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Author Topic: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on  (Read 955 times)

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Online tstop4me

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Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« on: September 25, 2016, 04:53:32 PM »
You are right!

http://www.iceskateology.com/Skateology/Price_List.html says Goldquest blades are made to order (price not specified) - so perhaps she could get them, and set and keep the toepicks nice and long. I think the idea is really cool. I'm not sure whether Broadbent makes them - at one point he said he was going to sub-contract manufacture to MK.

I think adjustable length toepicks can't become common because they would let you use your blades for a longer time, and maybe use them for more than one figure skating discipline. That would reduce sales, for the manufacturer and for pro shops. M.C. thinks that interchangeable and replaceable figure skating blade runners died because pro shops wouldn't carry them.

I'm spinning this topic off from a different thread.  I don't have any data, but my guess is that the $ volume of hockey blades is substantially larger than that of figure skate blades; yet hockey blades with replaceable runners have become well accepted by blade manufacturers and pro shops, rather than being shunned for potentially reducing sales.  So why not for figure skates?  Certainly a lot of advantages which many skaters would be willing to pay extra for.  I wonder if it's a matter of aesthetics for a properly engineered unit?  Aesthetics, I don't think, is a concern of hockey players.  I know that Ultima tried replaceable runners with the original Matrix series, but apparently they ran into engineering problems.  And I once came across a catalog listing for some vintage Wilson blades (can't find it now).  But long ago, they had blades with replaceable runners.

Sidney Broadbent actually worked with MK on his new blade designs [these did not have replaceable runners, but did have replaceable toepicks].  I think one of the reasons, though, that his Coplanar blade designs didn't catch on was because it required cooperation between boot manufacturers for a new boot design and blade manufacturers for a new blade design.   In those days manufacturers made boots or blades, not both.  But now Jackson and Riedell (any others?) manufacture, or at least design and supply, both.  So that obstacle can now be more readily overcome.

Offline riley876

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2016, 08:55:59 PM »
Figure skaters form a tribe.   Tribes are pretty much held together by aesthetic cues i.e. everyone looks the same, (and everyone skates the same).   The vast majority don't want to be different *at all*, as it means (at least at a subconscious level) a risk of distancing oneself from the tribe (which for most people is a biologically very hot button).    So traditional is what people want,  exactly because it is traditional,  even if it actually sucks.

Hockey skaters form a tribe too,  but a) it's less exacting about the aesthetics and b) removable runners in hockey skates are hard (if not impossible) to spot anyway.

Only perpetual outsider freaks (such as myself) would consider something different.   But even though I really don't care about tradition (hell, I skate converted inline slalom skates),  I don't see removable runners as a compelling idea.   Really just more moving parts to go wrong.   Bolts to lose or loosen.  Maybe more weight?  Plus can't see how they'd be anything but significantly more expensive.   i.e. another razor blade scam.    Would it help me be a better skater?  Seems unlikely, so why bother?   My $20 used beginner's blades work just fine.

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2016, 07:08:50 PM »
This has been discussed elsewhere, but the engineering issues related to the Ultima Matrix I blades (that I own) were:

1. They used wierd shaped nuts, that you couldn't buy elsewhere, AFAIK. Fortunately you didn't need a special wrench, because the nuts were inset, and were tightened against the inset hole in the chassis - OTOH, it was hard to figure out how to orient them - you had to keep rotating them until they fit clean.

2. You needed a tiny hex key (was it 3 mm? I forget) to tighten or loosen the bolts.

3. The bolts and nuts were made of a very soft material - aluminum I think. That matched the chassis themselves, which were aluminum, but the hex key hole kept stripping, and you had to gradually shift to larger hex keys as they wore out. If it stripped too much you needed something like a tap and die set to get it out. Many people also found that if you put the nut on a little wrong, you could strip the threads.

I ended up buying a set of replacement bolts and nuts, just in case mine wore out.

