Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Introduction to Speed -- As Told by Dragon Captain Matt

Speedboarding. Downhill skateboarding. Downhill. Bombing hills. DH. Whatever you want to call it, it is going fast on a skateboard. Next to freeriding, it’s probably the fastest-growing skateboarding discipline. In this article we’ll go over what you need to know in order to get into speedboarding.

Part I: Rules
The rules of speedboarding can be summed up in one sentence, “Don’t be a kook.” Unfortunately, that’s not very specific, so here’s a little more to go on.
      1) Respect the rules of the road and the people that live there. Stay in your lane. Don’t skate when there’s a lot of traffic. If residents ask you to leave, then leave. Smile and wave at everyone. Pick up any trash that’s yours and maybe some that’s not. Don’t park on people’s lawns. Don’t blow through stop signs and traffic lights.
      2) Skate within your limits. Push what you are comfortable doing (that’s how you get better), but don’t be stupid. Take it easy the first time you hit the hill as there might be things you didn’t know about (camber changes, pavement changes, dogs that run out and chase you, etc.). Don’t go balls-to-the-wall on a 50mph hill when you’ve never topped 40mph before.
      3) Know how to control your speed. Be able to at least make an emergency stop from whatever speed you’re going. You don’t need to be able to throw stand up toeside checks at 40mph, but practice those glove-down slides so you can stop if you have to. You never know what you’ll encounter on the road. Being able to footbrake at speed is great too. It doesn’t slow you down as quickly, but it’s very helpful in tight spots.
      4) Know what other riders are doing around you and make sure they know what you are doing. Riding with others is way more fun, but when in tight packs, one mistake can take down multiple people. Don’t make sketchy passes and make sure to signal (clapping with slide gloves is common) your passes. Airbrake a little if you’re gaining on someone and don’t want to pass yet. Make sure other people know when you are going to slide so they don’t come crashing into you.
      5) Wear your safety gear. Falling when skiing/snowboarding at 40mph can hurt. Falling off a jet ski and bouncing on the water at 40mph can hurt. Falling off a skateboard and slapping the pavement at 40mph hurts worse. Roadrash hurts. A helmet is essential and slide gloves pretty much are (they’re cheap and easy to make; google it). Kneepads are nice too and elbow pads certainly help. I like sunglasses too because I have a tendency to get hit in the face with bugs and small rocks (being able to see is important). I also have dedicated skate pants. I don’t like ruining pants all the time and my butt hits the ground when doing coleman slides occasionally. The butt is duct-taped for extra padding and so it’s much harder to wear through them and roadrash my butt (not fun). You don’t need a full-face helmet and leathers, but you do need some safety gear.
      6) Don’t be a kook because what you do skating impacts other skaters. New spots aren’t exactly popping up out of the ground. Getting a spot blown is going to ruin other people’s days too. Skate within your limits, respect other people (especially residents and police), don’t post your spots on the internet, and only bring people to your spots if you know they can ride it safely or know their limits enough to say “I’m going to start from lower down the hill.”
Part II: Gear
There are a lot of different options for your setup and most of it comes down to preference. Try other people’s setups to see what you like and what you don’t. People can give you recommendations, but nobody can tell you exactly what you’re going to like best. Whatever you are most comfortable going fast on is the best board for you to go fast on.

It’s important to note that when referring to grip, most riders don’t go for maximum grip. The board, wheels, and trucks all impact grip (as does the rider) and most riders want something that will hold a line well but slides predictably when needed. The same goes for stability. The most stable board ever wouldn’t turn very well. You need to be able to take good lines through corners and dodge shiatsus that run out in front of you, but you also need to be stable. Setups are typically a compromise between grip, slideability, stability, and turning.

