Lane Conditions and Cold Snaps

THE INSIDE LINE: 2010/12/10 - Special Edition

In last month's article, we touched base on some of the effects weather can have on lane machines, lane conditioner, and ball motion. We wrote about these effects in the sense that the environment has already become more stable. But because of a few recent technical calls, we have decided to release a Special Edition of THE INSIDE LINE, and continue the discussion on how weather can affect lane conditions.

We have found that the biggest problem in a bowling center occurs when there is a drastic and quick temperature change. Kegel's lead chemist, Dennis Sheirs, found this out during the US Open in 1998. The air conditioner wasn't working in the bowling center, and it was 80 degrees inside the center, and on the lanes, for the first two days of the tournament.

Sometime in the middle of the afternoon on the second day of the tournament, the air conditioning was fixed. That evening, someone cranked the air conditioning down and by the next day, both the bowling center and the lane temperature were 60 degrees.

The bowlers started practice that morning and found the lane pattern played 10 boards tighter. Luckily, since Kegel was doing the lanes and strictly following our Process Verification Procedure, we could prove it wasn't because the laneman, or the lane machine, did something different. But we did learn a valuable lesson; when doing lanes, take control of the climate control system!

So how does this affect you in daily life? We find the same thing can happen when you typically get a cold snap up north and it's instant. Normally you will see everything get a little tighter at first. Then as everything goes through equilibrium, and bowling centers kick on the heat, all the other properties change, and eventually everything will settle back in. That's when the lanes will start to hook more from the point where they got tighter at.

We said before that when the temperature of lane conditioner gets lower, the viscosity goes up, so the ball hooks more and it does, but that is only one part of the equation. The other part of the equation is the surface tension also increases, which makes the lane conditioner move more until everything settles back down. This unsettledness can last over a week because during a cold snap, the whole system is in flux.

On a synthetic lane installed over a wood lane, usually during the summer time when the humidity is typically greater, the lanes tend to be a bit more crowned towards the gutter outside of the second arrow. We know from our testing, crowned lanes tend to create "hang spots" if in the break point area.

But in the winter time when the heat is turned on in the bowling center, or humidity decreases, synthetic lanes installed over wood lanes tend to depress which makes the ball move towards the center, or in other words, hook more. It however takes a few weeks for all that to occur.

If your area gradually gets colder throughout the year, you won't experience drastic changes because everything is just slowly moving there. It is those abrupt environmental changes that create theseeffects. But from our experience, in most scenarios, those quick "cold snaps" (change from warm to cold), tend to make lanes play tighter first. Then, as the inside environment equalizes and the heater settles things down, lanes depress; that's when we see more hook again from that September to October time frame.

Wood lanes however tend to stay more stable versus synthetic lanes because synthetics panels are made from composite materials. The phenolic panels are made from wood paper pulp, with phenolic resin, so they do tend to vary. But just like all wood components, when there is more moisture in the air, they tend to swell a little bit in the area of least resistance, and when there is less moisture in the air, they tend to dry out and lose some of that swelling.

So as we stated before, typically in the summertime, synthetic lanes installed over wood lanes tend to crown a little bit, and in the winter time, they tend to depress a little bit. In recent topography measuring using the Kegel LaneMapper, we have more than a few documented examples of lanes changing over .030" from summer to winter.

UPDATE: We now have documented examples of lanes changing up to .070" from summer (high humidity) to winter (low humidity). This is caused by the wood lane underneath the synthetic panels becoming "looser and looser" from years of not receiving attention. Basically the toes screws that hold the boards together and the screws holding the wood lane to the levelers start backing out from the constant pounding of the bowling ball onto the lane, making the lane act like an accordian.

So what do we suggest for quick weather changes? Don't respond to the change too fast. Give everything a chance to settle down. Most of the time our first response is something went haywire, and we have to change something, it's human nature. But you are better off to first perform your Process Verification Procedures, to ensure your machine is operating correctly, and if so, just let everything settle down.

If it has been 80 degrees for weeks on end, and that first cold snap hits and it's a drastic one, give it a week for everything to settle down and let your center get into equilibrium before trying to change or adjust things.  Otherwise, you're going to be trying to change something while everything is transitioning.

A non-bowling analogy to the transition is like when you get into a pool for the first time. The water may feel cold, and that could be your first reaction. But if you stay in for a little while, you start to adjust to the temperature.  Your core body temperature does not change; you just begin to acclimate to it.

To end, and we can't stress enough, every center is unique and the solutions to any problems are just as unique. Just know that Kegel's Tech Support department is full of dedicated people trying to do the same thing you are; provide our customers with the best possible experience as we can. And don't forget, we are only a free phone call away.

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.