Wow, a lot has happened in this thread while I was out riding with the mosquitos through the snowmobile trail swamps, taking my outdoor mud-removal shower, eating the salade nicoise carefully made by Mrs. Q., and playing croquet with her and my teen-ager, who normally does not condescend to family games anymore.
Trekchick, having read your more fleshed out account of where you are, I would never argue against flats if that's what you think is going to give you confidence. And as epic says, wisely, you don't have to stick with them forever if you don't want.
Originally Posted by Trekchick @qcanoe
have you tried Five Ten's?
Yes, I have tried a friend's pair for a half hour so only. They are sticky. (But not when pulling the foot UP, obviously.) And I have ridden flats with other shoes here and there for brief periods, but never for hours or days at a time. I am aware that some people are able to approximate a full pedal stroke - or 2/3 of one, anyway - by "ankling" with flats. I was never able to feel like I could spin the way I wanted to with them. Admittedly, I didn't have much practice time, but basic physics suggests that it's only possible within limits. They absolutely did feel great when coasting downhill.
Which brings me to what I suspect is behind a lot of the differences here. Although I have ridden flats, I have never ridden outside of New England. Around here it's a constant minute-by-minute mix of up, down, along, and around. With a few specific exceptions, you're never doing any one of these things for more than a few seconds in a row. The overriding tactic is "just keep pedaling ... hard." Do anything else and you just come to an immediate halt as you hit any one of a series of babyheads, roots, logs, step-ups, mud holes, long grass, rotten pallet "bridges," beaver ponds, you name it. Keep spinning and you win; miss a pedal stroke and you dab, while your pals recede into the damp cloud of bugs ahead. Momentum preservation is king. That's my world.
My sense - from reading and watching films and what have you - is that in many places west of the Mississippi, there is MUCH more up-up-up-up - often on fire roads - followed by down-down-down-down. I also suspect that while there is plenty of very challenging technical riding, little of it involves the unrelenting sucking and grasping at your tires of the kind we often have here. When is the last time your rim was immersed in glop on a ride in the Tahoe area? Thought so. All of these differences might very well lead me to have a different take on flats if I lived where you did. I can say that I'm pretty well acquainted with the local riding community here - comprising many dozens or possibly even hundreds of riders - and I can think of only three people who regularly ride flats. (They are very good riders, BTW.) This is in apparent contrast with what you report where you are. There's probably a good reason for that.