Ah, the sounds of spring. Chirping birds, crowds outside again, and the hum of bearings. What you won’t hear is me complaining about not being on 110mm wheels. That’s because the fine folks at Simmons cast some new skate boots for me, and they are proper 7.5″ mounts so no need for an adapter plate and boot height (from the ground) is much improved, despite the wheel size.
Since I’m breaking in a new pair of boots, I thought this would be a great time to blog about the whole custom boots thing, how you get them and what to expect.
Why go custom? Its expensive and there really is no guarantee that you will truly get something that fits you better than a stock boot. Perhaps there are many justifications, but I think there is one simple reason that really maters. Comfort.
You might think that paying a lot for a little comfort is just being obsessive. I think you’ll find though that if you put a lot of time in your boots, you’ll quickly come the same conclusion. That is; having injured feet, not only sucks, but it can force you off skate, or make you train less effectively while limping through blisters, or tender bone points.
Of course not every one will encounter such issues. Some people just have normal shaped feet, and can do quite well with a stock boot. In these cases getting a custom boot is really more about aesthetics or just wanting the top drawer boot. Not necessarily wrong either; I’m sure lots of people have high end bikes who will never attend the Olympics or the Tour de France. Being an enthusiast of a sport means…well, being enthusiastic.
Gavin cutting open my Simmons plaster cast to remove from my foot.
But sometimes a custom boot really is warranted. Here is why:
- Different manufactures use different models for the “standard” foot. Some companies use a more narrow foot, some use a shorter foot etc. If you really want a boot from a specific vender, they’re stock model may simply not be a match for you. If possible, its worth trying on a pair from a vender before you decide if its necessary to take that next step with them.
- Existing injuries; many of us (self included) have existing injuries. For example bone calluses from playing hockey for years, or surgery etc. that has resulted in an unusually shaped foot. Without further surgery (which may be an option for you), a stock boot may not be a match.
- Fit and options; even if a stock boots works good, it may not be optimal. For example some people like a loose boot some like a very tight fit, some people like a cant in the frames, or want custom styling. With a custom boot you have the opportunity to tell the boot vender exactly what you’re looking for.
These benefits do not come easily though. Price will (for most people) be a significant barrier. Custom boots can be as much as twice as much as the top end stock boots. Where you might pay $800 for a top stock boot, its easy to pay $1,600 for a custom boot. Prices will vary, but don’t expect it to be cheap.
The first thing to do is select your vender and get a mold done. There are lots of options here; some send you a plaster wrap kit, wet the plaster and wrap your foot. The plastered cloth hardens and you send the mold back. Some venders use an acrylic sock; its fabric that is soaked with a chemical that hardens shortly after being wetted.
Essentially you roll the sock on, and shape to your foot then send the hardened plastic shell back.
If your lucky enough to be able to make an appointment with them, or catch them at an inline race, then you can get the actual guy who builds the boot to mold your foot. This really the ideal, it has the minimal chance of miscommunication. I’ve done all mine with plaster or acrylic socks, and I do wish that I had a chance to get molded directly by the boot maker.
Final Simmons casts, marked up to show specific customizations.
Once you send your foot castings back to the vender, they’ll give you an estimate of when the boots will be ready. Keep in mind; its an estimate! Sometimes there are plant closures, or problems with shipping or whatever. If its more than a month or two past the estimate though, then you should be looking for some details on what’s going on.
Making boots is a highly specialized craft, there are literally only a hand full of companies around the world who make custom skate boots, and most of these companies are basically a guy who (over many years) has learned to make good boots. So for most venders when you order a pair of customs, you go into a queue and several months later, you’ll get a pair sent back to you.
Once your boots come back, life won’t necessarily be all rainbows and unicorns. Even custom boots can have issues:
- The maker may decide to sand off a corner to make something look nice, or make other such alterations that ultimately may impinge on your fit and create a hot spot.
- Between the vender and you, stuff can happen in transit. Its very rare, but always a possibility.
- Mis-communication; this is really the biggest issue. If you assume that the boot maker is thinking the same thing as you…you are creating a ticking time bomb In some cases the boot maker may not even speak the same language as you. Don’t leave anything to chance, be very, very clear about your order and customizations, and follow up to be sure everyone is on the same page. Getting back a pair of boots that have exactly what you asked not have…is something more than frustrating.
You might now be thinking, sheeze, why bother? Comfort. Even if you have to still do some break in with a custom boot, having a boot that doesn’t turn you foot into hamburger every practice is going to be something you’ll appreciate for years to come. There is nothing worse than not being able to train or compete, because blisters or bone spurs caused by the very training you counting to compete. Don’t skimp on comfort.
So, if you haven’t been thoroughly discouraged, lets talk about getting customs!
