Inline Downhill



By Grant Du Plessis


Introduction


Skating hills is definitely one of the more exciting sides of inline. It offers a great opportunity to progress further in your skating. There is also a lot of scope for taking part in races through out Europe and other parts of the world. The best thing about racing is you don't have to be a Pro! Relatively few of the downhill skaters around the world are pro's. Most of the competitions are really just organized social gatherings that provide an opportunity and a place for you to get some great and most importantly safe downhill time.


Safety


Safety Equipment

As we all know downhill is dangerous! Because of this it is our own responsibility to participate in this sport as safely as possible. It is up to each skater to make sure that you and those who will come into contact with you while you are on a hill are as safe as possible!


-Equipment overview 

Safety equipment has gone forward in leaps and bounds over the years. Even so, no safety gear will be 100% effective. If used properly however, it will protect you to a large degree and help to minimise the damage.


Downhill skaters generally employ protective equipment in 2 forms, Full/Part body armour or regular pads. During recreational sessions the minimum protection you should use should cover knees, elbows, hands and head. Spine protection is also suggested. When choosing to race however, its suggested and in some cases required, that you go for a FULL set of gear. This will include protection for shins, knees, hips, backside (including coxix), back, chest, shoulder, elbow, forearm wrist, hands. Which ever  protection you choose ALWAYS make sure you use the equipment you have. especially a helmet! It could mean the difference between life and death.


The most common form of protection used by racers is body armour. They can come as full suit or individual components. Six Six One and Dainese are two of the most popular and respected companies producing body armour. Helmets choice is also important. One of the difficulties is trying to find the right one. One of the biggest considerations is full face v open face. Although open face will protect the all important grey matter, the full face will protect just that, the whole face! The jaw, nose and cheek bones are more vulnerable than one would imagine. The helmet of choice with in the downhill community is the same as is used by skydivers and paragliders. It is light strong and not too bulky. Icaro are one of the most well known manufacturers with their Skyrunner model being the staple of inliners and skateboarders alike.



Icaro Skyrunner



Dainese Shuttle Pro full body armour



Dainese Wave 123 neck Armoured jacket




Dainese Stealth jacket



Dainese Impact shorts



Dainese Wave Knee and shin protection



-Equipment inspection

Before you head out for a downhill session do yourself a favour and give your gear a once over. Check your wheels, bolts clips and safety gear and make sure it will be able to do it's job. If not you could find yourself in some serious trouble.


General Road safety

Now that you have your safety sorted its time to get out on the hill. As much as we would like to have the road to ourselves this just wont be the case unless you are at an organised event. This means you will probably end up sharing the road with cars, motor bikes and cyclists. Inliners are afforded the same rights under UK law as cyclists with regards road use. Always be as polite and respectful to the other users because you after all, in the car drivers eyes, you aren't supposed to be there. For safety reasons its always a good idea to skate with buddy's. Where ever possible get a designated driver and have them follow you down the hill as your safety car. Get them to keep a safe distance behind the slowest skater in a group and to drive with their hazard lights on to let other road users know that there is danger ahead.     

   

Choosing your hills

One of the most fun sides of the whole downhill adventure process is searching for hills. Seeing a new and un-ridden hill run with your friends for the first time can be an exciting thing. The thought of tackling a new challenge can really get the blood pumping. From the pro level to the beginner its all ways a good idea to give your proposed run a good check over before you ride.



-Curbs v Soft shoulder

As a beginner, one of the things to bare in mind is to look for a “safe” hill. Try picking a hill that has a grass verge so that if you do find your self  loosing control of your speed you can roll onto the grass which will help slow you down or provide a “softer” surface to land on if you fall. Roads with a hard curb edge can pose a problem in the beginning. As with motor cycle racing it is safer to slide along the road surface and over the verge if you fall. Colliding with the solid edge of a curb can cause severe damage.


-Get to know the corners

Its also a good idea to get to know the twists and turns on a route. This will help when the need arises to control your speed ahead of the turn. We will talk more about this later on in the workshop.


