Lane Conditions

Although lanes are made from hard woods and synthetics, the speed and power with which professional bowlers deliver the ball means that a 16lb ball strikes the lane with a force of more than 150kg per square centimetre. For this reason lanes are coated in a layer of conditioner, known as “oil”, which protects them.

The oil has another, much more useful purpose as well. In reducing friction between the ball and the lane, it can be used to help the ball travel along an arc instead of straight. If the “back-end”- the area of the lane before the pins – is left dry from oil, balls with sideways (horizontal) spin will encounter more resistance as they move along the boards and will subsequently arc inwards towards the optimal point to strike the pins, just behind the 1-pin (“pocket”). The arc-like movement of the ball is called a “hook” or “break”. Depending on the configuration of the oil and the type of ball and spin used, hooks can be slow and gradual, or fast and violent.

Oil is applied to the lane in a number of different ways – called “oiling patterns” – and skilled bowlers must adjust their game to take into account these different lane conditions. Lanes with oiling patterns that allow high scoring are called “wet lanes”, because they will contain more oil.

Changing lane conditions

Every time a ball is rolled down the lane, some of the oil will be picked up by the ball and deposited further down. On a wet lane, players will often be able to see an oil track on the ball. Because of this “carrydown”, the conditions of the lane will often change over the course of a few games. If bowlers repeatedly use the same target line, it will eventually dry out as oil is carried off by the ball. Bowlers will then be forced to adjust the line that they roll along. Because there are so many more right handed bowlers, oil will become much more disturbed along the right-hand boards of the lane, meaning that left-handed bowlers will have a natural advantage.

The most simple lane condition is a “blocked lane“. More oil is placed on the middle of the lane so that the ball will face more resistance the closer it travels to the edge of the lane, causing it to hook back in if it has enough horizontal rotation on it. If it is rolled along the middle, the oil will reduce friction, meaning that it will skid in a straighter line, instead of hooking. Over time though, oil will be pushed from the middle of the lane to the outside, creating a condition called “reverse block“. With more oil on the outside boards of the lane, it is incredibly difficult for players to hook their shots back towards the pocket, because any ball rolled along the outside edge will face less resistance and fall into the gutter instead of hooking back in. Balls rolled along the middle will hook too much because of the extra friction. This condition is often found in open-play alleys, where lanes are constantly in use all day.