Once upon a time, long ago, I bought a pair of Nashbar’s “Ragster” sandals. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a review of the same.
Since then, my Ragsters have been on all kinds of rides, on all kinds of surfaces, all over Kentucky and southern Indiana. They even went for a ride in Washington, DC.
Now, after more than a year and untold miles on the bike, they look a little worn, but they’re still holding up just fine.
The Ragsters are my go-to everyday commuting shoe. They’re blissful on the bike and decently comfortable off, a feat they accomplish by sacrificing a measure of stiffness (they’re not built for racing, but well over 90% of the riding I do isn’t racing). In fact, I would say that their only weakness is that, being sandals, they’re not really adapted for colder weather.
Thus, neoprene socks.
I have a feeling they’re really designed for cold-water dives — they look a lot like scuba socks, complete with “fabric magic closures” and those little bumpy dots on the bottom for grip. However, I ordered my neoprene socks (and a matching pair of gloves) with the intention of using them under my mountain bike shoes during the Gravel Grovel and other cold-weather mixed terrain adventures.
This week, we finally started seeing some cool mornings: temperatures in the upper 40s (Fahrenheit). I broke out my fall kit: wind vest, arm warmers, bib knickers, mesh-backed full finger gloves (which do the job in temperatures from about 40F to about 80F) … and, of course, the neoprene socks.
I wasn’t sure how they’d do. Would the socks fall down? Would they play nicely with the Ragsters? Would my feet get swamp rot and fall off by the end of my first class?
I’m glad to say that the answer is a resounding: “No. Yes. No.”
At this point you can call me a believer. The socks fit just right. They keep my feet nice and warm in the chilly morning air. On cooler days, I wear them over the tall socks that I think of as “knicker socks.” In the afternoons, when it’s too warm for the neoprene socks, I just peel them off and toss ’em in a pocket (inside out, so they’ll dry). I tighten up the toe strap on the Ragsters a little and I’m good to go.
My feet stay warm, but not so warm they’re uncomfortable. Thus far, they haven’t developed swamp rot. I don’t feel like I’m spending the day sloshing around in puddles of my own sweat. In short, the neoprene socks are doing their job rather nicely.
I haven’t yet had a chance to see how they perform in a downpour or when dipped in a creek. I plan to orchestrate such an opportunity soon. It will also take some while to sort out the question of durability. At only $10, though, if they last even one season, they’ll have proven themselves an acceptable purchase. Winter kit can be pricey, and these are less expensive than bike-specific toe warmers or shoe covers and definitely less expensive than waterproof winter bike shoes (of which I already have an acceptable pair, but one which is not at all suitable for racing).
The company that sells these, LTD Commodities, also sells a pair of neoprene gloves with grippy dots. I bought those, too, but they probably won’t see use ’til we get a good, cold rainy day. The fit is solid, though, and I’m looking forward to trying them out.
Pix and an immersion-test review forthcoming.
Stay dry out there, and keep the rubber side down!
Okay, so all of my new winter kit has now been out in reasonably-chilly (sub-freezing) weather at least once, and it’s time for a thorough collection of reviews.
First, the number one find for this year: Louis Garneau’s Gel Ex winter glove!
I’m one of those people with icy hands. Every part of me stays perfectly comfortable in most temperatures as long as I’m decently dressed — every part except, that is, my hands. My hands freeze.
I’ve tried all manner of gloves (though, admittedly, none of the ones that cost $50 – $100). Winter cycling gloves, ski gloves, layers of non-sport-specific gloves, work gloves… For the most part, they’ve … well … left me cold (you see what I did there?). The exception — ski gloves or mittens — always leave me feeling like I’m swimming in a sea of batting, groping for the levers.
Moreover, most seem to suffer some from fit problem or another (of note, this is in part due to the fact that I have small palms and long, slender fingers and except for my pinkies and thumbs, which are short and slender (my size 7 wedding ring is loose) — apparently the short pinkies and thumbs is some kind of genetic pattern).
So, in short, I’m a serious problem child where gloves are concerned.
Enter the LG Gel Ex. I paid $30 for these at Bicycle Sport, about twelve miles from my house as the bike flies, a shop in Saint Matthew’s which is fast becoming a favorite of mine. There were no size small gloves in the men’s section, so I wandered over to the women’s side of the shop and found these hanging on the wall.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I had my doubts — I didn’t feel terribly confident in what appeared to basically be a souped-up fleece glove. My previous fleece-glove experiences had been less than stellar (even with so-called “windblocker” fleece). However, the fit was perfect, and I figured that these gloves coupled with liners would probably be survivable, at any rate. Besides, nothing else in the shop fit.
Well, rest assured that the LG Gel Ex gloves have now put my fears to rest. I wore these to the Gravel Grovel with liners, and two miles after the sub-freezing start, my hands were soaked in sweat and I had to take the liners out. When I headed out on today’s outbound commute, the temperature was just below freezing, so I packed the liners in my backpack just in case. Turned out I could have left them at home.
