Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ace Trucks Review: Part II (First Ride)

In Part One of my Ace Trucks review I covered a lot of factual, nerdy, tech stuff. Weight. Height. Length. Board fit/truck size(s). Etc. Here, in Part Two, we cover something much more subjective: truck performance.

                                                            PART II: Performance

For starters, let me clarify that I am 46-years-old, and recovering from a broken leg. If you want a review on how Aces perform on f/s feebles down kinked rails, switch backside flips into f/s krooked grinds on ledges, or heavy pool skating—you ain’t going to get that here. What you will get is an honest review from average old-guy skater who isn’t trying to sell you something, isn’t making money off reviews, or isn’t trying to use the review to flaunt my own skate “ability” (which is a laughable concept). That said, on we go… 

Let’s get this one out of the way right up front. I’m sorry, but turns and grinds be damned…nothing feels as good as Indy when you’re going for that full-on Mall Grab. Aces just don’t have the same heft, or proper grasping/clutching ergonomic hanger features that Indy does. Nothing comes close to Indy in this category (or looks as good while wearing a Thrasher t-shirt as Indys). Food Court, here we come. 

Weight: Well, just like in Part One, guess what the first thing I noticed was once Aces were mounted on my board? How much heavier it was. Like, damn. Ace make their trucks out of White Dwarf star material or something? Shit is DENSE. While I know the shorter wheelbase / lever effect may off-set the “feel” of that weight while skating, it ain’t going to change the “feel” of getting shark bite from a heavier board while skating transition. Can’t wait to take this thing in the ankle (or head). Any time I picked my board up while skating the same thought went through my head, “Goddam this thing is so heavy!!!” More on this later.

Turning / Carving: I ride my trucks on the tight end of “loose,” or on the loose end of “tight.” I am an “extra medium” kind of person. Consider the durometer of Ace stock bushings, I was convinced they were going to be far too loose for me right out of the gate. The first “test” I did on Ace trucks was just to carve around a parking lot for awhile. This was to (a) determine how tight/loose the stock bushing actually were, (b) get the trucks adjusted to my preference (if possible), and (c) to get a sense of how Aces turned/carved. I was expecting some very loose, wobbly, borderline uncontrollable trucks based on what I’ve heard about them. Moreover, every time I’ve tried non-Indy trucks, I instantly hated them, and had to really force myself to continue riding them for a while before I could make an honest assessment. With Aces, I was expecting all this to happen, yet again. The result? I was utterly wrong on every single count.   

Aces turned great! I did not instantly hate them. I fact, I liked them. I have never ridden a truck that turns as much like Indys as these. Mind blown. The stock bushings were not too soft. I did have to tighten them a bit, but they were totally manageable (rumor has it they become much softer once broken in). I’ve heard people describe the Ace turn as unpredictable and twitchy. I did not find this to be true, at all. For me, the turns were smooth, controlled, predictable, and had a terrific flow to them. I’ll be honest, I was really, really surprised by this. I’ve also heard numerous times that Ace bushings take a week or two to really break in. I could absolutely tell these were “new” bushing (and they were sticking to one side once I got off my board), but they did not have the all-too-common horrific “new truck” feel to them. Two hours later, and they were turning even better. Maybe that sketchy, twitchy turn will manifest once the bushing are fully broken in. Time will tell. Was the turn superior to Indy? Not sure I’d go that far, but it was absolutely on par with Indy. And without question they turned better than any other non-Indy truck I’ve ever ridden. This, however, is where the really positive side of Aces began—and ended—at least for me.

Wheelbase: As mentioned in Part One, Aces have a very short wheelbase. Over the years I have tried all sorts of different deck dimensions, including various wheelbases (everything from 14” to 15.25”). I have found that 14.38” (with Indys) is my sweet spot for most terrain (need a bigger wheelbase on full-sized tranny).

When I rode decks with longer wheelbases, everything seemed slow and sluggish, and my stance felt too wide, esp. if some trick required me to have one foot near the nose, and the other near the tail (esp. on tranny). Everything seems to take more effort to get slower results, sort of like running into the wind. Ollies, kickturns, kickflips, turning into/out of railslides, 180 ollie/nollies…everything fell prey to this. Hell, even axle stalls on mini ramps felt slower. Of course, this all makes sense. It takes a tractor-trailer more space and time to turn than a sports car, and that is because of wheelbase length. 

