You are currently viewing The Ultimate Guide to Bowling Bumpers: What it is, When to Use, Pros and Cons, and Bumper Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Bowling Bumpers: What it is, When to Use, Pros and Cons, and Bumper Tips

  • Reading time:17 mins read

Bowling is a fun sport and pastime for many, but it can also be frustrating if you constantly hit gutter balls or have trouble getting the ball down the lane.

Thankfully most bowling alleys provide bumpers that attach to the gutters to help guide the ball towards the pins. But when should you use bowling bumpers and are they always beneficial?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about bowling bumpers. We’ll discuss when bumpers are appropriate, the pros and cons of using them, and tips to bowl effectively with bumpers. We’ll also explain when it’s best to wean yourself off the bumpers as your skills improve.

What Are Bowling Bumpers?

Before discussing when and how to use bowling bumpers, let’s first explain what exactly bumpers are for those unfamiliar.

Bowling bumpers are removable gutters that attach to the walls of a bowling lane to guide the ball towards the pins. They are made of plastic or rubber material and sit just above the actual wood or synthetic gutters.

Bumpers come in lane-length sections that hook together to create a continuous rail down each side of the lane. Most modern bumper sections are interlocking for quick attachment and removal.

The bumpers absorb the momentum of balls headed toward the gutters and bounce them back toward the bowling lane. This prevents gutter balls and allows bowlers to hit pins without accurate aim.

Bumpers were invented in the 1950s but didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1970s and 80s. Today they are commonplace in bowling alleys and used frequently for children, beginners, and casual play.

Types of Bowling Bumpers

There are a few varieties of bumper systems available for different situations:

Standard Bumpers

The most common type are traditional full-length bumpers that fully extend down both sides of the lane about 1-2 feet from the gutters. They attach directly to the lane walls.

Standard bumpers allow plenty of room for error but still require some aim. This style works well for most casual bowling scenarios.

Gutter Guard Bumpers

These slim bumpers sit right inside the physical gutters, almost touching the lane surface. They protect the ball from falling directly into the gutter but don’t provide as much redirection.

Gutter guards are meant for experienced bowlers to save retrieval effort, not for complete beginners. Bowlers must have reasonable aim to still hit pins.

Adjustable Bumpers

Some advanced bumper systems allow adjustable widths and angles. This lets alleys customize the amount of redirection based on bowlers’ skill levels.

Adjustable bumpers give proprietors more options for bumper configurations. But they require more labor to reposition frequently.

Inflatable Bumpers

Inflatable bumper tubes fasten to the gutters via straps or clips. They are popular for portable bowling sets since they inflate and deflate for transport.

Inflatable bumpers are convenient but more prone to wear and tear over time. They may not withstand aggressive bowling.

Bowling with bumpers is now commonplace but wasn’t always the case. The innovation of bumpers opened the bowling to wider audiences and skill levels for greater accessibility and fun.

When Should You Use Bowling Bumpers?

Bowling bumpers are designed for bowlers who need extra assistance keeping the ball out of the gutters. Typically they are used in the following situations:

For Young Children

Bowling bumpers are primarily intended for very young children who are just learning to bowl. Children generally start using bumpers around 3-5 years old when they are first developing motor skills and strength.

The bumpers prevent constant gutter balls which allows the child to have fun rolling the ball while gaining confidence. Bumpers give them a chance to learn proper technique without extreme frustration.

As children improve their hand-eye coordination and can roll the ball harder, bumpers may no longer be needed. But most kids benefit from using bumpers periodically until around 8-10 years old when they’ve built more bowling ability.

For Bowlers with Disabilities

Many bowling centers offer special bumper bowling times for people with mental or physical disabilities. Bumpers allow everyone to enjoy the sport without dealing with gutter balls.

Those with limited mobility, muscular conditions, visual impairments or other disabilities can use bumpers to make bowling more accessible. The bumpers compensate for any difficulties aiming or rolling the ball effectively.

During Open Bowling When Lanes are Crowded

Most bowling alleys have certain times set aside for “open bowling” when anyone can show up and play on a first come, first served basis. This often attracts families, large groups, and bowlers of varying skill levels.

To keep things running smoothly, bumpers are frequently used even by experienced bowlers during busy open bowling sessions. This helps accommodate all ages and abilities and prevents damage to the lanes from stray balls.

For Large Groups With Mixed Skill Levels

When bowling with a large group like a child’s birthday party or corporate event, bumpers even things out between good and bad bowlers. Everyone can participate equally without some dominating and others sitting out due to poor skills.

The casual, festive nature of group bowling also lends itself well to using bumpers just for fun. The focus is more on socializing than serious scoring.

For Casual Bowlers Who Prioritize Fun Over Scoring

Many casual bowlers roll primarily for fun and don’t worry about tracking stats and scores. Bumpers enhance the laid-back experience by preventing stops to retrieve balls from the gutters.

Groups chatting, snacking, and not keeping score can utilize bumpers to keep things moving and carefree. It also prevents damage to lanes when players aren’t concerned with aiming accurately.

