December 5, 2004


Posted in: Review

Thanks to Karen who brought some over to Vienna just recently I am the proud owner of a pair of "Surge" Heelys. These are trainers with a wheel in the heel:

Wheel In The Heel

Looking in all other respects like a shoe,
... it's possible to roll along at up to running speed! Wildly popular with nine year olds in places like US and Japan they're on my ultra-wideband radar as a way of reducing transport time (and having fun ;-)

Learning to heel

As you can see, I've had some use out of them. Learning in Vienna was a real gift: the roads and pavements are super smooth, and an uninterrupted surface is a necessity to learn on. Any glitches and irregularities will usually stop heeling. I can't yet heel on London paved pavements; if I ever am I suspect it'll still be quite mentally demanding. Consider that skating with eight wheels is a skill most people take about a week to learn: now you're down to one on each foot, i.e. no fore/aft stability at all.


Is it possible to mess up doing the basic heel? While heeling is probably a little harder than skating I haven't even come close to a slam - once the front of the foot touches the deck you simply stop, or are forced into a run if you're doing any speed. Flexing your ankle back too much kicks in more rubber at the heel, more braking than the outright stop of several square inches of rubber hitting the deck.


This version of the shoe has a grind plate. For the brave and skilled it's possible to for example jump onto handrails and slide down - a gnarly way to tackle a staircase. I'm not even close to being able to do this, let alone land on a shoe that is mobile...

Grind Plate
Grind, baby, grind!


I think in places with pervasive smoothness like Vienna with its modern roads and pedestrian zones you can really save time. In London they're not a great deal of use outside: pavements in Old Britain are paved and heeling is intolerant of even small changes in level. (Partly this might be my skill: watch this space. Certainly compared to skates and bikes there's definite effort/aptitude needed.)

That said, they have saved me a bit of time on some of the more tedious stretches between Tubes and trains. E.g. the Heelys would eat up the infamously long Bank <-> Monument internal change, and about half the loathsome Waterloo to Waterloo East walk became entertaining. It's worth noting there's a lot to be said for anything that engages the brain that would otherwise be subjected to the monotony of say walking down a long train platform. Heelys are great for this!

Walking in Heelys is surprisingly do-able. It's not really much extra work; the only difference is a slight click-click as though in (womens') heels. The wheels are easily removed if you're to suffer an extended period of having to actually walk.
Wheel Removed

Attention whore

These are a big win for those who enjoy being checked out, although it's more from puzzlement. For my first exposure to Heelys in action the thought "vampire kid!" sprang to mind: imagine seeing for the first time someone switching seamlessly between walking and floating and that's about the emotion of those around you: total confusion.

The downside is in the early days of learning missing a transition from run to heel results in bit of flailing. Simply not caring is as useful a skill as ever...


Check out the Heelys site in particular "how to heel" then the "Action" video for some shots of grinds and tricks.

Buying Heelys is best done IMO via ebay. I snagged the Surge, a high-ish end shoe, for US$50. This is pretty much what I'd pay for a pair of shoes at a discount store in London let alone a comfortable sneaker pushing the edges of a multimodal transport paradigm. Shipping abroad is probably another $30. I wouldn't waste money at a UK retail outlet: way too expensive.


Far more versatile for short trips than skates which have a relatively huge latency taking them on and off: it's possible to walk, heel, run, heel, walk almost without a noticable gap.

Still early days for me to say but without a doubt fun, with a side order of actually occasionally useful. As my skill increases and I get some tricks down (e.g. backwards, one footed, grinds) it'll be even more fun and the scope of where they're useful might increase too.

Definitely a giggle at parties!

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 02:34 | Comments (287) | TrackBack