When I rode decks with smaller wheelbases, everything felt too cramped, and less stable. Ollies felt weak, like I couldn’t widen my legs enough to really get an explosive pop—as if trying to swing a baseball bat by holding it in the middle (e.g. total loss of power). On things like 5-0 grinds my feet felt too close together, and thus unstable, almost as if being forced to do the grind on just my rear foot. Sometimes I’d land tricks with my foot/weight too far over the nose (deadly on transition). Getting into smiths, hurricanes, and feebles all required more of a body twist so that the front trucks would clear the ledge. Flip tricks and pop shove-its felt too…sensitive? Like, if I added slightly too much or too little force, the board would be way, way off the mark. Generally, on a shorter wheelbase deck, things felt too weak, whippy, cramped, and unstable.

So, I was incredibly curious to see if trucks that shortened the wheelbase would have the same effects as a deck that shortened the wheelbase. And it absolutely did. But in an oddly different way. With the Aces on my board, I started to notice that I had to put my feet in slightly different positions than I normally did. My timing was getting really screwed up for awhile, but then I adjusted a bit, and things “stabilized.” Somewhat. That said, all of the problems I had with shorter wheelbase boards were happening, but in an oddly different (yet the same) manner. I couldn’t quite pinpoint or verbalize what the difference was (e.g. between a shorter wheel base deck and shorter wheelbase trucks), however, but it was there. Everything just felt a tad too cramped, unstable, and squirrely. Ollies. Grinds. Railslides. Stall tricks. Transition (I only skated these on a smaller DIY quarter pipe). Slappies. They all felt slightly “off” in a manner that did not inspire confidence. In fact, it was the opposite. I was doubting myself, and my board. That is never a good headspace to be in. I am sure part of this was just that I was riding something different, and wasn’t used to it yet. But another part of it certainly was that Aces crossed me over that into that Twilight Zone of shorter wheelbase that just doesn’t work well for me. I have been skateboarding for 35 years. By now I have figured out what works best for me (I think???).   

Grinds: These were interesting. Ace metal is absolutely softer than Indy metal. Aces seemed to grind a bit easier than my Indys. Part of that is surely because the Aces are brand new, and thus have a very small contact/friction patch. Conversely, my Indys are almost ground to the axle, and thus have a much larger contact/friction patch. Hence, my Aces had less a lot less friction. The feel of the grinds was very different between the two trucks. The only way I can describe it is that Aces felt more like asphalt on a hot day as opposed to concrete on a hot day (if that makes any sense)…Aces were “softer” and more “waxy/buttery.” Some people claim they love the feel Ace grinds. I remain undecided on this issue.

I should also mention pinch here, as in krooked grind pinch. Thunder Trucks have a notoriously good pinch. The reason for this is because the axle sits very far forward on the baseplate. Thus, the center of gravity is a bit more “behind” the truck, allowing for some really good pinch stability. On Aces, the opposite is true. Because the axle is so far back on the baseplate, your weight ends up a bit more forward, which can make the pinch a bit less predictable. I use Thunders here to illuminate the point. Indys sit between the two. Because of this, I would say Thunders have the “best” pinch, and Aces have the “worst” pinch. This is not to say that krooked grinds are impossible on Aces, you just have to adjust a bit. Ben Degros also talks about this exact issue in his review of Ace trucks. Ben does a great review of Ace 44s, and substantially mirrors much of what I have said here. His video is worth a watch. Ben and I often come to a lot of the same conclusions (except he really likes Thunders, and I do not).

Ben makes one quick comment in his review, that is very easy to miss, but is very important when it comes to wheelbase. He says, “If you have mellow kicks (e.g. you like a flatter board) and you like a steeper feeling pop (e.g. a taller truck OR a longer wheelbase), you’re not going to like it all (it = Ace trucks).” Wow. There is so much in that quick statement that may not be immediately obvious. Ben’s statement is so important that I am going to follow-up my Ace review with post dedicated to nuances of a fulcrum and lever (e.g. trucks and deck), and how wheelbase impacts the effective feel of your board. A short preview: A smaller wheelbase makes your nose/tail flatter. A longer wheelbase makes your nose/tail steeper. Yes, you read that correctly. Stay tuned.

Board Fit: I mentioned the obtuse, stupid, turboclown truck sizing that Ace has in Part One. I will say, to Ace’s credit, that I did not notice a huge problem with 8.35” trucks on an 8.25” deck. That, however, does not in any way, manner, shape, or form, excuse Ace from making inherently wrong truck sizes. “Being different is one thing. Being stupid is another.” Ace truck sizes are, well, stupid.