Pros of Using Bowling Bumpers

While experienced bowlers may view bumpers as unnecessary or even embarrassing, they do offer a variety of benefits:

Allows Beginners to Enjoy Bowling Without Frustration

The biggest advantage of bumpers is allowing beginners to bowl without constantly hitting gutter balls and getting discouraged. Young children wouldn’t have much fun and lose interest quickly if they had to fetch balls from the gutters every other throw. Bumpers give them a very reachable goal early on.

Bumpers help build confidence in rolling the ball without fear of the gutters. Beginners can gradually strengthen their skills thanks to the wiggle room bumpers provided. It’s extremely satisfying finally graduating off the bumpers after using them to start bowling.

Helps Build Skills and Confidence Over Time

Bumpers aren’t meant to be a permanent crutch. They provide an opportunity for beginners to hone proper bowling form and technique in the early stages. Improving muscle memory and aim takes repetition, which bumpers facilitate.

As children get stronger and more coordinated, they can try moving across the lane to roll toward the edge of the bumpers. This gradually improves accuracy before removing them completely.

Levels the Playing Field for Mixed Skill Groups

When bowling with family, friends, coworkers, or other mixed groups, bumpers even out the playing field. Highly skilled players will have to aim more carefully and novice players stand a chance.

Everyone can contribute without feeling embarrassed if they constantly bowl gutter balls. Bumpers take away the pressure and even allow players to experiment with aim, spin, and strategy.

Makes Bowling Accessible for More People

Thanks to bumpers, almost anyone can bowl regardless of age, ability, or physical condition. Those unable to lift heavier house balls can simply roll them into the bumpers. You don’t have to be strong, coordinated, or have perfect vision to bowl if you use bumpers.

Bumpers are also very helpful for encouraging elderly bowlers or those with health conditions to stay active and continue bowling. The bumpers compensate for decreased mobility or strength that may develop later in life.

Prevents Damage to Lanes from Balls Hitting Gutters

Balls thrown into the gutters inevitably scuff and damage the lane surface over time. Using bumpers reduces this wear and tear and maintenance expense for bowling centers. The plastic bumpers absorb the impact rather than the delicate wood lanes.

Centers gladly take the time to attach bumpers since it preserves their expensive lane investments and equipment. Damaged gutters also negatively impact ball returns when drainage gets clogged.

Other Benefits

  • Makes it easier to practice picking up splits and other spare shots
  • Can be used for bowling games and drills to enhance skills
  • Cuts down on retrieval time for balls that would normally go in gutters
  • More balls stay in play instead of returning from underground
  • Creates a bumper “pocket” to bank shots off of creatively

Cons of Using Bowling Bumpers

However, it’s not all positive when it comes to bowling with bumpers. There are some downsides to be aware of:

Can Prevent Proper Technique Development

The main risk with long-term bumper reliance is that bowlers can develop bad habits. The bumpers allow a player to get away with an improper and inconsistent roll.

Repeating flawed forms solidifies muscle memory errors. Bowlers may struggle to unlearn bad habits once the bumpers come off. It’s crucial to still focus on proper release, footwork, and follow through when using bumpers.

Creates Dependence on Bumpers to Bowl Well

If children start with bumpers very young and use them for years, they can become reliant on having them to bowl competently. Removing them suddenly can be a difficult transition.

Kids can get comfortable playing with bumpers against their friends and become afraid to bowl without them. Gradually mixing in frames without bumpers eases the shift.

Not Permitted in Most Leagues and Tournaments

Nearly all bowling leagues and tournaments prohibit the use of bumpers, as they provide an unfair advantage. Bowlers must demonstrate legitimate skill in aiming and technique.

Those considering joining a league should make sure to wean off bumpers in advance since they likely won’t be allowed during play.

Looks Informal and Juvenile to Some Bowlers

Some avid bowlers feel bumpers should only be for small children first learning to bowl. They consider bumpers unacceptable for teens and adults.

Bowling with bumpers may get you labeled negatively as a “bumper bowler” by critics. Choose whether to use them based on your priorities, not opinions.

Reduces Challenge Once Some Skill Develops

Bumpers are extremely helpful for brand-new bowlers. However, those with moderate experience often find bumpers reduce the sense of challenge and satisfaction.

The bumpers prevent gutter balls even with wild throws. Dialing in aim and technique isn’t required. This can drain the fun once competency is achieved.

Tips for Bowling With Bumpers Effectively

Here are some tips for maximizing the benefits of bowling with bumpers while avoiding dependence:

Start with Bumpers But Wean Yourself Off Gradually

Use bumpers in the beginning to avoid discouragement, but start practicing without them periodically. Mix bumper and non-bumper games to slowly improve skills.

Remove them for a few frames each game, then a full game, then multiple games. Go back if needed until ready to bowl well consistently without bumpers.

Maintain Proper Form and Release

Don’t allow lazy technique just because of bumpers. Stay focused on footwork, swinging straight back and forward, rolling off the correct finger holes, and following through.

Observe other bowlers’ forms if unsure. The bumpers shouldn’t deter proper mechanics.

