Vanilla 360 Jam Skates Review: Vanilla Skates Challenge

Next up on the Vanilla Skates Challenge is our very first quad skate review of the brand new Vanilla 360 jam skates. These new Vanilla skates just came out at the end of 2014 and they have been a pretty big hit with the jam skate community. Designed by the world-renowned jam skater, Tony Zane, these skates were built from the ground up with a totally different look than what Vanilla traditionally puts out.

Like my last review, this review will cover all of the technical specifics of the skate, what I liked about it, what I didn’t like about it and what you can expect if you decide to go purchase a pair of these skates. We’ll also cover the ups and downs of each part of the skate including the boot, plate, wheels and bearings.

My Vanilla 360 Jam Skates

Here are my Vanilla 360 jam skates that I reviewed.

Vanilla 360 Jam Skates Review

Manufacturer: Vanilla Skates (VNLA)

Intended Purpose: Primary: Jam skating. Secondary: Rink skating and rink speed skating

Skate Options:

  • Boot Options: Vanilla’s all-new jam boot in red, black and white in men’s sizes 4-13.
  • Plate Options: Vanilla Gorilla nylon plates with your choice of 8 different aluminum truck colors. (comes in: black, blue, chrome, gold, green, pink, purple or red)
  • Wheel Options: Your choice of 18 different Backspin wheels – 11 different nylon-hubbed wheels or 7 different aluminum-hubbed wheels – each a different hardness and color.
  • Bearing Options: ABEC-7 bearings.

My Vanilla 360 Parts List:

Here I breakdown the skates I purchased including all of the wheels, plates, boots, bearings, laces, toe stops/plugs, bolts and screws that make up this skate. Think of it like a grocery list for skate parts. Everything was included (i.e. I didn’t buy anything extra).

  • 2 x Vanilla red, black and white 360 skate boot.  It comes in men’s sizes 5-13 but they do run small, especially in the toe area so some folks with wider feet might want to go up a size.  It has a velcro lace cover that covers about a third of the skate (unlike the Juniors lace cover that covers up all of the laces).
  • 2 x White Insoles
  • 2 x Vanilla Gorilla nylon plates.
  • 4 x Purple Aluminum trucks.
  • 8 x Yellow Synergy aluminum-hubbed wheels. These are a 97A hardness and are 59mm round x 38mm wide. The skate comes with nylon-hubbed wheels.  I upgraded them for another $45 to aluminum-hubbed wheels to try them out.
  • 16 x Vanilla ABEC-7 bearings
  • 12 x Plate screws (6 screws on each skate attach the plate to the boot)
  • 4 x King pins (attach the truck to the plate)
  • 8 x Cushions (clear – shock absorbers – one that goes on the top and bottom of the truck)
  • 2 x Standard black shoelaces
  • 2 x Black toe plugs

My Vanilla 360’s Technical Specs*

  • Boot Size: 13
  • Total Weight: 6.6 lbs.
  • Total Height (from ground to top of boot)*: 7-1/4″
  • Total Length (from back wheel to front wheel)*: 10″
  • Total Length (from front to back of boot): 12 1/4″
  • Total Width (from left side of boot right side of boot)*: 4-1/4″
  • Total Width (from left wheel to right wheel): 4 3/4″
    * Size of boots and plates plays a factor in most technical specs. If you wear a size 13, your boots and plates are going to be bigger and weigh more than a size 6. Just take that into account when looking at the specs
Vanilla 360 Skate Boots

Vanilla 360 boots…why do you make my ankles bleed?

Boot Rating: C-

  • Boot Material: Leather
  • Boot Manufacturer: Vanilla Skates
  • Boot Comfort: F
  • Boot Support: B
  • Boot Flexibility: B
  • Boot Style / Look: A
  • # of Boot Tongue Lace Slits? 1
  • Lace Cover: Yes, but only over 2 lace holes or 1/3 of the boot.  Most Vanilla boots have a lace cover that covers all of the laces.
  • Overall Boot Rating: C-
  • Boot Notes:
    • Ups: Like all of Vanilla’s skates, these boots are pretty. I prefer the sleeker more polished designs of the Juniors, Diamonds, Freestyles and Blackouts, but the 360 is still a nice looking boot even if it is completely different from the other styles that Vanilla usually makes.  It’s 3-color red, black and white are completely different than anything Vanilla has made before, and I like that they tried something new.I like the lace cover and the lace cover metal bar that the lace cover slips into.  I also like that fact the boot has a tongue lace slit to run your laces through.  This keeps the tongue from moving and rubbing the top of your ankle raw. I also like that the boot is snug around the toes and the middle of the foot.

