Bowling Bedlam - Oil

The playing environment of bowling today may be as complex, unpredictable and chaotic as any time in the history of the game. We're not talking about the weekly league or club game where the participants just want to have fun. We're talking about professionally maintained and controlled tournament environments where bowling sports people compete.

It is in this type of sporting environment, along with the basic premise of playing well both physically and mentally, that the decisions the modem player makes will ultimately determine whether they perform up to their expectations or have to wait until the next event comes around.

This is the second in a series of articles that will try to shed some light on many of the variables in the current game of bowling and why the players of today need to be very open minded and aware of the total environment at all times when competing. The supplied information is all in the quest of understanding and to increase performance, not to create excuses.

Oil (Conditioner)

There are low viscosity oils and high viscosity oils. There are oils with different amounts of additives such as friction modifiers and flow agents for different types of lane machines. There are oils with varying surface tensions which help the oil bond to the lane surface.

Mineral oil is used in most lane conditioners as the base oil but over the years lane conditioner has evolved. Today's conditioners are now mixed with a percentage of specialized additives to increase the performance and durability of the conditioner.

All these different types of conditioners will make your bowling ball react differently on the lane. At the same time, different types of conditioner can make the same pattern play different.

If using a wick machine, some conditioners will flow through the wicks more than others making the same pattern settings apply a different pattern. With wick machines, temperature will affect the flow rate since temperature not only affects viscosity or the thickness of the conditioner, it will affect the size of the capillaries of the wicks as well.

If using spray type machinery, different conditioners will either peel off or hold onto the buffer brush more or less which can change the shape of any specific pattern even though the machine settings remain constant. Different lane surfaces will do the same thing so add that into the equation also.

There is a very good online article by Kegel's Chris Chartrand on lane conditioner (oil), "10 Things That Everyone Should Know about Lane Conditioners" which you can view by clicking on the title. Therefore we won't go into specific details on all conditioner properties but one thing we will touch base on is viscosity since the USBC has just made a new specification on this lane conditioner property.

The new viscosity rule the USBC has implemented "requires that lane conditioners used during USBC competition read between 12 and 81 centipoises at 70 degrees Fahrenheit." Centipoise (cps) is the standard unit of measurement for fluids and many lane oil manufactures will have this designated on their product.

Viscosity is very misunderstood in common bowling discussions. Most bowlers believe the higher the viscosity of oil, the "slicker" the bowling ball reacts to it. Actually the exact opposite happens.

By definition, viscosity is the measurement of internal friction of a fluid. The greater the amount of friction, the more force is required to move the fluid against itself which is called shear. Therefore the higher the viscosity, the more force it takes which increases friction. The lower the viscosity of oil, the less force it takes to shear which decreases friction.

In terms of a bowling ball rolling through these different oils, the higher the viscosity, the more resistance there is which makes the ball slow down more. When we get to the bowling ball portion of the series, we will spend more time on this subject but in short, friction is what makes the ball slow down and therefore enables it to hook.

Temperature is one of the biggest environmental factors in changing viscosity of a conditioner. So as the weather changes, so can the bowling conditions.

So what is the purpose of viscosity in lane oils? In short to provide durability to an oil pattern however, because of the many different additives being used in today's oils, viscosity is not as important as it once was in regard to lane maintenance. But as a bowler, you should be aware of how it relates to ball motion.

Oil Patterns

This subject of oil patterns is a difficult one and probably the most blamed and misunderstood subject in bowling. Lane conditioning rules have changed many times over the years and even today with the USBC 'three unit rule' or the USBC Sport Bowling rule in place, there are an infinite number of pattern combinations and ways to apply an oil pattern to the lane.

Kegel's Founder and CEO John Davis had a saying when he was entrusted in doing lanes over the years which goes something like this;

"Its 4 o'clock in the morning and the tournament starts at 8:00. You know if you do this; this might happen. But if you do something else, that might happen. So what are you going to do? Who do you call? Who can you call? You have to do something but there is no book. It is all up to you."

In these simple questions lies the major dilemma for every laneman at every bowling tournament in the world. Only after the tournament do they ever know if the job was socially acceptable or unacceptable. In simpler words, did the laneman do a good job or a bad job?

Of course the laneman might ask the same question to the bowlers; when trying to figure out the conditions, did the bowlers do a good job or a bad job?

Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson began his career in the bowling business in 1976 at the age of 15 working for the Florida based Galaxy Lanes chain. Beginning from the ground up in center operations, he has also been a long time Pro Shop proprietor, 40 lane center General Manager, PBA National Tour player, multi PBA Regional Champion, PBA Player Services Director, and even a bowling writer. Since 2004 he has been working with Kegel.

Ted has also coached bowling on many different levels. From basic Learn to Bowl classes and private lessons while in the Pro Shop business, he was also head coach for Florida State University, countless PBA professionals, and even coached Lisa Wagner to her last Player of the Year award in 1993. While working for the PBA, the late great Dick Weber even asked for some of his time. An experience Ted says "he will always cherish". Dick immediately won a Senior Sweeper and gave him $300. It was the most Ted ever received for an hour lesson, and it came from one of the greatest players of all time.

Recently, Ted has been deeply studying topography and the effects it has on ball motion. He is also on the Kegel Team helping make decisions for many of the oil patterns Kegel uses in competitions world wide, which has led to further development of Kegel's lane machines. Ted has a complete and unique understanding of bowling from many different sides.

Ted also named the world's and Kegel's most popular lane machine the "Kustodian ION" (pronounced "EON" in Europe) and spearheaded the creation of Kegel's Navigation Oil Patterns. The creativity may be heredity. In 1968 Ted's father created the famous Dodge Super Bee logo and spearheaded that marketing campaign.