The bowling lane is the main playing surface in the sport of bowling. Consisting of wood or synthetic planks and oil patterns, the lane is the path the ball travels down to knock down the ten pins positioned at the end of it. By understanding exactly how the lane is structured, bowling becomes much easier!
Every bowling lane is built differently, with different oil patterns and plank materials. A lane with synthetic planks does not allow for the quick ball hook that a wooden lane does and a lane with a wider oil pattern has a more central breakpoint than one with a thinner oil pattern. For players who rely on spinning their ball to knock down pins, they must adjust to the lane differences to obtain a strike.
Each lane has a gutter on each side, both of which travel to behind the pins without touching them. If a ball goes into the gutter, no pins will be knocked down and the bowler will score a zero for that throw.
A hook that is thrown too wide will often go into the gutter, especially if the oil pattern is read incorrectly.
The foul line is positioned at the top of the lane and signals where the oil pattern begins. A bowler cannot step over this line when throwing or they will receive zero points for that throw.
Traditional bowling lanes are consistent in length, 60 feet from the foul line to pins, but vary in oil pattern length. Patterns can be anywhere from 36 to 42 feet deep, 42 feet being the most common pattern. Each lane is made of 39 planks across, each plank being equal in size.
Each lane also contains seven arrows, referred to as "dovetails," each pointing toward the pins. The center arrow is aligned with the head pin and the outer two arrows are aligned with the 7 and 10 pins. These arrows help bowlers aim, especially when only a few pins remain standing.
The oil patterns on the bowling lane are vital to the ball movement necessary for knocking down the pins. The oil is applied to the lane using a special machine that spreads it unevenly and in a specific pattern. The majority of the oil is applied to the center of the lane, around the center arrow, with the outer portions left dry to increase the spin put on the ball.
A long-distance oil pattern extends 42 or more feet, a shorter distance pattern is only 36 feet long. These differences can drastically change a bowler's approach.
Traditional bowling alleys use a "house pattern" for oil, while professional leagues use a "sport pattern." The house pattern allows for a much larger margin of error, making it easier for amateurs to bowl successfully.
When a bowling ball rolls down the lane, it picks up some of the oil and ruins the pattern that was applied. Some of that oil remains on the ball, but some is moved to the drier part of the lane. This breakdown affects ball speed and movement and must be accounted for by bowlers looking to score well. Bowlers may choose to use different balls or different hooking strategies, depending on the oil amount.
Accounting for the oil pattern, shape, and structure of the lane can lead to a much higher score when it comes to a bowling game. Adjusting where the ball is thrown or where your feet are positioned is an important part of reading the lane. Even adjusting the weight of the ball being used can have a major impact on your score!
The "breakpoint" is where the bowler needs to throw the ball in order to hook it perfectly into the head pin for a strike. Identifying this spot depends on the ability to read the lane, as wider lanes tend to have breakpoints closer to the center of the lane than thinner lanes.
To determine where the breakpoint is, you can subtract 31 from the length of the oil pattern. If the oil pattern is 42 feet long, you subtract 31 from 42 to get 11. This tells you the breakpoint is at the eleventh plank.