This week's column:
How to Stop on Hills
Jan. 18 , 2012
Hi, Bill: I am new to inline skating and love the technical aspect of the sport. So far, my only issue is stopping on hills. I know I can slow myself using parallel stops, swing-abouts (slalom turns), V-stops and T-stops (scraping the side of one skate behind the other). But what should I do when I’m on the street and have to stop quickly to avoid traffic or hazards? Should I install a heel brake? I'm on 110mm speed skates. - Luc from Harrow, Middlesex in the UK.
Hi, Luc: You’ve covered the standard methods for controlling speed on hills. Unfortunately, there's no fast and effective method for doing this.
In inline racing, this is not usually a problem. Organizers typically provide long run-offs at the bottom of hills, so the racers don’t have to worry about braking. They just tuck and roll.
But even this can be dangerous. In 2008, in the Weinfelden World Inline Cup, one skater’s misstep at the bottom of a fast downhill took down 50 skaters, leaving some with serious injuries.
The speeds reached on downhill runs can be dangerous. At the former St. Moritz WIC in the Engadin Valley in Switzerland, we clocked the men’s peloton one year at 85 km per hour (53 mph). Another time, in Weinfelden, we clocked the men at 95 km per hour (59 mph). At those speeds, falls can be devastating.
When skating on open roads, you have the added danger of traffic. You never know when a car will cut you off or a pedestrian will walk in front of you. And when these things happen when you are going fast downhill, there’s not much you can do.
The bottom line is that you should never skate down a hill unless you can handle whatever it might throw at you. This includes reckless drivers, careless pedestrians and cross traffic.
If you are not sure about a hill, walk it. You can walk sideways on your skates or take them off and go barefoot. It may not be much fun, but it beats falling.
Heel brakes can help control speed downhill. But don't count on it. Once you get rolling fast on a hill, heel brakes become difficult to use.
Another problem with them is that they lengthen the wheelbase of your skate, making it more difficult to execute crossover turns.
Nonetheless, if you are skating in traffic, the extra stopping power of a heel brake might be worth it.
If you are going to skate hills without a heel brake, perfect your slalom turns (swing-abouts) and V-stops. But don’t put much faith in parallel stops and power slides. They can cause serious ankle and knee injuries.
Scrapping or dragging your skate is probably the safest way to slow down on a hill. It eats up a lot of urethane, which may make you popular with wheel makers, but will wear a hole in your wallet.