Last, I come full circle, and go right back where I started in Part One: weight. Every time I picked up my board I thought, “Jesus Christ, this thing is so fucking HEAVY!!!” This absolutely had some mental impact on me. I kept feeling that I would need to use extra force on any given trick to compensate for the added weight. Every time an ollie-based trick went south I wondered if it was weight-related. I kept thinking my board was more sluggish (weight) when skating, but I couldn’t tell with certainty if it was or not. What I know for certain is that, (a) with Aces I am literally riding the heaviest board I have ridden since before small wheels/big pants days, and (b) it had a mental impact. Those are not things I really want to have to think about when skating.

So, after my first multi-hour/terrain session on Aces, this is what it all distills down to:

(1)    They turn great so far (but they might get way more twitchy as the bushings break in???);
(2)    They are heavy as fuck;
(3)    Weird feeling grind that I can’t figure out if I like or not;
(4)    Wheelbase is tad too short, and seems to cause me to loose ollie power, and makes other tricks feel less stable;
(5)    A lesser Mall Grab;
(6)    Did I mention they are heavy as fuck?

The turnability was comparable to Indys. For me at least, Indy performed better than Ace in every other category. I will continue to ride Aces for awhile, as I don’t think it is totally fair to judge a truck (that does not completely suck) on just one day’s worth of riding. I will also say this; so far Ace is a very, very good truck. The closest I have seen to Indy. They just may not be the truck for me—but the hype about them is real, and real for a reason. After just one day of riding them, I can certainly say they are quality product. If Indys ceased to exist tomorrow, I would be riding Aces, no question. So, if you like Indys, Ace are absolutely worth taking a look at (provided you don’t ride a deck around 8.5”…because Ace does not make a truck that properly fits those decks….so fucking dumb).

FOLLOW-UP: Today I went skating with a few friends. I wanted to have a fun session, and not be in “test mode” the entire time, so I threw my Indys back on. Within 20 seconds I was like, “Ahh!! Indys feel SO much better!!” Granted, this is partly because Indys are what I am used to. I will certainly put Aces back on my board, and give them a longer/fairer test run, but I think the writing might already be on the wall.  Part Three (Final Verdict) has since been posted and can be found here

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Ace Trucks Review: Part I (Techy Nerdy Stuff)

Despite despising NHS, I have ridden Indys for a very, very long time. Why? Because I have always found them to be a superior product. And yes, I have tried all other major brands. I gave Aces a shots when they first came out. I was not a fan. There were a host of known problems with them at the time. Some of those problems have been since been corrected. In hopes of riding myself of all NHS products, this week I decided to give Ace another chance. This is my review of them. Indys are what every other truck on the market is compared to—they are the “gold standard.” Hence, I will be comparing Aces to (my) Indys. This is a three part series. The link to each follow part is at the end of a given post.

For reference purposes I ride Indy 144 titaniums on an 8.25” deck with a 14.38” wheelbase. I will be comparing those Indys with Ace 44s.

                                                 PART I: Technical Nerdy Stuff

Before I even get to the performance aspects of Ace trucks, I am going to cover a lot of nuanced, nerdy, tech stuff. I am sure some people think this level of scrutiny is absurd. Others thrive on this kind of stuff. You've been warned.

Weight: The first thing I noticed about Aces was how heavy they were. Like, wow, these things are tanks. This surprised me, because looking at them compared to Indys, Aces look a lot more svelte. Then I weighed them. Yup, they are heavy mofo’s. Aces came in a 398g (14.03oz) each. Thus, a set of two weighs 796g (1.75lbs). By comparison, a set of standard 144 Indys (e.g. not the hollow, forged hollows, or titaniums) weighs 387g (13.6oz) each. A set of 144 Indys weighs 774g (1.68 lbs.). This makes Aces the heaviest truck on the market, weighing noticeably more than the heaviest version of Independents. That says a lot. There is, however, a caveat. Ace trucks have a significantly shorter wheelbase than Indys. Thus, due the basic physics of a lever, Aces may feel “lighter” when skating them than they actually are. More on that in the performance section of this review. Suffice to say, these are significantly heavier than my titanium Indys.

Height: Indy claims all of their forged baseplate trucks are 53.5mm tall. When I measure them, they come in a 53mm. Standard Indys are 55mm tall (too tall, IMHO). Ace claims their trucks are 52mm tall. My measurements came in at 52mm and 53mm. So, no real difference from (my forged) Indys here.

Wheelbase: Measured center-of-axle to center-of-axle, the wheelbase of my Indys came in 17.375”. Aces came in a 17.125”. That is a .25” variance. That is significant difference. This, of course, will have significant impact on performance. Ace has one of, if not the shortest wheelbase on the market.

