The biggest difference between roller skates and roller blades is the way in which the wheels are aligned on each. Both are essentially shoes that allow users to roll. Roller skates generally have four wheels arranged in a rectangular pattern, with two in the front and two in the back, as they would be in a car. Blades, on the other hand, have anywhere from three to five wheels arranged in a single row in a way that often resembles an ice skate. There also tend to be differences when it comes to why people choose one over the other. In many cases skates are seen more as a recreational tool while blades may be viewed as a more serious piece of athletic equipment. Skiers and ice skaters may use roller blades as a means of training and exercise in the warmer months, for instance, but skates wouldn’t provide the same experience.
Wheel Alignment and Basic Style
In most cases, roller skates are essentially shoes with four wheels attached in two rows on the sole. Some skates have stylized appearances, but traditionally they are built in much the way that a regular athletic shoe would be. They may have some ankle support, but are typically made of cloth. Most lace up with regular shoelaces.
Roller blades, which may also be called “inline skates,” tend to be built differently. Here wheels are generally aligned in the middle of the foot, from the heel to the toe, in a straight line. The shoe itself is often much sturdier, too, often making use of plastic clasps and bindings. It’s often the case that roller blades resemble downhill ski boots more than they do shoes, and intense ankle supports and stability aids are usually standard.
Balance and Stopping
Roller skaters typically don’t have to think much about balance, since the shoes are more or less stable on their own. Getting the hang of rolling can take some practice, but in many cases even young children can quickly take to skating thanks to the stability of the wheel alignment. The same isn’t usually true with blades. Balancing on a single line of wheels often takes a great deal of agility, and some degree of skill.
Another difference between roller skates and roller blades is the stoppers and braking mechanisms. Roller skate stoppers tend to be round and are positioned on the front of the shoe at the toe. Using them requires skaters to raise their heels and tip their toes forward to stop. Blade stoppers are rectangular and are generally positioned at the rear of the skate near the heel. To stop on roller blades, the wearer simply has to do the opposite action as is required on skates, namely lift the toes and slant the heel into the ground until the stopper meets the surface.
Not all roller blades have stoppers, though. This is particularly true of models designed for serious athletes. In these cases wearers simply have to stop on their own, usually by bringing the feet together into a wedge and naturally slowing down, the same way one would on ice skates.
Both skates and blades are often used for recreation, but skates are often seen as more casual — which is to say they’re often used just for fun — while blades are more often used by people looking for a more serious workout. The alignment of inline wheels usually makes it possible to reach greater speeds and the type of movement needed for balance often encourages the use of several different muscle groups, too. People sometimes roller blade along running trails or bike paths as a way to get exercise and cover a lot of distance. Skates are more common in indoor roller rinks or skate parks, or may be worn on sidewalks as a leisurely way of getting from one place to the next. Both types are considered by many experts to be good aerobic exercise tools, though the intensity does tend to vary a lot.
Roller skates and roller blades also have different histories. Skates were very popular with children in the 1970s, and were cultural phenomenon in alternative areas like roller rinks and roller derbies for the more extreme. They were first patented in 1760 in Europe, and today’s form was first devised in 1863.
Roller blades were first developed out of the roller skate design in the 1980s, primarily as a substitute training method for ice skating. They became popular in the 1980s and 1990s with the marketing of the Rollerblade® brand of inline skates. Roller blades have helped to increase the popularity of roller hockey, freestyle slalom skating, and speed skating.