These haven’t seen use in a hard rain yet, but they did hold up to a light sprinkle with no problem. They also seem to breathe fairly well and stay warm even when they’re a little damp inside. Cool beans!
(Here they are on Bicycle Sport’s website.)
I suspect that these gloves will be perfectly functional in temperatures significantly cooler than those they’ve seen thus far. The one thing I’d change is the very limited reflective trim — and I can, in fact, change that by adding a little iron-on reflective stuff.
Meanwhile, just in case it gets really, really cold out, I’ve got these babies:
Seirus Dynamax Men’s Glove Liner (Dick’s Sporting Goods). In the small/medium size, they fit perfectly inside my LGs.
I suspect that, combined with the LG Gel Ex gloves, these will keep me comfortable well into the single digits and below.
To keep my core warm, I sprang for Gore Bike Wear “Phantom” jacket. I got mine on sale, and I want to say I paid around $60 for it.
The Phantom is exactly what it says it is: a windproof jacket that turns into a “jersey” (it’s really more of a wind vest-with-sleeves) via a few extra zippers. It’s also highly water-resistant. Again, I haven’t worn it in a soaking downpour, but I have been out in some not-insignificant rain in this thing and it has kept me nice and dry. A warm core, by the way, keeps your extremities warmer.
To keep my legs toasty, I’ve got an array of options.
For extra, extra-cold days, I’ve got these: Gore Bike Wear Contest bib tights. They are chamois-free, so you pop them over whatever you’ve got that has the chamois in. They also double as excellent running tights.
Bellwether’s ThermoDry bib knicker, they’ll probably let you ride well into Arctic midwinter.
As for the Bellwether knicks … you know those wonderful fuzzy pajamas you loved as a kid (maybe)? Well, these are like those, only the fuzzy part is on the inside. Oh, and they block the wind. And they have a nice chamois. And you wear them on your bike, not in bed. Unless, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.
Bike Nashbar has had a pretty great price on these for the past few months running. I keep toying with the idea of ordering a second pair. They’re worth it. Heck, they’re worth ordering a second pair at full price. I have effectively not worn anything else since it got cool enough to start wearing these.
Here’s the best part: I’ve worn these in temperatures from around 65F to below freezing and been perfectly comfortable. Above 65F (or above 60F, if you’re making a hard effort), they can actually be a tad on the warm side.
Of course, neither tights nor knickers keep your feet warm — and that’s where an array of winter footwear stuff comes in.
On the recommendation of two friends, I picked up a pair of LG’s Neo-Protect Booties (also from Bicycle Sport). For around $25, they extend the season of your favorite cycling shoes into … well, pretty much anything*. Throw a good pair of warm socks under, and you’re good to go. I couldn’t find them on the Bicycle Sport website, but of course they’re also available from Nashbar (which may be more convenient for you, if you don’t live in the Louisville metro area).
Apparently, LG’s Neo-Protect Booties manage the perfect balance between price and performance. My non-scientific survey determined that something like 75% of the Gravel Grovel field was wearing them.
I’m not going to go into my sock choices at any great length, mainly because I have no idea who made most of the socks I own. I recently ordered a three pack of J.B. Field’s -3-Icelandic socks, and they appear to be verifiably Iceland-ready. My feet were excessively warm in them at the Grovel, and coupled with my Merrel Winter Mocs they are like little furnaces. I may, in fact, not live in a cold enough climate to ever really get much use out of these, though they’ll be great for wearing in the sleeping bag during mid-winter bike camping trips. They are, simply put, the warmest socks I have ever owned, ever.
Oh — one more thing. I love the fact that J.B. Field’s socks come in different sizes. Frankly, I have pretty small feet (size 8 – 8.5, depending; Euro 41.5 – 42). Often, mens’ socks are simply ridiculously large (they’re all sized for people who wear shoes sizes 9 through gazillion). The fact that I could order these in “medium” (which, I think, is what they call “small” so guys won’t feel self-conscious about ordering them) made my day. Denis is happy about that too (we can share shoes, isn’t that cute?).
In the “Arm Warmers” department, meanwhile, I have an array of three different options in three different weights: a lightweight Saucony set intended for runners, a mid-weight set by Cannondale, and this pair, Pearl iZUMi’s Thermal Lite Warm Warmer in the “Rob White” pattern (I’m lusting after the Retro Spin in pink as well). They’ve got a fun design, and they’re the warmest warmers I own; so warm that I left them at home come Grovel Time. I am forever having to peel these off mid-ride, which would’ve been difficult without wrestling free of my other clothes. Instead, I wore the Sauconys, which are easier to remove. I still wound up removing them.
I now feel confident that I am well-prepared for just about any weather (except, perhaps, the kind that requires ice tires). Of course, once I’ve layered all this winter crap on, I am basically unrecognizable as a human being … but not as much as I would be, I guess, in a puffy parka and moon boots.
I’ll try to get some pictures of all this stuff up.
*While neoprene is water-resistant, however, I wouldn’t recommend these if you’re going to be wading in ankle-deep icy water — for that, you’ll want something like the Lake shoes I bought back in February. They served admirably on the very-damp Sub 9 Death March.