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      Part II       Part III

THE STRIKE ZONE / Scott Bailey

Part I: The basic science of bowling ball physics

     With the ever-changing landscape of bowling ball technology, it is vitally important that you understand the forces that create the reaction of your bowling ball as it travels down the lane. Having this type of knowledge will greatly enhance your ability to read and adjust to the various lane conditions that you will encounter. To help accelerate this learning curve, this article will be the first in three-part series devoted to the basic science of bowling ball physics and how it relates to your game.

     Incorrectly drilled bowling balls are most often the result of poor communication between the bowler and pro shop technician. The bowler understands what he wants but is incapable of expressing this in a manner that the pro shop technician understands.

     For example, the most common request I hear is to make the ball "go long and hook hard." This is the ball reaction the bowler wishes for, not understanding the forces that must be present to create this type of roll and the consequences of achieving it. For the most part, for a bowling ball to have that type of reaction, the bowler must have a certain ball speed, matched to a certain axis rotation, matched to a certain lane condition. If all of these forces are in harmony, this length/snap ball reaction will occur. However, if one variable in this formula is not perfect, this type of roll will not occur. (As a side note, if a bowler could achieve maximum length and maximum back-end reaction, they probably would be unable to control it due to the severity of the angles created.)

     Understanding the advantages and limitations of today's equipment is necessary to maximize your scoring potential and achieve your goals. The simple fact is that no bowling ball in the world will allow me to achieve the same reaction as Pete Weber. Pete's ball speed, rotation, and armswing dictate that he will generally create a length/snap ball reaction. Walter Ray Williams Jr., on the other hand, has significantly less axis rotation and higher ball speed. That is why he achieves an earlier roll and less back-end reaction.

     Is one reaction better than the other? Of course not. But one generally will be more conducive to the lane condition and will allow higher scoring potential. The point is, a bowling ball, no matter what it is or how it's drilled, can only react to the energies imparted to it. When you understand this simple fact, you will be on your way to higher scoring.

Understanding the advantages and limitations
of today's equipment is necessary
to maximize your scoring potential
and achieve your goals.

     Several times in the above paragraphs, I mentioned ball reaction. I intend this to be synonymous with the term positive ball reaction. Positive ball reaction is the state where all of the bowler's physical and equipment variables are in harmony with the lane condition. Almost everyone has experienced this phenomenon, even if it was by accident. You have PBR when you feel as if all you have to do is get the ball off your hand and it will be a strike. Great feeling, huh? It would be nice to achieve this on command, but unfortunately, it takes too much skill and knowledge to "match up" to every lane condition you encounter. In fact, only the best bowlers in the world are able to do this consistently, and even they have trouble sometimes.

     At this point, it should be clear that achieving PBR is a product of both your physical game and your equipment and how they match the lane condition. I have never been very good at coaching, so I will leave that to the qualified instructors, of which there are many in our area. I am, however, schooled in the art of the 100-foot adjustment-walking out to the car to get another ball!

Seriously though, my area of expertise is in the chemistry and physics of today's bowling balls and how they interact with the lane surface. Therefore, this series will deal only with the equipment side of positive ball reaction, and with all due respect to the other local "experts," the days of positive side and finger weight are long gone! Friction and dynamics are the name of the game in today's bowling, so with that, let's get started.

     The single most important aspect of your equipment is the surface. The chemical makeup and texture of a bowling ball's surface will have the most dominant effect on its reaction characteristics. Every manufacturer has its own versions of urethane and reactive urethane formulations. Each of these formulations has different glycol and isocyanate components and ratios. Reactive urethanes also have plasticisor compounds that displace the urethane and reactive urethane formulations. These plasticisors will evaporate from the surface of the ball, leaving their own distinctive "footprint."

Knowing this, the astute bowler begins to see patterns emerging. Doesn't it seem interesting that most Columbia reactive balls have more natural length than the Brunswick Zone series of balls? Part of this can be attributed to the core designs, but the predominant factors can be found in the formulation of the coverstocks. Brunswick 's PowrKoil™ reactive urethane, for the most part, is much more aggressive and less oil sensitive than Columbia 's Flexcel™ reactive material. This does not mean that one is better than the other, just different. Which one performs better will be determined by the physical aspects of the bowler and the lane conditions on which he participates.

It is important to understand that "better" is a relative term; what works today can be horrible tomorrow. Please keep in mind that in bowling, the best ball on the market is the one that knocks down the most pins for you, not the latest and most expensive.