-Road surface inspection

Another reason to pre-inspect your run is to make yourself aware of potential hazards like gravel, sand, potholes or cracks on the road surface. These can prove to be real hazards at high speeds especially if they are on corners as they will cause you to slide out or lock up and loose control.


-Wet v Dry

The ideal day to go out on a run is a nice warm day sunny day. This is however not always possible especially in the UK! Wet roads on the other hand can be great to do downhills on as parallel slides at high speeds on a wet road can be long and satisfying, as with certain other things in life.


Skate set up


Boots Overview

As we all know, skate boots come in a variety of shapes sizes and purposes. Although I have seen most of them used for downhill, some are more practicle than others. The ones we will focus on are the ones that have been proven to be better fit for the purpose of bombing down hills at silly speeds.


-Rigid v Soft

Most people these days ride either a full rigid boot (like the Seb FR's) or a soft boot with a rigid collar  such as the Salomon FSK's and the SEBA high's. Either boot will get the job done. Its purely personal preference. The major things to consider when choosing the right boot for you are personal and physiological as well as what level of riding you will be reaching for. For the average fun rider its only important to look at what boot is most comfortable for you. At the higher pro race level you need to consider your riding style and physical strength. At the top level a fully rigid boot  is generally preferred. These generally have  a higher than usual collar to give more stability during slides and tight high G corners and also helps reduce “speed wobble” on the faster straights. Examples of the classic downhill boots are the Tecnica CrossTec 7s (fig 1)  and the Rossignol Descender's (fig 2). These are however no longer being manufactured and are very rare. One of the most spectacular skates available for downhill today are with out a doubt the Seba iGor's with the Seba downhill frame as shown in fig 3. Its weight and stiff ankle support are above and beyond what is generally expected from a skate.





                             (Fig 1) Tecnica CT7             (Fig 2) Rossignol Descender






            (Fig 3) Seba iGor downhill




Wheel Overview


Inline wheels come in many shapes and sizes depending on what you will be using them for. For example, aggressive skates have a smaller flat profile hard wheel whilst at the other end of the spectrum speed skating uses a 100mm diameter with a more elliptical profile wheel.  For downhill there is no particular standard although many Pros will swear by a 5x90mm wheel set up. One of the other things to consider when choosing your wheels is its compound. A simple rule of thumb is that the hotter the road surface the harder the wheel you should use. Although if you really want to get technical the riders weight should also be considered when choosing the compound. A great all rounder in my opinion would be an 80/85mm 82a Hyper “Hyperformance” wheel but again this is down to personal preference.






Frames Overview

As with all the other components these come built for a specific purpose. Again there is no set standard for downhill. Although SEBA have designed a downhill specific frame.  It is generally accepted thought that a 5 wheel frame will provide the best performance. Some have tried using larger custom 100mm 7 wheel set up's with limited success. Its up to you to experiment with the set up you feel is best for you. There are few simple reasons why more than 4 wheels are used. The longer frame set up will give better stability to the rider at high speed as well as providing more surface area for grip round corners. Another thing to think about when choosing your frame is to try and find a slightly heavier and thicker frame. It helps during cornering by removing the slight flex you get from the lighter weight  speed skating frames during high G turns. Don't forget to also consider what size wheels you want to use before you buy your frames!




Practical


Hill Skillz


-Speed control and stopping

This skill is probably the most important you will want to master. The ability to control your speed when coming into a corner is paramount to an enjoyable and safe experience.

There are several methods which will vary in effectiveness and should be chosen appropriately based on your speed in relation to the severity of the bend in the upcoming corner. We will discus the various methods in order of their effectiveness and the stopping distance each one of them will give you.


Air Breaking

The first speed control technique is air breaking. This is the simplest of the techniques. It simply involves the rider standing up from a speed tuck and allowing the force of the air against their body to slow them down. This is surprisingly effective when you only need to reduce your speed by a few miles an hour. Obviously this one will not bring you to a complete stop.


