Roger Manning

In-line Skating in everyday Manhattan life.
   - by Roger with input from Petra and Jen

In-line skating in big city traffic is considered treacherous if not outright insane by the average citizen but it's not actually as exciting as all that. It's a terrific mode of non-motorized urban transportation. I estimate there to be something like maybe 1 in-line skater for every 10 bikers on NYC streets during warm, dry weather.

Covered on this page:
• pros
• cons
• saftey tips
• skating in traffic

Pros and cons for in-line skates as urban transport:


Maneuverability through tight spots in traffic (no handlebars).
They're pretty fast. 10 - 13 mph cruising speed on level pavement. Much faster down hill.
Your hands are free to carry all kinds of stuff.
It's a great way to get outdoors and get. A nice "burn" and great butt/leg toning. Your body will hum for hours after a big skate.
Less stress on joints and less jarring to the body than running.
The wheels of perception. Rolling through the world faster than walking, slower than biking puts a whole new spin on things. At times, gliding through surreal late night city streets isn't unlike dreams I used to have about being able to fly.
There's more interaction with the terrain than when sitting on a bike. There's an element of play that keeps routine trips from becoming tedious.
It's real nice to not have to deal with the issue of bike theft; big heavy bike locks, finding a place to lock up, vandalism.
Skates are nicely portable for bringing along to explore when traveling to other cities.

The learning curve. It's fairly easy to learn well enough to enjoy skating in a park or down the river path but a little dedication is required to acquire the degree of skill and confidence required in order to be comfortable skating in traffic. On the other hand, there are many fearless people who seem to adapt right away.
Most everyone wants you to remove your skates on coming inside. There are a lot of skate-friendly stores though, particularly bodegas and Korean markets. I like to travel light and often carry flip-flops in a rear pocket (not a lot of fashion pride). Solutions include using skates that have removable wheels or bringing an ample backpack or a strap to carry your skates.
A longer stopping distance. Bikes have better brakes, but hell, experienced skaters don't even bother with brakes or stopping for that matter. The nature of skates are to go, not to stop. You gotta watch/plan further ahead than other vehicles do and your first thought should be "go around" when confronted with an obstacle.
No good when it's wet. Skates lose nearly all traction on wet surfaces and the water will wash all the grease out of your bearings making them seize up later. If your bearings do get soaked, try to keep skating on them as they dry and often they will free up again.
Associations. You'll be hated by a lot of skateboarders, and just about everyone else that uses the streets and sidewalks. Many in-line skaters (most often the inexperienced) have been truly dangerous, annoying, and very un-hip. Remember, "the rollerblader is always wrong." Still, bladers are rarely harassed and oppressed as much as skateboarders are because many more of them are white-ass yuppie types as opposed to young rebellious male teens in baggy clothes. I loathe a lot of inline skaters too. Particularly moneyed safety fascists who insist I share their fears.

Roger's safety tips.
SKATE A LOT. Your legs will develop all kinds of magical hidden muscles. Your legs pretty much teach themselves what to do. Confidence is an essential safety asset. Nothing like panic to get you hurt.
Learn to go around stuff. Stopping is overrated. Plan ahead, go around. You probably wouldn't be able to stop in time anyway. Also, it's easier to stop after turning to avoid something that has slowed you down. First learn to stop effectively using the brake and then without it. Then lose that silly habit and go around stuff instead. Then get rid of the ugly thing hanging off the back of your skate so that everyone will know you are badass. It'll start getting in the way anyway. (Comes in handy in ridiculously hilly towns like Seattle and San Francisco though.)
Wear wrist guards. They are like splints around your wrist that give you something to land on. When you fall, and EVERYONE falls, you lift up your face, knees and whatever else, throw out your hands and land on the wrist guards. They'll absorb most of the shock sparing you broken wrists, a ridiculous amount of pain, and major palm-flesh loss. Head injuries are certainly an issue but it's overwhelmingly more likely that you'll land on your hands. In any case, wear as much safety equipment as you feel you need to feel comfortable. This may lessen in time.
Avoid wet spots(see above). If you must go over wet pavement try to roll straight through as much as possible and use a stride that focuses more on putting the foot forward rather than pushing off to the side. Pushing sideways is where the slippage happens.

Roger's skating in traffic tips.
Do your learning in non-traffic situations like nice smooth parking lots, playgrounds and parks, etc.
ASSUME THAT YOU ARE INVISIBLE. Assume all responsibility for seeing what is happening and what needs to be done. This includes checking behind you, especially for your comrades on bikes. It'll pay off big time.
Look and plan WAY AHEAD.
Whenever possible, keep up with the flow of traffic. Going slow is NOT safer. You will be constantly overrun and cut off by vehicles and bicycles. The going is MUCH easier when you're in the flow.
Remember "the zone". When it appears to the driver that there is no space between their car and another vehicle/object, there is actually about 2 feet. Plenty of room for us skaters! When all hell jumps right in front of you, head for a 'zone'.
Never trust pedestrians to make the right move. Try to go behind them. Even if you have the light, it's always best to bite the bullet and slow down when a big busy crosswalk is filling up ahead of you. That is where I've had the most problems. The easiest, non-stopping way to approach a busy crosswalk is to turn just before it and roll parallel till there's an opening.

If you're on an UNAVOIDABLE collision course with a pedestrian who's stepped directly into your path, the safest thing to do ( with someone other than a mother with an infant/stroller) is to skillfully hit them. Lean your chest into their chest, grab their shoulders and, if possible, get them to grab your shoulders. You hold each other up as you spin around and no-one whacks their bones on the pavement. It's common for a skater to end up getting injured when trying to spare some fool. Why die for these people? Hit 'em. Save both of you.

Go around the outside of turning cars, otherwise they'll probably turn right into you, most likely with you being carried around the corner on their rear door uninjured.
That brings up another tip; go ahead and land on the fucking car. Put your wrist guards out in front of you to soften the landing (and leave 'em a nice little ding) and just lay up against the fucker. It's a lot nicer than hitting the pavement and a lot less likely that you'll end up under the wheels.
Not a bad idea to use hand signals, particularly when making slick moves. People will hate you a lot less and may even cooperate when they feel that you know what you're doing. Cab drivers often are pretty experienced with skaters and will work with you if you communicate.
It's easier and safer to skate in the direction of traffic.
Red lights. My personal policy regarding red lights and stop signs is to always yield the right of way.
Reading NYC traffic lights.
The walk/don't walk signs will tell you in advance what the traffic light is going to do. When it says "walk" in solid white letters there's plenty of time left on the green light. When it says "don't walk" in blinking red letters, then the light is close to going yellow. You might want to pick up the pace to make the light, but if you're still a long ways off, speeding up will only mean that you probably hit the intersection at high speed just as the light turns red and then you better have either some really crafty moves or a lot of health insurance. When the sign says "don't walk" in non-blinking red letters, you're almost out of time. In any case, in NYC when the light turns red there's a delay of a few seconds before the cross traffic gets their green light. So, don't panic if you're late getting into the intersection. If you keep your head, you should be able to get clear without getting creamed.
Time the traffic lights for big down-hills. It's infinitely easier and safer to not have the lights turning red on you as you're picking up speed.
Occasionally rotate your wheels. The front and back wheels wear down quicker than the two inside wheels leaving you with less stability. This can actually be good for fancy figure skating type stuff though.
Don't use your walkman in traffic. Hearing is essential in determining what's going on around you.

skating -home | top