G13, Boom, Evolution
So for all you "tech-nerds" out there here's a little summary of what's been happening since good old "Yellow Matter" ruled the world.
Genesis; MPC Black Track. The first inline wheel (that I'm aware of) with the 'power band'. MPC called this power band 'M-tech', Matter later countered with their 'Tr2' technology (very similar) inside the new G13 wheel. This new technology gave these wheels superior grip and roll (a claim that all wheel manufacturers constantly claim about almost all their wheels, but in this case it was true.) This is the holy grail that wheel designers constantly search for; increased roll with increased grip, a difficult thing to achieve, if you ask me.
The power band (number 1) on the picture of this MPC Black Track, is a ring of urethane inside the wheel that is softer (often about 62A sure hardness) than the urethane that comes in contact with the road surface (number 3 - the tyre - often in the 80's sure hardness). This softer material gives the wheel mother feel, it absorbs bumps and vibrations, and gives the wheel more rebound. (rebound is the ability of the wheel to deform and then bounce back with similar energy return.)
The old MPC's had a very flexible core. This was what made them different to Matter wheels. It wasn't good or bad, it was just different, and that's why people bought them (imo). A good example is our track. Our track is very bumpy, and particularly at high speed you can feel these bumps and it makes your legs get tired really fast if you're on Matter with a very stiff core. So MPC (black track or road war) were great, the flexible core combined with a softer urethane makes our track civilised to skate on. (I'll come back to this later).
Then Matter improved their power band technology, Tr2 became Tr3 and it was even better. Even faster with even more rebound. The larger power band gave more rebound and energy return, but the wheel felt a little softer. This shifted the hardness range down a little bit. The standard that everyone used was F1, but with Tr3 it felt softer. Although F1 remained technically the same (because the 'F' range is not a hardness rating, it is a "Footprint" rating, and the footprint remained the same) it FELT softer, and FEELING is what skaters judge wheels by. What you feel on your skates is everything. So with all the wheels in the Matter range feeling and behaving a little softer, Matter brought out a harder edition F00. (But this is very rarely seen or raced on).
Tr3 made the G13 king of wheels. Superior grip, superior rebound, superior roll. The only reasons NOT to skate on G13 were the following: 1. It was wet. 2. You're sponsorship contract says you may not. 3. You can't afford them.
MPC responded with Road War Turbo. The power band (M-tech) was developed and it proved to be a very good wheel. The core was also upgraded, making it thicker and stiffer. But in my opinion they made a mistake here. The new Turbo series had a stronger stiffer core, this moved them closer to the Matter core, and the Matter wheels. They changed the only thing that made them different. However, maybe this made sense in terms of unit sales, and profit/loss analysis. I don't know. But for me, it just took away one of the best reasons to buy MPC. Now, you couldn't buy a wheel with a flexible core anywhere on the market. "C'est la vie."
You may have noticed I haven't mentioned Atom yet. Well, Atom were doing ok, the Atom One wheel was good, but not great. It always felled a little 'dead' imo. We'll get back to Atom in a moment...
Another niche MPC cornered was grip. The MPC urethane has always been soft, and thus very grippy. If you were on a deadly slippy track, or you are the kind of skater that needs grip at all costs, then you put MPC on and you'd grip. So Matter wanted a bit of the "slippy track" market, and developed 'Max G'. (Meaning: Maximum Grip) The only difference between G13 and Max G is that in the Max G the Tr3 power band is a little larger. (Difficult to see on the picture, even though it's a close up 'cut-away' photo.) It doesn't sound like much, but makes a great difference in the feel and grip. This wheel is marketed at sprinters and track skaters, because of the increased grip. It filled the hole and Matter dominated wheel sales. But luckily, that's not the end of the story...
Then came BOOM!