Kingpin Clearance: In the photo above you can see the kingpin clearance. I didn't measure this, but it's about standard, and on par with Indy kingpin clearance. Someone please tell my why inverted kingpins haven't become the industry standard???? 

Axle Length (total):  Indy axle length is 8.25”. Ace came in at 8.38”. I want my trucks to the same width as my board, or maybe slightly narrower. I don’t want my wheels sticking out. I was concerned about this issue. More on this later in the review.

Axle Length (individual): For this, I measured the length of the axle that sticks out from the hanger. Indy came in a 31/32mm. Ace came in at 34/35mm. On Aces, this causes your axle to stick out further beyond the end of your wheel and axle nut than with Indys. Unless you stack washers to compensate, this means the end of your axle has a greater chance of getting chewed-up from various impacts (and potentially making it harder to get your axle nut back on).

Hanger Length: Indy hanger came in at 5.62”. Ace claims the hanger on 44s is 5.75”. My measurements came in at 5.56”. How they got 5.75”, I have no idea. I was so shocked by this discrepancy that I went back and re-measured. And then re-measured again. And then just once more to be sure. I was correct. These are nowhere near 5.75” hangers. See for yourself in the photo below. The effective hanger is actually closer to 5.50"! Now, let's think about how fucked-up this. With Aces you get a longer axle than Indys, but the actual hanger is shorter. I mean, we are talking small distances here, but that is really strange. I would have expected both the axle and the hanger to longer, but that is simply not the case. Aces have a smaller grindable hanger than Indys on an overall wider truck. That is truly bizarre and totally unexpected.


Height: I once read that Bones bushings can not/should not be used in Ace trucks because Bones bushings are shorter than stock Ace Bushings, and thus completely compromise the geometry of the truck. I took the stock Ace bushing out, and measured them against Bones bushings. The height was exactly the same on both the top and bottom bushings (see two below two photos). Both Ace and Bones bushing measured 25mm tall (when stacked). However, Bones states that you are not supposed to use a bottom washer with their bushing. Thus, there is a total stack height difference between stock Ace bushing (with their stock washers included), and Bones bushing (with their washer recommendations). Enough to "completely compromise" Ace geometry? I am skeptical of that claim.

Shape: Both stock Ace and Indy bushings come in cylindrical shape. Indy makes aftermarket conical shaped bushings. Ace does not.

Hardness: Ace bushings come stock with a 91a bushing on top, and an 86a bushing on the bottom. Indy comes stock with 90a bushings (top and bottom). Indy has aftermarket bushings that range in hardness from 88a to 96a (in both cylindrical and conical shapes). Ace offers no alternate after-market bushings.

Baseplate Wheel Clearance: This is an issue related to Thunder trucks. As noted here, Thunders have a well-known baseplate “issue,” where the baseplates do not clear the distance of the wheels. This means greater hang-ups on nose/tail slides unless you use stupid amounts of wax to prevent your wheels from “catching.” No other truck on the market has this “problem.” I only mention it in this review in case the concern is in someone’s mind. To be clear, Aces does NOT have this problem, as their baseplates stick out beyond the distance of normally sized wheels. This is how basebplates should be designed (get with it, Thunder).

Made in China: I don’t care about this. Some do. Ace trucks are made in China “with material (some? all?) imported from the USA.”

Appearance: Everything above is factual information. Weight. Height. Lengths. Etc. Now we move to something more subjecting, appearance. There are a lot of people who love how Ace trucks look. I am not one of them. I think Ace trucks look really crude, cheap, and almost department store-ish. I cringe when I look at them. I ended up getting a set of matte black trucks, because I think they look far less a tragedy than the standard silver ones. Skateboarding has big mental components to it. When I look down at my board, I want to see something that I am stoked on, not something that puts me in a bad mood. Unfortunately, I am not one of the people who fawn over how Ace trucks look.  

Board Fit: Most truck companies make trucks in .25” intervals. 8.0”, 8.25”, 8.50”, 8.75” etc. Ace does not follow this pattern. Their basic truck sizes are 8.0”, 8.35”, 9.0”, and 9.35”.  This, frankly, is utterly asinine. As I mentioned above, I ride an 8.25” deck. I want trucks that fit my board. Not ones that have my wheels sticking out a bit, or are way undersized (e.g. 8.0”). But even more obtuse, is the huge jump in size between 8.35” and 9.0”. What if you ride and 8.5” deck (very common size)? Ace offers this “advice” from their web site:

What size Ace trucks do I use for an 8.5” deck?

