Question from "Bowling This Month":
Why do reactive balls, especially particle coverstocks, eventually "lose their reaction" and seem to have such a short, effective lifespan, and what does your company recommend to prolong this lifespan or bring back the reaction?
Let's begin by saying that all balls hook less and less as they are used. I remember this same phenomenon happening with balls having a urethane shell not that many years ago.
But let's get to the reactive and particle shells. The main reason reactive balls work is their ability to absorb the oil into the shell. This allows more of the dry ball shell to contact the lane. The result is more friction and more hook. To get more friction from a ball, it needs to eliminate the oil from the contact point with the lane. This is the same reason why balls that flare, hook more than balls that do not flare. More of the dry ball surface is contacting the lane with a flaring ball than with a non-flaring ball. A non-flaring ball has an oily ball surface contacting the lane, which reduces the friction and hook.
Coincidently around 1991, reactive ball shells entered the market place at the same time as flaring cores. The result from both these factors helped to create a new bowling environment and changed much of the game. Flaring cores allowed more of the ball surface area to contact the oily lane on every delivery. Reactive shells allowed the oil to soak into the shell. Since more ball surface was contacting the oil on every delivery, more oil was picked up and soaked into the shell faster and over a larger area on the ball surface. This resulted in the oil in the heads of the lane drying up faster, which causes the bowling proprietors to lay down more oil. The balls pick up more oil and it soaks in faster. This cycle just continued as more aggressive shells were developed to overcome the heavy oil in the heads, which became common in the bowling industry at the start of league play every night.
Particles balls are just like reactive shells in the fact that they absorb oil into the shell. And since they hook more in oil, the bowlers will usually play a line more in the heavy oil in the center of the lane. The result is more oil picked up on the ball surface and soaking into the shell at a faster rate. Some particles actually affect the oil absorption rate. This is an area that in which we have done extensive research to try to prolong the enhanced friction from the particles and reactive resin shell.
Another factor to consider is the ball surface roughness. Sanded balls hook more in oil because of the rougher surface. In a relatively short time, the sanding grooves will wear down the sharp edges and the ball will hook less. The rough surface can be renewed by sanding the ball again back to the original grit sandpaper, but it will constantly be wearing down with every delivery down the lane. A polished ball will slide more in oil and flip harder on the dry backend. With time, some of the polish will wear away which results in the ball hooking more in the oil and less sharp on the backend. But this is harder to see, so the bowler might perceive very little change in the total amount of hook with a worn polished ball.
There is no easy solution to this oil absorption phenomenon. The reason reactive shells and particle shells work as well as they do is their ability to absorb oil. This results in a gradual loss in friction as oil soaks into the shell as the ball is used. The best answer is to remove the oil with a towel before it is absorbed into the shell. People have tried to remove the oil from the shell with various means; such as, cleaning with soap and water, using the Rejuvenator device which heats the ball to drive some of the oil out, or putting the ball in kitty litter. I am not very familiar with these techniques, so I am not qualified to speak about them, but they will not hurt the performance.
We have worked to design new shells which will hook without absorbing oil. We have tested balls which hook on the first shot, but then, the oil gets on the ball surface and the ball immediately looses hook. This happens in just a few shots. Theoretically, friction is the result from an interaction between two surfaces. Friction is a measurement of how well the two surfaces grab each other. Any oil, or lubricant, between the two surfaces has to reduce the friction. To make a ball which will not absorb oil and perform as well as a reactive shell, would require a design with a new shell with higher friction. The friction of this new shell would then be reduced by the oil picked up on the shell to the level of reactive or particle balls today. This would not be an easy task.
The more a ball hooks, the more hook it has to loose. Reactive and particle balls, which generate more friction, can loose more than a ball which begins with less friction. First, the big-hooking balls are probably being played more in the oil and are expected to create friction with the lane through a lubricant, which is designed to eliminate friction.
Less-hooking balls are played more in the dry area of the lane with less oil on the lane surface. In this situation the "lane/oil" combination is contributing more of the friction with the ball. Conversely, in the situation with a big-hooking ball and an oily lane surface, the ball has to contribute more of the friction to generate the hooking motion. Therefore, the less-hooking ball appears to have more friction but the friction is coming more from the drier lane surface. These balls will appear to loose less friction over time; but in reality, the situation has been helped by using an area of the lane which is contributing more friction to the "ball/lane" interaction.
Remember, "You get nothing for free". Everything in life is a give and take. The sport was able to develop bowling balls with more friction. Every bowler enjoys seeing their ball hook. But to create more friction, something had to be given up. In this situation, it turned out to be a gradual loss of that high friction. But just let the messenger head pin fly across the pin deck and take out the 10 pin, and we can all feel like a pro bowler for that instant. That's what it is all about; achieving the "bowling dream".