When I was visiting with my little sister last week, I had an opportunity to look at her skates. She's rolling Chicago Bullet skates, pictured on the right.
If you look at the picture on the right, you'll see that it looks a whole lot like the picture that I use as my user image on Twitter on the like. That's about where the similarity ends. Holding her skate and my skate in each hand, it was like holding a toy gun and a real gun: my skate was at least a pound heavier. I didn't get a chance to pull her skates apart, but some of the differences that I could tell just by handling them were that the plates were made of a really flimsy-looking plastic, the bearings had pretty much no roll out on them, and the wheels were made of a much less grippy plastic. The stopper is a hunk of hard plastic that is already wearing down and is permanently affixed to the skate.
When she was looking for skates and asked me what kind of skates to get and what they would cause, I told her that she shouldn't get "toy" skates, because they end up costing more in the end when she has to get rid of them and upgrade to beginner skates. I didn't really know whether or not that's true, it's just what they told me when I bought my skates. But after looking at her skates, I realize that it's true. It seems like the $40 difference between a pair of Bullets and a pair of Riedell R3s buys you a big difference in skates.
The other place that I feel like you have to spend is on your knees. Just skating, even in the absence of injuries, is pretty hard on the knees. It took just one practice of knee falls for me to realize that I needed more than the dinky Rollerblade pads that I was wearing. It wasn't cheap to upgrade to a pair of 187 knee pads, but having well-padded, well-fitting pads has been totally worth it. I'm even looking into some knee gaskets.
What do you tell people when they ask you about what gear is worth splurging on? Have you tried knee gaskets? Any advice?