We get this question a lot. For our more street skating set-ups, or advanced riders we recommend 44 Classics with both of the supplied axle washers in-between the bearing and the hanger on each axle end. We also recommend 55 Classics with no axle washers between the bearing and the hanger, this solution is better for transition skating with more grinds and less flips and spins. Don’t forget that wheel width and in some cases bearing offset will affect the overall track of your final wheel and truck width.“

There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start. I’ll just leave it at this: Ace, stop being a turboclown-rogue, and just make the same damn truck sizes that every other manufacture in the industry does. I occasionally ride an 8.5” deck. There is no chance in hell I would put grossly inadequate-sized truck on my board. Even if I decide I love these 44s on my 8.25” board, I’d never put an 8.3” or a 9.0” truck on my 8.5” deck. So, Ace, you might be loosing business because of these stupid truck sizes. Stop. Just stop. Ace had slated to release a total truck redesign in the summer of 2020, but I am sure Corona Virus has/will delay that. Hopefully when they do, they will start producing normal sized trucks. Last in the board fit category, I will again mention the “individual axle length” addressed above. Given this “washer explanation” for 8.5” decks, that might explain why Ace axles stick out further than Indys (e.g. so there is space to add washers needed to make their ill-sized trucks “fit” wider boards). Again, this is obtuse. Ace, fix this shit.

So, there you have it. A pretty lengthy review of Ace trucks, before I have even skated them! Part Two of this review (first ride) can be found here.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Place on Earth

This a story of curbs, the afterlife, personal chaos, and finding a moment of sanctuary.  

A ritual is an act regularly repeated in a set precise manner, often performed in a sequestered place and according to a set sequence. Meditation is harder to define. Suffice to say it may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception, self-awareness, and well-being. Some claim it can lead to enlightenment.

The older you become, the longer it takes to get “warmed up” on a skateboard. Some years back I developed a “warm-up” routine. It was around 20 or so curb tricks that are mirror images of each other. B/S ollie to tail. F/S ollie to tail. B/S blunt. F/S blunt. Etc. I could often tell how well a session was going to go based on well how the warm-ups went. After I broke my leg, these were no longer “simple warm-up tricks.” They had all been transferred into major goals to hopefully one day again achieve with some degree of regularity. Much of my recover to this point has been relearning these “warm-ups.”

My elderly, crippled, and financially insecure parents were told two days ago that their lease would not renewed on Aug 1st, 2020. They do not own a home. They now have three months to move. They have lived at their current location for 15 years. They will have to relocate into a substantially smaller place, and will likely be forced to shed about 2/3rd of their entire belongings. I will probably have to finance most of their move. Emotion and stress levels are running very high.

I went skating tonight. I arrived at a curb I often skate. They place was utterly deserted. Even the drone from the nearby highway was absent. Its abnormality was actually bit eerie. The Corona Virus has caused a blanket of silence to fall across the night. I was alone in a quiet world with my curb.

I started doing my warm-up tricks, and then realized that I was actually doing “an act regularly repeated in a set precise manner, often performed in a sequestered place and according to a set sequence. I was performing a ritual. One I had developed long, long ago. Skateboarding can be many things. Some of those are things like “reducing stress, anxiety, depression…and increasing peace…and well-being.” My warm up tricks. This wasn’t just a ritual, it also had aspects of meditation. Especially now.

I stopped skating for a bit, and just listened to that unusual, deep stillness that enveloped the land. My mind drifted. I’ve been thinking about that Grosso birthday tribute a lot over the last week. Towards the end of it, Lucero says something to Jeff like, “Make sure there is a nice curb for me up there in heaven.” I remembered this quote, and then heard myself say out loud, “Me, too. Me, too.” I surprised myself that I had done this. A voice from nowhere that shattered the silence. I looked around for brief second to see where it had come from. In doing so, a veneer was lifted.

Fifteen feet in front of me was a nice curb. The veneer wasn’t just lifted it. It was shattered. It was like flying through clouds, and then breaking into the endless blue sky. A wave of euphoria and deep understanding swept over me. I almost started to cry from joy. “Make sure there is a nice curb for me up there.” The object and intentions of eternal happiness are not some abstract utopian concept. There are here. Now. I was actually standing in paradise at that very moment. And for that moment, sanctuary was mine.     

Some claim that ritualistic meditation, even in the midst of chaos, can lead to enlightenment. I (now) believe them.