Wheels tend to be the first upgrade skaters make, but with so many options on the market, you'll need to be armed with a few numbers and basic concepts of physics.
The number followed by "A" refers to the durometer of the polyurethane, or hardness. A higher number equates to a harder wheel, which means more slide, less grip. As skating level advances, skaters rely on their edges and sliding abilities to make quick stops and turns. Attempting these maneuvers in a grippy wheel presents too much torque and can cause limbs to break; the wheels stop, but your body weight continues to travel. Weight is also a slight factor; lightweight skaters will slide with grippier wheels than heavyweight skaters, thanks to gravity's toll. 93A-98A are perfect for our grippy indoor basketball courts. The polished concrete of the hangar is a bit slippery, where 88A-94A wheels get a better grip. When you skate for fun outside, you'll want 78A outdoor wheels, which are gelatinous to absorb the shock from bumps in the concrete.
It's all in millimeters! Height x Width. Shorter wheels (59mm) accelerate more quickly, whereas taller wheels (62mm) take less effort to maintain the roll. Slim wheels (<38mm) offer agile skaters better maneuvering and responsiveness, and wider wheels (>40) offer stability and balance.
The hub is the center part of the wheel that holds the bearings. It can typically be made from nylon, aluminum or alloy, or a hybrid. Nylon is cheaper and lighter, but can flex beneath weight, resulting in speed loss. Alloy is strong enough that it won't flex, but it's heavier and more expensive. Hybrids try to merge the best of both worlds, being lightweight and adding strength in just the right places to prevent flexing.
Our wheels are about more than a pop of color! Wheels help us take some of the extra effort out of skating, so we can focus on playing Derby. Any time you'd like to experiment with a new set of wheels, ask around on the league. Many of us have experience on a variety of wheels and surfaces, and we have multiple sets that we don't mind lending out so you can get a feel for what you like before making a purchase.
And let's face it: we love talking gear!