      1) The board. A speedboard needs to be, above all other things, stiff. Everything else varies, but flex makes for wobbles and sketchiness when sliding. Concave and shape are both preference and vary widely between boards. The other things to consider are deck height and wheelbase. Most speedboards are topmounts, drop-throughs, or short drops (often 5/8” or so of drop in the platform). The lower the deck height, the less grip the board has (all other things equal). Lower boards are also more stable to an extent, but stability is more in the rider. Wheelbase affects the turning circle of the board and grip. A shorter wheelbase results in a more responsive board that grips a little harder. A longer wheelbase results in a more stable board that is a little more prone to sliding out. Most downhill boards have a wheelbase in the 27” to 31” range, but not all do. Concaves vary considerably, but they need to be comfortable and able to lock you in when gripping corners and sliding.
      2)  Trucks are a really important component of a downhill setup as they control stability and turning. Unfortunately, they are also very preference-based so it’s hard to make recommendations. The main thing to look for is the baseplate angle. 50* trucks are typically more of a carving and freeride truck, but plenty of people go fast on 50* plates as it is what they are comfortable on. Paris, Gunmetal, and Caliber are some popular 50* truck brands. A lot of people also ride lower angle trucks. This makes less turn per input of lean. This feels a little less twitchy as small inputs are translated into less turn. Too low of an angle and you sacrifice the ability to turn and can lose grip around corners as you have to lean so far off the board to get the same amount of turn. Some popular lower angle trucks are 44* Calibers, 46* and 42* Gunmetals, Sabres (45*), Road Riders (45*), and 42* Randals. Most people typically find TKP-style trucks like Independents a little squirrelly for downhill, but plenty of people do it and it works well for them (google “guide to running indys for downhill” if you’re thinking about it). You don’t need precision trucks to go fast. Precisions are for when you know what you like in a truck (bushing seat, baseplate angle, rake, etc.) and how to set up your bushings exactly how you like them.
      3) Wheels are tricky in that the ideal wheel varies based on the road, the rider, and the rest of the setup. Big, wide wheels can compensate for a lack of grip from the rest of the setup, but can make slides less predictable. The bigger and heavier the rider, the more s/he can take advantage of wide, grippy wheels. Most downhill-oriented wheels are offset and square-lipped. They are also typically in the 70mm-75mm range and 78a-82a durometer. Smaller wheels accelerate a bit faster and larger wheels hold roll speed better. What this translates to is, with a smaller wheel, you accelerate faster after shedding speed with a drift. Larger wheels have more momentum so, when the hill starts to flatten out, you hold speed or keep accelerating better. Big wheels aren’t going to make you faster than everyone else; a clean tuck and good line will make you faster. Larger wheels are more prone to wheelbite, but more riser just makes for more grip.
      4) Bearings come in many varieties and prices, but don’t really matter. As long as you run spacers and speed rings (or bearings with built-in spacers and speed rings), then you’ll be fine. Super Precision Swiss Ceramic bearings from space that cost $500 won’t make you noticeably faster. Keeping your bearings clean and well lubricated is more important than anything else. Good shields to keep the lube in and the dirt out are also nice.
      5) Bushings are really important but also really tricky to give advice on. They are very personal and vary based on rider preference, trucks, and board. A good starting point is double barrels in the duro that is your weight in pounds divided by 10 plus 70. So 85a for a 150lb rider. Again, this is really only a starting point. A good bushing setup requires experimentation. You want bushings soft enough that turning is easy, but hard enough that you have some resistance, rebound, and stability.
The best way to figure out what you like is to try a lot of other people’s setups. Some people like 50* trucks, some like lower angles, and some like Indys. Some people love complicated concaves with W and microdrops and some prefer a simple-yet-effective radial concave.
Part III: Technique
A lot of going fast has to do with practice and learning from other riders. The only reason I’m any good at going fast is the hill I lived on. It was really fast and we rode it every day. Balance and confidence are really the only important things, both of which come from practice.
1) Speed wobbles are mostly in the rider. Yes, some setups are more prone to wobbling than others. But, they are a result of lack of practice and comfort with the setup. In order to get better, find a hill bigger than you are comfortable doing from the top. Go from as high as you are comfortable and ride down from there until the wobbles go away. Then go a little further up the hill. Repeat. Wobbles can also result from poor weighting of the board. The majority of your weight should be on your front foot. Weighting the back more results in wobbles. A tuck is not only to become aerodynamic; it also forces all your weight onto your front foot.
2)  Tucking is tricky and the best tuck is not always the most aerodynamic. As K-Rimes once said, “I think the secret to speed is standing very still on your skateboard.” K-Rimes is fast, so we should listen to him. Moving around in your tuck effectively makes your frontage wider and you less aerodynamic. Moral: be comfortable in your tuck so you can stand still in it and go fast. If you want to improve your tuck, ask and watch other riders that are faster than you.
3) Taking good lines is something that comes with practice. When in doubt, take a conservative line, or late apex. That way you have more of your turning done before going through the corner. This allows you to adjust your line better later. If you cut into a turn too early, you’ll end up too far outside later, which is not cool. Taking a bad line can result in a lot of bad things. Tumbling off into the grass isn’t too bad. Oncoming traffic is bad. Trees hurt. Walls hurt. Curbs are bad. Falling off the side of a mountain can be bad. Before you push what you think you can do in a corner, ask yourself what the price of failure is.
4) Sliding. The faster you go, the easier it is to slide. Sliding takes practice and balls. You need to commit to it. Google, youtube, and especially other skaters can teach you how to slide better than I can. Finding a steep hairpin with no traffic, curbs, or cliffs is probably the best way to improve. Learn how to predrift it.
5) You are going to fall. It might hurt and it might not be so bad. It sucks, but the longer you stay off your board after falling, the harder it is going to be to ride the road again. There are bad places to fall (in front of a car) and less bad places to fall (some nice soft grass and dirt).
Thanks for reading. Have fun, skate safe, and know your limits. Please feel free to share any questions, comments, or advice you have.

Dragon Captain signing off.