Derby Gear Brand Guide

Thu 20 March 2014

Now that we're a few years into the growth of modern roller derby, a number of gear companies large and small have begun to cater to the derby market. This growth brings lots of great gear choices for derby skaters, but along with it a confusing amalgamation of companies, brands, and manufacturers. There are perfectly decent reasons why, for instance, the same company might sell boots under one brand name and wheels under another, but it can get pretty hard to follow. This guide is, as of early 2014, a snapshot of who makes what and under what brand name in the roller derby universe.

Nistevo Sport Manufacturing

Jackson Boots
Luigino Boots
Bionic Bearings (also toestops)
Pilot Plates
Atom Wheels
Atom Gear (pads)


Riedell Boots
Powerdyne Plates (also toestops)
Radar Wheels
Kwik Bearings


Antik Boots (top-end models manufactured at Reidell's Red Wing, MN factory)
Reckless Wheels
B'Zerk Wheels
Heartless Wheels
Moto Bearings
Gumball Toestops

Sure Grip

Sure Grip Boots/Plates/Wheels
Snyder Plates
Qube Bearings
Hyper Wheels
Kryptonic Wheels
RX Toe Stops

Vanilla Skates

Vanilla Boots
Vanilla Backspin Wheels (sometimes listed as just "Backspin")


Bont Skates (boots, plates, wheels, bearings)


Crazy Skates (boots, plates, wheels, toestops)

Brooklyn Skate Company

Brooklyn Skate Company (currently just the Murillo 340 boot, manufactured at Avanta Skating Boots)

Juice Wheels

Juice Wheels


Faster Wheels


Cheezeballs Bearings

Powell Skateboards

Bones Bearings
Rollerbones Wheels


Roll-Line is an Italian skate manufacturer whose plates have found some devotees in the roller derby community. They don't have an English language website, but their dealer network is pretty well established in the USA.

Roller Derby Skate Corporation

Roller Derby Skates
Labeda Skates
Pacer Skates
Bevo Bearings

Safety Gear manufacturers popular amongst derby skaters

Triple 8
187 Killer Pads
Select Distribution (Smith Scabs)
Nutcase Helmets
S-One Helmets

Gear Guide: The Bare Bones

Fri 07 March 2014

If you're interested in playing Roller Derby (or participating as a skating ref) and are trying to get equipped for the minimum possible investment, here's how to do it. This set of gear is the best option for folks who are unsure about their commitment to derby or just low on funds. I recommend starting with The Basics of Buying Derby Gear, but after that you can pretty much use this post as a shopping list.

One word of warning: when it comes to buying roller derby gear, in many ways you do get what you pay for. By choosing the bare bones at the outset, you're going to hit the limitations of your gear faster because something wears out, breaks, or starts to limit your performance as your skills improve. I'm also planning writing an "investment beginner" guide that's a step up in price but will last longer for those with both the commitment and additional funds.


The cheapest way to start skating roller derby is to buy a complete skate package (boots, plates, wheels, and bearings all pre-assembled) that is focused on speed skating and/or roller derby. The Riedell R3 is by far the most popular option for new derby skaters, and for good reason: it's a relatively durable and comfortable skate at a very attractive price. The usual advice used to be to replace the wheels as soon as you got them, but Riedell must have caught on because many derby-focused shops now offer an "R3 Derby" package with Radar Flat-Outs, which are a perfectly reasonable first wheel.

A few alternatives that are worth noting: The Sure Grip Rebels have a slightly wider boot than the R3, so try those if the R3s are too narrow (you're gonna have to spend a lot more to get skates that actually come in wide sizes, unfortunately). Also, the Crazy VXi package seems intriguing (Crazy is an Australian skate company starting to make some headway into the US derby market), but I don't know anyone who has tried them so I can't recommend them fully.

Safety Gear

For a helmet, you want a something that is dual-certified for single and multiple impacts. The cheapest such helmet available is the Bell Faction, so get that. Some people have found that the lining wears out quickly, but Bell has been good about sending out replacement liners from what I've seen.

The cheapest pair of decent knee pads is the Triple Eight KP 22 at about thirty bucks. They're fine to start out for most folks, but if you have a history of knee problems I recommend going right to a a set of high-end pads like the TSG Force IV. Your knees will thank you for the additional padding.

For elbow pads, as long as they have a hard cap on them and fit you well I don't think you can really go wrong. Go ahead and get these ProTec Streets, or whatever is most comfortable on your arms.

I like the slide-on style wrist guards like these Triple 8 Wristsavers, but if you want to get the three-strap kind that's cool too.

You'll also need a mouthguard. From all the research I've done, safety-wise it matters a lot that you are wearing a mouthguard but not so much which mouthguard, so go ahead and get something Simple. I got a case for mine at my local crazy surplus store, but you could also buy one along with your mouthguard or bum a free retainer case off your dentist.

Other Gear

The Skates + Safety gear will cover everything you strictly need, but there are a couple extras you might want to throw in to solve life's little annoyances.

Your skates will come with a barely-workable skate tool, but it won't take many adjustments before you'll wish you had a proper skate tool

Similarly, you'll really want one of these Bearing pullers the first time you have to swap out bearings.

I also like to carry around a backup set of pivot cups and laces because it's irritating if you have to miss practice because a tiny little thing broke on your skates.

In case you need a bag to carry all this crap in, a surplus duffle will get the job done and probably last longer than anything you put in it.

Total Cost

Prices vary a little bit between different skate shops, but buying just the mandatory skates + safety gear should end up being just under $300 after taxes and/or shipping. It's not insignificant, but it's a small price to pay for memories and bruises that will last a lifetime.

The Dimensions of a Regulation WFTDA Track

Tue 04 March 2014

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can write things down that you often look up and then it'll be added to Google's index so you don't need to look it up again. This is one of those posts.

