By Lou Marquez on Sep 20, 2019 3:32:43 PM
When I think of topography, I usually think of hilly, mountainous areas in nature, but "topography" has become a pretty popular buzzword in bowling. What does it mean when we talk about topography? Well, it's the same as when we're talking about mountains and valleys, except the difference between a mountain and a valley on a lane surface is much smaller.
I brought in USBC research technician Dave Nestor to get into what lane topography is and how it can affect our shots on the lanes.
What is Lane Topography?
Just like a topographical map of the earth, a bowling lane has peaks and valleys. The difference is we can't see them on the lane with the naked eye. Put simpler: bowling lanes aren't flat.
Bowling lanes that are within USBC specifications are very close to flat, but it's extremely hard for any surface 3.5 feet wide and 60 feet long to be completely flat. Dave tells us the tolerance between one extreme to the other is 40 thousandths of an inch, which is less than the width of four playing cards.
So, because bowling lanes aren't perfectly flat, lane topography deals with where those peaks and valleys are. Some lanes are depressed in the middle and others are the opposite (we call this a crown). Some lanes slant to the right or the left or even front to back or vice versa.
What Causes Topographical Differences?
There could be a number of causes as to why a lane isn't perfectly flat, but let's talk about why a lane's topography might change over time. This assumes a good installation by a qualified installer, so the initial topographical readings are going to be as close to perfect as possible.
Still, if a big storm rolls through or the humidity is especially high or even if the air conditioning shuts off in the building, we might see some changes in lane topography. Dave tells us this is because almost every part of the installation is made of wood. With synthetic lanes, the synthetic surface itself is often the only thing that isn't wood.
Wood moves and changes with the weather. So, when the boards underneath the lane alter, it can push one side of the lane up, for example. This type of thing is one reason a left lane can play differently than a right lane in the same building with the same oil pattern.
What Can We Do About It?
The only thing we can do is adjust. There's nothing you can do about the topography on the lane. If you're bowling on a depressed lane, when it's lower in the middle than on the outside, your ball might have an easier time getting to the pocket. If you're on a crowned lane, your ball needs to turn uphill to get to the pocket, so you'll have to figure out how to do that.
As Dave notes, the differences are small as the USBC specifications don't allow for drastic topographical variances, so it's not as if you'll be facing an insurmountable task. However, certain topographical differences can impact your ball roll, even if only subtly-and this is more pronounced on a sport pattern than a house shot-so being able to recognize when you might be facing a topographical challenge gives you an advantage as it allows you to develop a strategy to counteract what you're facing on the lanes.