[BEWARE: WALL OF TEXT]
Rollerblade made comeback in to aggressive skating few years ago, with brand new boot. These boots are called “Solo”, and let’s say it straight – they are great, modern boot with a lot of potential. Normally, everyone and their sister would want to get a pair. But things didn’t go that path. Even though these are quality, functional blades you don’t see them often on other peoples feet.
For starters, I must say I am a huge fan of this boot. I skate Fusions, which are Solo-based freeskates for two years now, and can’t say anything but good things about the skates. I got idea to write this text and try to explain what did go wrong, and how it can be fixed, simply because I love these boots and want them to be produced as long as it’s possible. Don’t look for hate here, there isn’t any. It’s my, rational as much as possible, view at mistakes Rollerblade did with Solos.
I think everyone should recognize these by now. First info about them emerged in late 2008, and since then, Rollerblade produced wide range of skates based on this boot. Not only aggressive ones, but also Fusion line, first UFS freeskates since Salomon closed their inline skating branch in year 2006.
One thing that differentiates Solo boot from others on the market is soulplate design. Boot is fully functional as a freeskate without these, thanks to frame UFS mount directly on the sole of the shell. Souls themselves are two-piece, and give possibility to reduce weight of the skate if you don’t care about insides – Robert Guerrero used this setup in latest edits. Finally, frame mounted directly to the boot, without soulplate in-between, means whole connection is more solid, and balance is lowered (but also means you won’t be able to lean on royales like a boss, so this is trade-off). Boot is designed with Switch frames (no longer in production) in mind and have small wheel wells, which allows using 72 mm or bigger wheels with right frames. Heel is a bit raised, and footbed is shaped evenly with really big shock absorber which give even Razors Genesys one run for its money. As a whole, it looks like skate is constructed around similar ideas that Salomon used to made ST models.
Solos/Fusions are hell of a skate, and I recommend at least borrowing them and trying for a session or two. Of course, not everyone will like them, but that’s normal. As far as hardshell skates go, I would place Solos in the same league as SLs or UFS Thrones. Material quality is excellent and you can see these are made by company that pretty much sparked whole industry.
There are number of problems unfortunately. Few with skates, but many more with Rollerblade marketing strategy and direction they are going with their products.
Let’s start with skates. Years have passed, and there is still no highly anticipated soulplate redesign. It’s not that these souls are bad – even first generation which didn’t have bs groove and cracked far too easily are fast. Now, when material have been improved, and less people are unfortunate to crack souls, they are even better. But, they are unnecessary bulky.
People often say Solos are ugly, and that’s true. Boot itself looks ok, but these aircraft carriers are reason why skates look like something you put together in a garage from spare parts. Unnecessary high side walls of soulplates not only destroy looks, but also add weight. A lot of weight. While Solo boot without them is one of lighter shells available, soulplates make it too bulky, and heavy. That’s a reason why numerous people grind these plates down, to get rid of walls covering the boot. Even skaters from local AM teams do it and skates their skates like that.
Secondly, many people do feel that insides are too wide. Again, some skaters, including Rob Guerrero, would rather get rid of them completely, than use them.
And there are many possibilities to reshape these souls. Not only slimmer design would be welcome change, but there is also option to use specific boot design to create symmetrical outsides, that would be possible to swap between boots. Most people tend to wear souls on one skate more than on the other, so this would be major step ahead of competition. Only Adapt offers symmetric souls right now. Really, souls are only thing that needs tweaking in Solos. Make them slimmer, lighter, more appealing and I’m sure sales will increase.
Let’s leave Solos for now and focus on Fusion series. Since the very beginning, liners are problem with these. Most people I know, including myself, cannot use stock Fusion liners because simply, foam is ridiculously shaped, and skates give large dose of pain, because shell press through too thin material under the ankles. And yet, for years nothing has been changed, and freeskaters do get second-grade product compared to much better Solo liners, not to mention Blanks. Fusion liners themselves are nicely made, of breathable materials, and their quality is good, but that means nothing when they simply are possibly worst liners for this shell. I put Sifika Chicago liner that came with Powerslide Metro skates in RB shell and pain was gone. Everyone I know, who had problems with ankles, after replacing liners, fell in love with their Fusions.
Another, minor problem with Fusions is that they come with …fitness wheels. Rollerblade Active 84mm/84A that come with Fusion 84 and Fusion GM are simply fitness wheels, not designed for freeskating. Urethane is of decent quality, but cores are too weak, and there is no reason to skate these wheels other than fact you get them when you get the skates. All other companies that make freeskates use wheels much better suited for the job. Ironically, cheaper model, Fusion X3 come with Urban 80mm/80A wheels, which, while ridiculously soft for a freeskate wheel, at least are strong and last a bit longer.
