Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Because Winter is Hard Enough: What Winter Kit?

For anybody who knows me, or indeed has ridden with me in winter (or summer, spring and autumn) they'll know that I am not very good when it comes to staying warm, even a slight breeze and bit of shade in summer could be an issue, and will have me reaching for a long sleeve jersey. last winter I was almost prepared, but still got cold, this winter though I am determined to not get cold, wear the right kit and above all else feel my fingers so I can still unlock my front door at the end of the ride.

In light of various cycling websites currently looking at "essential winter kit" most of which seems to be rather expensive... I though people may find it interesting to see what i'm using this winter, and what kit I have used over the past years to try and stay warm. Also given the past weekend was -0.5 degrees and I did a 9 hour ride I should be quite a good place to give my opinion on some latest purchases. I'll start from the head and work down...

An Original Buff - £15
Every cyclist should own one of these, cheap, thin and versatile, you can stuff in your pocket if too hot or put over your whole face if too cold, well not over the eyes. I've worn these for years and always rated them highly. Although i'm sure most cyclists will be aware of their awesoem properties, I thought it was worth a quick mention.

Condor Belgian Winter Cap - £19.99
Belgian cycling caps are cool, fact. Not only do they look good, but they keep your head and ears warm on even the coldest days, i've tried a few over the past years, Waltz and Seal Skinz to name a few, but this one from Condor has so far been brilliant. The fit under your helmet is good with no too much material to make this uncomfortable. The material is also weather resistant and insulating (which was appreciated in yesterday's commute!) and the peak offers additional protection from the elements. Certainly looking forward to wearing this in proper cold temperatures.

Cycling Cap - > £5
Simply, stylish and cool. A traditional cycling cap can offer just a little bit more protection on cold and autumnal days, no protection for your ears though, so in my experience only to be worn when not too cold. Every cyclist should own at least one (preferably more) of these.

Rapha Merino Draw-cord Hat - £30
Essentially a thicker and therefore warmer Buff. this versatile merino hat has certainly has kept my head warm when stopped at a cafe or post ride (or hill climb spectating) and also really good and keeping your neck and chin warm when that wind is extra icey.. Yes it's is quite expensive at £30, so not what I would class as essential, but looks good, functions well, versatile and really does keep you warm, I really do like this, alot.

DHB Merino Base Layer - £38
Up until a few months ago I had no Merino clothing, not through choice, but I simply hadn't recognised the warming properties that Merino fabrics can bring on cold and wet rides. Merino wool is a natural material with excellent insulation and warming properties from when the weather gets really cold. It comes in different weights, and this M200 weight base layer is perfect for cold rides, and for the past few months it's been great, certainly better and keeping me warm compared to my synthetic base layer once it gets a bit damp and the wind chill is high. The fit is tight, I usually go for a medium in DHB clothing and whilst this does fit, it is very tight (36"-38" chest) The high neckline offers extra warmth and the half zip makes taking the base off easy. Overall a great addition to my cycling draw, it perhaps isn't the cheapest, but the fit and quality in my opinion are worth spending the extra cash on.

Craft Active Extreme Base - £35
I've had this base for a couple of years now and two winters. It has served me well and kept me warm on long days in the saddle. Unlike the Merino, this base is made from synthetic material, however still keeps you warm in cold weather. It is also lighter and thinner than my Merino base, yet still close fitting and warm, although in my experience not as warm as my merino, and if the temperatures are really cold then i'll go for the Merino. The fit however is good, and the sleeves are long, which is a bonus for me. A great base layer for when it's cold, but perhaps stick with merino if it's really cold?

More Mile LS Thermal Jersey - £13
So More Mile is known for cheap running kit, they also do cycling stuff. I bought their LS thermal jersey about 18 months ago, so has been through 1 winter, and for the money is has been simply brilliant. I mean a thermal jersey for £13. This jersey is a Polyester & Lycra blend with a nice soft fleece lining, a full zip, 3 good size pockets at the rear and a small zip pocket too. The fit is also excellent, unlike many cheap jersey which often resemble a plastic bag, the fit is good and very slim fitting on the body and arms (which are also nice a long) Whilst is the very coldest conditions this and a base layer may not be enough, i've found upto around 1-2 degrees it's been great. The only two things I would change is the jersey is quite long in the body and back, and the neck isn't very high. Apart from that and for the money a perfect jersey.

