Big Wheel Skate and Scooter Options

I needed to find a new form of exercise.  Biking was good, but I really liked running across fields and on trails through the woods.  But I had a sore heel, probably from running too many long distances.  I’d also had some minor knee problems.  I wondered if there was some other way of getting an experience like running, but without the impact.  I had previously been a skater, and I wondered whether there were skates that would do the trick.

A search led me to a thread that led to a lot of ideas and possibilities.  First, I saw there were skates with oversized (e.g., 90mm, 100mm) wheels.  A search for the latest and greatest of these led to shopping results indicating that four-wheeled 100mm inline skates were currently going for around US$250 new.  (PowerSlides could be more.)  It sounded like skating with those skates would be a little different from what I had been used to, though I believed that the bigger wheels might make for a smoother ride.  Even with those larger wheels, though, it seemed pretty clear that these were not for any serious off-road use.

The LandRoller seemed to be a potential improvement on mobility, in that its larger wheels looked like they would work on at least some hardpacked dirt and grass. They definitely did not seem to be the answer for real cross-country mobility. AllTerraSkates and maybe some others offered the possibility of more radical big-wheel offroad skate designs, but after spending 10-15 minutes trying to get information out of several screwy webpages, I put that inquiry on hold for the moment.  Possibly the most impressive skate solutions I saw were from Skorpion.  These were four-wheel parallel (i.e., not inline) multi-terrain skates, with shock absorbers, that could attach directly to your shoes, if your feet weren’t as big as mine.  A pair would cost only about $140.  They still were going to be limited to hardpack, though.

With skates, there was always the problem of braking.  It was possible to drag the skate (also called powersliding) or to lean back onto a rear brake pad, if the skate had one, but neither of those options would be of much use if I was cruising along a dirt trail and suddenly came to a sharp drop.  I’d had my share of dangerous high-speed open-road skate brakeless adventures.  One alternative would be a Razor scooter, where you could just jump off if things got dicey.  I wasn’t sure whether pushing a scooter would stress the knee; presumably not the heel.  Just in case, I found what looked like some off-road scooters, also called microscooters, so that was one possibility, if I could accept exerting only one leg at a time.

The scooter concept led toward devices that were like cross-country skis on wheels, such as Rollerskis.  While these, like the skates above, would work on a dirt road, their wheels looked too small for offroad work, though.  For braking, they were recommending either snowplowing or speed reducers.  The latter would apparently reduce speed at all times, not just when going downhill.  The main purpose of these seemed to be to give people a ski-like experience on the road.

Victorian Gamer webpage led more toward what I seemed to be looking for.  It showed a drawing of the Pedespeed.  These were basically a single wheel that, as shown in a video, the user would attach to foot and calf, one wheel per leg.  A search for what some were calling the Pedespeed Uni-Skate (or, as in another video, for Diagonal Centripetal Rotation Cycles) led to the snazzy and expensive-looking (not yet available) Chariot Skates.  Their video showed that these very big (bicycle-size) wheels would roll over all sorts of stuff, potentially at a hellacious speed.  Single or two-leg powersliding (i.e., T-stopping) was a braking option, but it seemed tire wear could get expensive, and you might also set your wheels out of alignment.  Slaloming would be one speed-reducing possibility, space permitting.  Another video suggested using the gloved hand on the wheel for braking.  They said they had experimented with handbrakes but ran into difficulties.  Uphilling on rough terrain seemed to require herringbone (i.e., duck) stepping, each foot pointed outward to prevent backrolling.  A webpage with close-up pictures suggested you’d likely get some chafing on your calf from the strap there.  Not having tried them on, my thought was that one or more additional straps might help to alleviate that.

I noticed that some big-wheel skate and Rollerski users were using ski poles.  It seemed possible that a sufficiently lightweight kind of skate, with poles, would provide some mobility options in difficult terrain — that you could lean on your poles to get your feet over obstacles.  Poles would also provide a place for mounting handbrakes.  But unless the brakes used wireless connectors, which could be expensive, the cables would pose a risk of getting tangled in things, though perhaps snap-disconnects would mitigate that problem.  Another option would be electrical brakes mounted in the hubs rather than on calipers, as some utility trailers use.  Brakes could theoretically be triggered automatically, as some trailer brakes are, if the poles or the skates themselves detected that the user was exceeding potentially pre-programmed tolerances for shifts in angle, balance, acceleration, or erraticity (e.g., flailing).  Handheld non-pole grips could do the same thing, but without the advantages of poles.  Uphilling would be easier if you could lock the brakes.