     At this point you may be saying, "OK, Scott, I understand that each company has its unique formulations, but how does that affect me? I can't change these characteristics."

     You are absolutely right: You cannot change the chemical makeup of your bowling balls. You do, however, have direct control over the friction levels created between your ball and the lane. You achieve this by altering the ball's surface texture. Changing the surface of your ball is the easiest, least expensive way to maximize its productivity. To accomplish this, you must understand how your ball's surface texture will affect its reaction.

     The common thought process is, sanding your ball will increase hook, and polishing it will decrease it. While this is true for most traditional urethane balls, it may not work as well with reactive formulations. On heavily oiled lane conditions, a sanded reactive ball will provide the most hooking action, albeit a very early one. However, when there is sufficient friction on the back-end or outside boards, sanding your ball may actually decrease the hooking action. To fully explain these phenomena would require more pages than I am allowed, so please take my word for it.

     Basically, it has to do with the footprint of the reactive urethane as described above. Simply put, the sanding scratches hide the plasticisor footprint, which causes an increase in the friction between the ball and the lane in the first 30 feet. This makes the ball roll earlier and have less energy for the back-end, thus reducing the later hooking action.

     Surface texture is most dominant in the first 20 to 30 feet of the lane. A ball with too smooth of a surface will skid too far and react too late. A surface that is too rough will hook too early and lose back-end power. To understand this properly, think of the lane as having an optimum "break point window." This window is created by the lane surface and oil pattern. To achieve maximum scoring, your ball must come out of its predominant skid and begin to hook in this "window."

     For example, if the oil is applied 30 feet long, the break point window should be in the 34- to 36-foot depth. This means that your ball needs to begin hooking at about 35 feet down the lane-any earlier and it will lose much needed back-end power. Any later and it will not recover at the proper pin carry angle. Either way, your scores will suffer.

By utilizing different surface textures, you will ensure yourself of achieving the proper break point window. The types of surface texture you will need are determined by your physical game and the lane conditions. The only way to know for sure which ones will work for you is to experiment. I suggest seeing your local IBPSIA pro shop technician. He or she will have the requisite knowledge to steer you in the right direction.

     In the next issue, we will take a close look at core designs and mass placements within the bowling ball. The science of mass distribution within the ball is ever-changing. Offset flip blocks, asymmetrical core designs, and a host of super dense components have greatly affected the motion potentials of today's bowling balls. Understanding how these factors relate to your game is an important step in achieving your personal goals in this great sport.

* * * *

     At this point, I would like to congratulate everyone for the completion of another fine league season. As the summer months approach, however, now is the perfect time to set goals, work on your game, and prepare yourself and your equipment for the upcoming season. To that end, the ball manufacturers have been working diligently on new research and development projects, also in preparation for next season.

      In this issue, we are going to look at three relatively new ball releases as well as touch upon equipment slated for upcoming introductions. The three balls described below are representative of the increasing performance and quality of today's bowling equipment. I hope this guide will give you insight as to which ball would be best for your game. If you have any specific questions regarding these or other balls on the market, you can contact me at 703/560-BOWL or send E-mail to xzone@ All questions will be answered personally.


Storm Blue Thunderstorm

     One of the biggest surprises over the past few years has been the emergence and growth of Storm Products. Based in Brigham City , Utah , Storm Products has developed somewhat of a cult following both domestically and internationally. Known for creating top-quality, high-performance models, I believe that Storm has the best reactive urethane formulations on the market. While Storm is not known as an innovator in core designs, they have an uncanny ability to create a fantastic synergy between their coverstocks and cores. The Blue Thunderstorm is no exception.

Introduced on the heels of their highly successful Black Thunderstorm, the Blue Thunder is designed for more length and a sharper back-end angle than the original. Although the core design has remained unchanged, the pearlization of the new coverstock degrades the urethane enough to create a noticeable difference in length and energy release. Due to the strength of the core design, however, this is not a dry lane ball; it will have a tendency to hook too early on drier lane conditions.

     In our tests, this ball worked best on post-transition type oil patterns when the bowler is forced to play an inside line to find head oil. On this type of lane condition, the Blue Thunder worked amiably, providing above-average length, with a controllable arc at the break point. It also recovered well when we missed our target to the right, opening up the lane and providing good carry potential.