Vermarc Club LS Jersey
A close fitting race cut LS jersey in club colours from Vermarc, infact it's quite old now, but i've been using it for 3 winters now, slightly thicker material and fleece lined, well it used to be anyway. Very comfortable and perfect with a thicker base layer until the temperature drops below 6-7 degrees. The club kit is now Champion Systems, I am yet to try their winter/autumn jersey offering so for now, i'll stick with the old faithful. Closest I can find it this jersey;

Rapha Davis Phinney Jersey - £140 (50% off sale)
My first Rapha Jersey (probably many people's first given a few weeks ago it was on at 50% off) I have always liked Rapha clothing, jerseys in particular, however struggled to justify the £140+ price tag they fetch, at half price though this was a bargain. I went for medium and the fit is quite frankly brilliant, short in the body so when you're on the bike it doesn't bulge, long in the arms to provide adequate protection to your wrists, and tight/slim on the chest, everything a cycling jersey should be, and all very simple points. The material is Sportwool, or also known as Merino, so ideal for Autumnal and winter rides. Past few rides I have paired this jersey with a single DHB Merino Base (above) and been warm enough even down to around 3 degrees, which I was impressed with. Couple this with a heavier winter jacket and I think you'd be onto a winter beating collection, however not something I have tried, after all it's not that cold yet. Overall a great mid weight Merino jersey that fits very well and looks the part and feels great. Only downside, you may have people come up and ask if you bought that in the sale (yes that happened the other day) At £70 it's a bargain, at £140 i'm not so sure...

DHB Windslam Gilet - £35
Another old faithful. I've had this gilet now for a couple of winters and is my go to piece of clothing when just a jersey and base simply wont do. The softshell like outer fabric is water resistance, and the fleece lining on the front means your core remains warm. The rear has a mesh panel which is great and means your back doesn't get too sweaty during high intensity rides. The fit, like most DHB products is slim, and close fitting, short in the body so the material doesn't bulk, with the full zip and high neckline providing extra warmth. For the price I don't think you can go wrong, and has kept me warm on cold days. Wiggle suggest using this down to aground 10 degrees, but I have been warm in temperatures down to 3, like today's commute for example...

DHB Vaeon Bib Tights (Roubaix) - £45
Up until recently i've never had bib tights. Odd you might say, but I have always found that leg warmers and bib shorts work well (providing they are roubaix lined). That was until I tried a pair of bib longs and went on a ride. Wow these were warm and very comforting, these were the future. I opted for the unpadded version I can wear bib shorts under for a little extra warmth, and so far this has worked well. These Vaeon tights offer an excellent fit, have a nice fleece lining and zips at the bottom to ensure getting on and off is easier.The best bit about bib tights though is the extra warmth around your torso, and the fleece lining offers an extra layer over a base to ensure your vital organs keep warm even in the coldest weather. I certainly found this to be the case at the weekend, when the temperature dropped to below zero, yet I still stayed warm, unlike I suspect should I have been wearing leg warmers. These are DHB's mid price bib tights, and I think offer excellent value for money.

DHB Regulate Warm Leg Warmers (Roubaix) - £22
Simple and very effective, i've been using leg warmers for the past few winters and they have been great. Although as I have said above, and pair of bib tights are ideal for the very coldest weather, anything around 5 degrees these are excellent and provide superb levels of warmth. They are also very cheap at £22 and fit well under your bib shorts. These warm regulate models from DHB have grippers at the top on the inside and outside to ensure bib shorts don't ride up, or leg warmers fall down. Reflective pipping on the rear ensure a little bit of extra visibility in the dark. I still use these for commuting and slightly warmer rides, and if you get too hot take them off (although I haven't done that)

DHB Merino Socks - £7
COLD FEET! Ah cold feet are simply the worst, getting home from a ride and not being able to feel your toes is something most if not all cyclists will know about. Whilst these Merino socks are certainly not the thickest they offer excellent levels of warmth. I have been wearing just these under my shoes & overshoes the past month and my toes and feet have been warm, which is surprising. I also use the DBH winter socks, which are thicker and don;t fit as well as the Merino version. Socks are something I personally think you NEED to get right, the wrong pair of socks and your kit doesn't look good. (Summer: Long & White, nothing else) These offer good length and over a pair of tights or leg warmers go well. Yet again, a great price point from DHB and excellent quality. Another favorite of mine.