4. It kept loosening itself, so you kept having to tighten it up.

5. It required a fair amount of strength to mount.

6. There was no padding between the blade and the blade holder, so it would sometimes "click" when you put the blade on the ice.

7. The replaceable runners, which were only available for Ultima's high end blade shapes, sold for $110/pair, at a time when complete Ultima high end blades sold for several hundred dollars. Pro shops had no reason to carry a lower price item to replace a higher price item.

8. You needed a special blade holder to sharpen them on commercial skate sharpening machines. (The same is true of the modern Ultima Matrix II blades, as well as Paramount blades.) I eventually had to modify my Pro-Filer hand sharpening tools to fit them too, after the blades wore out somewhat.

9. No one but Ultima adopted the Matrix I system. You could not buy other brands of runner to fit their chassis.

BUT[/u[ there were many pluses:

1. the chassis were aluminum, and the blades were a high carbon stainless steel. They were light weight and very rust resistant. The edges stayed sharp much longer for me than the ordinary high carbon steel blades I had used from MK and Wilson. But those advantages are shared by the Ultima Matrix II system, which replaced them.

2. Some elite skate technicians like Mike Cunningham, who are mailed blades to sharpen from all over the world, loved the Matrix I system, because you didn't have to mount and demount blades from outsoles, which is trouble prone, because you tend to strip the mounting holes, nor did you have to mail the entire boots. There was less weight and bulk to just mail the runners.

3. When the runners wore out, you didn't have to mount and demount the blade from the boot - same hole stripping issue as above.

4. You could quickly interchange blade types on the same boots. E.g., use one runner pair for freestyle, one for dance, one for synchro.

The modern Ultima Matrix II system uses fewer bolts (or are the screws?), but they are steel, and they are glued in place, so they don't come loose. It's a better engineered system - but the runners are not replaceable. For a while, Ultima made Ultra Lite blades in the Matrix lines, which had lots of holes in the runner - they were, AFAIK, the lightest figure skating blades made, possibly lighter than Revolution blades. But they never caught on.

I still have one pair of Ultima Supreme runners, one pair of Ultima Synchro runners, and 3 pair of Ultima Dance runners. (I bought 5 Dance runners, from Rainbo - their entire stock of blades in my length - when Ultima stopped producing Matrix I runners. I destroyed one pair of Ultima Dance runners by trying to turn it into the shape of MK Dance blades, which I liked better - but that was my fault. I wore another one out, because I used it so much.)

You can find pictures of replaceable runner skates in late 19th century and early 20th century figure skating books. I think the same systems were used for hockey and figure skates - I'm not even sure they made a distinction between the two types of blades, as the ones I've seen didn't have toe picks. (Those were the days when figure skating mostly meant tracing elaborate figures on the ice. Some school figures skaters still don't like toe picks.) AFAICT, they had a very simple system: there were two holes in the chassis, and two holes in the runners. You used an ordinary hardware store bolt and nut to screw them on. (Perhaps you used a washer or locknut, so it wouldn't come loose as often - or perhaps you could have double nutted for the same purpose. I met one person who had old hockey skates with that system.) He said some hockey goalie skates still used the system, but I haven't been able to confirm that. As Riley876 may be hinting, that system was utilitarian in appearance, and lacked the elegant appearance of the MK and Wilson "silver solder" system. But the Ultima Matrix I system was quite pretty (though nothing matched the beatiful chrome finish on MK and Wilson blade runners), and was almost visually indistinguishable at a distance from the current Ultima Matrix (II) system.

Replaceable runners for hockey skates use a more complex system. You need a long special tool, inserted from within the boot, underneath the insole, which varies from skate brand to brand. E.g.,

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Dn1GFC8xj0

It attaches to some sort of mechanicsm that turns a bolt at right angles to that direction. It looks like something of a nuisance, but most pro shops that deal with hockey equipment become quite proficient at it. What is more, they only charge about $50 (I think) for a pair of hockey runners. The hockey market is bigger, and there may be more competition to fill it, so they have some nice toys that we don't.

