Speed skates are ice skates, or sometimes in-line skates, designed specifically to go as fast as possible over a smooth, level surface. Used in racing, speed skates sacrifice agility and precision in favor of speed over a relatively long distance. Characterized by a very long blade or set of wheels, speed skates are easy to distinguish from other types of skates, especially when moving at top speed!
Skaters who want to go very fast wear speed skates. Unlike normal skates, which strive for a balance of stability, maneuverability, turning and stopping, speed skates only need to go as fast as possible over a long, even course. Speed skates are certainly not for everyday use, but they are the specialized tools for their own purpose.
Speed skates have a very long blade, or in the case of in-line skates, three or four wheels. The long running surface of the speed skate distributes the weight of the skater over a greater area. This makes the ride smoother, and also gives the skater more traction on turns at high speed.
In-line speed skates have larger wheels than those commonly used for hockey skates, street skates, or recreational in-line skates. The larger wheels provide more grip, and also reduce friction on the bearings. Not only is bearing friction reduced, but in-line speed skates tend to use the fastest and smoothest bearings available as well.
Speed skates are used most often for races. These speed skating races usually take place on an oval track of varying size. Speed skaters make a varying number of laps around the track depending on the length of the race.
Speed skates are perfect for this type of skating. Their long blade or wheel base allows the skaters to reach high speed in the straightaways and to keep control while turning at speed. Many careless or unlucky speed skaters have lost a race by losing traction on a turn and falling.
One thing you won't see on speed skates is a brake. Because speed skates are used on a controlled course or track, the skaters have plenty of time to slow down after the race. A brake might get in the way during the race, or add unnecessary weight or wind resistance. Since speed skates are built to cruise as fast as possible, a brake is simply a liability. This is also one of the main reasons speed skates are less than ideal for any purpose other than racing.
Whether you're a racer, or just feel the need for speed, speed skates are a specialized tool for skaters who only want to go fast. If stopping isn't your thing, and you love the feel of wind in your face, you might want to strap on a pair of speed skates and try your luck on the track.