The rollerskiing question

Every once in a while I think I should take up rollerskiing. Usually, recalling the couple of times I tried it decades ago encourages me to have a drink and calm down until the urge goes away.

Of course nothing is so good for dryland simulation as rollerskiing, and after a winter like the one just past, it’s the best way to retain muscle and movement memory. The prospect of less snow in the downstate region makes actual time on snow even more precious.

Rollerskiing is a training aid, not a shortcut to proficiency. And it’s another set of equipment to feed and maintain. Still, no harm doing a little research.

What I didn’t expect, was that my rollerskis are so enjoyable to ski on that I love to do it on its own merits

Mark Vosburgh, ‘Rollerskiing for the Rest of Us? A Beginner’s Guide’ FasterSkier June 2 2014

Decades of design changes in rollerskis and boots have happened since I tried them; for one thing, skate boots had not yet evolved to have the stiff plastic cuff used today. So I went on an Internet scouting mission.

Cut to the chase

I’ll just answer the natural question first. I’m still not sure about buying. But I wrangled enough information that I’m closer than I’ve ever been to pulling the trigger. The short list of attractors and repellers is:

Incentives:

  • Specific, aerobic exercise
  • Partial replacement for skiing
  • Maybe I’ll finally get better at skate technique!

Concerns:

  • Road rash and busted @ss
  • Limited low-risk venues in the immediate vicinity
  • I’ll probably still suck at skate skiing- grrr

I now have some idea of the design and engineering characteristics of rollerskis, practical first steps, what I can expect to get from using them, and general care and maintenance. To get deeper in the weeds on all that, read on. At the end is my first-cut list of candidate rollerskis.

What do I want in a roller-ski?

  1. Stability (shaft riding below height of axles is better). This is both a concern as well as an incentive for rollerskiing. A flat ride leads to better glide.
  2. Usable on rough or poorly-maintained pavement (wheels at least 100mm in dia., probably softer compound or pneumatic tires). More on this in a bit.
  3. Brakes and/or speed reducers (brakes are usually brand-specific; speed reduction can be mechanical or by swapping wheels and bearings)
  4. Smooth ride for my weight (ie, vibration dampening)

In my youth I spent foolishly on outdoors equipment I didn’t need or use. Over time I’ve tried to temper my enthusiasm for things by asking myself if I know what I’ll actually do with it. I found this video by former US Ski Team member Andy Newell helpful in answering questions I didn’t know to ask:

Skate, Classic, or Combi?

Newell settles the Combi question (insofar as an elite athlete’s preference bears on a recreational skier), and some reading supports concluding that Combi rollerskis (like Combi snow skis) are a poor compromise.

At the same time, ski instructors warn that classic rollerskiing may reinforce a habitually late or lazy kick, which is something I have problems with. Classic ski striding simulation can be made reasonably specific through ski striding or bounding.

Yet rollerskiing is super-specific for developing double-poling and skating technique, which are hard to simulate otherwise.

So if I get rollerskis, skating they will be.

Where to do it

Best guess is I’d start with some easy loops or back-and-forth on a small street or at an industrial parking lot, move on to some agility and balance drills for handling and specific training, and after that consider doing something that might be like low-intensity interval training, eg., repeats up a slight incline.

I’ve XC skied for years and it took me about a month of roller skiing to feel comfortable.

Mark Vosburgh, FasterSkier June 2 2014

I’d be well-advised to think of the first phase like a driver’s ed class, and begin in controlled and low-hazard areas. A couple of ways to approach the literal first step come from veteran ski instructor Keith Nicol, and an outdoors company in Wisconsin:

Keith Nicol shows some first steps
Rollerskiing in a parking lot with cones

Venturing beyond the driveway or parking lot, smoother sections of a paved rail-trail come to mind. The most advanced phase would be something like Westchester Bike Sundays. Unfortunately, well-paved roads with wide shoulders and backcountry roads with basically no traffic tend to be found as short and discontiguous segments.

Comfort on the pavé

The prevalence of cracks and bumps in most all roads around here gives me pause about the stiffer or lower-profile rollerskis. Larger diameter wheels are the answer.

On the other hand, the 125 and 150mm pneumatic tires on V2 rollerskis can suffer a flat unlike solid PU or rubber wheels. The tires are hard to get off the rims, as shown in the screenshot and video below.

Jenex tire changing station in action- URL: https://youtu.be/EX_YA-5Bohs
Video of changing V2 tire with regular home tools

At a guess, and this is only my speculation, a couple of decades ago V2 skis captured a segment of skiers who needed better vibration damping and rough pavement capability than other rollerskis could offer at that time.

Today, one end of the rollerski lineup has wheels about 80mm in diameter, and are best used on really smooth pavement or dedicated biking/training tracks. At the opposite end are Skike and Powerslide, trail-use rollerskis/blades with 200mm wheels and extra-rugged construction. In between are the V2 series with 150mm air-filled tires. And between the V2 and the 80mm-wheel rollerskis are models with 100-110mm solid tires, and stability and vibration damping features.

