TRIED & TESTED BLADE RUNNERS

The new skating craze is sweeping the nation off its feet. Our panel of rollerblade testers glides into action
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The Independent Culture
ROLLERBLADE fever has reached such a pitch that the Royal Parks in London have recently announced a crackdown on skaters' activities to protect the poor old pedestrian. Bladers whizz about doing tricks and stunts (such as skating down metal banisters), play frisbee and hockey on skates, and compete in speed-skating events. The attraction of rollerblades compared to traditional roller-skates is that with all the wheels arranged in a straight line instead of in a 2x2 formation, they are much faster. Strictly speaking, the sport should not be called rollerblading at all, but in-line skating; "Rollerblades" are simply one brand of in-line skates.

Those considering joining the rapidly growing movement will need to buy not only skates, but a whole range of protective gear - essential for beginners. Skates start around £60-80. We asked a panel of one professional and three amateur skaters to test some pairs and give us their views.

THE PANEL

Stuart Scott, performer and skate coach for the musical Starlight Express; Susan Glen, picture editor; Deirdre Rooney, freelance designer; Hakeem Kae-Kazim, actor.

THE TEST

The panel gave the skates marks out of 10 for comfort, stability, control, speed, steadiness and looks.

***BAUER FX/3

£80

The winner among our selection of cheaper skates, although they were not a match for the faster, more expensive ones. "A safe bet for young kids, at a safe price," said Stuart Scott, "great for kicking about." Susan Glen recommended these fairly slow skates for a beginner: "You feel more confident, rather than whizzing out of control. Your legs get more of a work-out, as you have to make more effort." There was a big drawback, however. The panel found the boots, with their laces, a hassle to get on. "I like a skate to feel like a trainer, not look like one," commented Hakeem Kae-Kazim.

*INLINERS METEOR

£59.95

These are about as cheap as in-line skates come, at least for adults. "The boots are not ventilated," said Susan Glen, "and were hot even on a cool day. The wheels were less sturdy, and the slowest of all tested. I disliked the vulgar colours." Deirdre Rooney found skating in these such hard going that it was "like wading through treacle". Stuart Scott advised spending an extra £20 to buy the Bauer FX/3 instead. Hakeem Kae- Kazim was keen, however: "Fantastic boot for a beginner at a very good price. Colourful enough for those who want to announce their arrival on the blade scene big-time. The blade is slow enough for a beginner to feel confident, and it felt comfortable very quickly."

**INLINERS RAGE

£79.95

These were more popular than the cheaper Inliners skates, but, of the two models for around £80, the panel preferred its rival - the Bauer FX/3. Stuart Scott would have rated them higher had their performance not been marred by a lack of ankle movement. Deirdre Rooney gave them a good, if not glowing, report: "Easy to get on (they have buckles rather than laces), and comfortable. They are lightweight and responsive on the turns. Not as fast as the Bauer, but this might be good for a beginner - more expert skaters can upgrade them with harder wheels. Not as sturdy as the Bauer, Roces or Rollerblade." The panel did not go for these skates' looks, which are rather subdued compared to the other models.

****ROCES LAX

£169.95

This, and the other expensive model, the Rollerblade, scored much higher than the cheaper models on almost all counts. "They are light and fast, great for speed skating and strong enough for some wild street hockey," said Hakeem Kae-Kazim. "At the same time they are stylish enough for those showy street tricks. This is one for the blade-babes and bladedudes." Deirdre Rooney commented: "The combination of laces and clips means you get a better fit. Very smooth, comfortable, controlled, even on rough surfaces." These skates have ventilation holes in the shell of the boot and in the inner liner, to stop them getting overheated and smelly.

*****ROLLERBLADE GLX

£159.95

These have all the advantages of the Roces skates, such as good ventilation, but a novel braking system, too. Instead of raising the front wheels of the leading foot to brake, which can be tricky for a beginner, the skater simply pushes back with the calf to activate the brake. "The brake system was the easiest to use," said Deirdre Rooney, "and particularly useful for a beginner." Susan Glen thought the speed of the GLX, as the fastest of all the skates tested, was unnerving for a beginner.

Both Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Stuart Scott raved about the Rollerblade GLX. Stuart Scott said: "Without a doubt, the finest blades of the set. By far the easiest to put on, due to the quick-release buckles - the only pair with them, and a must for safety. They are so good that there is absolutely no chance of their collecting dust in the loft."

Without a doubt, our panel's favourite pair.

STOCKISTS: Inliners - telephone Pacer Leisure Ltd (01344 28232); Bauer (0181-398 7556); Roces - Shiner Ltd (0117 955 6035); Rollerblade (0891 515090).

NEXT WEEK: TRAVEL GUIDES

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