Some cheap hockey boots don't have replaceable runners. But it makes a lot of sense for high end hockey boots. Hockey players often crash into each other, including the blades of their skates. They can mess the blades up completely in a moment, bending them beyond repair. They also get deep nicks, which means hockey skate sharpeners often need to remove much more metal, reducing blade lifetime. Hockey players often need emergency repairs in the middle of a hockey game, so anything as messy as what we figure skaters put up with doesn't fly.

AFAIK, removable edges on blades have been tried on only a very idiosyncratic type of hockey blade, which never became popular.

BTW, some figure skaters have used bolt-through blades. They drill holes in the bottom of their boots, and use bolts and nuts to attach their blades. It isn't as cheap as using replaceable runners, but it lets them change blades quickly, without stripping mounting holes. But I think it's more common in the roller skating world.

Offline Leif

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2017, 03:30:02 AM »
I hope this isn't obvious, but the better hockey skates, intermediate and above, have replaceable blades. In the case of Bauer the blades can be replaced in seconds. A hockey player who has his skates sharpened every match could easily wear through a set. The runners can be replaced but that requires they be taken in to a specialist shop.

As to why figure skates do not use this system, it might be that figure skaters put far more stress and strain on their blades with their jumps and spins. It might also be that the pick makes it harder to effectively clamp the blade. And of course hockey skates are ugly. Perhaps figure skaters would not want to ruin their beautiful skates with ugly (engineering) plastic holders. I must admit to being surprised at the cost of figure skate blades.

Offline riley876

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2017, 01:57:57 PM »
I must admit to being surprised at the cost of figure skate blades.

Though you can spend whatever you want on figure blades.  $65 to $650.   For what is essentially the same thing.   3 bits of sheet steel water cut, soldered together, chromed, (maybe!) induction hardened, sharpened and put in a pretty box.  JW must be laughing all the way to the bank everytime someone buys a pair of gold seals.

Can't wait to see the Chinese get their act together and drop the bottom out of this market, like they have with everything else.

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2017, 02:41:57 PM »
Riley876:

High end Ultima (Matrix) and I think Paramount blades are laser cut, not water cut... And they are glued, and in the case of high end Ultima, screwed together = and the screws are glued too. I wonder if MK and Wilson silver-solder because they think it looks prettier than what Ultima and Paramount do.

And it at least used to be true, and maybe still is, that MK and Wilson blades were machined to shape - probably guided by the machinist rather than a computer, based on the inconsistencies.

Don't forget that high end blades have nice engraving. The beauty of the engraving, and the beautiful finished reflectivity of their chrome, definitely sets MK and Wilson apart from the others. They reject and do not sell some blades because the engraving didn't come out right.

There are some other important differences between high and low end figure blades. The lower end blades are usually not as well edge-hardened, and the edges are therefore less durable. I don't know enough about metalurgy to know what such hardening costs, though I doubt it explains the full cost difference between a several dollar rental blade pair and a $650 (and up, for Revolution) blade pair.

My understanding, based on a visit by M.C. to their factory, is that the edge hardening process in MK and Wilson blades takes several days. Would induction hardening be faster? However it is done, it must be complex, because they keep the rest of the blade tempered, to absorb shock better. Though the Wikipedia article on induction hardening makes it sound like it could do exactly what is needed - harden just the edge.

BTW, fast blade replacement is more important in the hockey world, because hockey skaters put tremendous stress across the blades (in stops and blade collisions), which tends to break them more often, and because they often destroy their edges several times/game, requiring fast in-game blade replacement. In contrast, blade breakages are less common and edge destruction slower in the figure skating world.