I hate changing tubes and fixing flats. That doesn’t push the V2 out of consideration, but it sounds like the Pursuit rollerskis, with 100mm wheels and a spring-steel fork for vibration damping, will get the job done. And if I’m picking places to start out, might as well pick ones where the pavement is in somewhat better condition.

Safety

Boy, it’d be great to feel like I’m gliding free on snow while on rollerskis- but everybody on wheels runs the risk of hitting the deck. I have a bike helmet and warning lights, but I’ll need more to guard against road rash and bruised joints.

I started very slowly with full knee, elbow pads, helmet and gloves on flat terrain and built gradually

Mark Vosburgh, FasterSkier June 2 2014
  • Knee pads (and elbow pads maybe)
  • Wrist guards
  • Hip guards, maybe
  • Summer gloves

Not to forget tools for field maintenance (spare ferrules, diamond file, tools to remove/replace ferrules and adjust wheels)

I’ll want whatever brakes go with the brand. And wheels for the speed I want to go at, or speed reducers. Not sure when it happened, but at some point brakes became a Thing:

Maneuverability to avoid bad spots is important to know, but hard to assess without trying multiple models.

First cut candidates

There must be more than a dozen brands and a total of something like a hundred models of rollerskis. Picking specimens of interest turns a wish list into something tangible to talk about. In accordance with my priorities, here’s some skis I’d like to try out, and my quick take from research on the Interwebs:

  • Pursuit fork flex- stable, smooth ride.
  • V2 Aero 150- very stable. Great for rough pavement or smooth dirt.
  • Marwe 590XC or 610XC- fast, stable, very ski like. But no brake available.
  • Skike or the V2 Nordixc. Can use regular sneakers, and definitely good on rough pavement, but not a very ski-like ride or feel. None of the cross country ski types review them.

Pavement rollerskis are typically $200-$400, not including bindings and boots. Bindings will add about $80-$100, and boots could be repurposed from winter instead of buying a summer pair. Skike and Nordicx are $500-$600, but don’t need bindings or boots. Add a pair of poles with special ferrules for use on pavement, and a diamond file, maybe another $100-$200. Plus safety equipment.

All up it could be $600-$1000 expenditure. Many people would call it reasonable. I’m still kind of on the fence, partly because I’m cheap, and partly because I don’t have a lot of room for unused athletic equipment. Some shops have rentals, but I haven’t found anything like ‘demo days’ in the region. Too bad, because that could really help make up my mind.

Time for that drink, and see if the urge to open the wallet goes away. Any feedback leave a comment or a pingback. Thanks for reading.

Appendix

Recon of due diligence:

Notes on rollerski design

Typical rollerskis have a 590-630mm wheelbase, and weigh 1.5-2kg per pair without bindings, riding on 80-110mm diameter hard rubber tires. Skate wheels are narrower than classic wheels. Trail versions have 150 or 200mm tires and weigh 4-5.5kg. Shafts of aluminum are stiffest. Carbon fiber is stiff and more absorbent of vibration than aluminum. Other shaft material is similar to that used for skis (eg, fiberglass composite, wood, air core). Long wheelbase rollerskis are more ‘ski like’ in feel; short wheelbase is more maneuverable for the beginner.

De rigueur these days are braking systems, usually as an add-on accessory. Having the shaft rest slightly below the axle of the wheels increases stability. Smoothing vibration can be through material selection (eg: wood vs aluminum), use of dampeners between wheel and shaft, or pneumatic tires.

Miscellaneous info

Web retailers specializing in skating have the widest range of brands and models. Traditional ski shops tend to have only one or two brands. The Nordicskater carries a wide range of rollerskis, including V2 and Skike. Multiterrain rollerskis are at Rollerski.co.uk, including Powerslide and Skike brands.

Skike has models allowing a free heel, and they even have one with ratchets for classic-style. The Jenex V2 ‘Nordixc’ rollerski is a classic-skiing rough surface model that allows use of standard sneakers. Skikes have what looks like a better-engineered fixation for the shoe.

There are summer-version ski boots for rollerskiing with breathable uppers, at Boulder Nordic Sport

In the reviews Marwe 620 gets a lot of love from the racer types, but the Pursuit Fork Flex also does well:

Hibernation season

No skiing

In the off-season, only the very occasional post gets published. Here’s one that caught my attention:

Intense and nice athletes

Most people who cross-country ski bike in summer, and I found this item in FasterSkier interesting. I knew the life of a soigneur in a pro bike racing team was pretty terrible, but didn’t realize the extent to which they were s**t on by the athletes. That just seems counterproductive, although I have heard it is the culture of bike racing.

That’s why it was good to see the author’s experience with the US ski team was something refreshing and a good deal cheerier:

Despite the fatigue, a respiratory infection that was eventually passed to all of the athletes, a couple of days with sideways blowing snow… the team just seemed to roll with the punches, make lemonade, and keep on keepin’ on.

‘A PT in Norway’ by Ned Dowling, FasterSkier April 13 2020

It’s nice to think that the elite athletes of your favorite sport don’t just roll it all downhill. Just one more reason for cross-country skiing to be my favorite sport.


Till the next interesting tidbit, or the fall, whichever comes first. Thanks for reading.

Sleeping bear