There are other problems. Fusion line really looks like a boy that is less loved by his parents than older Solo brother.
Velcro straps were redesigned on newer Solo models, but Fusions didn’t receive the upgrade along with them. So no straps with memory lock for freeskaters! When faulty TRS buckles were replaced by new ski-boot style ones, again, Fusions didn’t get them. What is worse, to this day, Rollerblade refuses to put buckle protector on Fusions. Add horrible, flesh-hungry liners to the equation, and you can clearly see that freeskating branch isn’t treated seriously enough.
Oh yes, and now on to many mistakes RB made along the way.
Let’s start with most ridiculous and bitter one: Switch frames. These were original concept to bring back bigger wheels in to aggressive skating. But they weren’t backed up with proper exposure. Rollerblade haven’t run campaign to expose strengths and benefits of this design. There was little talk about benefits in speed, and almost no explanation how increased height of the frames isn’t a problem with Solos, as soulplates and boots were basically designed to work with Switches as best as possible. No one from RB presented possibility to use 76mm wheels thanks to rockering system. Switch are/were awesome frames that simply work with Solo boot. And what happened?
Rollerblade killed them. Right before Powerslide, their most dangerous rival, entered the market with powerblading concept, and then with Slimlines II which are directly advertised as a frame that accepts 80mm antirocker setup. God damn it! Rollerblade, you were the first! But the difference is, people at Powerslide believed in their product, and gave it very good exposure with edits, ads, not to mention great use of social media. They didn’t released their child in to the wild alone. They looked after it, and that gave fruits. It’s frustrating to see how things turned out, really.
So now, Solos are sold with Blank frames. Which aren’t bad frames of course – that’s very good, clean design, with quality hardware and made of good material. But Blanks are simply another antirocker frame. Why don’t offer two options, right now, when people go crazy over big wheels? And again, mistakes are made. Blanks are poorly advertised and nobody is telling skaters that these can rival popular Fluids, nobody talks about their strengths, and people are more excited about pretty standard Youth frames. Again, product left to die.
While I’m at powerblading topic… all Rollerblade need to create their own pb skate are frames. It’s so simple – put plastic PB frames on Solos and release them as Fusion PB or something like that. They don’t even have to design frame from ground up, simply make Fusion X3 frame with thicker walls and out of better material, that’s all. But it won’t happen in near future, don’t count on it. Also, did you know Fusion X3 frames accept 84mm wheels? It’s perfectly possible to skate them with these… but description on the frame says 80mm max. Again, nobody at Rollerblade tried it? I learned about this from skateshop owner who one day had too much time on his hands…
While Seba expanded their freeskating line with 84mm and 90mm wheel models, Rollerblade did the opposite. Fusion X5 with 243mm frames aren’t in production anymore, and that’s a shame, because this frame length is still favorite among freeskaters. 255mm frame of Fusion 84 model replaced these. Fusion X7 with 90mm wheels aren’t in production anymore, sadly, because they were excellent choice for commuting. Seba FR 90 filled the void. That’s even harder to understand… Fusion X7 frames are still in production, and come with Fusion 84 in sizes larger than EU44.
Rollerblade have possibility to make 243, 255, and 273mm version of Fusion skates, but for some reason decided to give customers only one choice with awkward sizing jump. Someone who buy Fusion 84 larger than EU44 will basically get Fusion X7 with 90mm wheels replaced with 84mm ones. That doesn’t make sense.
Have you seen latest Rollerblade Fusion 84 frame ad? If not, you should watch it, it contains footage of awesome skating by David Sizemore. I love this ad – short, simple, to the point and pleasure to watch.
But I cannot sit silently when someone clearly wants to push lies down my throat. Description on vimeo says:
„All New Rollerblade 84MM UFS Frame. This frame was designed for urban style skating. Made of strong aluminum and ready for urban style skating abuse. Easy to mount to any aggressive skate featuring the UFS (Universal Frame System). Max wheel size 84MM. Rollerblade Pro rider David Sizemore rips around NYC having fun carving lines going fast. The Rollerblade 80MM/80A urban wheel is an ideal wheel choice for these frames.”
First of all, don’t lie to you customers. 84mm frame isn’t “All New”, it’s product that was on the market for two years already, and you simply didn’t bother to advertize it until Powerslide and even newcomer to fsk market, Roll Line, started selling bucket loads of their own frames and/or started presenting their product everywhere.
I skate Fusion 84 frames and I know they are great frames. But I can’t feel any different than this ad is only late reaction to powerblading movement.
Next thing, why would you advertise 84mm wheel frame and say 80mm/80a urban wheel is ideal for these? Why even say anything about wheels, when the ones you describe as “ideal wheel choice” are mediocre stock wheels, that doesn’t even take advantage of full potential of the frame? It simply makes company look bad in eyes of experienced skaters.
