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It's Gotta Be The Shoes

What shoes should you wear for riding flatland?

If you read this blog with any regularity, you already know that the answer will be something along the lines of whatever you prefer is fine.  

Or you can just skip them altogether.  Check out this vid of Toon dropping bombs while riding barefoot:

Having said all of that, the age-old question about which shoes to wear for riding flat is a valid one.  Different people will tell you different things, and none of them are necessarily wrong or right.  Rather than immediately point to a particular shoe, I'll share my experiences with picking shoes from when I first started to ride flatland until today, and hopefully that can help you to figure out what is best for you.

When I first started to ride flat, I had no concept of what shoes I should be riding with, or even that it was something I needed to consider.  I've always been partial to Nikes, and I used to do a fair amount of jogging for exercise; so I started off riding with some old Nike running shoes that I already had laying around.  They were a lot like these:

Now of all the various answers and opinions people will give regarding the best shoes to wear for flat, no one will ever say hey, you should wear Nike running shoes.  But I didn't know that; I just rocked with what I had.  And truth be told, they might work just fine for some people; but it didn't take long for me to figure out that I didn't want to keep riding in these.  

First, a bit about me: I am of a somewhat chunky build (5'8," 170 lbs), with a history of foot problems from playing basketball and being kind of fat.  So I'm always mindful of whether the shoes I'm wearing are right for what I'm doing, and I didn't like these for riding at all.  They're made for cushioning your foot while running in a straight line, which is obviously not at all similar to riding flatland. 

First of all, the shoes were too "squishy."  When standing on a peg with all of my weight concentrated on one foot, the bottom of the shoe would compress, and I would feel as if I were standing on the peg barefoot, and it hurt - especially after riding for long periods of time.  This obviously wasn't an issue for Toon in the video above, but it was for me.   

So that was the main problem.  Also - if you look closely at the shoes above - you'll notice that they have shallow cleats on the front half of the sole, as well as an indentation/cutout in the middle of the sole.  I decided that whatever shoes I rode in going forward wouldn't have these things.  I felt like the cleats caught awkwardly on the pegs, and the indentations were annoying because I would always feel as if I needed to stand with the indentation directly over the peg.  It probably didn't make any real difference, and I'm not sure I ever slipped or anything as a result of the indentation not being directly over the peg; but I decided that I'd rather not have any indentations there, so that I wouldn't have to think about it.

So what shoes was I to wear for flat, if not running shoes?  I decided next to buy a pair of Vans, because they make skateboarding shoes; and hey, skateboarding is an action sport, just like BMX, right?

But I knew going in that I didn't want a pair of flimsy canvas Vans, like the ones I had as a kid:

In my view, the bottoms on these would probably be too soft, and would leave my feet hurting as did the running shoes.  So when I was in Vegas for a cousin's birthday, I stopped at a Vans outlet and bought the burliest-looking model of Vans I could find there.  They were pretty similar to these:

In my view, these would be a vast improvement over the flimsy canvas Vans.  The bottoms were definitely harder, and the stitched midsole looked like it would be a lot tougher than would the vulcanized rubber sole on the canvas versions.  The upper part of the shoe looked tougher as well.  Not to mention that the price was right: I believe I spent $50 on these.

And they did work fine... for a while.  Before too long, the bottom of the shoe broke down and got soft, and left my feet hurting again.  Also, the bottom sole had split from the side of the shoe and left a hole, which disappointed me since these were ostensibly made specifically for action sports.  So off I went again, looking for something else.

A side note: I was always into basketball shoes as I was growing up.  Whether I was actually playing ball or not, I've always been into shoes like Nike's Air Jordans and Reebok's Iversons.  It so happened around this time that I had a pair of low-top Nike Air Force Ones that had gotten old and dirty; so I thought hey, why not try riding in them?

I liked riding in them immediately.  Finally, I had found something that prevented the peg from digging into the bottom of my foot and making it ache.  It felt kind of strange at first: the downside was that I couldn't feel exactly where the peg was, as easily as I could before.  Since flatland comes down to precise, barely perceptible adjustments, you can see how this could be a disadvantage.

But in my particular situation - with a history of foot problems and all - I decided at that point that I would always ride in basketball shoes, and would never go back to anything else.  Most recently, I've been riding in Nike Air Flight '89s, which were suggested to me by my friend Rich Aguayo and - as rumor has it - are preferred by Chase Gouin as well:

So that's me.  Being a chunky basketball player with a history of foot problems - and being an Air Jordan sneaker head from back in the day - I like riding in Nike basketball shoes (provided that they don't have any kind of indentation or cut-out on the bottom).  One downside is that shoes such as Air Force Ones or Air Flight '89s can cost upward of $80 or $90; but from looking on eBay or at outlet stores, I never spend more than $40 or $50 on a pair.

Now for a bunch of disclaimers:
  • These are just MY personal preferences.  You'll want to sift through my ideas - along with those of other people, and your own - to figure out what is best for you.
  • A big part of figuring out your shoe preference is deciding which qualities you want for the bottom (sole) of the shoe.  You can think of it as a spectrum: on one end are shoes with super-hard, stiff soles.  They will never allow your feet to hurt from standing on the pegs; but the downside is that they make it more difficult to feel the pegs, and to make some of the micro-adjustments that are at times necessary in order to keep your balance.  On the opposite end of that spectrum are shoes with super-thin, flimsy soles, which give you a good feel for the peg... and in some cases allow them to hurt your feet.  Over time, you'll figure out at which point on that spectrum you feel most comfortable.
  • All shoes eventually break down and get softer over time and with use.  My ideal setup is a pair whose bottoms are still stiff enough to keep my feet from hurting on the pegs, but have been broken in enough to the point where I can feel the pegs more than with a brand new pair.
  • I've seen people ride and tear it up with no problems in those flimsy Vans.  A lot of people prefer other skate-type shoes, such as DCs, Loteks, Globes, etc.  And still other riders prefer basketball shoes, as do I.  All of these possibilities have thus been "proven right," as it were, and so it's up to you to determine your own preference.  Hell, you can even do the Toon barefoot thing if it suits you.  Don't let anyone say that you can't (except maybe your podiatrist).   

Come to think of it, there aren't enough people in flatland doing their own thing.  Want to truly create your own lane?  Get yourself riding in these:

* I'm just kidding.  You shouldn't ride in these.  But if you do, please post a vid.  Thanks.