Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
If you know anything at all about speed skaters, you will know that we are particularly finicky about skate fit (that’s how the skates fit your feet, not how fit you are on them). And with very good reason too – you can only skate to the limit of your ability on equipment that you are comfortable in. Everyone has different feet, and what may “work” for one skater may prove to be a disaster for another. Skating on uncomfortable, poorly fitted boots is a quick way to damage your feet and you can easily end up frustrated and resent skating.
While stock boots have improved vastly in the last 6-7 years with the introduction of affordable heat-moldable carbon-fibre technology, they are still based off of a standard template (or “last” as it is more correctly called) and so will always have their limitations – for example, many people find it difficult to sufficiently mold the arch area. For this reason, custom boots will always be desirable if you want the best fitting boots. Once seen as the exclusive domain of elites and grizzled veterans, customs are becoming more popular and affordable amongst fitness and middle level skaters.
Earlier this year a number of skaters from my club (LSST) were motivated enough to hop onto the custom bandwagon, and I decided that it was good idea to get in on the act. My reasoning was that I have always had a problem with the “2nd ankle” navicular bumps on my feet, and this year they seem worse than ever with my increased mileage. I also figured that I should have a 2nd set of useable speed skates to fall back on with the races I’m doing the year. Our bootmaker of choice was Bont Skates – a popular speed equipment brand. As I already skate on one of their stock models (the “semi-race” model) I was comfortable and happy with this.
Getting Cast – did someone say PARTY?
Getting customs means taking an impression of your feet which the boot maker can then use to build the boot up around. If this sounds important, it is.. it’s really, really important – perhaps even more so than choosing which boot maker to go with. The casting and building process is closely linked, such that most boot makers are also casting specialists.
There are several typical methods of casting, and each of them have their own advantages and disadvantages: alginate molding, plaster-casting, 3D laser scanning, sock-casting are all common methods. I won’t go into each of them here, but Googlewhack any of them to find out more about each technique. Bont follow the “Casting sock” method, but they will also accept molds taken using any method.
We ordered our own casting costs, and arranged a “Molding party”, where half a dozen of us helped each other with casting our own molds. This was definitely a good idea, as some precision is required and it’s far easier if you have someone to assist you in the process. One of our skaters (EdP) had already done this on his own initiative and so was familiar with the whole process and could guide us through.
The process involves aligning your achillies on a flat surface and marking your feet position, then – doing just one foot at a time – soaking each sock in a bowl of warm water to soften & unfold it, before rolling it onto the foot, and then further massaging around the foot and ankle while the chemical agent sets, eventually hardening the sock. You have a window of about 60 seconds to get the sock fully onto the foot and over the ankle before the chemical agent start harden – if you faff around too much and the sock isn’t well on the foot by this time, then the casting attempt becomes a writeoff. This bit was the trickiest part, and the success rate was not 100% – we had already anticipated this and had ordered plenty of spare socks for second & third attempts. Once the cast was in place, we would spend 15-20 minutes in a set position (NOT a deep skating position, but with knees and ankles just slightly bent) while the molding sock hardened.
Once both feet had been cast, the molds would then be cut off (easier said than done) using some strong scissors or wire cutters. The hotspot areas were explicitly marked up using a marker pen,eg where you had bumps that would require room in the skates.
This is of course, the short version of the story; several of us did this a few times until we were happy enough with our molds. Personally I was happy with my first attempt, and my molds were shipped off to Bont’s china factory with instructions on how to build the skates that I wanted.
With the molds en route to China via Royal Mail (cheap but slow), it was time to decide the exact model and specification of skates that I wanted. Bont’s equipment is already some of the most competitively priced on the market, and thanks to a 12% group discount we negotiated, a further discount because we bought our own casting socks, and on top of the built-in discount already offered on their skate package, we were getting an absolute bargain.