Anyway, so I don't have to do the math in my head again (and again, and again), these are the rough dimensions of a regulation WFTDA/MRDA roller derby flat track. (Calculated from the Official Track Design )

The length of a WFTDA track is (17.5 * 2) + (12.5 * 2) + (14 * 2) = 88 feet.

At any one point, a WFTDA track is no wider than (12.5 * 2) + 15 + 13 = 53 feet. However, the offset curves mean that the the bounding rectangle of the track will be 55 Feet wide.

That of course is without safety lanes (10 feet in most cases, though there are legal ways to cut down on that distance and maintain a fully-sanctioned track). 10-foot safety lanes surrounding the track add 20 feet to each dimension, which means the bounding rectangle of a regulation WFTDA/MRDA roller derby flat track with full safety lanes is:
108' x 75'

WFTDA Track Dimensions

For rough size reference, a roller derby flat track would not fit inside an NCAA regulation basketball court, but does fit comfortably inside an NCAA regulation hockey rink.

Announcing the Stink Face Winner

Wed 02 October 2013

As the leaves fall, the air turns crisp, and a big-ass thunderstorm rolls outside my window here in St. Paul, it's time to bring the September of Stink Face to a close.

Thank you all who submitted your Excellent Stink Faces to the facebook event. Choosing a winner amongst all the frowns and squints was a painstaking process.

But between myself, my wife Jessie, and guest judges Mario Slamieux and Crust Almighty, we narrowed it down to the following finalists:

Four finalsts in the Fire Wally Stink Face contest

(Photo credit clockwise from top-left: Wijadi Jodi, David Dyer-Bennet, Adam Martini, Ryan Starr )

Now I think you'll agree, those are four stiiiiiiinky faces. But for the combination of perfect face contortion, demonstrated exertion, excellent photography, and similarity to the Fire Wally Original the panel gave the title to the Minnesota Rollergirls' own MeshugEnough!

MeshugEnough wins best stink face

Congratulations 'Shug on capturing the Stink Face title. She'll be receiving a complimentary Bell Faction helmet in the color of her choosing. Of course, even if you didn't win, remember that you too can purchase a helmet for a very reasonable price that is certified for both single and multiple impacts by the proper authorities. Protect your squishy brain bits!

Thanks for playing! Stay tuned for more roller derby hijinks coming this fall to Fire Wally Dot Net Slash Blog!

The Basics of Buying Derby Gear

Sun 08 September 2013

I've got plans for a series of posts outlining some basic gear-buying advice, but before I give specific recommendations, I'd like to lay out some basic points about my general approach to buying roller derby equipment.

Fit Comes First

I can write about durability, performance, and materials quality, but ultimately what decides whether a piece of gear is right for you is whether it fits the shape of your feet, legs, arms, or head. Your boots, pads, and helmet should all fit as snugly as possible without causing pain, numbness, or pressure points. Different gear manufacturers do their best to provide consistent sizing, but you might find yourself between a Medium and Large in one brand while another's Medium fits perfectly, so you should shop around until you find something that fits.

The best skates in the world won't do anything for you if they're a size too big, and no knee pads will protect your knees if they keep sliding down your shins. Whenever possible, you should buy gear that you know will fit snugly and comfortably.

Of course, this assumes that you have the chance to try something on before you buy, which is one of the reasons you should...

Buy Local If You Can

We're all lucky enough to have a number of different places we can choose to buy our skates, pads, and wheels from, but I think that if you have the option to buy from a local, derby-focused skate shop, you should. It's good for the skater to be able to try stuff on and receive specific advice, and it's good for the sport to support the network of shop owners that have a vested interest in the long-term growth of the sport.

There isn't yet a retail derby gear shop in every village and hamlet, but if you live within a day's drive of Austin or Phoenix or Eugene or Seattle or the Bay Area or NYC or Upstate or New England or Chicago or Saint Paul or Atlanta, then I recommend making the trip. Lots of these are small shops so if you do have a long drive to get there, I recommend calling ahead and confirming their hours for the day you plan to visit.

Many of these shops also set up vendor tables at tournaments, so if you have an event coming up near you, that might be the next best thing. Coordinators of the tournament should be happy to tell you what gear vendors, if any, will be in attendance. If you go, it's best to hit the vendor area early and get first pick of their available stock.

If neither of those are options, it might still be a good idea to order from one of the online stores of those derby-focused merchants. Email conversations on size and selection aren't as good as in-person advice, but it's better than you'll get at Amazon.

Don't Cheap Out On Safety

I've already said my piece about why you should buy a certified helmet, but I think that the idea of investing in good safety gear applies more generally. The right set of pads for you might not be the most expensive, but you should pay what you need to in order to get pads that fit with generous protection and padding.

This means that you should replace any pads that are stretched out or coming unstitched or failing in any other way to live up to their full protective potential. Also, I'm skeptical of getting safety gear second-hand, especially knee pads and helmets. I understand the impulse to save a few bucks, but roller derby is a contact sport and taking it seriously means taking every reasonable step to reduce your risk of injury.

Plus, not to be a downer but even the most expensive pads are a whole lot cheaper than a concussion or a broken bone.

Everything You Need to Know About Kinesio Tape, KT Tape, Rock Tape, and Other Brands of Stretchy Tapey Stuff.

Thu 05 September 2013

It makes your skin feel tingly. This can have a short-term pain relieving effect similar to Icy Hot or other topical pain relief products.

It comes in fun colors.

There is no scientific evidence of any theraputic benefit to using it.

It's mostly harmless.

I don't think you should pay someone to stick it on you, unless maybe you're trying to tape that middle spot in your back where you can't quite reach from either side. That's probably worth a fiver I guess.