FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"OUTDOORS"

Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001

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David Miles takes a spin on Crosskates at Golden Gate Park. The big-wheeled skates are being sold at $700.00 a pair

Wheel Sports At A Crossroads

Photos by KURT ROGERS - The Chronicle
Story by Paul McHugh -
Chronicle OUTDOORS Writer

Sports-equipment makers have, seen the future. It's on wheels. But a big question remains: Wheels of what sort?

James Page, inventor of the Crosskate, said he hopes a significant number of wheel sports buffs will get on a roll with his elongated, off-road skates.

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"We see Crosskating becoming, its own category in the outdoor sports industry," Page said. Crosskates, which have inflatable tires, as well as internal brakes and' steering mechanisms, are just: now coming on the market.

Rewards for correctly anticipating the next big-wheeled toy or sports tool are revealed by recent history.

Led by inline skate pioneer Rollerblades, the sport of inline skating surged from 3.6 million U.S. participants in 1990 to a peak of 27 million users in 1998. At that point, a barrage of cheap knockoffs torpedoed the margin while flooding the market. Since then, participation has faltered by about. 20 percent. But gear makers are still tingling from their giddy ride.

Foldable scooters became the' next big wheeled craze. After introduction in the late 1990s, scooter play accelerated swiftly to a crest of 11.6 million users last year, when 8-10 million new units! were sold in the U.S. That balloon now seems to be deflating as fast. This year's scooter sales are predicted to decline by at least 50 percent. Some fear sales could plunge by 75 percent, or more.

Bv one way or the other, a future will roll into view. A new survey by the National Sporting Goods Association (research arm of a gear-makers group) revealed that 60 percent of American youth ages 7-11 participate in one or more of six wheeled sports. These include: mountain biking (on and, off-road), inline skating, roller skating, skateboarding and scooter riding. Inline skating is the most popular, attracting" 40 percent of the kids, followed by scooter riding, at 34 percent.

Will the new genre of off-road skates be around to attract these kids when they become teenagers? Some current models, such as Rollerblade Coyotes, introduced in 1999, and the Roces Enduro, introduced in 1997, can now be bought online at prices 50 to 60 percent below list. It's an ominous signal: They might soon vanish from retall altogether.

But Page, an MIT and Stanford educated mechanical engineer, said his skates surpass the capability of those earlier makes, which only function well on firm dirt. Crosskates, with their articulated front wheels, rear disc brakes and elongated suspension, are able to zoom up to 30 mph' down dry ski slopes, Page said.

He sees his skates as sort of a pair of mountain bikes for your feet, able to climb, turn and brake with similar facility. "I can use Crosskates on 70 percent of my: favorite mountain bike trails," : Page said.

That's good, because at $700 a pair (more than twice the cost of: good inline skates) his product is definitely encroaching on mountain-bike territory, as far as price is concerned.

For review, The Chronicle provided a pair of Crosskates to Berkeley inventor Rasyad Chung, who's an expert inline skater and skateboarder. Through his firm Nextsport, Chung is conjuring up

a new hybrid scooter device.

Chung found.he cquld travel on Crosskates by using ski poles and diagonal-stride moves from cross-country skiing. But he said the soft suspension made them difficult to drive using a skater's

side kick, and they were hard to un-weight (shift body weight from one skate to 'another during maneuvers) and steer.

"Real skating is about what you can do on one foot, not two," Chung said, when he panned them. He couldn't wait to get Crosskates off his feet and remount his skateboard.

David Miles, the GodFather of San Francisco's skate scene, was next up on Crosskates. Miles provided.a mixed review.

"They look good. They climb well. It's easy to transit from pavement, to dirt, and back," Miles;

said. "But they definitely have their own learning curve. Even an expert skater will feel like a beginner if he puts these on. They don't have much of a speed factor, on

the flat. But they still could find a niche. I bet the people sailing kites down at Ocean Beach would love to have these on their feet."

This writer, more experienced' at cross-country skiing than any form of skating, actually found' Crosskates comfortable for exercising at slow speeds. I used parallel turning and step turns to negotiate terrain. The Crosskate' company video shows people using V-stride and double-pole skiing technique to make progress.

Page himself says that cross-country skiing is the best "feeder" sport into Crosskating. That : might pose a problem in attracting users, since cross-country skiing has been in steep decline in recent years. However, Page wants to avoid the boom-bust growth of inline skates and foldable scooters. Instead, he plans to build a stable base of Crosskaters by offering rerital models at ski areas during' summer, as well as at selected urban shops. In addition, promotional events, such as a competition on cable 1V, are in the works.

"We want it to grow steadily, like snowshoeing has," Page said. "We're patient. We're not looking for a quick strike."

Well, that's the founder's opinion. However, down at company headquarters they seem to nurture a more fervent optimism. The phone message at company headquarters claims it is, "The home of the next outdoor sports revolution."

E-mail Paul McHugh at pmchugh@sfchronicle.com

CROSSKATE: Sold online at http://www.REI.com   a Bay Area shop, Outside Interests (at 420 Hartz Ave. in Danville) rents Crosskates. (925) 837-1230.or contact (781) 631-1499, or see http://www.crosskate.com

DIGGLER: For a different version of the "Next Big-Wheeled" thing, consider the Diggler, a stout blend of mountain bike and scooter that seems to have genuine off-road capability. Available in four models, including the Terrain Park Cement M ($299.99)and the M D with chrome-moly frame ($499.99) Call 707-755-2452 or http://www.mountainscooter.com

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