Like Butter, We’re on a Roll
I think most nordic skiers have a love/hate relationship with rollerskis (or whap sticks, as my good buddy Zach Caldwell likes to call them). Firstly, we’re skiers and the last time I checked, skiing happens on snow, not asphalt. So there’s that. And then there’s the whole idea of taking these infernal contraptions out on the open road without any viable method of stopping. For anyone with even the slightest understanding of physics, traffic laws and the highly unpredictable nature of modern drivers, this is obviously a bad idea. Hold that thought.
The test array (All photos: FBD)However, as the old adage goes, “Skiers are made in summer,” and you hate the idea of losing to, well, anyone, so you check your dignity at the door, find a pair of skiing boots and poles that you’re mad at and drag yourself out the door for another battle with gravity, nearly invisible wheel-jamming rocks and the unwashed masses. If you’re in any sort of major metropolitan area in the U.S., you also need to fully activate your “abuse shields” as it is almost inevitable that you’ll be tormented, taunted and just generally verbally abused for having the nerve to go out on public roads for a little exercise. What the hell is wrong with you anyway? We all know that roads are for cars and nothing else — no bikes, no runners, no dog walkers and for heaven’s sake, certainly not for rollerskiers.
Ah, but your high-and-mighty ass has races to win. You’re a (wo)man of principle, you remember your eighth-grade civics class about taxes and their role in funding public roads and you believe stopping is highly overrated. Besides, you know these roads like, “the back of your hand,” and somehow implicit in this ridiculous statement is the assertion that you therefore also know the exact location of all possible hazards and obstacles.
Photos of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Josh Smullin (l) and a tennis player dressed identically.In addition to your lovable, reasonable and logical, “I know my rights” side, you’re also a nordic skier, so you’re also cursed/blessed with a streak of non-conformity. Yes, you. You’re a rebel. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but a rebel nonetheless. You don’t drink alcohol (empty calories), smoke (uh, hellooooo, can you say VO2 impairment?), or stay up past 9 p.m. (dismal Firstbeat recovery score anyone?), but just last month you deviated slightly from your tried-and-true ration of protein to complex carbohydrates in your recovery smoothie. So take that, James Dean, there’s a new sheriff in town: he’s a footloose and fancy-free bad-boy rebel and he’s going to throw caution into the wind and go rollerskiing.
Okay, now that this is settled, the question then becomes, “Which whap sticks are right for me, FBD?” And this is where the story gets good, too, for as much information as there is on snow skis, there’s a dearth of information on the dreaded rollerski. Hell, it’s kinda hard to even find places that sell these bizarre instruments of death, nonetheless provide a detailed comparison on which model to best injure yourself, so pow, that’s where we come in.
Diving right in
First of all, with a few notable exceptions, almost all of the skis that we tested were good; three were very good. There were definitely differences between the skis though, so depending on the road surface where you train, the type of training you are doing and your goals, the best ski for one skier may not be the best for another. Given this, we have put together both a quantitative chart so you can see the empirical test scores, as well as a qualitative section in which we’ve described the best fit for each individual ski. We believe that with a careful period of introspection, goal setting and road-frictional coefficient calculations, combined with a thorough perusal of both the qualitative and quantitive sections, you’ll find yourself the happiest you’ve even been in your life.
Testing HQ in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Rollerskis for this review were also tested in Park City, Utah, and Philadelphia.Next is the issue of speed — this is huge in snow-ski testing (basically the entire point of testing is to find the ski/grind/wax combo that is the fastest), but this is generally not the case for rollerskis. Racing aside (and who is crazy enough to race these barbaric skin-removal torture devices?), the overwhelming percentage of athletes are looking for the rollerskis that best simulate being on snow and meets as many of personal the training parameters outlined above. In addition, almost every rollerski wheel can be swapped out for faster wheels, so it is generally quite easy for an athlete to “tune” their whap sticks to whatever speed you are the most comfortable screaming down hills on something with no brakes, into traffic. As a result, you will see essentially no references to “ski speed” in the rest of this review, as any ski can be made fast. Chapters could be written on the many schools of thought on “best” rollerski speed, but that’s not the purpose of this review — we did our best to provide an objective, comprehensive and unbiased look at as many brands as possible and make recommendations to everyone in the ski that is best for them.
Just as with snow skis, there is an element of personal preference in rollerski selection, so to help address and negate this, we had a test team of seven people. In total, we had over 150 years of ski experience, an Olympic gold medalist, a world champion, and three veterans of World Cup ski-testing protocols. This was an extremely well-qualified group, so we believe this analysis to be very fair and balanced. We love skiing and we love gear, so we took this very seriously and put a ton of time into it, because that’s what we do. And we even managed to have a little fun along the way, which is good, as I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that this is supposed to be fun.
While most of the skis in this test will work fairly well for a wide range of athletes for most conditions, three pairs scored consistently the highest among all of the testers: Marwe, IDT and Pursuit. The former was not much of a surprise, as Marwe is a well-respected and established brand.
Look no further than U.S. biathlete Tim Burke’s garage and you’ll see why Marwes are the choice of many top skiers worldwide. They have a nice feel, are very stable, hold up well and offer a wide variety of wheels speeds, so you can’t go wrong with these skis.
Weighing in at 0.91 kg, they are the lightest of the three top skis and their individual performance ratings was at or near the top in every category (see review matrix below*).
*Note: Every tester had a private scoring matrix that no other reviewer saw until the testing was complete. All of those scores were averaged to create the matrix shown above.
Also, this matrix has been updated to include model names.
The second top performer was the IDT (0.99 kg) — another great all-around ski. We all loved everything about this ski and it also scored high marks across the board in every category. They were the longest ski tested and many of us felt this contributed to this ski being the one that many believed felt the most like skiing on snow.
One tester was concerned that the added length would be cumbersome in corners, but most felt that this was not a problem and overall this ski scored well in all areas. The biggest drawback is that they’re made in Norway and they’re just getting their U.S. distribution rolling (get it, ROLLING, see what I did there?), so purchasing a pair in the U.S. right now may not be all that easy. IDT specifically stated that this product will be readily available in the U.S. “very soon” though, whatever that means. This is a great ski for long, cruiser workouts.
By far the biggest surprise of the testing was the Pursuit Fork Flex (1.03 kg). First of all, far be it for me to speak “out of school,” but the Pursuits aren’t exactly the sexiest skis out there: the best way to describe their appearance is that they are the result of the ultimate-nerd collabro of an erector set…
meets science fair…
meets nordic skier.
Yes, scary, I know. But, but, BUT, this just goes to show you how good these skis really are, as every one of us picked them up and thought, “Yeah, these things are going to suck,” but then we skied them and were quickly singing another tune: great feel, stability and flex.
No one had skied them previously, so none of us knew what to expect, but independently, everyone scored them very highly, with most testers ranking them their overall favorite. Wow. Every good scientific study does its best to minimize bias, but that’s obviously very difficult when the name brand of the ski is staring right at you — so for these skis to score the highest marks with no preconceived notions of their strengths shows just how good these skis really are.
The price is right, too, as they’re over a $100 cheaper than most of the other skis reviewed. It will be interesting to see how well they stand the test of time, but they’re off to a great start.
What is particularly interesting about the skis in this next group is all of them do a certain thing(s) very well. They may not be the best “all-around” skis, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t the best skis for you.
First and foremost, we were very eager to try the Rundle Sport FLEX (1.07 kg). This ski was reported to be more comfortable and more forgiving than most other skis and the entire test team was excited about checking this out for ourselves. Are these skis noticeably smoother on rough pavement? In a word, yes. So if you’re stuck in an area with the dreaded “chip ‘n’ seal”:
not to be confused with Chippendales (who are suitable for any road surface)…
…these skis are for you. Where you won’t like them is on high-speed descents or hard cornering. So if you’re rollerskiing’s answer to Bode Miller, you believe all time spent traveling in a straight line is time wasted, or hair-on-fire downhills are your jam, you’re not going to be feeling the love with the Rundles. If you’re recovering from injury, are forced to train on bad roads or are just all about comfort, snap these up now and these are the most comfortable skis we tested.
The GlobuloNero (0.89 kg) is made in Italy. Full disclosure: I love Italy. Amazing food, fashion, culture and style, but Italians do things their own way. For example, they use the word ‘schedule’ very differently than people in most other countries, as their use is really more of an aspiration or suggestion for things like trains and planes than it is a predictor of what time any given form of government-run transportation will actually arrive. That is, if it arrives.