The Chariot Skate wheels looked pretty thin for real offroading.  Optional mountain wheels might be heavy but, if not, could be useful.  Replacing one large wheel (plus the tiny trailing one) with two smaller wheels connected by a cross-country ski binding could reduce weight, but at least the front one would have to be pivoting, like a bike’s steerable front wheel or the front wheels on grocery carts.  Having ridden a few grocery carts on high-speed downhill runs, I wondered whether it would be possible to combine skates on the feet with a leanable two-wheeled device out front, somewhat emulating a Segway — if, in other words, the user could lean on something like a hand-truck, perhaps tethered or more rigidly connected to the skates (like on a scooter), that would provide forward balance like a KickStrike Scooter (conceivably, locomotion, as in those hand-pump railroad conveyances) as well as braking options.  Such an arrangement could also provide some space for cargo.  Of course, if money were no object, electric motors in the hubs, as on some bikes now, could also be welcome for uphilling, though presumably there would be a weight issue.

After viewing these possibilities, I went back to the offroad scooters.  An ordinary little Razor would have serious problems offroad.  I was interested in the much more bikelike homemade scooter I saw in one video.  It seemed that pushing such a device uphill and shoving through assorted terrain could provide more of an upper-body workout than running or skating (at least without poles) would deliver.  I might quickly get tired of that, but at the moment it seemed like a viable possibility.  A review of images of what I was looking for led through a variety of wacky possibilities, including four-wheel mountain bikes and the StairCycle and various tourist options for riding fat-tired scooters down mountainsides in Austria and the Czech Republic.

Closer to the mark, I found ads for the Mibo Dextro (only €750), the Kickbike Cross Max (€419), and the Concept No Fear Scooter (currently unavailable).  $1K for a scooter?  Anyway, these were all in Europe.  A search in Amazon (US) made me wonder whether the American name for a scooter might be “kickbike” or “footbike.”  A Google search for those terms suggested that these were probably brand names.  A search at Walmart seemed to indicate that “scooter” was the right term after all, and also that, in the US, scooters were mostly for kids.  The Footbike (US) website presented several models, notably a Footbike Express ($138) for “smaller customers” and a Footbike Trail ($430) with the an alloy frame.  Kickbike‘s offerings (available at Sears) included the Sport G4 (€349), the Cross Max (€419), and the Sport Max (€419).  Mogo Scooter, another name that turned up, was available at Amazon (in apparently only one model) for only $165, but with mediocre quality, poor packaging, and lots of damage in shipping, judging from customer reviews.  An eBay search turned up one other brand name, Toucan, which offered several models (apparently only through Canadian and European retailers) for up to $260 (for the large model I would probably get).

At this point, I seemed to have explored some of the most likely quasi-running alternatives to running exercise.  From those reviews and elsewhere, it did sound like a scooter would be a good workout.  I would be limited on the kinds of trails I could travel:  it would be a hassle, as distinct from a good workout, to get a scooter up sharp climbs or through tangled woods.  I could imagine it being more pleasant than a bike on some trails:  biking would take me through some terrain too quickly and easily; the experience was too different from walking.  This would provide a way to get around town too, though apparently some of these models did not provide a kickstand or a good place for cabling to a post or bike rack when going indoors.  I had gotten into trouble from speed and from bad motorists when biking — getting hit, driven off the road, etc. — and in that sense this might be better; bikes did not seem as conducive to just getting off and walking in a tight spot.  Biking, for me, called for dedicated bike trails or at least safe bike lanes, and those were hard to find.  Storing yet another large device, in addition to the bike, was not ideal; in this sense skates were a better solution.  Spending $350+ was not what I had originally intended.

In my search for an alternative to running that would still enable me to engage the same kinds of terrain, I was thus tending away from skates, of which even the most rasty (with the possible exception of a mountain Chariot) would still be limited to trails and which tended to have braking issues and therefore real risks of impact and/or twisting injury to leg and elbow joints.  Biking wasn’t out of the picture, but it was limiting too.  I wondered whether it would be OK to use a scooter on trails where bikes were unwanted.  I figured a scooter would probably be more mobile than a bike on soft dirt, since I would apparently (not yet having used one) have the option of just pushing it along while I ran beside it, without having a pedal to hit me in the shin.  It seemed possible that using a scooter would be more conducive to stopping for calisthenics, which I was never able to persuade myself to do when running or biking because I was always trying to get somewhere.  I was not sure whether a scooter would provide really solid exercise, given the option of climbing onboard and riding; then again, I had seen research indicating that interval training was at least as good as continual training; maybe I would work harder in those bursts between rides, especially if it was fun.  I decided to look around and see if I could find a used scooter that I liked, just to try it out.

(Note:  this item was moved here from another blog.)

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