STRIKE ZONE / Scott Bailey
Part I: The basic science of bowling ball physics
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
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!
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
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
this, the astute bowler begins to see patterns emerging. Doesn't it seem
interesting that most
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.
's PowrKoil™ reactive urethane, for
the most part, is much more aggressive and less oil sensitive than
'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.
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.
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
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@ erols.com.
All questions will be answered personally.
One of the biggest surprises over the past few years has been the
emergence and growth of Storm Products. Based in
, 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
that said, congratulations to Terry,
, 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.
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
He can be reached via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org".