After much procrastination and fiddling around with Bont’s new “MyBont” online customisation tool, I went with a full package of:
Bont Vaypor boot
As well as the custom fitting, you can also normally instruct the boot maker with all sorts of instructions on how to further customize the boot. The most superficial of these is choice of colour, but other options such as padding, cuff height, and additional toebox length can all be specified that will provide a boot that is highly individualized. I personally went with the softer padding option, 1cm of extra cuff height, and I specified “not too tight” as I also like to wear socks with my skates.
Cost breakdown was something like:
Skate package: $1115 -12% discount = $1016
Custom fee: $220 -12% discount = $194
Shipping fees: $70
Import taxes: $35
Total: $1395, or about £845
That’s £845 bucks for top of the line custom skate package – I’ll admit that’s not an insignificant amount of money, but it’s not a great amount in the overall scheme of things, and is still a fraction of what you could spend on, say just a mid-range carbon bike. Heck, some stock boots alone can that much, never mind a complete custom package.
New Customs – First Impressions
After 3 months my skates were ready and arrived 2 weeks before LeMans. Normally I would have thought this far too close to the race to consider introducing new equipment. However, in theory customs require far less break-in time and so theoretically it was possible to make a quick and painless switchover.
Initial impressions were positive – first time I took them out and marshalled the Sunday Stroll (one new skate/one old skate for comparison) without any problems.
2nd time out I took them to Battersea park and proceeded to knock out a full marathon distance in a pretty competitive time.
Frankly, this amazed me. I had not yet even bothered to heat-mold them in the oven. It gave me enough confidence to take them to LeMans and at least try them out. In the event, partly due to the rain and my plan to switch from my wet setup to my dry setup never materializing, I only managed a few hours in them at LeMans, but I’m glad I took them nonetheless.
I can pretty much say that the fit and the finish is exactly what I hoped it would be. As a skater I’m hugely sensitive to my skate setup; if I don’t feel comfortable in a skate then I lose all confidence and my skating falls to pieces. That I was able to just strap these on and make as seemless and painless a switchover as possible is probably the highest praise that I can give them.
6 week update
It’s been 6 weeks and I’ve been able to put a few more miles on them. Everything is still good. One thing that became apparent is that there were possibly *too* roomy and not a completely tight fit. Remember that I specified they should be “not too tight”… I also lost about 4-5kg of body fat since the molds were taken, and I’m sure this has meant that my foot is now skinnier than it was back in April! EdP said that with his boots he has to wear ultra-thin EZ fits and has no room for a sock; by contrast mine are nowhere near as tightly fitting.
however, I found a very elegant remedy to solve this; by chance, I had a spare pair of size 8 Bont footbeds lying around, so I simply inserted these into the skates. Voila – the fit was now as snug as I could ever want. A simple solution, which I am 100% satisfied with.
Ultimately I was pleased at how similar my new Vaypors felt to my Semi-Races. This should not really be a surprise considering how I specced the build instructions, and in fact this partly what I was after. Skating in them immediately felt very familiar, but at the same time enabling me to “feel” the road under my feet more. This similarity enabled a smooth and painless transition, with the advantage of relieving the pressure points on my bumps. For the type of skating that I my new boots enable me to do everything I want without any fit problems. For this additional comfort, a good-fitting pair of customs is well worth the money spent (and possibly even the hassle of the molding process 😉 ). It’s even possible that had I got the custom Zs rather than the Vaypors it would have cost even less, and I would still have been equally happy. They’re also extremely pretty, and I have drawn quite a few comments of “nice skates!” from fellow skaters and random strangers alike 😉
However I do also think this experience also show that if you are lucky enough to have good fitting stock boots that you are perfectly comfortable in, then you don’t really stand to gain a world of difference by going to customs. Stock boots these days are very good indeed, and a close fitting stock boot will pretty much provide the same skating experience as a custom boot. Additionally, my opinion is that time spent in stock boots is never time wasted even if and when you ultimately end up going the custom route, as it will teach you want you are looking for from a custom boot.