Monday, December 28, 2020

The Clarity Self-Deception Can Bring (was: Revisiting Thunders & a 14.5" Wheelbase on Transition)

[NOTE: Much of what I wrote below was based on self-deception. Clarity is revealed in the post-script at the end.]

I believe that one should occasionally (re)test their assumptions, if only to prove that they still hold true.

My standard set-up for mini ramps is:

•    8.25” DLX shape (14.38” wb)
•    Indy titanium 149s, with Indy 92a cylinder bushings (the blue aftermarket ones)
•    Spitfire F4 Classics, 54mm/101a
•    Swiss 6
•   Jessup

I recently decided to give Thunders another try on transition. I despise Thunders on street (they don’t turn, they are too low, and they have that stupid baseplate issue), but some of the exact reasons I hate them on street might be benefits on transition. I ride my trucks tighter on ramp, so the fact that Thunders “don’t turn” might be good. Thunders have a longer wheelbase than Indys, and they are also lower. This would provide for a bit more stability—also something beneficial. However, a longer wheelbase would make things respond a tad more sluggishly. Also, a lower height gives a little less wiggle room on anything where your nose/tail may touch the coping or ramp (this could both be negative and positive). The baseplate issue is not a real factor on transition because of the (larger) coping size. Last, Thunders are not an NHS product, and avoiding NHS is always a good thing in my book. So, at least on paper, Thunders appear to be a mixed bag, but they lean a bit more towards the positive side. How would this play-out in the real world? 

In the past there was a time when I rode Thunders on ramp and Indys on street. But I later switched back over to Indy on tranny, too. Time to retest those (Indy) transition assumptions, again. I had a pair of 149 Team Thunders (the slightly taller ones) kicking around in my closet. I threw on them on my transition board, and skated them for the last week at my local mini ramp.

There were a few things I liked about them, and a few things I didn’t. First, the positives. I really like the lower-to-the-ground feel of Thunders, both for just riding on the ramp itself, and on all truck-based lip tricks (e.g. pivots, grinds, feeble to fakie, etc.). Everything felt a little less squirrelly than on my Indys. I am not sure if this was the result of the longer wheelbase, that Thunders “don’t turn,” or the lowered truck height (or all three). In any event, I liked it, mostly. But I'll come back to this it at the very end.

I noticed one subtle difference with the longer wheelbase, which had both a positive and negative impact. On the positive, I noticed with any grind I could keep my weight a little further back on the board. This helped “push” through grinds, and it felt really nice. It also seemed like on any rail/lipslide/disaster/etc. there was a bit more wheel clearance (because wheels were further away from potential points of contact on platform or transition). The opposite side of this is that there was a fraction more of lag time required to “clear” the trucks/wheels on any given reentry (e.g. have to fakie manual a tad longer to clear front trucks on a pivot to fakie, etc.). This was a little unnerving at times, because I kept thinking I was going to hang-up. Last any kind of revert trick (nose stall revert, ollie to tail to revert, disaster revert, etc.), or anything where you 180’d into or out of a trick (1/2-Cab to railslide, disasters, rock n rolls, etc.) ALL took more effort to “swing around,” and the “swing” went slower when it did. I had some real trouble with nose/tail stall reverts on the Thunders because I wasn't getting them all the way around. This was pure function of a longer wheelbase, and I was not a fan. There was also this one other weird thing that happened a few times. On several occasions when I was in the middle of the flat, and setting up for some type nose/tail trick (nose pick, nose stall, fakie to tail stall, fakie to smith, etc.), I ended up shifting my weight too far to the extreme end of the board (in the direction I was going), and this resulted in slightly lifting up the wheels/trucks at the opposite end of the board (and that can get REAL sketchy, REAL quick). I am not sure what this was about—but it never once happened before on my Indys, but it did happen several times on the Thunders. I assume this is probably just needing to make some minor adjustments to the different wheelbases. 

Last, is that one issue I said I'd come back to at the very end. Despite all the positives, there was this one thing about Thunders that I just couldn't quantify--and it was a negative. Despite the fact they felt a bit more controlled than Indys, and less squirrelly, they always felt...stiff, and as if something was lacking (soul?) that prevented them from being truly...enjoyable. I felt a bit more like a technician skating Thunders, and a tad more like Chris Miller with my Indys. Ironic, because Miller rides for Thunder these days.    