There are lots of skate companies out there, our team Schankel – Kallisto, obviously skates for Schankel and Simmons but there are lots of choices out there:
I’ve actually been through the custom boot experience no less than 4 times and only 2 times did the boots actually work out. I know skaters who have ordered customs and the result was unusable as well. So before you whip out your wallet, give thought to nature of customs, there is great chance that you will get awesome boots, that no one will ever be able to pry from your cold dead fingers. There is also a chance you’ll get expensive door stops. Buyer beware!
New Skate Smell
I can’t speak for the quality of all venders, but I can tell you about my experience so far. To date my best pair of boots “evuh” are my Bont 2006 vapors; not because I’m a huge fan of Bont but because everything went right; the guy who molded them for me (Gavin Thulien) did an awesome job, Bont did a great job at following my customization instructions, and I end up with a custom speed boot that has never given me blisters or hot spots. I’ve literally skated 200Km in a day, in those boots, and not had 1 issue with them. These boots are getting old and frayed now, and like a favorite pair of sneaks the fit is more than you can expect from anything else.
Those boots were 6.5″ mount though, and with an adapter plate (which works great by the way), they can take a normal 4x100mm wheel set. But 110mm wheels are just not an option. So I later tried for a Bont 3 point boot. The boot was more or less good, but very heavy and ultimately too short in the toe box; I couldn’t train or race in them regularly, the short toe box meant that I was constantly hammering my toes.
Following that I tried for a pair of Schankel Edge R boots. I got an awesome pair of boots back, top drawer quality, awesome styling, and lite! Nothing clumsy about these bad boys. Unfortunately, miscommunication was an issue, and the toe box was made very short. Even shorter than my Bont 3 points. I was only able to wear the boots for about 5min before the pain on my toe joints was intolerable.
Randy Plett (skates for Bont) stepped up and tried to help me get the toe box pushed out a bit with a specialized fitting machine. Randy was a pleasure to work with on this, but you can only stretch a boot so far before you risk cracking the carbon shell. He gave me another couple of mm but it wasn’t enough.
So, ultimately the Schankel boots were a no go as well.
You might think that given the prices involved, that after this second strike, it would surely be foolish to try yet again for a custom pair. Surely.
So I dialed up Jeniffer Simmons and inquired about a custom boot. They took all my customizations, and confirmed everything, no communication problems at all. They said the boots would be ready in a few months, and they were ready sooner. Something that doesn’t usually happen. In fact all the other customs I’ve had done took 6-12months longer than expected. This alone is enough for me to give Simmons the nod.
The boots themselves are an excellent tight fit. They’re a bit of a chore to squeeze into, but once my feet are in and the boot is laced, the fit is great. I did get Gavin (who did the molding on these) to come over to help me push out a hot spot on one of my ankle cuffs, but otherwise the boots are a great fit. They’re a little stuff being completely new, but I’ll be breaking them in over the next couple of months.
Whether is a custom pair of boots or stock boots, sometimes you will need to make adjustments. Most modern skate boots are made with a combination of fiberglass, carbon fiber and plastics. These materials can actually be molded…with some effort. For the specifics for your boot, talk to the vender, they’ll give you exact details on how to touch up your molding.
In general though the process is to heat your boot, either by baking (but not like this) for 10-20min at a low temperature (generally less than 180F) or by heating for a bit with a high pair blow dryer or paint stripper. Be very careful though, its very easy to burn the materials. Use any such device on its low setting and don’t hover over a single spot. Use a circular motion and heat outside and inside 60/40.
Once you can feel the material give a little bit you can then use a rounded screw driver handle or something similar to push out a hot spot, and get some relief for you foot This will take some working of the material though, expect to do some sweating. Working a single hot spot for 20-30min will be the minimum.
Again, if you have a local guy who does skate fittings, he’ll likely have specialized tools such as a ball and ring tool for stretching the material that will make things a much, much easier. Again, be careful! Do any push out in small increments and go only as far as you need to to get relief, pushing the material too far will simply crack the shell
My new Simmons boots are also very light (like the Schankel boots) without sacrificing any stiffness. Really the only problem with the skates…isn’t the skates, its my own training level, which <ahem> needs a little work right now. More on that in my next blog posting.
The problems I’ve experienced aren’t unique to any of the venders I’ve worked with. These kinds of issues can arise with any vender, even when they are well intentioned, stuff just goes wrong sometimes. Just keep this in mind when considering the step up to customers. Not so much to discourage you from getting customs, but to set your expectations.
Work it baby.
To sum up, custom boots can deliver amazing results, but its not guaranteed. Be prepared to be patient while ordering, and to deal with some follow up issues. If you have a local guy who is good at molding boots, you should get some help, molding your own foot is not a great option. Get help from someone with experience and minimize the potential for follow on issues.
I would hesitate to give single recommendation for a boot – everyone is different and some boots may simply work better for one person than another. I can definitely say though that my recent experience with Simmons has been really good, and not only do many of the fast guys I know skate in Simmons boots but the top guy in our sport skates in them. Perhaps a better measure though is what other regular skaters say about them. So far all the people I know with Simmons boots have had only good stuff to say. I think that’s success.