I think, though I may be wrong, that figure skaters also get attached to specific blade models more, partly because changing the shape is much harder to reproduce. A hockey skate tech can simply put any blade in a CAG machine to create the desired rocker profile. AFAIK, there are no similar automated rocker profiling machines for figure blades. Because figure skaters attach themselves to a given brand and model, say, Wilson Gold Seal, Wilson can charge whatever the market will bear. Maybe that also explains why they don't need to place nice and create interchangeable runners.

It is interesting to note that hockey blade prices have gone up considerable amount since the latest crop of interchangeable hockey blade systems, the individual varieties of which have been patented, became popular. E.g., if you want to use a Bauer skate, that came with a Bauer interchangeable blade holder, you either have to change the blade holder, or you have to use Bauer blades. So Bauer, et al, can charge substantially more (maybe a factor of 2 or more?) for the blades, than when non-patented designs were common several years ago, when you could buy runners from alternative brands to fit the same holders. :) Some hockey skaters are annoyed by this!

Offline Leif

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2017, 07:37:24 AM »
Ice hockey players subject their skates to very different stresses to figure skaters, being mostly sideways on when cornering and hockey stopping. A lot of breaks occur when the player slams into the rink sides. Incidentally a professional hockey playing told me he went through two pairs of skates a year, even though he replaces worn or broken blades.

Regarding hardening edges, in principle it is not an expensive job. Hardening is just heating then quenching and it is then tempered, otherwise it would be too brittle and would snap easily. I am told that overzealous sharpening of a hockey skate blade, especially when first sharpened, can heat it so much that it reductes its performance. I presume that is also true of figure skate blades. Then again, I have more than enough experience of inept blade sharpening (and the personal injuries that caused)

I have a suspicion figure skate blades can be so expensive because a) it is a limited market so few economes of scale and b) people will pay. And they probably do not produce holders with replaceable blades as per hockey skates because there is no call for it. Mind you, looking at those Matrix blades, it does suggest that a similar replaceable blade mechanism could be produced.

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2017, 11:06:02 AM »
Though you can spend whatever you want on figure blades.  $65 to $650.   For what is essentially the same thing.   Can't wait to see the Chinese get their act together and drop the bottom out of this market, like they have with everything else.

I don't know enough to get into the science of it, but you can totally feel the difference between a $60 blade and even a mid range ultima.  It's crazy how different they feel.  I'd liken it to shoes - you can totally buy $20 runners at walmart or $200 runners from a sports store.  Both are technically runners.  Both are made in the same general fashion.  But if you're an actual runner, you'd notice the difference the same way figure skaters can tell the difference.

As for the Chinese jumping in, I honestly don't know.  Figure skating blades - especially high end ones - are a niche item.  The volume needed to make them cheaply just isn't there.  We'll have to wait and see I guess.

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2017, 03:32:13 PM »
As for the Chinese jumping in, I honestly don't know.  Figure skating blades - especially high end ones - are a niche item.  The volume needed to make them cheaply just isn't there.  We'll have to wait and see I guess.

I'm a believer after seeing Chinese companies start making their own perfectly good mid to high range inline slalom skates.  Inline slalom has be a much more niche activity than ice figure skating.   Though admittedly given that China is a mostly poor and mostly insanely hot country,  so ice skating is probably not much of a popular thing there*,  whereas slalom requires no more infrastructure than a smooth footpath.

I'm just seeing roller skating stuff turn up on Aliexpress etc in the last few months too.  Still only bottom end stuff, but it won't be that way for long.  Can't wait to see them start compressing the insane margins that Edea & Rollline currently charge.

*Though in the far north, Harbin etc, I bet ice skating IS a big thing.   Seasonally, inland it could well be big too.   Any one here know this for sure?

I don't know enough to get into the science of it, but you can totally feel the difference between a $60 blade and even a mid range ultima.  It's crazy how different they feel.

One day I'm going to copy someone's high end blade profile and reshape my old low-end Wilsons to match, and see if it's profile or material that makes the difference.

