Skate Tech Talks: Cushions Explained

December 16, 2022

Out of all the bits and bobs that make up a roller skate we think that cushions might just be the most underrated skate part of all. Cushions, or maybe you know them as bushings, are a fundamental part of how your skates enable you to turn, spin, hit those edges and absorb the impact of jumps and different surfaces.

Changing your cushions to suit your setup and skating discipline may just be the key to helping you unlock a smoother roll and new tricks, plus it’s super easy! So strap in and let us introduce you to the wide world of cushions.

What even are cushions?

Cushions or bushings are made of a rubber urethane and are those bits that sit on the kingpin on your skate, you know the long bit that points out of your plate and holds the trucks and wheels. In this arrangement of parts, your cushions are nestled between some cushion retainers and your trucks.

Cushions work based on the pressure applied to them, kind of like suspension in a car or bike. As you lean and shift your weight in your skates to do all your fancy moves, you’re applying pressure to your cushions. Your cushions then flex and allow the axles and pivot pin of your trucks to move to enable you to turn, spin, hold and edge etc. The amount of flex that you can expect to get from your cushions depends on their hardness rating.

Hard or Soft?

No, we aren’t talking about tacos. Although, fun fact, tacos make up a bulk of Sophie from RollerFit HQ’s diet.

Our favourite thing about cushions is that they come in lots of different hardness levels to get the right fit for your setup and style of skating. Like most wheels, cushions use the “A” scale of durometer rating. The lower the number the softer the cushion, the higher the number the harder the cushion. Cushion hardness levels start at around the 70a end and can go up to the high 90s.

If you got your first skates as a complete setup there is a good chance they have some super hard cushions. This is so the skates are more stable to help you learn. As you get more comfortable on 8 wheels and want to hit those edges, you may want to start exploring different hardnesses when updating your cushions.

Choosing the right hardness of cushion depends on your style of skating, how much movement you want and your weight. For styles like dance and RollerFit where you want to hit those edges with ease, a softer cushion may serve you well. If you park skate or are a heavyweight skater then you may want some medium or hard cushions to have more control when using your edges. Some skaters even like to mix up the hardness levels in their cushion arrangement, like a soft cushion with a medium cushion. It’s all about experimenting, sometimes you don’t what you like until you’ve tried something that you don’t like. Frustrating? Sometimes, but how can you know unless you go there.

Another factor that influences the performance of our cushions is how loose or tight we adjust our kingpin nut on our skates. Lots of skaters know that looser trucks equal more movement, but you don’t want your trucks to be so loose that they’re going all over the place. Super loose trucks are harder to control and don’t make for an easy time when switching edges. They also put unnecessary force on your kingpins, pivot pins and pivot cups which can cause them to deteriorate faster. On the other end of the kingpin tightening spectrum, doing your trucks up super-duper tight can cause your cushions to balloon or pancake pretty quickly. So if you find you need to have your trucks super tight, then maybe you need to try a harder cushion. Likewise, if you’re finding you need your trucks super loose then you might want to explore some softer cushion options.

The Shape Saga

Just like one size does not fit all, there isn’t one shape of cushion that suits all setups or skaters. That’s why as we dive deeper into the wide world of cushions we need to chat about different cushion shapes and what they do.

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The most popular and standard cushion that you’ll see on roller skates is the barrel cushion. Barrel cushions are a standard cylindrical shape and provide good stability to flex ratio depending on their hardness rating. For skating disciplines like trail skating, roller dance and RollerFit a double barrel cushion arrangement will work well and there are plenty of different hardness options to try in this shape. The Venom Cushions range has plenty of barrel options to try, whilst a bit on the pricier side we can guarantee they’ll stand the test of time. The Powerdyne Universal Cushions are also a classic barrel option.

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Another shape of cushion that you might see on skates is the cone or conical cushion. The name is pretty explanatory, conical cushions are cone-shaped meaning they taper or have a different diameter between the top and bottom of the cushion. Conical cushions are a great way to get more movement as they have less surface area to try and flex. This makes them a great option for park skaters who need hard cushions for greater control on impact but also have wide trucks which make it harder to hit an edge. Some skaters like to pair a barrel cushion with a cone cushion closest to the kingpin nut for a good combo of stability and movement. If this sounds like you, we recommend trying out the Trinity Cushions. Some skaters even like a double cone cushion set up for maximum manoeuvrability. If you’re opting for a cone cushion just make sure you’ve got the right size cushion retainer, which is a bit smaller than your standard barrel cushion retainer.

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A less common shape but still an important one to mention is the calibre plug. This cushion looks like the love child of a barrel and a cone cushion as they have a barrel body and a much smaller barrel or cone protruding from the top. This kind of cushion is common on plates that use click action trucks like the Powerdyne Reactor range or Roll-Line plates. Calibre plug cushions are used on the end closest to the kingpin nut and are often paired with a barrel cushion. You can source standard calibre plug cushions but most of the time in roller skating calibre plug cushion sizing is specific to each plate’s kingpin and click action retainer size, so you are best off looking for cushions made by the same brand as your plate.

The other thing to keep an eye on when choosing your new cushions is the width and length of your kingpin. Most skates take a universal cushion and there are plenty of universal options to choose from roller skating and skateboarding brands alike. Some higher end plates have a different size kingpin which requires a specific size cushion. If you have additional hardware on your skates, then you’ll have another factor to consider when making your cushion choices. I’m looking at you park skaters. Having a slide block on your skates requires a mounting bar to sit between the kingpins, but also between the plate and first cushion retainer. This takes up space on your kingpin, meaning you might need to get at least one shorter cushion to allow everything to fit on your kingpin. Around the 10mm height usually does the trick for this or you could try a cone-shaped cushion which is generally shorter than a barrel cushion.

Cushion Care

Like a lot of other skate parts, cushions have a limited life and need semi-regular replacement. Cushions deteriorate over time and should be replaced when they start to crack, pancake or excessively balloon. How fast this happens depends on different factors like how often you skate or how you have your trucks adjusted. Replacing cushions could be an every 6 – 12-month job, but let’s be honest, most people don’t replace them until they are cracked or want to experiment with something else. Once you put some fresh cushion babies in you’ll be wondering why you didn’t get around to doing it sooner.

When you’re checking out your cushions you should also give your cushion retainers a once-over with your eyes. If they are dented or bent from the kingpin nut or misshapen to the point that your cushions don’t sit in them nicely, it’s time for some new ones. A dented or ill-fitting cushion retainer compromises the overall performance of your cushions and we don’t want that.

Now that you’ve dipped your toe into the wide world of cushions it’s now time to go out and explore! There’s no right or wrong when it comes to cushions, it’s all about experimenting and finding what does and doesn’t work for you. For any and all rollerskating advice we are only an email or DM away. Happy rolling!

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