Most consumers looking for inline skates will want them to work out or for recreation. Cross-training skates are comfortable, plus they handle and maneuver well. The characteristics common to these recreational and fitness skates are four wheels, a built-in braking system and a medium-length frame built for general mobility, comfort and support. The difference between fitness and recreational skates is that the former are built with lighter, more durable materials than recreational skates. These also tend to be more expensive brands advertised as pure fitness skates.
If you are looking for a gender-specific model, this is the category where you are most likely to encounter separate men's and women's models. The biggest differences between women's and men's skates are usually the shape of the boot and cuff. Most women's inline skates also have a slightly different color scheme than men's skates, although the once-common candy-pink women's skate color scheme has mostly given way to neutral blacks or gray, with some bright accents.
Fitness and recreational inline skates generally have larger wheels of 84mm to 90mm. The larger wheels act as shock absorbers over rough sidewalks for a more comfortable ride. If you still feel jarred, softer wheels generally give a gentler ride but wear out faster, although you'll eventually have to replace any wheels if you skate on them regularly. As a general rule, larger wheels make you go faster, although on a poor-quality skate large wheels can make the whole skate heavier and slower. Smaller wheels are considered more maneuverable than large wheels. Some skates allow you to swap out the wheels for a different size, and hi-lo frames let you put smaller wheels in front, for greater maneuverability and control without completely sacrificing the speed advantage of larger wheels in back. Bearings also figure prominently in how an inline skate rides. In general, the higher the rating number for the skate's bearings, the better they are.
A few years ago, K2 and Rollerblade dominated the inline skate world together. However, more recent reviews show K2 skates continue to hold strong, while Rollerblade fades into the background in reviews. There simply aren't enough new reviews of current Rollerblade inline skate models for them to compete. The women's K2 T:Nine Celena (*Est. $210) and the men's K2 Mach 90 (*Est. $210) skates both stand out as fast, comfortable and maneuverable skates. The Celena was also one of the few inline skate models to garner more than 10 positive reviews on Amazon.com.
These inline skates are so fast and maneuverable, in fact, they sometimes get away from beginners. The K2 T:Nine Alexis (*Est. $160) is a more beginner-friendly option that still performs well, with good build quality. The Alexis inline skates also garner enough positive reviews to be the runner-up in the women's category; one Buzzillions owner review says: "the frame gives a super smooth ride."
InlinePlanet.com covers older models of both the Celena and the Alexis, singling the Celena out for its plush comfort and nimble performance, and noting the excellent bearings, value and all-around capability of the Alexis. These contemporary K2 models, plus the men's Mach 90, have received similarly positive user reviews from Amazon.com (the Celena) and Buzzillions (the Alexis and Mach 90). Although testers at The Wall Street Journal found the boot on the Celena very easy to tighten quickly, they were harder to loosen. We didn't find any complaints about fit for any of the K2 models, and sizing appears to run true.
You can usually find some slightly cheaper inline skates at Walmart and other discount stores, but because we didn't see these skates tested in reviews, we can't determine how they compare against the class-leading K2 skates. The one exception is the Rollerblade Bladerunner Pro 78 (*Est. $70). In an InlineSkates.net video review, owner and buyer Steve Kopitz describes this skate's simple but functional features, concluding that it's a good choice for beginners or those who just want to try inline skating on a budget. The Pro 78 is the only skate we found in the less than $100 price range that receives this strong a recommendation and generally positive reviews for performance, although Kopitz does recommend upgrading if you plan to continue inline skating.
The Pro 78 inline skates receive good owner reviews on Buzzillions. Although the average star rating (4.4 out of 5 based on 10 reviews, for the men's model) is slightly lower than we'd normally pick for a Best Reviewed, it still stands out as an excellent choice compared to other budget models. A few user reviews complain that the Pro 78 was uncomfortable or heavy and awkward to get into, but at least twice as many reviewers contend that these skates are in fact comfortable and fast, although not so fast they'll get away from you. A majority of owner reviews contradict the minority complaining about weight, saying that the Pro 78 is in fact reasonably light.