What's your preferred braking method? General-use fitness skates come with heel brakes, but hockey, aggressive and racing skates do not. (Some racing skates offer optional heel brakes as an add-on purchase.) A subset of recreational skates called slalom skates -- also good for dancing -- are usually used without heel brakes too. If you don't have a heel brake, you'll have to learn to brake by other methods, such as the T-stop: dragging one foot behind you, perpendicular to your line of travel, to create the friction that slows you down. You can see a list of stopping methods -- and tutorials -- at SkateFAQ.com.
Which is more important to you: speed or agility? Larger wheels and a longer wheelbase provide more speed; smaller wheels and a shorter wheelbase are more agile. Some general-purpose fitness skates use midsize wheels that combine the two characteristics. Not long ago it was also popular for recreational and sometimes hockey skates to use a hi-lo setup that tried to achieve the best of both worlds, with two smaller wheels in front for greater maneuverability and two bigger wheels in back for better speed. However, hi-lo skates seem to have all but vanished from popular use.
Did you remember safety gear? Although not every skater opts to wear them, experts recommend wearing wrist guards, elbow pads, kneepads and a helmet while inline skating.
The inline skate world has been home to plenty of short-lived trends; it's always interesting to see which advances stick and which ones quickly die out. Hi-lo wheels are an example of a trend that didn't make the cut, but another relatively recent advance -- soft and semi-soft boots -- is obviously here to stay on midrange to high-end skates. Large wheels are becoming increasingly common on recreational skates, too.
Here are two trends we're not sure will last: The first is all-terrain inline skates, with tiny inflatable tires that make for a softer, more stable ride over rough terrain. Any seasoned inline skater who's gone flying after getting a piece of gravel jammed in the wheels or who's longed to depart the pavement will appreciate the inspiration behind these skates, and they've been around for quite a while -- but we're still waiting for them to catch on in the mainstream skating community.
The other interesting trend is minimalist skates that don't have a boot at all. Instead, they have a series of straps meant to secure your own everyday footwear into the skate frame, letting you skate in the shoes of your choice. Because there's no boot, these skates are relatively small to tote around, but we think they still make an awkward bundle to carry under your arm or in your hands. Where this concept really shines is with kids' skates; they let small children keep comfortable, familiar footwear as they master the basics of skating, and extend the life of the skates because they, can, to a point, grow with your kids' feet (and shoes).
Elsewhere in this report: