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Monday, September 30, 2013

Skating a Big Setup, Part 3: Comfort is better, and why I can't go back

by The Bertrand

In Part 2 of this series of skating a board sized to my particularly large frame, I discussed the board measurements and their relation to certain body measurements. The fitting guide is holding up well to other skaters' experiences.

I introduced the idea of using reverse kingpin (RKP) trucks, also sometimes called "longboard trucks". I still like the RKP trucks, and the more I skate them, the more I realize their benefits and drawbacks.
  • Geometry: RKP geometry is profoundly different than TKP. The kingpin goes under the axle, and the pivot is flat instead of angled/curved. This gives more turn with less lean and higher stability at speed. Many RKP hangers are often flippable to change from a "high" truck to a "low" truck. RKP geometry offers a wider range of bushing options and kingpin lengths, as well as no kingpin hangup on grinds. RKP trucks become unstable on decks with wheelbases shorter than, probably, 16". Flatter nose/tail angles with longer noses/tails can be more friendly for RKP trucks, as can using low angle RKP trucks such as downhill trucks. Sometimes, the kingpin, even the mushroom head Surf Rodz inverted kingpins, gets in the way on tail and nose tricks on the lip of ramps. Not terribly in the way, but enough to give me a little bit of self-doubt before I do a drop-in.  
  • Height: The average height of RKP trucks is 64mm, compared to Low TKP at 48mm (RKPs are 34% higher), Mid TKP at 52mm (RKPs are 25% higher) and High TKP at 55mm (RKPs are 16% higher). I flipped my Bear Grizzly hangers to get a 59.5mm height, which has been fairly accommodating of deep turning with my 62mm x 40mm wide wheels. Wheelbite is practically gone, and has only thrown me off the board twice: 1 bail and 1 slam. Not bad. Using eliminator bottom bushings tames wheelbite pretty effectively.  
  • Axle Displacement: The axles on RKP trucks are relatively closer to the center of the board. This gives high leverage on the nose and tail, meaning it takes less effort to lift on kickturns and manuals and ollies. Ollie effort is a lot lower, which comes in handy when I'm tired. Manuals and kickturns require more precise board control, because a little bit of movement goes a long way in a high leverage situation. Manuals feel a little "soft", but I've gotten used to it. At first, I didn't get that locked in feel on manuals that I get with TKP trucks, but I became accustomed to the newer, more variable feel. Kickturns also feel soft, and at first I was not able to get the front wheels as high as I would like, but, once again, I got used to it. A stiff deck really helps with using the extra leverage to your advantage. On a softer big pops deck that I have, I redrilled my deck to get the trucks 3/8" further back on the tail, and that helped a lot while not giving up too much of the low ollie effort. I haven't had to redrill my stiffer big pops decks, such as my Earthwing Yoni or Crewzer. 
A friend of mine gave me a set of Independent 215s, which are actually more like 189s in that they are about 10" wide at the axle. I tried these Indy 215s, but I found that they didn't turn as sharply or as deeply as my RKP trucks, and wheelbite was common. I put 1/2" risers and 54mm wheels on, and I still couldn't get the turning I could get on the RKP trucks, and I was still getting wheelbite. On a 15" wheelbase board, the 215s feel great.

In a not-surprising development, I have settled on the same truck width, more or less, that I preferred in 1990, at the height of my youthful skating experiences. I've been skating 9.75" wide Bear Grizzlies. I've flipped the hangers to give me a low-down, stable feel. I also pounded the stock kingpins out, drilled out the kingpin hole in the baseplate, and modified the baseplate to fit a standard kingpin nut on the underside. That allowed me to put in some inverted Surf Rodz mushroom head kingpins. The Bear trucks grind awesome, turn great, are super strong, and highly stable when flipped.

Over the years, on the smaller and smaller freestyle/street boards that became the norm, I learned many more tricks than what I had in 1990, and I became a relatively more skilled skater, but I don't think I became a better skater. In all those years, skating streetstyle boards, I never felt as comfortable on the board as I did in the summer of 1990 on my 9.75" wide deck with a 16.5" wheelbase and 9.7" trucks.

It's amazing how meaningful the measurements actually are to feeling comfortable on the board. My legs back then had a 32" inseam, and I felt comfortable on a 34" long board. Nowadays, my inseam is 34", and I feel most comfortable on a 38" board. If I were to cut my current board to the shape of my 1990 board, it would be 36" long - noses were a lot shorter back then. My shoe size was 13 then, and 14 now, but my feet are the same size, it's just that a European 13 (actually, United Kingdom size 13) is the same as a United States 14. I preferred 9.5- 9.75" wide boards back then, and I prefer about that size now, too. My shoulders were narrower back in 1990, when my wheelbase was 16.5". Now, with a size 46 suit jacket, I prefer a 19" wheelbase. Everything is just slightly bigger now than my most comfortable setup back in my youth, plus I have a more functional nose-end of my skateboard. Pretty sweet times to be a skater. I really hope my fitment chart can help other skaters find their most comfortable setup, too.