This ski fits that concept perfectly: they are the Ferrari of skis. If and when they finally do arrive, they come with a silk scarf, a bottle of cologne and a nice bottle of red wine. They are all carbon, including the fenders, and as such, they are just oozing with style. Like the Ferrari, they also have their idiosyncrasies. For example, the “nut” that holds the axle in place is, naturally, a custom shape, so losing it is like losing your baggage in the Rome airport: you won’t be traveling anywhere soon. I know this for a fact, too, as I did somehow manage to lose this crazy piece when it mysteriously decided to abandon ship mid-workout to start a new life nested into the roadside bushes. Despite many calls to many places, surprisingly no one had what looks like it should be a very common part.
Just as I had begun to accept the fact that these Italian works of art would forever be relegated to the floor of my garage, Eagle Eyes Smullin retracted our steps (well, strides) and somehow managed to find this part as it was setting up shop in the drainage ditch. That’s some Teammate of the Year sh*t right there.
Other reviewers didn’t score them as highly as me, but I love these skis. Maybe it’s because they’re like me — smooth, stylish and sexy, but also temperamental. Like the IDTs, they can also be difficult to find in the States. Unlike the IDTs however, there appears to be no plan to improve this, which, well, is what it is. The company also claims that they are designed for skiers over 70 kg (154 lbs) which is weird, as you don’t usually see carbon-fibre components with minimum weights, but hey, they’re Italian, remember? And stop asking so many questions — your train is going to eventually get here. Maybe.
Don’t forget either, this is a gear and style column and no skis have more style than the GlobuloNero. C’mon, everyone and their brother has a set of Marwes or Swenors, right? So if you’re one of those people who likes to look good, doesn’t mind waiting six months for these to arrive from Europe and won’t throw a fit when your Ferrari breaks down yet again, you owe it to yourself to buy a set of these. Other skis may score a bit higher or have their own performance niche, but Globos have style. Start the ordering process now and you might just have them for next summer. Maybe. If not, have a nice glass of chianti and go sit in your Ferrari that currently won’t start for some strange reason. Any good Italian will tell you that it’s too nice a day to go rollerskiing anyway.
This was the lightest (0.80 kg) and shortest ski in the test, and not surprisingly the most twitchy and tippy. This skis felt smooth when you were on top of them, but balance was a challenge. Now, for small, light skiers or younger athletes, these might be perfect. Plus, they are a coach’s dream: learn how to be stable on these bad boys and you’ll have Andy Newell’s cat-like reflexes in no time. Assuming you have the balance for them, they will likely excel for hard-charging juniors looking to impress U.S. national-team coach Matt Whitcomb by breaking lots of sh*t on the agility course at a regional elite camp. So if that’s you — you ski Soldier Hollow often or your preferred training loop is a bike path, filled with the tight, blind corners (which seem to be obligatory in most ski-town bike paths), self-absorbed dog walkers with their 30 foot, knee-level, rollerskier snare line — these skis are for you.
Close But No Cigar
It always warms my cold heart when companies go “all in,” on these tests and send everything but the kitchen sink. That was the case here, as Swenor sent us two pairs of skate skis and three pairs of classic. I love the enthusiasm and aggressive product positioning, but the problem here is that we didn’t love the skis. To be clear, we didn’t hate them, but we didn’t love them either (at least for skate; the classic scored better and that review will be coming shortly).
What’s wrong with these skis? Well, nothing actually, but as the test matrix shows, the Skate Elite (1.05 kg) got edged out in basically every category. It is still a very solid ski and its performance was solid in every category but of the seven testers, not one single person had them in their top group. For the record, everyone (that’s right, all seven testers) had the Marwe, IDT and Pursuit in their top three. Not everyone had these three in the same order, but everyone had them as their top three (and as noted, every tester had a private scoring matrix that wasn’t shared until the testing was complete). The fact that the Skate Elite never made the top three on anyone’s list meant that in good conscience we simply couldn’t group this ski with the Marwe, IDT and Pursuit.
The second ski from Swenor, the Skate (0.94 kg) fared worse. No one was particularly impressed with this ski’s performance on rough pavement and they had the added distraction of being quite loud and rattly (for reasons we will go into shortly). Both a strength and weakness was that this was the only ski with built in speed reducers. This is a strength, as it seems like the ability to even somewhat regulate your speed could come in handy from time to time. It’s a weakness as, god damn it, these things were loud.