Beware of Angled Shots Bouncing

Balls hit at an angle can bounce off the bumpers unpredictably and even back towards the bowler. Keep shots as straight as possible and be ready to dodge a ricochet. Avoid direct hits into the side bumpers.

Adjust Approach and Throw Based on Bumper Impacts

Pay attention to where your ball hits the bumper and how it rebounds. Move left or right and modify speed and release to correct.

Light bumper taps mean you can often throw harder. Significant deflections indicate you need to soften the throw. Let the bumpers guide you rather than fight them.

Use Bumper Games to Practice Spares

Work on hitting corners and throwing curve balls to pick up tough splits when bowling with bumpers. Aim near the edge of the bumper to just kiss it and bounce off into the spare.

Bowling bumper games can be helpful when first learning unconventional spare shooting techniques before applying them with gutters.

Consider Smaller Balls and Hand Positioning

Children and new bowlers may find lighter balls easier to control. Don’t start out struggling with heavy house balls. Also, ensure proper finger hole fit and hand positioning in the ball.

Two-handed bowling styles can allow a lighter grip and generate momentum off the bumpers. But confirm this style is allowed before relying on it.

Be Patient Removing Bumpers

It takes time and practice to get comfortable without bumpers after using them extensively. Be patient with yourself and don’t get frustrated. Celebrate small improvements.

Consider keeping one bumper up for a period after removing them to ease the transition. One bumper still provides guidance while increasing the challenge.

Focus on Having Fun, Not Scores

Don’t worry about throwing strikes or beating your friends. Enjoy some casual bumper bowling for the sake of playing, not competing. Scores don’t reflect the true skill with bumpers.

Use the experience to relax, work on technique, and socialize. Bumpers allow you to bowl with the focus on just having fun with family and friends.

Key Takeaways: Bowling Bumper Tips and Advice

Bowling with bumpers can be beneficial for beginners, those with disabilities, and casual bowlers. But it’s wise to wean yourself off bumpers gradually as your skills develop. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Use bumpers to build confidence and skill initially, not indefinitely
  • Ensure proper techniques don’t lapse despite the bumpers
  • Slowly challenge yourself with less bumper reliance over time
  • Don’t allow bumper dependency to prevent advancement
  • Apply bumper practice to hone specialty shots
  • Carefully observe ball motion and adjust your throw accordingly
  • Focus on fun and improvement, not scores

Bumpers serve their purpose best when used temporarily and strategically. Keep the right mindset, be patient transitioning off them and maintain sound bowling form. With the proper approach, bumpers can be extremely helpful tools for bowlers of all ages and skill levels.


Bowling with bumpers has its pros and cons. While bumpers help beginners avoid frustration and build confidence, relying on them excessively can hinder advancement.

Bowlers should view bumpers as temporary training tools to eventually wean themselves off by gradually improving form, strength and accuracy.

With the right expectations and incremental goals, bowling with bumpers can be an enjoyable experience. The main priority should be having fun and seeing skills slowly progress, not high scores.

By following sound techniques and slowly increasing challenges, bowlers can utilize bumpers effectively on their journey to becoming capable bowlers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is bumpers in bowling?

Bumpers in bowling are removable gutters that attach to the bowling lane walls to guide balls toward the pins. They prevent gutter balls by deflecting balls back into play. Bumpers are typically used by children, beginners, and casual bowlers for fun.

At what age do kids stop using bumpers in bowling?

Most kids can stop using bumpers around ages 8-10 once they have developed basic bowling skills and coordination. But kids develop at different rates, so weaning off bumpers can start anytime between ages 5-12 based on ability.

Does Bowlero have automatic bumpers?

Many Bowlero locations feature automated bumper setting systems. Staff can program the lanes to automatically raise and lower bumpers per frame so bowlers don’t have to request manual adjustments.

How do you turn on the bumpers in bowling Qubica?

In Qubica bowling control systems, staff access the Bumper Pro screen and select which lanes to enable bumpers for. Bumpers can also be turned on remotely via the consoles or tablets connected to the Qubica scoring system.

What is 3 spares in bowling called?

Hitting three consecutive spares in a row is called a “turkey”. Four is called a “hambone”. Achieving subsequent spares for five, six, or more in a row has additional creative names bowlers strive for.

What are the guardrails in bowling called?

Guardrails in bowling refer to small bumper strips that sit right inside the gutters to prevent gutter balls. They are less intrusive than full bumpers across the lane, allowing more skilled bowlers to play without retrieving balls.

What age are bumpers safe?

Bumpers are safe for bowlers of all ages. They help provide guidance for bowling balls to prevent damage to lanes and frustration for players with lesser skill. Most bowling centers allow bumpers for children under 12 and any others who request them.

Can you bowl without bowling shoes?

Bowling without proper shoes is risky since street shoes can damage lanes or cause slipped falls. Most centers mandate bowling shoes. But some do allow bowling in socks for small children not yet wearing bowling shoes.

How can I make bowling easier for kids?

Using bumpers, smaller/lighter balls, hand positioners, and ramps can make bowling easier for kids learning. Go for single-pin spares, avoid splits, use two hands, guide them in swinging straight, and give plenty of encouragement. Focus on having fun, not proper scores.