So, the other day I brought a 9"x34"/17"wheelbase board to the park to see how it felt to ride a moderately less large setup. I was thinking I would be all overstrong for it, like popping huge ollies and having ultimate control over the board. I couldn't have been more wrong. Everything about the board felt wrong. It was fidgety, sketchy, too busy feeling, not solid enough, unpredictable. And 9x34 is not a small board! I got an 8.5"x32"/14.5"wheelbase deck out and tried that. It didn't feel appreciably smaller than the 9x34, but it still felt uncomfortably small for me. It was a huge relief when I jumped back on my 10x38/19 board with 10" trucks. I tried skating smaller boards a few times since then, too. Just like going down to the mailbox or warming up at the park. Each time, the smaller boards felt uncomfortable. The narrowest board I can tolerate now is 9.4", the shortest is 36", the shortest wheelbase is 18".

I can't go back. Now that I've found my comfort zone in skateboard sizes, I can't go back. I feel like I've gotten a business suit professionally tailored, and it feels so good that all my other suits don't feel right anymore, and I don't want to wear them. I stress about this point of no return only in that I know it is hard to find boards and trucks in the 9.75"ish range, even harder to get 18-19" wheelbases, and even harder yet to get boards this big that are stiff enough to use as normal skateboards, not as cruisers or flexy carvy longboards. Yet all the stress about finding the right sized equipment vanishes when I push off on my big pops, roll in to the flow of the skatepark, and start carving and airing it up. Then, it is just comfort that I feel. No more duck walking on an overly short wheelbase. No more landing airs on the arches of my feet because the board is so narrow my feet hang way over each side. No more accidental ollie norths. Everything just fits, and I feel like a better skater because my comfort level is so high at the same time that I feel like a skilled skater because I've been able to bring all my tricks over to my big pops setup. Proper fit is far more meaningful than most anything else in skateboarding equipment. Start with proper board fit, and I'm sure your experimental period will be only months instead of years. I think skaters will advance quicker on a setup that is more personally comfortable for them.

I can't go back, and I don't mind.

15 comments:

  1. Hey B, nice article brother.
    I'm with you on finding a comfort zone thing and feeling like you can't go back, only we have gone in opposite directions.
    I'm all about the shorter wheelbases, and you're all about the longer ones, the very large ones at that.
    When I say short though I mean like 14" short...but on a board at least 8.5 inches wide.
    I'm 5'9" about 165lbs-ish, maybe less I don't have a human scale, have a size 10 or so shoe, 32-34" waist and a 30-32 inseam.
    I love the way smaller 8 decks feel length and wheelbase wise, but want more under my feet width wise, but don't want the wheelbase to change. You know me and what I like and want, so I won't go on like the broken record I am. : P

    Here's to us finding the right board company that keeps making the right size decks we like and NOT discontinuing them on us. : )

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  2. How are those Theeve V3s going?

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    1. They're going well. The kingpin is a little too long, I don't like it when threads show above the nut. I don't have my trucks tight, I just tighten the axle nut enough to keep the washers from rattling. Even so, 2-3 threads above the kingpin. Theeve could take 2mm off the kingpin length.

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    2. Small update on the V3s - larger blogpost on V3s coming soon:
      The Theeve V3 6.5s are getting lots of use in the winter months. I replaced the medium Bones bushings with some hard Bones bushings. With the kingpin nut even with the top of the kingpin, the turning feels about right, albeit slightly stiff (even accounting for weather). The 48.5 mm "mid" kingpin that Theeve sells would be the right kingpin length for the V3 Theeves. I put some 48 mm Independent "low" kingpins on the V3s, and the kingpin length was perfect with the medium Bones bushings. I have a lot of subjective thoughts on the V3 that I will share in a later blogpost.

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  3. I feel you on finding that perfect board. When I got my first Danny Way mega ramp board (8.5" with a 16" wheelbase), I knew instantly that I'd found the "right" board. I had all kinds of bad habits built around overcoming too short wheelbases and too wide boards, but even with the time it took to relearn my tricks, I knew right away that this was a huge step forward. Working out the wheel sizes and trucks has taken much longer (and includes a bent set of Tensor 10s in magnesium - still too soft for 200+ lbs), but I'm getting there.