Final Result: I definitely did not hate the Thunders—I could absolutely ride them on transition with only a few complaints. The question at this point is just which of the two do I like better and/or is more enjoyable to ride? Tomorrow I am going to throw my Indys back on, and see how that goes. I will add a post-script once I’ve done that.

One other thought that came out of this experiment: What if what I liked better about the Thunders was the longer wheelbase? Would a slightly longer wheelbase with Indys be some new epiphany? We shall soon find out. I ordered a DLX 8.25” Full deck (basically same shape as my current 8.25”, but with a 14.5” wheelbase) that should be here in a week or so. I am curious to see what my take on that is (with Indys). I’ve tried 14.5” wheelbases on mini ramps before, and didn’t like it—but that was looong before I broke my leg. The way I skate is a bit different now, and different equipment might reflect that in a more enjoyable way. Plus, I just like trying out different skate stuff. In the post-leg break world, I think now is a good time revisit many of my equipment assumptions (if only to prove they still hold correct). More certainly to come.   

POST-SCRIPT: Well, a rather dramatic bit of information was discovered yesterday which turns much of what I stated above on its head. What is that bit of information?  Forged baseplate Indys (what I ride) have the SAME wheelbase as Thunder Team trucks (the Thunders I have most often ridden). This is huge.

How did I discover this? I was tinkering with my equipment two days ago on a rainy night. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what the actual difference in wheelbase was between my Indys and Thunders. So, I mounted them on a deck and measured axle to axle. I was shocked at what I was seeing. There was less than 1/16th of an inch difference between the two. This could not be true! I remembered measuring Thunders Lights a long time ago, and they were about .25” longer than Indys. What the hell was going on here? I need a second opinion.

There is a super nerdy thread over at the SLAP Forums about a way to compare/measure/determine the relative wheelbase of any given truck in relation to any other truck. I am not going to explain how take those measurements in this post. You can read it in the SLAP thread. Anyway, I wanted to re-measure my Indys & Thunders via SLAP method as to means verify what I had discovered. I had not looked at that SLAP thread in a long time, and I wanted to verify the exact measuring methodology. So, I headed over to SLAP to look-up the info. That thread is also continually updated with the wheelbase tech specs of any given truck as people measure them (and others provide independent confirmation). When I looked at the thread, I noticed some new updates to the truck spec list since the last time I had been there. Two entries immediately jumped out at me:

Independent 149 forged hollow (8.5" axle): + 3.1875"

Thunder 149 team edition (8.5" axle): + 3.1875"

This CONFIRMED what I discovered. I then re-measured my Indys and Thunders with the SLAP method. I confirmed my own previous results. My Indys and Thunders had the exact same wheelbase.  MIND. FUCKING. BLOWN.

One other SLAP member made this comment, “I'm pretty blow away as I am sure most are. We've always dumped them into 'Indy' or 'Thunder' wheelbase. It also explains why Indy forged have always felt fine to me when going back and forth to Thunder cast. In that scenario it was no wonder only turn was bugging me on the decks I was riding. Who knew?

To be fair, regular Thunders do have a longer wheelbase than Indys by about .25” (as per my memory, and confirmed on that SLAP thread), but not the ones I was riding. So, what is the fallout from this discovery? A few things immediately jump out.

First, and most obvious, is that everything I attributed above to a difference between in Indys and Thunder wheelbase was now demonstrably FALSE. Those differences were clearly just in my head. Remember that 14.5” deck I ordered, to try a longer wheelbase with Indys? Yeah. Well, that was based off bogus “information” (Yes, I’m still going to try it when it arrives…but now I am far less curious about it).

Second, this means everything I liked and disliked about Thunders came solely from the height difference (Thunders are indeed a bit lower than Indys) and the overall Thunder turning geometry. This also means that the geometry on Thunder Teams is even more atrocious than I first thought. I always thought one of the reasons Thunder Teams didn’t turn as well as Indys was because Thunders have a longer wheelbase. Well, same wheelbase as Indy, and your shit still can get a decent turn? Ok, guys. Nice trucks. I'm out. This game is over.

Third, like person I quoted above, it also explains why I didn’t hate Thunders as much this time around (last time I had the longer wheelbase version), and why I found it relatively easy to switch back and forth between the two without any MAJOR complaints.

