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Inline skating has fast become one of the most popular forms of exercise. You'd be hard pressed not to find at least a handful of skaters in even the most remote areas. As with anything else, Inline skates need to be maintained in order to assure your safety and your skate's long life.

THE BASICS Since your wheels and bearings are what keep you going, it's crucial you provide proper upkeep on a regular basis. When returning home from a skate, check the wheels and bearings for signs of wetness, sand, grass and rocks. Even the smallest amount of moisture can cause bearings to rust. Sand, grass, pebbles and other debris can get stuck in between wheels, your frame and on bearings. Use a soft cloth to remove debris. Never use water to clean around the bearing areas.

THE WHEELS Check your wheels often for signs of damage, such as chipped or worn areas. If you're an on-road skater, your wheels will need more attention. Hard surfaces such as pavement, sidewalks and blacktop can chip and wear away soft polyurethane wheels.

When you find it's time to replace your wheels, grab your tools (two 5 3/4 Allen wrenches and one 1/2 inch wrench) and follow these simple instructions:

1. Using the Allen wrenches (one on each side of the skate for leverage), remove worn wheels (turning your allen wrench counter clockwise) and set them aside.

2. Remove bearings and bearing spacers from inside each wheel. (These will be silver shaped discs that will pop out of the center of each wheel. You may use your Allen wrenches to pry them loose.)

3. Wipe down the bottom of your skate frame with a damp or lint free cloth.

4. Reassemble bearings and bearing spacers into each new wheel, if they do not need replacing. Be sure the spacers are placed in between the two bearings. Press firmly on the outer ring of each bearing to pop it back into place.

5. Slide your new wheel onto the frame, insert the axle and tighten. (Always make sure the head of the long bolt is facing toward the inside of the boot.)

6. Tighten axles so there is no "play," and wheels roll freely.

It's not always necessary to replace wheels. Sometimes, you can simply rotate your wheels, if damage is not extensive. To do this, follow the above steps and rotate each wheel two wheels behind where it's original spot. (The first wheel would now become the third; the second wheel would be the fourth, etc.) You should also rotate your wheels 180-degrees; meaning the worn side of the wheel will now be facing out.

CLEANING BEARINGS There are several different kinds of bearings available today and depending on how much time you want to spend caring for them, you can purchase what is most convenient for you. Non-serviceable bearings have non-removable shields. These are low maintenance bearings and the only cleaning required of you will be to wipe the outside of the bearing clean and dry once they appear contaminated. When it comes time to replace Non-serviceable bearings, remove them (with the above listed instructions) and insert new bearings in their place. Serviceable bearings will allow you to remove the shield (or protective cover which prevents dirt from getting inside the bearings) and clean and lubricate each piece. To maintain serviceable bearings, follow these instructions:

1. Find the space in the c-ring along the outer rim of your bearing shield.

2. Insert the small end of a pin into this space and pry the ring end out.

3. Take the free end of the c-ring and pull it from the bearing.

4. Remove the metal shield from bearing. (This will expose bearings.)

5. Flush bearings with a citrus cleaning solution or specially prepared solution. (Never use plain water. If necessary, rubbing alcohol may be used.)

6. Rotate bearings in solvent and then drain onto a soft rag.

7. Clean the shields with cleaning solution or allow them to soak in citrus cleanser for a short time

8. To ensure you've removed all debris, you can rinse your bearing components with rubbing alcohol and allow to dry on a soft rag.

9. Lubricate bearings with bearing or mineral oil and repeat above steps to replace bearings to their original place.

HOW TO KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO CLEAN If your wheels begin to feel bumpy, giving you a rough ride, or your pushing foot begins to feel a slip, it's time to replace or at least rotate your wheels.

If you begin to hear grinding noises, your speed slows or skates feel like they're getting "stuck", bearing maintenance is required.