T-Stop (Foot Drag)

This method involves dragging one of your skates behind you at approximately 90 degrees whilst keeping weight and balance on the front foot.  This method can be used at any speed in conjunction with the air break. With practice you will learn to judge how far before the corner you need to employ the drag as it does require a rather long stopping distance. One of the things that makes this technique so effective is that it allows you a great amount of control over the speed of your deceleration. The harder the pressure applied to the dragged skate the greater the stopping power, allowing you complete control over your speed. It can bring you to a complete stop should you so desire.





Heel Break

The effectiveness of this method is very similar to the foot drag. It works on the same principles but requires the rider to apply the heel break forward of the riding position.





Snow plough

This is one of the tougher methods to get right and can only really be done once the rider is at speed. It is very similar to the snow plough technique used in snow skiing. Most of the weight is placed on one leg whilst both the legs are in the open V position. Aim both feet inwards and allow the the wheels of the “stopping leg” to slide. This method will allow the rider to decelerate much faster as more friction is applied to the road surface.





Reverse T-Stop

Here we have one of my favourites. Its best done at lower speeds and is a very effective method of slowing down and stopping in a hurry. To successfully execute this manoeuvre the rider needs to turn 180 degrees, put their weight on one leg and extend the other with the foot at 90 degrees whilst applying pressure.





Magic Slide

To effectively execute this manoeuvre start out with a snow plough and move your whole body behind the stopping foot allowing your trailing let to drag behind you giving you stability and because of the drag extra stopping power. This stopping method is a great training step between parallel slides and snow plough. It is also the preferred technique of a lot of the worlds top skaters.




Parallel slide

This is  the most daunting of the stopping and speed control techniques and requires a lot of practice! It involves twisting the body, legs and feet to 90 degrees whilst leaning back and sliding on the wheel edge. Some of the key things to remember with this slide is to bend your knees and to try and find your balance point. This is best done by attempting to keep the back foot directly below the hips . Although it may look stupid strapping a couple of throw pillows  to your hips whilst you first get used to this move will save you so much heart ache. This is the most effective of all the high speed stopping methods and once you master it, it will take your skating to a whole new level! There is no hill in the world you wont be able to conquer once you have this move down!




-Cornering

In negotiating corners and turns of any form, body positioning and crossover stepping are the key elements. When negotiating high speed curves and turns its important to know that the position of your center of gravity in relation to the point directly above your feet is what changes your direction most efficiently. In other words when you are in a tucked racing position your feet will go in the direction your ass leans. Its very similar in concept to how a motorbike is steered around a racetrack with the riders center of gravity.

When the a corner is particularly sharp and slow it is sometimes helpful to use the stepover or crossover technique, as is familiar to most skaters. This is done in order to maintain the greatest possible speed so that you come out of a corner with the greatest momentum possible to regain your top speed as quickly as possible.


-Bailing

So in this rather unpleasant section we are going to briefly talk about slides, knee drops and controlled falls. Crashing is inevitable in downhill skating. There is no avoiding it. No matter how much you don't want it to happen, you are going to get a a few nasty bumps and bruises. Luckily there are ways to minimise the damage. Firstly, if you feel you are about to go down try to aim yourself in the direction where you will either hit something soft or wont collide with a solid object.  Its not the fall that kills you its the sudden stop. When a soft moving body comes into contact with a hard immovable object, parts of the soft body that haven’t come to an immediate stop will continue in any direction they can. This is when bones break and brain damage occurs. Secondly, if you feel you are about to fall, don't fight it, flow with it and be in control of your situation. When you panic, your arms and legs are going to go everywhere and tend to break when they hit the ground at weird angles in an uncontrolled fall. Where possible use your pads, if you can drop to your knees and slide or if you have crash shorts slide on your hip or ass. Pay attention to where you body will end up if you find yourself in the poo and try to be in control.


