going down a gentle slope,
you must learn how to break:
Learning how to stop is a necessity; it must be mastered before approaching a long slope. Stopping using a rear break can be difficult for the awkward beginner to learn. It takes practice and balance. As you lean back and the rubber break digs into the surface, you will find it difficult to keep your balance. Once you learn how to do this on a level path, it is important to practice more. It must become easy to maintain balance on a level surface, because on a slope when your break digs in it feels less stable. It's a real challenge to keep your balance. You can quickly pick up speed, and it is when your speed gets out of control that you discover there are hazards in front of you.
If you are learning at a skate park, you have probably learned a lot of skills at a slower speed, so you probably don't need any of my advice. Reading this is probably a waste of time. But if you are an awkward beginner or an older person, you need advice before tackling a long slope on a bike path or a sidewalk.
For the first year of inline skating, you will tend to make a few minor miscalculations, approach a hazard with too much speed so struggle for balance and control, run into a crack in the pavement, walk across gravel which makes your skate movement unpredictable, hit a stick, or a surprise bump. These can make you struggle to regain balance. Safety equipment comes in handy. If a lot of people are on the path, you must keep your balance so you can always avoid hitting them. But in my experience, the greatest hazzard happens when you choose to go exploring before you have learned how to stop.
Two Tragic Experiences
Most accidents don't reach the news. But, on August 9, 2003 the Calgary Herald reported that a 43 year old woman who was not wearing a helmet lost her life. "ALTHOUGH SHE WAS ATHLETIC," she had only been inline skating for a month. This is the time when any long slope can be extremely dangerous.
The Calgary Herald noted that her friend got a minor scrape on his elbow. He reported: "I bailed out on the corner before the bridge," then added: "Theresa made the corner onto the bridge. A witness said she tried to grab the railing but couldn't and she went for a huge spill."
Also, a few years later, a guy got killed inline skating in Edmonton. The media reported that it happened at the south end of the High Level bridge. (see photographs below.) Although I didn't find out what happened, I do know that the entrance to the bridge can be extremely dangerous for anyone with minimal stopping experience.
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This is the beginning of the slope that leads to the High Level bridge entrance. Although it doesn't look steep, even with moderately good skates, the inline skater will gradually pick up a lot of speed. If their skates have speedo wheels, it will be like being on glare ice, so they will quickly take off.
If the inline skater is not very good at stopping, now is the time to attempt a stop, or wipe out. A turning stop could send you into the traffic. If you have a rear break and haven't practiced stopping, now is not the time to start practicing.
At this point, a beginner that doesn't know how to stop, or is not accustomed to wiping out, is facing a hidden trap. This gentle slope gets worse, so it is a threat to their life. In my opinion, this is the time when the awkward beginner must crash into the fence or fall back onto the sidewalk. If the beginner is not used to falling, the hard cement appears to be a long way down, and you can get scraped up pretty bad. Safety equipment would be a great help. At this point, if you don't have experience stopping, a deliberate fall is the safest alternative.
click to enlarge (219 kb)
Further ahead, around the corner, you are starting to see what is ahead. By now you will have picked up a lot of speed, and if you have quality speedo wheels, you are really flying, and you are realizing that none of your alternatives are good. How can you escape? Use the grass, attempt to take the turn, or slide onto the road? At this moment there is no traffic, so you can now fall back and hope that sliding on the road won't do too much damage. Are you wearing proper safety equipment? (During rush hour, sliding on the road isn't an option because there is a steady stream of traffic.)
If you have experience at skate parks and experience falling on cement, then it is hard to believe a person would struggle with this kind of slope. This advice is not meant for you, but for the awkward beginner who is vulnerable to injury, even with a simple fall. Fear can prevent a beginner from falling at the necessary time, so they pick up more speed and this puts their life on the line.
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Further on, we have a close look at the escape routes. If you turn onto the grass and fall, it probably won't slow you down much, unless there are some hidden rocks. You could slide on the grass right into the cement slab. In the summer, the wire gate on the train tracks above is open, but if you fly through the gate, it is a long way to the bottom of the valley. When you are really flying along, at this point it will take courage and skill to stop. Trying to lean back on your heal at a high rate of speed is not a skill you can develop in a matter of seconds. So, maybe you will choose to gamble, to try and make the turn.
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This is the entrance to the bridge. The corner isn't very sharp, but when you are really flying, even a gentle turn is hard to make. If you try breaking, at a high speed rear breaks create a lot of vibration, and now is not the time to lose even a slight bit of control. A helmet isn't much good when you hit steel at a high speed. Should you worry about pedestrians?
I realize that risk takers aren't scared of anything, and a few would lack patience with this view of a potential disaster, and have difficulty sympathizing with an awkward beginner. So they need to keep in mind that this is probably where, in about 2004, an inline skater got killed.
click to enlarge (239 kb)
The pedestrian will probably try to get out of the way. But she doesn't know what path you need to take, so there is a good chance she will suddenly GET IN YOUR WAY ! ! So her life is on the line as well as your own. Is the life of an inocent bystander important to those who are tuned into the excitement of taking risks?
So my hope is that the viewer will have a little sympathy for the awkward beginner, and will realize they are looking at a legitimate hazzard. Even after one guy lost his life, this slope is still an accident waiting to happen.
These Are My Experinces
Whether you are an awkward beginner, or an
older person like myself, you can learn
from this experience.
Read the description below,
or you can view a video at youtube.com
by clicking on the image on the right.
Click here to
view video at youtube.com.
After learning how to break a little on level pavement, it seemed like a waste of time to practice further. So, I decided to take a chance and explore a more challenging path. The first few slopes I went down weren't a problem because they didn't require me to work at slowing down or to stop.
This is what I faced as I was turning the corner. While on the straight part, I quickly tried to break and keep my balance. But there wasn't much room. There wasn't time. The fence was right there and my speed meant coasting over the rough tracks. Assuming a train wasn't coming, who knows how rough it would get? There wasn't time to assess the situation. While going through the gate, the pole looked thick and smooth, so I grabbed at it. This broke my speed and sent me straight to the ground. Due to not wearing equipment, my knees, hands, and elbows were badly scraped. It could have been far worse.
This is another turn that can surprise the beginner.
The turn to the right slants down a little
so you pick up speed as you continue, then run over
loose gravel; and the path is still turning. So there is nowhere
to break. When I first came to this turn I approached it with care, and
almost came to a stop just before turning to the right. Then, while picking up
speed, I was able to get over the bits of gravel, and was glad it was not necessary
to break. (In other years the path was mostly clear of gravel.) If you didn't
slow down, the gravel would send you into the grassy lowland, which is
often wet. I guess that if you are a risk taker, you will say no problem
and get a thrill out of doing a face plant in the mud.
Questions? Suggestions? Comments.
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This file posted December 28, 2004.
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