Trying to explain this thing is like trying to explain the taste of garlic to a guy without a tongue. So instead of describing what exactly you need to do on the board, I'm going to just describe some basic facts here. If this stuff seems incredibly basic, then you're catching my drift. But experiencing these things is really where you'll get it.

In putting together a board, I've experimented with several things- wheel size, wheel width, board length, board width, loose trucks, tighter trucks, wider trucks, narrow trucks… you get the idea. The setup of your board is completely determined by your personal preferences, your body type, and the geography of the roads you will be riding. With that said, I'm going to go through my "home course", and describe the board I've built for that.

Burke Gilman Trail

This trail is a 27 mile paved trail in the Seattle area that goes around Lake Washington. The pavement is pretty smooth for the most part, and pretty flat for the most part, although there are a few killer uphills that require lots of effort if you plan to master them. In addition to those hills, there are some long steady inclines, some long gentle declines, and even a few downhills to let you catch your breath. But I'd guess that 80% of the trail is flat.

This course is ideal for a longer board. Why? Because it's got a higher top speed, and it requires less effort to maintain that speed, than it would with a shorter board. Some of the most basic gears in LDP are nothing more than perpendicular running- standing on a skateboard, and running in place perpendicular to the direction of motion. When I am running long distance, I personally find it is easier to maintain my energy with a longer stride, rather than taking several shorter strides. A longer board allows me to take those longer strides. The fastest, most efficient board that I have used to date is a 60" Flexdex. I haven't ridden anything longer, but I feel like this is as much as I can handle right about now.

I've experimented with several wheels- big wheels, little wheels, roller blade wheels, wide wheels- and have settled on those 70mm Flashbacks. Wheel bite is a factor when you get too big of course, and I'm not the world's biggest fan of risers (they put you a little too out of touch with the ground). But if you want to go fast on flats and downhills, then you can't escape using the bigger wheels. I rode with James with some wheels that were only slightly smaller than his, and I couldn't keep up. (It HAD to have been the wheels….)

Loose trucks. As loose as possible- that's ideal for me. Although I know it puts tremendous pressure on the kingpin, and I've chewed through a ton of 'em, the looser the trucks, the better. Bushings don't last too long in LDP, and when mine are severely mangled, that's when my board feels the most in tune. The cost of loose trucks is inefficiency in the higher gears. Because it's a bit harder to pinpoint your rhythm when moving on the board, that costs you energy. But I've found it's necessary to have that flexibility- it makes it incredibly easy to change gears.

Form (If you're good, it's called style.)
There are tons of gears to discover, and at any given point in any given ride, there are several forms that you can access that will carry the momentum forward efficiently. It's all about being in tune with the ground beneath you, and adapting your groove to match the natural lay of the land. For instance, a long, steep downhill form benefits from a lower stance at the front of the board, while a long steep uphill form benefits from a higher stance at the front of the board. Within each form there are infinte gears to discover, and when you lock into the perfect gear, you'll know it. Just don't get too attached to it though.

Cadence. Halfway through the summer I was watching the tour de france, and I figured out why James was kicking my butt on these longer rides. When Lance Armstrong rode through the mountains, he had a quick cadence in a smaller gear. By developing his style this way, he's way more efficient than Jan Ullrich, who uses big gears to power himself up the hill. Now, I know you gotta use what you've got, and perhaps Jan's technique is the most efficient his body could require, but it's nonetheless not as efficient as Lance's approach.
When James and I ride, we almost always have tunes. I've experimented with lots of stuff, including classical, but we've both found that music with a strong, driving beat is the best for helping to get a ride into a groove. I think James listens to some kind of techno stuff, and I like more of a loungey groove thing. James' music has a faster beat than mine does, which quickens his cadence. It's certainly more efficient, but I still like my music better than his, so I guess I'm out of luck there…


That pretty much sums it all up- the trail, the board, the wheels, the trucks, the forms, the pace, and the tunes. When the time comes when you get all those things synchronized, even for a fleeting moment, you'll be hooked for life.

©Sept.2004, derek munson