      Although I am not a jam skater, I was a figure skater as a kid and a snug boot is important to give you that extra support for jumps, spins and other rapid movements.  This skate also has an extra lace hole that sticks out of 2 flaps on either side of the skate.  This allows you to lace the skates up tight around the ankles (if you dare – see below). Overall, the boot is comfy on the foot, but not the ankles.

    • Vanilla 360 Skates Rub My Ankles Raw

      A picture of my ankles after skating in the Vanilla 360s for the first time. I don’t think it’s normal for a pair of skates to rub your ankles raw to the point of bleeding. I’ve heard this can be a common problem with Vanilla’s boots. Only time will tell as I test the rest and find ways to make the above issue not happen anymore.

      Downs: My biggest gripe about this boot is how uncomfortable it is especially around the ankles. I have skated in these boots now for nearly 8 sessions, and they have rubbed the inner part of my ankle raw (to the point where my ankle has even bled). Not cool.

      The raw area is on the ankle bone (inner ankle). The best I can tell is that my ankle bone is hitting the top of the boot when I am turning sharply around corners (as I try to pick up speed and get some exercise in any skate I own).  If you were just jam skating/break dancing (i.e. not rink skating) in these boots, then maybe they would be fine as you would not be putting the extra pressure that I am putting on them digging my ankle into the top of the boot. Really the boot on the ankle side just needs to be a little bit taller (or shorter) so that the ankle does not dig into the top of the boot when you cut inward.

      However, I think most people who buy these skates probably plan to do more than just jam skate in them.  As I said above, the boot does have some nice features, but when you skate for 3-4 hours a session and you lose a chunk of your skin on your ankle, it can make you not want to not skate at all.  Skates shouldn’t make you feel that way.  They should make you want to skate, not want to take your skates off.

      In a future post, I will show you all the things that I plan to try to modify the inner and outer part of the boot so that I can make these skates comfortable.  Overall, I really like the skates (plates, trucks, wheels, bearings and even the boot – except for this one part), but I shouldn’t have to modify the boot to make them work. I’ve asked around and this seems to be a common problem with Vanilla’s skate boots.  I’m curious to see if I have the same problem with the other boot types.  Only time will tell as I try each one out.  The boot comfort would get at least a B grade if this ankle issue was a non-factor.

Vanilla 360 Gorilla Plates & Trucks

A up close photo of the Gorilla plates and trucks on the Vanilla 360 skates.

Plate & Truck Rating: B

  • Plate Material: Nylon
  • Plate Manufacturer: Vanilla
  • Truck Type: Double-action
  • Truck Material: Aluminum (Purple color)
  • Overall Plate & Truck Rating: B
  • Plate Notes:
    • Ups: I’m usually not a big fan of nylon plates. The Vanilla Gorilla nylon plate on this skate seems solid, and that is good because it’s the standard plate on most of Vanilla’s skates.  While the nylon plates do weigh less than an aluminum plate, they also can break on a bigger person (I’m 6’0″ 190 lbs).The fact that the trucks are a nice brushed aluminum certainly helps here. Overall, the trucks move really well and the plate has not been an issue – even when I’ve been doing small jumps (like the waltz jump) on the skates. I have a pair of Labeda Voodoo U-7 Stinger speed skates and they have no where close to the same action as these trucks provide.  I’ve been able to cut corners and dig in deep to my turns and spins without any issues (minus the scraped ankle boot issue). Overall, the plate and the trucks are nice, although I think the trucks actually lift the grade on the plate.
    • Downs: The biggest downside is the fact that it does have a nylon plate. I could have upgraded to a Snyder Advantage, but that would have cost quite a bit of money (+$200). Plus, I wanted to review the Vanilla 360 (and all of the Vanilla skates) exactly as they are sold out of the box and that is with this nylon plate.  However, if I was building my own custom skates, then I would certainly spring for a metal plate. They just last longer and provide more stability for someone like me.
Vanilla Backspin Synergy Wheels

I picked the Vanilla Backspin Synergy wheels for my 360s. They are yellow, 97A hardness, aluminum-hubbed wheels.

Wheel Rating: A

  • Wheel Material: Urethane, aluminum-hubbed
  • Wheel Manufacturer: Vanilla
  • Wheel Size: 59mm x 38mm
  • Wheel Hardness (Durometer reading): 97A
  • Wheel Color: Yellow
  • Wheel Name: Synergy
  • Best Use/Surfaces for Wheels: These wheels are considered to be on the softer end of the super hard wheels on the durometer scale, so they are considered an indoor wheel for stickier surfaces.  These are appropriate for roller rink floors and rubberized gym floors that have been treated and are sticky. Anything over 100A is so hard that it technically falls in the B category. This means the wheel is really hard and only meant for more experienced skaters on a sticky, indoor surface.
  • Overall Wheel Rating: A
  • Wheel Notes:
    • Ups: Overall, I like the wheels that I chose for this pair of skates. There were 18+ different wheels to choose from, and I chose to go with the aluminum-hubbed wheels simply because I have never had a set. For my rink, the wheels do well and are pretty grippy because my rink’s floor is extra tight (wood floor with lots of plastic). The Synergy are the hardest wheels offered, and at 97A, they are pretty hard. This means that they have some give on a normal rink floor. This is good for spinning and being able to quickly turn on the skates without a lot of friction.
    • Downs: For me, the biggest issue with the wheels is how they react on my rink floor.  I can’t spin on all 4 wheels because these wheels are still too grippy on my normal skate floor. As I said, this is less an issue with the wheels and more the fact of how I am trying to use the wheels on a speed skate (very tight) floor. All and all, I like the wheels. They are a little heavier, but that is because I chose to go with the aluminum-hubbed wheels.

