With the invention of the Kegel LaneMapper, came a study about bowling lane topography like no other in the history of the game. Truth be told, when lanes were made of wood, and resurfaced in a timely manner and taken care of by craftsmen, topography was not really an issue. But with the proliferation of synthetic lanes and overlays, along with lanes getting minimal attention today, topography is much different and more influential than in past times – and the Kegel LaneMapper has been able to show it.
We now know what lanes shapes favor different type ball rolls. We know exactly why the same oil pattern can play completely different from one center to another. We know that different lane shapes can affect the durability of an oil pattern, or lane conditioner. And we know that different types of lane constructions are not created equal, nor do they change equally. It’s within this last statement this edition of the Inside Line will focus on – how synthetic panels laid on top of wood lanes can change with seasonal changes.
We’ve always known that wood lanes change from summer to winter. In the days of regularly resurfaced and maintained wood lanes, we saw depressions go from the minus .010” range to maybe the minus .020” to .030” range in the winter months – a depression increase of 10 to 20 thousands of an inch. In climates where seasonal changes and humidity differences were greater, so were the changes in the lanes.
But today, because of the aforementioned lack of attention lanes receive, we are seeing changes much greater from season to season - especially in climates that have greater seasonal differences.
A big part of Kegel's original Mission Statement was “we study the game of bowling”. It was a mandate from the late John Davis. This edition of the Inside Line will focus on some of that study from bowling centers around the world, and we will show how much, and how fast, bowling lanes with synthetic overlays can change in shape.
Our first example is from a bowling center located in the northern hemisphere. Being in the north, there can be significant differences in humidity from summer to winter - it is humidity that makes wood change in shape.
The graphic below is a lane with a synthetic panel on top of existing wood lane (overlay) in the summer time when the humidity is highest. Humidity always enters wood in the area of least resistance and with a wood lane humidity enters the wood from the bottom of the lane.
We call this a ‘bird wing’ shaped lane because the wood lane pushes the panel up between the screw rows (2L, 20C, and 2R boards) causing a hill around the 10 board. This lane shape will cause hang spots outside of second arrow, and “hook” inside of second arrow. Medium length patterns are most difficult on this lane shape.
What is also interesting is the lanes in this center pass the plus/minus .040” specification at every distance on the lane, in the summer time.
The below graphic shows what the lane looks like during the transition from summer to winter, or winter to summer. In the fall time, the humidity has decreased causing the moisture in the wood lane to also decrease - everything is contracting and the panel takes shape of what’s underneath it. In the spring time the process is reversed. Medium oil patterns begin to play easier - actually all oil patterns begin to play easier.
Where the lane gets the most abuse, the head area, the depressions begin to exceed the minus .040” specification. The toe screws holding the wood lane together, and the screws that hold the wood lane to the levelers below, are getting loose, or back out all together in many instances. The lane acts like an accordion.
It must be noted that when the heads are cut out and replaced with a substrate like MDF, we do not see these huge depressions. Synthetic panels on top of a substrate like MDF, HDF, or PSL, do not seem to be affected near as much during seasonal changes.
Below is what the above lane looks like in the winter time, when the humidity is lowest. In some instances, bowling centers may even turn the heat on, which lowers humidity even more. It's at this point in the year most of the moisture has come out of the wood lane and the depressions are the greatest. This is also when oil patterns tend to play the easiest; everything “ramps back” to the pocket.
What may be thought provoking for some is, every distance on this lane has now exceeded the minus .040” specification. We have seen this in more than a few instances.
Oil patterns on a lane with depressions of this magnitude will also tend to break down quicker, when playing outside of center. This happens because there is more pressure (gravity) pushing up against the ball when outside of center so it's easier for the ball to "poke through" the oil film on the lane - the “shot” will tend to go inside quickly because of that. Think of a car rounding a curve on a banked road or race track - the banking is there to help a car navigate the turn.