Prendas Aqualite Overshoes - £30
I have been riding in this since Prendas sent me a pair to review in April. I managed to catch the last of the bad weather and up until two ago haven't really needed needed them. However they are now my "go to" pair of overshoes, although not waterproof (they are resistant) they offer excellent levels of warmth and really insulate your feet, ensuring they keep warm on even the coldest day, such as the weekend's temperatures of below zero! I've only been wearing one pair of merino socks, and that for me has been enough.
They have worn well, and have been used for commuting and normal riding, so plenty of walking and feet down action, with only a few small signs of wear on the front of the overshoe underside. The fit and material are still tight and aero over your shoes, with the only thing i'd really change being the need for an extra long upper leg section. You can read a more detailed review on this in my blog, and buy them from Prendas:

BBB Waterflex Shoecovers - £28
A fairly recent new addition to my cycling clothing, these BBB Waterflex Over shoes have only been used a few times when the weather has been truly shocking & wet. Like with the Prendas overshoes they are fleece lined for extra warmth, but unlike Prendas they are waterproof and I can confirm this is the case. Even in the wettest weather my feet stayed dry, which given temperatures and dropping is essential. The only issue I have so far is the fit isn't very flattering, your feet feel quite bulky and the velcro fastening underneath the shoe does work, but doesn't seal the whole of the upper part of the shoe. For when it's dry and cold i'll stick with Prendas, but when it's wet I will ring these out. Good price on Wiggle at the moment too:

Prendas Oversocks - £7.95
Yup, socks that go over your shoes. A simple and traditional way to keep your feet warm when the temperature start to drop. A bonus, they also look great! These Cordura overshoes offer good protection to your shoes from the elements and give a little extra warmth and wind resistance. Not much good for the coldest days I have found, but in anything around 8 degrees and up you'll be fine. I use the Fluro Yellow option for increased visibility when out on the road. Obviously being made from thin material if you unclip a lot you will get through a set fairly quickly, but they they are only £7.95. What's not to like, cheap, look good and are effective.

Seal Skinz Performance Winter Gloves - £55
First things first these are £55. That is alot of money no two ways about it, but cycling with cold hands it's not fun, it's painful and actually quite dangerous. For the past 4/5 years i've been wearing Seal Skinz first incarnation of winter gloves, they have been great, although have now seen better days, so was time for a replacement, and with something better. I'd read the reviews and done some research and these seemed the best bet for full finger gloves. Their first really cold ride was last weekend and sub zero, I also wore glove liners for extra warmth, and whilst I did eventually warm up my fingers were cold. Not ideal I thought. having said that the gloves are excellent, fully wind and waterproof, thermal with a nice fleece lining and comfortable pads. unlike some thick winter gloves, dexterity is still maintained and shifter and braking remains easy whilst also feeling in control. Overall a great winter glove, not cheap, and my hands were still a bit cold (that's probably my circulation) and totally waterproof.

DeFeet  Duragloves - £17
Another classic autumn and light winter glove. These DeFeet merino gloves are a favourite of many riders. They are cheap, thin so are breathable, yet also keep you surprisingly warm, i've had a number of pairs and always rated them highly. Also come in a range of colours, such as High Vis Yellow which is ideal for commuting. In recend colder days I have put my glove liners under these for extra warmth or worn these under thicker gloves for even more warmth, and very versatile product.

Aldi Glove Liners - £2.99
Cheap, simple, light and thin. These offer an excellent wind proof pair of gloves to use under other gloves. I've used these with with my DeFeet and Seak Skinz for effective layering and they have so far worked as well as can be expected. That being said my hands were still a little cold at the weekend... But that's probably just me. Whether you use these or other gloves liners, something that I would recommend and do help keep you warmer. For Aldi cycling kit keep an eye of their special buys on the website. In store only.

Thanks for reading, now try and keep warm out there, and don't fall over on the ice!

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