth, but that's limited by their patience since it can take a long time.

3. Launching from stop without pushing against a wall. It's difficult to even stand still on the skates - a little bit like on a bicycle. Sometimes you see bicycle couriers with gearless bikes and no freewheeling clutch, stopped at a traffic light (yes, many bicycle couriers actually stop at lights :D) and very slowly inching forwards and backwards on the spot rather than putting their foot down. You can do a similar trick with these by angling your feet into a T-shape, but it takes practice, and actually pushing off from that position to get moving is even more difficult (I tried it about ten times and succeeded once, and awkwardly at that).

Normally, to push off moving from right to left, you put both skates in front of you, then knock the right skate over away from you and step onto it so your toes are also touching the floor. Then you put your weight on those toes and place your left foot on its skate, and push in that direction (without extending too far or your right foot will fall off the skate), pulling the right skate upright with your foot as some of your weight moves onto the left skate.

4. Propelling yourself! After all the other challenges, this one is pretty easy, to begin with anyway. Your feet will probably start to do this automatically in step 2, when you're just trying to roll without falling. Essentially, as one foot is moving in an upwards curve, pushing it forward will increase your speed, and similarly when it's on downwards curve.

Then what?

Well, I only got them to replace my bike, so all the tricks people do with them (mostly pirouettes, riding on one foot and dropping/stomping the second skate, switching etc) are not really relevant. If I ever get supremely good at riding the things, maybe I'll experiment a bit.

Mostly, I want to find out if I can travel any kind of significant distance on them, somewhere between walking and cycling speed. A measly 8km/h for 4km (the distance between my house and DCU) would suit me just fine, but so far I have to stop riding after about 1km (about 10 minutes) because I get pains in the following places: the middle of the soles of my feet, my calf muscles, my instep. By then my thighs basically just run out of energy and I start moving more and more slowly and my form gets sloppy.

I don't know if this is poor general fitness (I'm a lazy, lazy man who likes sitting on his arse with a laptop or playing PS2 for hours on end), or specific muscle conditioning that needs to happen for everyone, or if I'm literally physically incapable of adapting to the skates for longer periods, or even if the skates are just not suited for that kind of travel, especially over the crap, laughable pavement conditions we have here in Dublin (stupid 1 inch deep, 3 inch wide drainage channels between every few houses, cracks and bumps everywhere, corrugated concrete driveways which make skates trundle and vibrate like a broken shopping cart).

That said, if you're going at a reasonable speed you can get over small cracks and drains by leaning slightly onto your back foot - that way the front skate can bounce past the obstacle and even if it gets caught and stops dead, you just hop off since they're not tied to your feet. If your front skate gets caught and most of your weight is on that foot, your balance can be thrown off badly.
And I've seen a couple of videos on Youtube which suggest that people can and do cover more significant distances on them - about 34km in this one.

One recent change that's working much better for me is focusing more on my back foot to push myself forward, rather than trying to drag myself with the front foot which causes it to slip out of position and seems to tire me out. Maybe it's just more efficient for the way I happen to distribute my weight on the skates. Who knows. Even if it turns out to be a complete failure, it'll be a fun failure!


  1. hey do you still skates freeline? i came across your blog while searching for info regarding leg pain when skating freeline skates. i can't ride for long or travel long distance as my leg will start to sore and tire fast after 7-8mins. do you still have this kinda sore leg pain and tiredness?

  2. Hi Water,

    I have to admit to being a weakling and giving up for that reason. Plus winter here made it harder and I got sick of all the slack-jawed kids shocked and amused at the spectacle of a man in his late 20s trying to ride on Freelines.

    Honestly though, I think it's just that the lower leg muscles are not normally subjected to the demands of riding side on. I wonder if skateboarders or snowboarders have similar problems, but it might be more pronounced for caster boards which don't naturally want to stay upright.

    If you have nice smooth pavements (and less street kids with nothing better to do than point and stare) then I'd suggest building up your leg endurance by 1 or 2 minutes each day. In a few weeks it might not be a problem for you.

    Good luck!

  3. Hey just wondering if you still do it. I had pretty much the same idea and bought cheap knockoff brand freelines to get the hang of it.

    1. Hi Tom, nope I've only skated a couple of times over the last couple of years, mainly because riding Freelines on the rough cracked pavements here really hurt my leg muscles. It's possible that I'm just terrible at skating and need to learn how to ride competently on some good surfaces without a bunch of kids staring, but hey :)
      How have you been finding it so far on the fakelines? I've seen a couple of vids with people using them to ride well.

    2. Hi Tom, I'm new to Freelines as well (just got them a month ago). I have Freeline OG, Freeline Groms, and fake Freelines. I think it is viable to use Freelines for commuting, with certain caveats:
      - you use the same path all the time. That way, you'll know where the cracks and bumps are.
      - I feel some of the same pains that Oisín feels. Some of it decreases over time, but others don't. I found that it has to do with weight distribution between my feet and to prolong my endurance, I'm trying to learn to do a 180 and ride switch, so I can alternate the roles of my legs/feet.
      - I'm trying to learn to do the rear stomp so that I can ride off on Freelines faster.

      BTW, if you bought cheap knockoff freelines, they probably don't roll nearly as well as real Freelines, and will be harder to use on cracked pavements, and therefore won't be as good for commuting. You should at least replace your bearings with Bones Reds (even then, your wheels might not turn well), or just get used Freelines.

      Best regards,

  4. Hi I'm new to Freelines as well (got them a couple months ago). I have Freeline Pro, I use marihuana before ride and my muscles relax, so my pains vanish and the practice is more enjoyable

  5. The longest ride I did was 33 kilometers and was painful and slow, but do-able. With practice, you can easily train up to 4km 2x/day at speeds better than 10km/hr.

    Definitely, just have faith and remember to take rest days (at least one per week)


    1. Please post a video of you drift skating for 4 km at speeds better than 10km/hr.