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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

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Nov. 11, 2009

Are Big Wheels Really Faster?

QBill: What are your thoughts on wheel size for long-distance skating? I switched to a "big wheel" setup maybe two years ago because I felt like I didn’t have the same cruising speed as the skaters on big wheels. However, I have noticed that a number of course records still stand that were set on 80mm to 84mm wheels. With some adjustment to pacing and strategy, could skaters on 80mm wheels still win marathons and ultra-marathons today or would the stronger skaters on big wheel setups win every time? Thanks for your thoughts. - Jamie from Waco, Texas, USA

Hi, Jamie, from Waco, Texas (home state of Chad Hedrick): For starters, you have to take the old world records on 80mm and 84mm wheels with a grain of salt. Most were set on non-standard tracks under non-standard conditions.

Nowadays, inline world records are only recognized if they are produced on standard tracks (or courses) at world or continental championships. A couple of years ago, some world record times were beat during the European Championships. But the times were disallowed because the track was oversized and in no way resembled a standard 200-meter banked track.

There may still be times when 80mm or 84mm wheels might prove advantageous: for instance, hill-climb races or races with uphill finishes. I can think of a couple of small-wheel victories in recent years: Marc Christen in the Glarus WIC and Angele Vaudan in the Basil WIC. But in truth, only big wheels are in the hunt in today's world-class racing.

The big wheels have been involved in numerous world records in the past two years — and, in my opinion, no skater (with the possible exception of Joey Mantia) could win today on 80mm or 84mm wheels in top international competition.

The issue today is not whether to use 80- or 84mm wheels, but rather whether to use 100- or 110mm wheels. Most of the world's top skaters are now on 110s or some combination of 110s and 100s. This is true for both men and women, although more women skaters use combinations, such as 2 x 110 + 2 x 100, 3 x 110 + 1 x 100 or 3 x 110 + 1 x 105. Others have switched to the 4 x 105 setup.

My daughter Nicole took a chance and went with 100mm wheels at the World Championships this year. She thought a 100mm setup, lighter and shorter, would help even the playing field in events, such as the 10,000-meter points-elimination, which involve frequent accelerations, and in which most of the other top women had the advantage of working with teammates.

She also hoped the smaller wheels would give her more control on the tight corners in Haining.

But her gamble didn't pay off. The 110s provided much better roll than the 100s, and the track was so grippy that the 110s held the corners without slipping. As a result, Nicole had to abandon her usual race strategy, and her results were less than she was hoping for: three bronze medals.

On the road course at Worlds, 110s also proved an advantage. Skaters on 100s who managed to lead for a lap would find themselves left in the dust on the next lap with skaters on 110s coming over the top of them.

With that in mind, pity the skater who tries to compete on 80- or 84mm wheels today. There's no way he or she could win in top international competition, not on track or road.

Cheers, Bill

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