This is when lofting the gutter often comes into play on competitive longer patterns - the ball will “see the lane quicker” as the pattern breaks down on the uphill slope. So players quickly move to and play the downhill side of the depression as long as they can. Physics dictates that the ball will retain energy longer on the downhill side of depression and then hook off of the uphill side easier. Once deep inside, bowlers with high rev rates, high axis rotations, and high tilts will benefit the most on this lane shape - that's physics at work also.
The Kegel Slope Graphs make the slope differences even more apparent:
The Slope Graphs are revolutionary in bowling because they are the first illustrations that show the severity of the ‘rise and falls’ on a bowling lane. Slopes to the right are in the blue color spectrum – the darker the color the more severe the slope to the right. Slopes to the left are in the orange/red spectrum - the darker the color the more severe the slope to the left. Read more about Kegel's Slope Graphs.
How fast can lanes change?
The following graphic shows how a synthetic overlay pair of lanes can change over the course of 28 days – from May 17th to June 13th. This center is also in the northern part of a country and one floor below ground level – so if anything changes are less than a center on the ground floor or above. The foul line is at the bottom of the graphic.
What to notice here are the slopes on the outside part of the lanes – reds on the right are slopes towards center and blues on the left are slope towards center - so the lanes here are predominantly depressed at the beginning of this time frame.
Over the course of 28 days it is clear that the depressions are decreasing. The reds become lighter in color so the movement towards center is less influential, and some areas of the lane are even turning to blue in color, which indicate slopes to the right. Hang spots are caused by these "outward slopes". What we noticed during these 28 days was "the oil pattern" became tougher as the lanes flattened out - gravity always wins on planet earth.
If we talk about the raw data, the lanes were changing (swelling up) about 6-7 thousands of an inch per week as it takes in moisture. In 28 days the depressions went from the mid-minus 30 thousands of an inch to less than 10 thousands of an inch. And the process will reverse itself come fall time as the wood releases all that moisture.
How this can help you – the proprietor, the bowler, the coach, the federation, or the tournament organizer.
With synthetic lanes it’s even more crucial to see these slopes because it’s the only way we can really understand what’s happening with ball motion – is it friction or a significant slope causing the ball to hook too much, or not enough?
Knowing the shape of the lane at different times of the year will tell you the answer, and it will also tell you how an oil pattern will play, develop, and breakdown.
For instance; when the wood underneath the synthetic swells up in the summer your pattern will play longer or it seems like carrydown comes out of nowhere – the ball has a hard time moving towards center, when the lane is sloped towards the gutter.
This lane swelling can also "make the shot" go more inside as bowlers stay away from the hang area towards the outsides.
This is especially important to any one bowling center when trying to provide lane conditions for their weekly league customer base. If your center has lanes that change as much as these examples, you may need different house patterns for different times of the year so the house playing characteristics stay more similar.
It’s also important to know if a bowling center wants to “experiment” with a different oil pattern or try a new chemical product. If you don't which way your lanes are changing, or how much, it will be difficult to know why things are playing the way they are.
It’s important for tournament organizers or federations to know so when they ask for a pattern months in advance they have a better idea of what to expect come tournament time. Testing an oil pattern in one part of the year and expecting things to play the same at another time of year will often make the question "what happened" arise.
It’s important for coaches and bowlers so they can properly prepare for an upcoming tournament, or make the proper adjustments when the bowling ball is not reacting like they think it should.
Technology can definitely make life easier when used in the proper manner – the Kegel LaneMapper is one of those advances.
When used it can definitely help a bowling center get know their lanes better and use oil patterns that compliment the predominant shape of those lanes to provide more consistent playing conditions for their customers.
Or better yet, the LaneMapper can tell you where and how to correct your lanes if needed so they are "fair" for as many styles as possible.
In a game like bowling, providing equal opportunity for as many different playing styles as possible should be the goal. It worked before and although history may not always repeat itself, it sure does rhyme.