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    1. I know what you mean about the bad habits from riding a board that is too short. I've tried 4 different big doublekick decks, and my favorite is the Riviera Thai Fighter. It has exactly the right proportions, and it would be an even better deck if it were truly popsicle stick shaped but kept the 10x38/19.75wb dimensions. I drilled an extra set of truck holes 3/8" inwards on both the front and rear truck mounting points: this allows me to mount traditional kingpin decks and preserve the nice leverage of the nose and tail.
      Earthwing popsicle decks have been a little disappointing. The Yoni 41 (9.3x40/20wb) was really nice, but too narrow for its length and wheelbase. The Crewzer (9.4x38/19.7wb) had the truck holes too close to the curves of the nose and tail; the rear truck holes were drilled right on the curve, causing the tail to pop ollies at a terrible angle. I kept redrilling the rear mounting holes and finally reached a usable point that is 29mm (1.1") further in than the current holes! That reduces the wheelbase to 473mm (18.6"), but that still doesn't address the fact that the front truck holes are also drilled right at the start of the curve. Yet, even with the rear holes drilled in a more usable place, the board still didn't feel that great to skate: once again, it was too narrow for its width.
      The other deck I skated was the Gravity 39" Carve, but it was too flexy to even use as a popsicle shape deck. It is a great carving deck, though!
      I'm looking forward to skating more upsized boards, but so few manufacturers make them! Sliding decks often have nose and tail angles that are too steep and really deep concave that isn't accommodating when trying to move your feet around like in street/park skating. The Rayne doublekick decks are some funky fiberglass/bamboo construction with really sharp edges. 7-ply or 8-thin-ply hard rock maple is definitely the way to go for big popsicle decks.

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  4. Have you tried cutting your own shape from an Eastbuilt blank? I did one just for a cruising long board but it does feel pretty stiff and they are economical. It is a pretty mellow concave but you can dial in the numbers how you like them. The W.B. may be a little long as I fit a 23" on mine and still haven't hit the the nose or tail bends. It still may be worth a shot.

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    1. Hey Kris, sorry I didn't comment back earlier. Ever since I read your comment last October, I've been building a database of blank deck companies that make big popsicle stick decks or at least decks that can be trimmed to a big pops shape. Eastbilt is one of them, Skate Paige is another, and Five Points Skates is another, just for a sampling. Readers can check out Eastbilt long decks here: http://www.eastbilt.com/long_old_school.htm
      Longest wheelbase you can do with a Skate Paige blank is 15" wheelbase: http://skatepaige.com/blank-skateboard-deck/skateboard-catalog.html#decks
      Five Points will hook you up with up to 11" wide decks, I haven't asked about wheelbases and lengths yet: http://www.fivepointsskates.com/decks2.htm

      More to come as I finish the database. Other inclusions are the Alien Workshop DIY kit and the 3 (pool, street, old school) Madrid Build-A-Deck kits.

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  5. Anyone ever tried the Bustin Yoface 39? I'm so curious about this board, but there too less about it on the Internet. So any experience to share

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    1. Got full specs on the Bustin Yoface here on my skate parts weights and measures database:
      https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Apox_SJ8CeMTdDFYSGk4OElQdUJxWmlkSGtBRXVFRkE#gid=5

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  6. I'm a shorter but stocky guy and your posts have been invaluable. Thank you. Wheelbase and shoulder width correlation matter much more to me now. As a surfer/skaterI started off as a kid skating a larger board (Seaflex Boomcat) to mimic surfing. Since then, (relatively) longer wheelbases have suited my style. My comfort zone rests between 16.5 in to 17 in. Anything shorter and I feel crowded in... anything longer is really more of a cruiser or a true "longboard". I may yet hit up Chuck on a potential 9.625 x 17 custom pool cue or diamond. I'm currently running his fat cue with 215s (which incidentally aren't a responsive as 169s).

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    1. Chuck's decks are fucking awesome. I had three of his decks, my favorite is still the custom cruiser he made for me.
      http://www.deckcrafters.tv/
      I fully intend to ask Chuck about making some big pops decks for me.

      Little tip about running Indys on wide boards: you can get the 169s for the responsiveness and then get side set wheels to get the full width. Freestyle wheels work well; Witter Cheng has a thorough list of freestyle wheels here: http://www.decomposedsk8.com/wheels.html
      The Seismic wheels Witter and others sell are pretty awesome, especially now that they're available in 55 mm size. I have a pair of the Seismics in 62 mm and they are great in the park and on the street - a rarity.

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  7. Hi Bertrand,

    Reading your blog I decided to go for a bigger set up.

    Can i grind and do fifties with bear grizzlies without modifying it as you did?Also, what bushings (durometer too please) are you using? Iam exactly the same size as you.

    Thanks.

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  8. The Bear Grizzly trucks are really awesome trucks.
    Assuming you have your kingpin nut flush with the end of the kingpin, you will have 8 mm of clearance with the hangers in the "carve" orientation and 2 mm of clearance with the hangers "flipped" to the "speed" orientation. The clearance on the speed orientation is decent for 50-50s and grinding, but dropping in and 5-0 grinds might be a little challenging.
    For bushings, I use the stock green Bear bushings roadside and Riptide Chubby bushings boardside. My Riptide Chubby bushings are 97.5a rear, 95a front.
    Keep us updated!

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  9. What a good article. I like the topics. As a beginner riders I always like soft wheel with my board . And these give me great security and high performance.

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