The mechanism itself isn’t all that user-friendly either, as it required bending down to turn a dial on the ski to add resistance. This is really more of a “hey, this downhill looks steep, I’d better pull over and add some rolling resistance so I don’t die,” type of system, than a braking system per se. I can just hear all of the haters out there firing up their Internets to fire off a scathing missive about FBD being a “brake hater,” (Is that even a thing?), so let’s all save each other some time and I’ll go on record right here saying I love the concept of brakes. What sane person doesn’t? I’d just like them to work, that’s all.
And more on that in a minute.
To be blunt, this ski was a disappointment. Fischer makes great snow skis, so we were expecting big things from them. They got off to a great start as they look sexy as hell, but things went downhill as soon as we picked them up, for despite being carbon, these skis were the heaviest in the entire test, by a lot (1.22 kg).
The situation got even weirder (not the Jersey Shore guy, who is already quite weird) when we skied them too, for again, despite being carbon, the ride was just OK and surprisingly non-compliant for a carbon ski. This was surprising. To be clear, this is still not a bad ski, but simply not as good as others in the test. The fact that we had such high hopes for the ski probably also increased our disappointment to some degree. This SHOULD be a great ski, we all wanted it to be a great ski, it just wasn’t. The weight was an added buzzkill.
The biggest disappointment of the test was the Elpex F1 Composite (1.03 kg). We were all super-psyched to try this ski, but one didn’t have to ski far to realize that something was wrong, very wrong. In fact the skis felt so off that we believe there may have been a binding mounting error, as this ski felt like you were riding a bicycle backwards to every tester. Hopefully this problem can be identified and corrected, as we still believe that this ski has promise.
This has got to stop
Lastly, the one area that we’ve danced around a bit, but is never far from our mind, is safety. Quite simply, venturing out onto open roads with no viable method of controlling your speed is nothing short of insane. Yes, you can moderate your risk a bit by picking safer courses, but even so, you don’t seriously think that nothing is ever going to suddenly appear in your way on even the most deserted country road or bike path, do you? Unless you’ve taken over for Matt Damon on an abandon space station on Mars, you’re going to encounter obstacles in your path on training skis.
The problem is that rollerski brakes have previously all been pretty crappy. A few differently companies have tried, but the end results have been underwhelming, with all of the systems having problems of some sort. Or almost all of them.
One reviewer’s rollerski rankingOne of the big revelations of this test was putting an after-market braking system from the Rollerski Shop though its paces. I am very pleased to report that the system worked quite well. It’s design is quite simple and effective: a lever arm applies pressure to your rear wheel. The lever arm is engaged by a pull handle that hooks to either a waist strap or your drink belt. It takes a little fooling around to get the whole system tensioned correctly, but once you do, it works well (this video offers some truly compelling footage of the system in action).
Don’t get me wrong, 180 mm Shimano disc-brake rotors these are not, but of all of the braking systems I have ever tried, this one is by far the best. It adds essentially no weight to your skis, it is quiet, effective and can be activated easily and quickly. Remember, it’s not just that this makes you safer on your existing courses, but it also opens up a whole new set of options for you. How many times have you not done a potentially great training loop because there’s some nasty intersection at the bottom of a big hill? Or blind corner? Or dead end? Or lake, if you’re skiing with Billy Demong? If you’re too cool for school and think brakes are only for people with no skills and no balls, take it easy Rambo and justify the purchase by telling yourself that you’re finally going to be able to ski “Dead Man’s Hill,” or whatever the equivalent is in your town (every town has one). When the brake just happens to save you from a crash when a delivery truck driver suddenly pulls out of a driveway or a 150-lb, learning-impaired Great Dane comes charging toward you, poised for a powerful, collarbone shattering head-on collision, you can thank me later.
So what are you waiting for? Go treat yourself to a brand, spankin’ new set of whap sticks. After all, who deserves it more than you, right? Do us a favor too and spring for the brakes as well. Not only do we want everyone to be safe out there, but it just so happens that we have a few more amazing clothing reviews coming in the next few weeks and we want each and every one of you healthy, happy and safe so you all can bask in the glory that is FBD gear reviews.
Test team taking a break
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Jon "Fast Big Dog" Schafer
Fast Big Dog is a paradoxically gregarious yet reclusive, self-absorbed mystic and world traveler. In addition to his calling to right the wrongs in the ski fashion and gear world, he also brings his style, wit and devilish charm to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club as the Nordic High Performance Director and Worldwide Director of Morale and Awesomeness. Savor these articles while you can, as his Great Dane puppy may burn down his house at any moment, possibly making this his last transmission.