Bearing Rating: A

  • Bearing Manufacturer: Vanilla
  • Bearing Rating: ABEC-7
  • Clean Bearing Roll Test**: Attempt 1: 18 seconds, Attempt 2: 18 seconds, Attempt 3: 21 seconds = 19 seconds on average
  • Overall Bearing Rating: A
    **We spin the brand new wheels 3 times and see how many seconds it rolls, then average it out. Not super scientific, but better than most sites will give you.
  • Bearing Notes:
    • Ups: The bearings in these skates are nowhere close to what the Vanilla Spyder inline skate offers, but they are not bad bearings for a quad skate meant for jam skating. All and all, I’m happy with them and I have skated on these ABEC-7s at least 10 times.
    • Downs: As I said before, this isn’t a racing swiss bearing like the inline skates were sporting. You are not going to tear it up with these bearings, but honestly, a clean bearing is more important than the ABEC or specialty bearing rating (more on that in a future post).

Smile Rating: B

  • Ease of skate to take apart / put back together: B
  • How many people said “Nice Skates!” or noticed me by talking to me the first time I wore them to the rink: B
  • Do they smell? How easy do they stink? They really don’t stink too bad. A lot of Vanilla skates (like the Juniors) really do stink.
  • How easy are they for a new skater? B
  • How good are they for an experienced skater? B
  • Overall Smile Rating: B

Vanilla 360 Skates Review GradesThe Grades

So, how did it score overall? Here is a quick summary:

  • Boot Score: C-
  • Plate Score: B
  • Wheel Score: A
  • Bearing Score: A
  • Smile Score: B

Overall Rating: B

My 2¢ (Justification for my Overall Rating)

It’s really sad that the boots on these skates are not more comfortable out of the box. I really think the Vanilla boots look great, but really are poorly designed. I’ve heard this from multiple people who have worn Vanilla skates – great looks and no comfort. Overall, I actually like the boot. The boot is comfortable around the toes and the heel, but it just kills the ankles. It really does make me think twice about skating in them every time I hit the rink floor, but I keep going out there in them hoping this will be the session they finally break in and stop digging into my ankles. More to come on that later in a future post.

Besides the issues with the boot, the plate on the skate is okay. I really am not a fan of nylon plates, but they get the job done in this case. I really can’t say anything bad about it thus far. The trucks are really nice and I do like the amount of motion I get overall in the skate. It’s very clear for me to see the difference with this plate and the freedom of motion it gives me to spin, do quick front/back and back/front turns on one foot and jumping. It just was not possible in some of my other skates.

The wheels and bearings are solid. I really have no complaints except for the fact that I have to 2-foot-spin heel-to-toe at my rink because the wood floor is so coated with plastic that there is no give. I bought the hardest wheels available with these skates (Synergy 97A), and that still doesn’t give enough glide. Overall though, that is not the wheels fault. It’s the surface. I gave it a good rating because I think they are overall very good wheels.

For the bearings, I gave them an A grade because they are decent ABEC-7 bearings. My spin test was decent and bearing quality is often not that big of an issue (even though many inexperienced speed skaters think they make a big difference – more on that in a future post). I saw no issues with the bearings, so I gave them a good grade.

Lastly, these skates get a smile rating of a B grade all around. When you sum it all up, this skate gets a solid B. If the boot was more comfortable, I could certainly see this skate being a grade A skate. It’s too bad that they couldn’t get that one ankle boot issue solved. I hope to solve that problem over the next week as I try a few different options.

What Next?

This is my second skates review and my first quad skates review. What did you think? Leave me a comment below and share your thoughts on these skates. If you own a pair of these skates, I would love for you to tell the rest of us what you think of the skates below.  Next up, I am going to detail out all of the various things I have tried to make these boots more comfortable. If I can find a way to make these boots not cut into my ankle, then this skate has a chance to be an A- graded skate. It has potential. If you have any tips on how to make these (or other) Vanilla skate boots more comfortable, please drop me a comment below.

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