-racing lines

Another point to consider in order to get the best out of you skate is your riding line. Remember,  all you are really doing is adjusting your trajectory as your body reacts to the effects of gravity during the reduced effects of friction afforded to you by the slope of the hill and the roll of your wheels. Body positioning and direction control are all important. Before you ride down a hill, drive down it in a car or walk it. Get to know the corners, the road surface, the incline. When you approach the corner at speed know where you will end up once you get to the other side of the apex. If you can set yourself up for the smoothest line possible and you will be able to reduce your breaking needs and get round in the fastest time possible. Once you find the flow of your line, the ride becomes a dance with gravity.


Racing:

Overview

In Europe, inline downhill competitions have a large following. Some events can attract more than 60 inline riders and a great number of spectators. Various countries around the globe host well organised races and free rides. France, Italy and Austria in particular are home to some of the best riders in the world and host some of the top events along with Germany and Switzerland. Some of the other countries to host world class events include Spain, America, Canada and Australia. For the most part though only a small handful of riders are actually there to compete for position and ranking in the world cup. The majority of the riders are there just so they can have a safe controlled environment to skate in. Most of the riders who are there just for fun, are usually there with basic safety gear and come in baggy trousers and t-shirts.



Organizations

The world sanctioning body of inline downhill racing is the International Inline Downhill Associational, IIDA who work along side FIRS, Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports one of the world governing body of roller sports such as hockey, speed skating and freestyle. IIDA have representatives in most of the European countries as well as America and Australia.

Around six or seven IIDA sanctioned World Championship events are held each year to decide who the best in world will be. A few of the top men's riders in the world today are Harry Perna, Alexandre Lebrun, Daniel Ladurner and Davide Tecchini, who is also the current IIDA president. In the women's division Séverine Christ-Thomas is the current world champion, followed by the legendary Miss'ile riders Marjorie Phlippoteau in second place and Marie Marchand in third.


Currently there is no specific organisation dedicated to inline downhill in the UK but we are in the process of setting up IDUK, Inline Downhill UK, which will be set up as the central information, service and meeting point. We will be working together with IIDA to help formalise and the sport here by hosting races and free ride events and sharing information in order to get the best out of the sport.



Rules

As with any organised sport there are certain rules attached which are in place mostly for the safety of the riders and to help make the sport a little more exciting. For instance safety equipment, length of the track for world cup events, track safety, rider etiquette and other such things. For more on the rules and regulations check out the IIDA website.


Etiquette.

With in the race environment it is important to consider how you interact with other riders on the course. There are certain dangerous practices that should be avoided, like no pushing, cutting up etc. Physical contact on the course is at times inevitable. It is important in these situations to think about the consequences of your actions and that of the person you are racing against. Will your action put yourself or the other rider in danger? If and when you race the object is to win but not at the expense of someone else’s safety. You will probably find yourself in situations where you and another rider are rounding a corner together. If the rider you are with has the optimum line, don't force your way in as this will generally result in an accident. If however there is a good size gap and you can take the corner with out causing an accident then go for it! Another potential danger  point is when two riders are approaching an s-bent or curve. It can be all to easy to forcefully hold your line causing the rider next to you to be locked out resulting in him/her crashing into the safety barrier or hay bale. The best thing to do in this situation is to put yourself in front of the other rider denying him the space to pass in order to keep your place. Allowing him to get next to you whilst you hold your line will cause problems. If you are the rider who is trying to take the place from the rider in front, don't force the rider you are trying to pass into locking you out. Always consider how an interaction will end up before it has a chance to go wrong. You might even find yourself in a situation where you are racing with an overly aggressive rider who keeps making dangerous challenges. If you cant keep him behind you, let him pass and bring the situation to the attention of the race martial at the end of the race.  Getting into a dangerous battle is not worth the heart ache of crashing and getting badly hurt. Chances are that the marshal will rule against the rider and they will be disqualified for dangerous riding. Sometimes its better to loose with grace and heart than to win with a broken neck.


Go fast and stay safe...


If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me.

Grantduplessis@gmail.com

 
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