The Atom Boom is getting very good reviews. It has a large power band, it has a stiff core, and it has grippy urethane. The urethane feels, smells and tastes (don't ask) like MPC urethane. It seems to me that MPC have joined forces with Atom to produce a great wheel. I have no official confirmation of this, but I heard a rumour. And you know what they say; "If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then it's a duck". I've tested Boom myself, and I have to say it's good; good rebound, good grip and great stability, it even skates well in the wet. As with all MPC urethane you have to remember it's soft. So using the Boom XX-Firm (the hardest edition) seems similar to the G13 F1. Although, to me, the F1 still feels a little harder than the XX-Firm Boom. Maybe Atom need to make a XXX-Firm? (Why don't they just call it 'Hard'?) Anyway, this has definitely levelled the playing field, finally a wheel to rival G13 and Max G.
MPC Black Track has become Black Magic. What's the difference? Simply, the core has a slightly higher percentage of glassfiber (7%), so it's stiffer and gives the wheel a higher rebound. (Road War evolution has only 3.5% glassfiber in the core, so ti's a little more flexible). The urethane is also 'better' giving more energy return to the skater. Sounds good to me. I've not tested these, but everything I've heard form people who have tested them is positive.
All this sounds quite nerdy. It is. But it's why you love your wheels the way you do. All the modern race wheels have this power band in some guise, G13, Evolution, Boom, etc. It's now the race standard. If your wheel doesn't have a power band, it's not a race wheel, it's a recreational wheel and costs a lot less than race wheels.
So how do you know if it has it or not? Well, you get a wheel and cut it in half. Ok, so 99% of people aren't going to do that, and you definitely aren't going to do this BEFORE you buy the wheels. So you need to know your stats.
I have heard many arguments about wheels, and there is always someone that says "Well, Xxx person won worlds on this wheel" or "Yyy person won WIC on that wheel". Let's get one thing straight; "who won what on which" is a crappy argument. Why? Well, if Bart Swings put plastic nylon 60mm 'Toys-R-Us' wheels on his skates, then he would still beat you and me whilst he was on one skate going backwards with one leg tied behind his back and blindfold. The determining factors at worlds are; genetics, training, technique, strategy, team strategy, etc etc. and remember, the top guys in the world skate on the wheels that they are paid to skate on. If you want an honest opinion about wheels, ask someone that isn't sponsored.
The most important thing is that you learn to FEEL wheels. And you make a decision that that suits your feel for the wheels. (Unless you choose a wheel without a power band. If you do that, then expect to have a bad race). The wheel choice can make a difference, but it won't make a difference between last place and 1st place. But it might make a difference between you beating your closest rivals (friends?) or not. In past years a wheel choice could make a maybe even a minute or two difference on your marathon time, maybe more. Or it could make a significant difference on a track if you didn't have enough grip. But now the playing field seems quite level.
This makes me wonder.... "What's next?" Now that there are 3 wheels on the market with very similar speed, roll, grip and rebound, the only determining factor that's left is price. Will Matter respond with a Tr4 technology? Or will Atom find a new type of urethane to blow the competition away? Or will MPC re-invent the core to give more energy return? Or are ARMA wheels the next big thing? I certainly don't have an answer. Do YOU have any ideas for wheel development?
Even if the future is slightly larger than we expected (pictured right, 125mm) the technology inside is basically G13, but bigger. But in terms of wheel technology, I wonder when wheels are going to get lighter? The heaviest part of your skate is the urethane. We have carbon boots, carbon frames, plastic cores... the urethane is relatively heavy. Does it need to be? Do we need that weight to give the roll/momentum in the wheel that we all know and love? I don't know. Maybe urethane combined with some kind of polystyrene to make it lighter? Or some kind of honeycomb structure with micro-air pockets to save weight?
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Thanks to Diederik Hol at CadoMotus for the awesome images of Black Track and Road War, from his blog: http://www.cadomotus.com/mpc-turbo-wheel-inside and http://www.cadomotus.com/blog/index.php/why-do-heavier-skaters-need-softer-wheels
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