Last, (and this probably the biggest “shift” to come out of this “discovery”) it has made me concretely aware that the source of perceived nuance differences in equipment may simply just be me waaaay over-thinking things (surprise, surprise). That said, when Equipment X rides different than Equipment Y, the “scientist” in me wants to know why, and, what the source of those differences is. This, of course, can open up a wormhole that one may not want to go down. I think from this point forward I am going to drop the measuring tape, calipers, and scales when it comes to skateboard equipment. I am going to stop looking for the “scientific” explanation as to why something performs the way it does. I am going to stop the tinkering with minutia. Instead, my only criteria is just going to be the existential question, “Does this just feel good to ride?” If the answer is yes, then the game over. If no, then try something different. This is just to say that I am going to let pure experience be my soul guide, and not get too caught up in tiny measurable differences. It’s time to close the wormhole.  

To that end, we now come full circle (albeit via a path of self-deception about wheelbase that I never could have foreseen happening). I have ridden enough stuff to know that the set-up listed at the very top of this post is one I really enjoy riding. I am no longer going to make attempts at minor improvements to that.

“I believe that one should occasionally (re)test their assumptions, if only to prove that they still hold true.” I like my Indys. I learned that’s all I really need. Assumption confirmed.    

POST POST-SCRIPT: The 14.5" wheelbase deck arrived. I set it up, and skated it today. Within three tricks on the ramp, I knew I didn't like it, for every reason I previously didn't like it. I skated it for awhile longer, just to be sure, and I was.  Assumption confirmed, again.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Popsicles v. Shaped-Decks

This article was written by someone who religiously rode shaped boards, and then decided to give popsicles a try. His analysis is below. It is worth a read.

[I did not write this article, Kyle DuVall did. I wanted to link his blog post to someone on Facebook, but it seems something has gone askew with the Blogger formatting on Kyle's post (I see white typeface on a white background when I view it). Hence, I copied and pasted the text here for easy reading.]

The Popsicle Experiment
December 7, 2015
By Kyle DuVall

For the last two years I have been one of the thousands of skaters who has embraced alternate skate deck shapes. I've ridden shovel heads, punk points, curvaceous, wide bodied hybrids like the Street Plant Street axe, and I’ve had custom shapes made to my own specs, The whole time I've been pretty vocal about how these shapes can be more than just nostalgic, stylistic affectations.

About 3 months ago, for the first time in 2 years, I set up my first popsicle deck. It was my attempt to come full circle with all my experimentations, and see how my perceived preferences stood up against the baseline of modern skateboarding.

Even in light of all of my shape advocacy, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t notice immediate advantages with the popsicle. There are good reasons to ride a standard shape, just as there are good reasons to ride a well-designed alternate shape. Teasing out what advantages come from the actual popsicle shape and which come from other factors like a shift in wheelbase size and width is a more subtle matter.

For my return to the standard shape, I doubled down and went with a Chinese-produced, mass manufactured deck: an Almost Chris Haslam resin 7 model with a 8.38” width with a 14.25” wheelbase. I picked Almost because a friend of mine, who has a tendency to snap decks as if they were the proverbial popsicles of the shape’s name, has been extremely lucky with their wood, and the dimensions and slightly blunter contours on Haslam’s model seemed ideal.

At the heart of my popsicle experience was a healthy drop in the length of the wheelbase I was riding.

A number of designers, brands and retailers have created their own recommendations for matching wheelbase sizes with riders, recommendations I have, in true skate anarchist fashion, usually ignored (I’M NOT GONNA LET THE MAN TELL ME WHAT WHEELBASE I SHOULD RIDE!!). I have been riding 14.75” to 15’ wheelbases for the last couple of years. The Haslam’s 14.25 wheelbase size actually lines up with the wheelbase I am ‘supposed” to be riding according to most of these recommendations.

Knocking half an inch off the WB changed the whole dynamic of how my front foot slid and how my back leg compressed in an ollie. When I ollied the Haslam, the tail of the board sucked right up against my feet as my rear knees bent, giving a very controlled, very level and snappy ollie. This effect improved my ollie even more once I altered my front foot slide to actually scrape beyond the front bolts and partially into the nose, a technique a lot of guys who learned to ollie on the tiny-nosed decks of the 80s, have neglected to learn. All in all, the shorter wheelbase (in combination with a shorter and more rounded tail, more on that later) had me popping ollies higher, in a shorter arc. The advantage on ledges and in popping off skatepark banks was dramatic.

Of course, you could put a short wheelbase on a shaped deck and gain some of these advantages, but very few brands offer shapes in the smaller wheelbases. Finding a stock 14.25” shaped deck is almost impossible and 14.5” is very rare. If there is one thing I have learned from my switch up it is that a lot of guys who love riding the shapes may be ill-served by the long wheelbases that come with them, especially if they are street skating. Brands might do well to branch out with their shaped deck designs.