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2017, 04:41:55 PM »
  I'd liken it to shoes - you can totally buy $20 runners at walmart or $200 runners from a sports store.  Both are technically runners.  Both are made in the same general fashion.  But if you're an actual runner, you'd notice the difference the same way figure skaters can tell the difference.



I remember reading about a study where they assessed peoples feet and running style, then put half of themin fancy running shoes, tailored to their pronation or neutral feet etc. And the other half in bog standard running shoes, and the ones in special shoes had more injuries. My next pair are going to be fairly ordinary shoes. Ive just started couch to 5k, so may need a pair soon

Offline Query

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2017, 07:02:49 PM »
One day I'm going to copy someone's high end blade profile and reshape my old low-end Wilsons to match, and see if it's profile or material that makes the difference.

I sort of did that once. I tried to copy an MK Dance rocker profile to a pair of Ultima Matrix Dance runners. It looked easy to do. I didn't do a good enough job, partly because I tried to use an ordinary tool grinding wheel, rather than a purpose built skate sharpening tool. (Then I paid a pro shop to grind the hollow.) It's harder that it looks to do things exactly right. I also couldn't copy the toe pick, a major part of blade shape, because there was no metal in the appropriate places to copy it, and because I didn't have the right tools to do that right either. After trying them a bit, I threw the results away, wasting a $110 pair of previously good runners.

Bear in mind too, that if you remove too much metal, you remove the hardened part of the steel, as well as the chrome or nickel relief (the relatively soft metal plating that covers the harder steel, to prevent rust - which means your edge will not be durable - unless you are good enough to symmetrically remove the plating yourself where you need to).

And that copying the horizontal and/or vertical side honing, if the edges aren't parallel, as they aren't in Gold Seals, would require high precision machining, using expensive machine shop tools, that most of us don't have at home.

One thing really puzzles me - a few thousandths of an inch shape difference makes huge changes in the way a blade skates. OK, I get that the water layer on top of the ice, that the blade presumably hydroplanes over, is only something like 50 nm deep (about 2 millions of an inch). But a few thousandths of an inch is about the same range as edge raggedness. Why does it matter?

I corresponded at one point with a steel worker who wanted to make blades for himself. But he knew what he was doing with high temperature tempering and hardening, having done it professionally, and was used to working at and above the temperatures where those things are done. I don't know if he ever did it.

What it boils down to is that making your own blades well is beyond the abilities and equipment of your average home craftsman - so blade companies can charge a lot, regardless of what it costs them. Plus, figure skaters are used to paying a lot for skating equipment. Most of us wouldn't even consider buying $10 or $20 blade pairs, nor comparable price boots, even if they were really as good.

BTW, you can get blades that cheap - in fact a lot less - in quantity, wholesale from China, etc. In fact, you can get SKATE pairs WITH blades that cheap - comparable to many rental skates. That's probably where Reidell et al get their rental skates. (Which they resell to rinks in quantity for just very approximately $20 - $30 per pair, roughly comparable in quality to list price $40 retail skates.) But neither the shapes nor the materials are what reasonably advanced figure skaters want.

Now that hockey blade makers are raising their prices for the patented mount design blades ($40-$50 blade shapes now selling for up to $130), hockey skaters are getting used to paying more too, and maybe they can continue to go up to match us. :) Since the pro shops make a cut of the final price, maybe the pro shops won't complain too much either.

Incidentally, if you look far back in history - e.g., before the end of the 19th century, there was a period when bolts and/or screws were used to mount runners. You can find pictures in old books. Which means the basic idea of replaceable bolt-mounted runners can't be patented, even if specifics can.


Offline Leif

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Re: Why replaceable runners for figure skates didn't catch on
« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2017, 02:08:21 PM »
you can totally feel the difference between a $60 blade and even a mid range ultima.  It's crazy how different they feel. 

I'm curious what the difference is. I wear hockey skates, and cheap ones are very different, but that is due primarily to the boot which is much less stiff.