There are plenty of differences between 3 and 4 wheel inline skates, including stability, height, manoeuvrability and speed. For many intermediate skaters looking to upgrade, the question of which wheels to choose and why, is a common one.
In this blog I will answer a specific question from one of the Skatefresh community:
Q: I’m on 4x80mm wheels at the moment but want to go up to 125mm. Is this a wise next choice for me?
A: This a great question because there are now so many choices to make about inline skates: not just boots, frames, and bearings, but whether and when to go from four wheels to three, or from 80mm wheels to 90mm, 100, 110, or even 125.
You’re right to think that larger wheels are smoother over rough asphalt, as well as giving a mechanical advantage in speed. This is particularly useful in urban environments where having the momentum to skate fast over the rough stuff makes it much easier to handle. But you get this advantage with 100s and 110s as well as with 125s.
My experience with 3 larger wheels on inline skates
When I first tried triskates of various larger wheel sizes back in late 2015, I noticed that the larger the wheel, the more I had to use my body correctly to make the skates do what I wanted.
This was an interesting process of having to hone various skills which I thought were second nature, mainly turns and stops. I found it particularly challenging to do tight manoeuvres on 125s — although this video on Instagram shows me giving it a good go:
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The speed I was able to generate fast in a straight line on 125s was almost scary, as I skate in public places where I need to account for other road users such as bikes and pedestrians.
Also scary was that with the larger wheels I knew I didn’t have my usual fluency with my transition to powerslide to stop at speed. I think 125s are best enjoyed in racing situations where everyone is skating in the same direction and you can go as fast as you like. I can see why all the professional speed skaters use them in that environment.
I’ve now seen many amateur speed skaters, and street skaters, who transitioned up to 110s or 125s, and have noticed some changes in their skating. They skate way faster.
They appear to enjoy this added speed. But they seem to have more troubles slowing down and stopping. I rarely see a skater on 125s stop convincingly well — and almost never with a powerslide, which in my view is the easiest high-speed stop.
What about setups with 4 larger wheels?
Around 2004 I skated with a Bont speed skate setup of four large wheels, but have not done this since. Those skating on 4×90 or 4×110 are usually fitness and racing skaters who want to feel the added speed and stability of a longer frame, and 4 wheels gives you that.
As with all longer frames, speed is maximised and manoeuvrability is reduced. Turns and stops are more challenging. I used to feel that having four large wheels was like having a canoe strapped to my foot — even large parallel turns felt like hard work after my 4x80s.
Triskates combine large wheels with a short frame to give skaters the benefit of speed without such loss of agility. My 3×110 wheels touch the ground in the same places, front and back, as my 4x80s do, making the wheel base the same length.
Unless you’re planning to do nothing but speed races, three larger wheels are safer choice than four larger wheels.
How to progress to larger wheels on inline skates
I think it’s important not to transition too quickly to larger wheels, and not to go too large
I would not recommend moving from 80mm directly to 125mm, as this would mean both a huge increase in your speed and more difficulty with what I call ‘conscious edge control’, about which more below, as well as the higher centre of gravity making it harder to balance, which itself will reduce your manoeuvrability in turns and stops.
It can be useful to choose skates that allow you a progression of wheel sizes (e.g. 90s to 100s and then 110s) without having to buy entirely new kit. Some models of Powerslide Next skates allow you to do this by changing frames while keeping your same comfy boot.
Here’s three options when moving from 3 to 4 wheels on inline skates:
- You could get a skate with a frame able to fit up to 100mm wheels, but start with 90s and move up to 100s only when you feel completely comfortable with balance and stopping.
- Or get a frame that takes 110mm wheels but buy a set of 100s and start there first.
- Or a skate that can take 110mm wheels, but begin with 90s, then 100s, and finally 110s.
Check out these options from Powerslide. I have many students who are using the Next skates in this way and creating a gradual process for themselves:
Powerslide also has a wide variety of Trinity frames that are interchangeable with all boots that feature the Trinity mounting system.
How to know you’re ready for triskates
You can prepare yourself for a smoother transition to three larger wheels on your inline skates by assessing your current skating from the ground up, in particular with an inventory of your stopping methods, which you will need more when your speed increases.
If you’ve developed ‘conscious edge control’ on your 80mm wheels, this is a great sign that you have the technical and practical knowhow to retain your balance on a taller wheel.
If however you currently have difficulty gliding on your centre or outside edges when striding normally on flat ground, then your time would be better spent nailing that foundation skill before trying to do the same balancing job with a taller wheel.
You need to be consciously in control of your edges so that you do not habitually skate with inside edge pronation. An inside edge pronation on one or both feet can cause many kinds of slow-onset injury in the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.
Learning to skate on 3 wheel skates (triskates)
Top tip: For those who want to learn to skate on triskates, I highly recommend using a heel brake until you’ve got several non-heel braking stopping methods under your belt.
Dealing with that additional speed without a heel brake is a risk a beginner skater should not take, as stopping with a heel brake is the easiest method to learn and the most efficient in most situations.
Check out this video where I taught two groups of beginner inline skaters, one group with four wheels and another with three:
Almost all the beginners on inline skates pronate on their first day of class or skating. It usually takes some time to train and correct this. In the video, the beginners on triskates had the same pronation as the four-wheeled skaters.
This is the biggest problem for skaters, however many wheels they have.
My advice is to leave the 125s to the speed skaters who don’t have to stop quickly in race situations. Begin with 90s or 100s and then later go up to 110s if you like. I know many skaters who have gone up to 110s but returned to 100s for added comfort and safety.
Train your skills properly on your new larger wheels. Check your basics — turns, gliding, balance control — and gain mastery over your various stopping methods and combinations of stops, so that you never end up being the skater who after a crash says, “I knew my stops didn’t really work but I didn’t think it mattered that much”.
Ultimately what you do with your skates and how is more important than how many wheels you do it on or how large they are. Be aware of changes in your skating and fill any gaps in your practical abilities, particularly edge control and stopping.
Honest engagement with your technique should benefit your skating whatever your wheels. Technique is everything, and remember, practice makes permanent!