     Our testers generally liked this ball and definitely were impressed with it during late-shift league bowling. One of our testers, top local bowler Herman Lee Jr., recently won two scratch tournaments using this ball. Herman prefers this ball drilled with the locator pin 4 inches and the CG 5 inches from the positive axis point with no balance hole. This pattern allows him to move to deeper inside angles when the lanes break down, while still maintaining strength and control at the break point.


Ebonite Tidal Wave

     As many of you know, I recently returned from a year-long stint with Ebonite International. During this time, Ebonite decided to discontinue its long-running Nitro and Turbo ball lines in favor of the more advanced Wave and Cat models. Because I was involved with the testing of these new balls, I may be somewhat biased in my review, so please bear with me.

     As previously noted in Bowling This Month magazine, my favorite ball in these new lines was the Jaguar. This was in part due to the lane conditions we used for testing purposes. These conditions were generally on the drier side, and we were forced to move to deeper inside angles. The Jaguar was best suited for this type of lane pattern.

     However, upon my return to this area, I soon found the Tidal Wave to my liking. In general, the Tidal Wave has a medium RG with a high differential core design that is best suited to heavier oil conditions.

     The reactive coverstock is very aggressive and is much less sensitive to oil density changes. All of these factors make it perfect as an all-around, multi-purpose ball. Simply put, it's not too weak, and it's not too strong. Power players will appreciate its back-end recovery, and straighter players will enjoy its heavy roll and strong hitting characteristics. It will have problems on drier heads and pines due to its strong flare potential, but then again, it was not designed for these types of conditions. If these are the types of patterns you bowl on, try the Blue Wave or better yet, the Jaguar. These models were specifically designed to work on late-shift league or drier tournament conditions.

Friction and dynamics
are the name of the game
in today's bowling.

    My favorite layout for the Tidal Wave is a 5-inch pin location with a 3-1/2 CG from the positive axis point. This places the preferred spin axis below my mid plane, allowing me to control the break point with my slower ball speed. Bowlers with above-average speed or less rotation will like a stacked 4-inch pin and CG layout. This will provide moderate length with more flare potential and a lesser chance of roll-out than a full leverage pattern.

    The best part about Ebonite's new line is the price. In the age of $200 bowling balls, Ebonite has provided top-notch quality and performance in the $150 range. This should make the Wave line very popular with the local bowlers.


Hammer 3D Offset

     This is a classic case of the "rags to riches" story. Faball, the maker of the Hammer line of bowing balls has, to put it mildly, struggled since the introduction of reactive bowling balls. Most experts agree that this was in part due to a weakness in their coverstock formulations and lack of high powered core designs.

Enter Mo Pinel.

    The controversial "guru" of modern bowling, Mo was brought in to consult on a new core and coverstock design. The result: the highly successful 3D Offset. By taking a traditional two-piece core and offsetting the top and bottom "flip" blocks, Mo created the fastest revving, strongest core design in the history of Faball. Combine this with a much improved reactive coverstock, and you have the hottest ball on the market today. In fact, in my store 3D Offset sales have almost reached the pace of last year's highly successful Danger Zone, which is no small feat.

All of this praise is not to say that the Offset is the mother of all bowling balls. Just like any other, it has its strengths and weaknesses.

     On the plus side, there currently is no other ball on the market that will rev up as fast and cut through heavy oil like the Offset. Combine this with its strong Hook/Set arc pattern, and you have a ball that not only hooks a lot, but is also easy to control.

     But as you often find, a ball's strength can also be its weakness. Due to the aggressiveness of its coverstock and core design, on anything but heavier head oil, this ball will start hooking in your backswing. In all fairness though, this ball was not designed for use on drier lanes and therefore is not expected to perform well in those environments.

     Due to the fast and early-revving nature of this ball, I would not generally recommend super strong drilling layouts. Most of us will not see enough oil for these drill patterns to function properly. Bowlers with faster speeds and higher degrees of axis rotation may be able to use fully leveraged layouts, but for most I would recommend pin placements of four inches or farther from the positive axis point. This will allow the ball to hold its energy longer before revving up.

With that said, congratulations to Terry, Dennis , Mo , the Beav, and everyone at the Baltimore-based manufacturing plant. I'm glad to see this turn around; look for even greater things in the future.

Since this will be the last issue until the new winter season, we should have ample time to finish testing the majority of this summer's introductions. If there are any specific balls that you would like to see analyzed, or have any other questions, don't hesitate to contact me; I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time.

Scott Bailey operates The Strike Zone Professional Bowling Store in Vienna, Va. He can be reached via E-mail at".


 Part  I       Part II       Part III