There is currently no other 273mm 90mm max UFS frame on the market than RB one. Still, Rollerblade decide to not take advantage of this fact and do not advertise their product anywhere. I bet they will wake up when competition will already sell tons of their own similar frames.
For years weight of making Fusion skates more known to the public were basically on Greg Mirzoyan shoulders, and he did/do excellent job as a brand ambassador. He is one of most well known and best, if not THE best (for me, most stylish for sure) freeskaters out there. But he was alone. There were no edits of team TRS skating Fusions, or Solos with RB fsk frames. At the same time whole world could see The Conference Barcelona edits where skaters like Dominic Sagona and Dustin Weberski had fun on crude Powerslide Freestyle Syndikate frames. Numerous people that ride for PS supported and still support powerblading products.
Fusions and Fusion frames showed up in RB edits when everyone was already praising PS ones. Before, team TRS hadn’t made single video with freeskating content. Again, it feels like team didn’t care about or didn’t believed in these. Again, it feels like it was reaction to catch up.
Too much “US TOO”, Rollerblade. Too little “WE DID IT FIRST” and too little faith in your products. As a fan of the brand, I’m disappointed.
Have you seen 2013 RB skates lineup? There is NOTHING new about Fusion line. Every model, even Fusion GM, stays as it were, with absolutely no changes, no innovation. Even colors hasn’t changed. That’s just lazy, there are no excuses.
One thing did change. There will be only one Solo model, RG3 and it makes me worried If RB is thinking about letting these go.
Who in this industry gets three pro-models, fort three years, in a row? Yeah, Rob Guerreo still can easily outskate ten or more years younger guys, and for sure he got some catching up to do… But at least release one pro-model of other skater. SB released in 2012 (while I have mixed feelings about the skate – it was only simple repaint of Solo Trooper model with Sven name on) was a good move, because not only it showed that company have respect for their long time supporter who should have five pro-models by now instead of one, it also showed that they care about European market. But there is no SB2 for next year. And there should be, because Sven did awesome job with Cityhopper project and all this exposure in media. When was the last time you’ve seen pro-skater sitting in a TV studio, talking with hostess about his skating video and his pro-skate? It was in Dutch television, but hell, it won’t happen anytime soon!
Also, decision to not make cheaper, team version of skate will hurt the skate itself. Solo Hypes and Troopers were great skates for less amount of money, and now they are gone. Sure, there is New Jack IV, but not everyone likes this boot (softboot, and it gives awful heel lift to some people), and I see no reason why two middle-market models couldn’t function in side by side. Having only one model of Solo won’t make these more “premium” product, it will simply make this construction less popular.
I could go on and on. About David Sizemore setup inspired skate that was sold in the USA, and never in Europe. About the fact that it should be David’s pro-model instead of “setup inspired skate”.
But I’ll finish this article with one last complaint. It’s hard to honestly recommend Solos to anyone, when I know there are ridiculous problems with spare parts availability in Europe. Company should require local distributors to order and have these. Polish distributors says they don’t care about parts. Buying cuffs is impossible here, and it’s better to order soulplates and straps, buckles abroad, because that’s cheaper, including postage. And in the era of internet, it didn’t took much time to get infos that situation in other countries is very similar to the one we have here.
RB took some actions and provided e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org for those who need help with parts. But again, that’s only late reaction to a bigger problem, and this might not be enough. Parts should be available at skateshops without problems, after all… other skate manufacturers, excluding K2, do not have problem with supplying shops with parts.
I wrote this article because I really like Solo design, and I don’t want it to die. I think both, Solo and Fusion, are great skates, but both horribly under-exposed, and lack of necessary changes (Solo souls, Fusion liners) keeps both these models from reaching their full potential as a skate. Seba is selling FR Deluxe just fine, why don’t make premium Fusion skate with boot like one from RG2 (but without souls), fsk frame, and third-party 84mm wheels Hypers, or Atom Ones that Greg Mirzoyan uses? Why do not support more of your team skaters with pro-models? Why do skaters still have to mod your products with your own parts, to get best setups?
There are busy times in aggressive and freeskating world right now. A lot of awesome things happen, and see daylight. I would rather see Rollerblade taking part in creating future of rollerblading, than falling behind younger companies. Quality products are like modern art, and making them isn’t enough, they won’t defend themselves. You have to believe in them, expose them, make people interested in them. Jon Julio is still selling skates based on ancient shell with soulplates that look like boats, because he believes in his product, and Valo team make excellent job at presenting these to audience. Rollerblade have skate of much more modern design, and yet, these are horribly under-appreciated. And I’m afraid that if it will continue, there won’t be more Solos in a few years from now on.