In a year of relatively light innovation in the skate world, Rollerblade has embraced three new technologies designed to improve the performance and comfort of its inline skates.
"We didn't just change a color here or tweak a design there," said Kalinda Bogue, Rollerblade's marketing director. "For each of our skates, we looked at how we could maximize the experience for the skater."
The three new Rollerblade technologies are asymmetrical lacing, Lo-Balance frames and a new construction for the top of he skate called True Wrap.
Asymmetrical lacing nudges the laces toward the outside of the boot. It is used in some other high-performance athletic footwear, including soccer and running shoes, and is said to improve comfort, fit and performance. Rollerblade is the first consumer skate maker to use it.
Two of the company's 2009 recreational ("casual") skates sport asymmetrical laces: the Spark Pro ($159) and Spark ($129). The company also uses it on its 2009 Racemachine LE speed boot, produced in conjunction with Luigino.
True Wrap is essentially a different, more sophisticated way to attach the laces to the boots. Typically, laces are looped around eyelets in the hard plastic of the top of the skate. But with True Wrap, fingers of a rubbery material replace the hard plastic on the top of the skate. The fingers extend toward the center of the skate and hold the laces.
The result is a more snug, comfortable fit that reduces rubbing and improves performance and breathability, Bogue said. It also cuts the weight of the skate by reducing the amount of hard plastic.
Rollerblade put True-Wrap on two of its 2009 models: the high-end 90mm fitness skates, the Activa XT (women) and Crossfire XT (men).
Rollerblade is not the first skate company to experiment with the ideas involved in the Lo-Balance Frame. The basic idea is to lower a skate's center of gravity by lowering the skater's foot to the ground.
Bont accomplished this with its 3-point mounting system for racing skates. Rollerblade does it by grooving the bottom of its boots to position the wheels closer to the foot.
"Lowering the center of gravity gives skaters more confidence and comfort while at the same time giving them the benefit of skating on larger wheels," Bogue said.
Rollerblade's engineers, like Bont's before them, also found that lowering the center of gravity let them put the frame on a diet, further reducing the weight of the skate.
A composite (non-metal) version of the Lo-Balance frame is on the entry-level Spark.
The aluminum Lo-Balance frame is on the 84mm Spark Pro and the 4x90mm Activa XT (women's) and Crossfire XT (men's).
One technology that Rollerblade abandoned this year is ABT (active braking technology). This cuff-activated braking system for beginners was embraced by some inline instructors.
"It's true that ABT helped many people to learn to stop quicker than learning on a regular brake," Bogue said. "But we found that once they learned how to use a brake, the benefits of ABT diminished quickly."
One place where the standard heel brake worked better than ABT was going downhill, Bogue said.
Skaters found this to be true, and as a result, after a few sessions they would "either not care which brake they had or, often, prefer a standard brake."
Bogue said the company continues to hear from die-hard ABT fans "from time to time."
"It just seemed to become too small a minority to justify keeping (ABT) in the line. More importantly, we found in our testing and talking with consumers that the adjustable brake" — which Rollerblade introduced in 2007 — "was simpler, lighter and still effective."
Copyright © 2009 by Inline Planet