The shape and the dimensions of my popsicle’s tail also played a role in that new snappier pop. The Almost Haslam had a 6.5” inch tail with the standard rounded shape. I’ve been riding 6.75 and 7 tails. The shorter tail definitely let me channel more power straight down much easier, this combined with the short wheelbase meant I could place my front foot farther up the board and still pop a good ollie. On a small wheelbase with a short tail, you can pop an ollie with the edge of your front foot practically touching the mounting bolts. This translates to much more stability setting up for a trick, and it makes it much easier to set up for the next ollie in a line. In a park setting it means there is a lot less sliding your foot around to adjust from pumping down a transition and popping an ollie on a pyramid or to a ledge. On the street course at the skatepark, the popsicle, or at least, the snappy tail and reduced wheelbase of that popsicle, was supreme.

The signature round shape of the tail can be a mixed blessing. The round tail design of the modern popsicle is designed for instability. Applying pressure to the rounded corners will essentially tip your board sideways, a motion at the heart of a lot of flip tricks. In fact, on the modern popsicle, the rotation of a kickflip or 360 flip comes just as much from the pressure of the back foot as it does the flick of the front foot. In the case of the modern 360 flip, the back foot “scoop” is often doing most of the real work. Once again, a lot of guys who struggled to nail kickflips and tre flips on the long-flat tailed decks of the late eighties find themselves stymied when it comes to getting the proper rotation on a popsicle. That's because, on those old tanks, the front foot was the engine that drove the flip. Apply the that technique to modern pop and chances are you will never get enough leverage in your pop to get off the ground, or at best, you will get a clumsily executed “rocket” flip. Kickflips on a popsicle are essentially a completely different trick than the flips we learned on fat boards in the 1980s.

Since the popsicle tail is basically built to tip, it means to get the most stability and pop on a plain old run of the mill ollie, foot placement on the tail must be more precise. If your foot is not well balanced and centered on the tail, the deck is going to pull sideways in one direction and tip a bit, meaning you will lose a lot of the power you are trying to put in your ollie and lose a lot of control as well. A flat, square-cornered tail shape, however, means you can apply pressure out of the “sweet spot” in the tail and still get a fairly solid, stable ollie.

Of course, even on a square tail you are going to pop better when you apply pressure to just the right spot in the center of the tail. One advantage of the rounded popsicle tail is that it essentially forces you to make sure you are always centered in your pop. It is a sort of conditioning tool in a way. You may start out less consistent on a popsicle tail, but the ollies you do will be cleaner and higher. The difference is a matter of consistency and on-demand stability versus versatility, improved vertical pop and the potential for cleaner flip tricks. There really is no “better” option. It's your call in accordance with your own style.

Another point of contention with modern decks is their durability. Veteran skaters often swear up and down that “they don’t make 'em like they used to” and single out Chinese production decks as especially suspect. On the whole, my Chinese popsicle took a pretty good beating and maintained a pretty good bit of elasticity and pop right up until the end. In terms of the longevity of aforementioned pop, the Almost Haslam certainly couldn’t compare with the eternal stiff snap of a workshop board like a Fickle deck, but it certainly stayed snappy up to the point where tail wear and other factors made a deck change necessary anyway.

The final verdict on this experiment: mixed.

I am definitely dropping my wheelbase from now on. Although the 14.25” size was definitely not optimal for bowl riding, splitting the difference and bumping up to a 14.5” wheelbase might work out well. A shorter tail than the 6.75” I have been riding is definitely better for me, although I’m thinking a squared 6.5” tail may be my best strategy. It's possible a square shape with a short length will mediate stability with the increased power the better leverage of the shortened tail gives me. The popsicle experience has certainly made me more wary of “punk point” noses. Nothing beats having a full sized nose, not just for nose slides and other ledge tricks, but also for ollies and, yes, even slappies. Cutting a 3rd of the real estate off your nose off just to get a “punk” look to your shape is not worth it. I’ll look more “punk” locking better backside slappies and more properly tweaked ollies. I think the Grosso-style “shovel’ nose is the way to go for me.

The big take-away from it all: ride what you like, but don’t write anything off you haven’t tried in a while. “Just because everyone else does” is no reason to ride a standard shape. Then again, it's no reason NOT to ride one either.

[Now that you've read about modern technology with decks, here is another article about wheels and deck height!]