[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
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.