06 January 2015

An Unlikely Choice in Apparel

I was told that the snow was not coming. It didn’t snow last year and it was not expected to snow here this year, but lo and behold, just a couple days after Christmas, it came. After having camped overnight in it, I was eager to go for a ride and test out a few cold-weather items the Mrs. had gifted to me. Feeling lucky, I decided to ride the 18km from our house to the NATO base, taking my time and getting a feel for the ice-and-snow-covered roads.

Now firstly, let me say that winter riding varies greatly depending upon where you live. If you live in a snowy climate and have to share the road with motor vehicles (e.g. Upstate New York, New England, all of Canada) it may be too great a risk. But in this part of Germany, as well as many other places, there are enough cycling paths and farm roads to get you where you’re going without having to take the lane on a busy street. Granted, the snow can obscure many potholes and hazards, but if you take your time and use common sense, you’ll probably be okay.
The biggest challenge, of course, is being comfortable. There is an temperature inversion that occurs while riding in the cold weather where, while my core warms up in the first 5-10 minutes of riding, it takes about that same amount of time for my toes and fingers to get cold.
For my hands, I had just worn a pair of Thinsulate winter gloves, which contrary to their name, are not very thin at all. They worked okay, but like most gloves, having your fingers separated does diminish the warmth of the glove. So, the Mrs. got me a pair of the Planet Bike Borealis gloves, which are pretty nice. Because they are half-mitten, they do make your hands look sort of Penguin-ish, but I think they provide a good balance between warmth and dexterity (short of using full-on handlebar mitts, or pogies). 
For my feet, however, I needed a new solution. Since my clipless pedals have migrated (and will probably stay) on my MTB, I’ve been riding on a pair of platform pedals that the nice people at The Path Less Pedaled had recommended for touring. With these, I’d usually just wear whatever shoe happened to be on my feet at the time (which oftentimes is a pair of brown Crocs. No apologies.) For slushy, wet snow and ice however, I needed something a little more waterproof, so I headed down into the basement to find a boot or sneaker that could stand a little bit of the elements. What I found was a pair of NRS water shoes I had purchased last year for kayaking and totally forgot about. The shoe in hand, I thought about it for a minute and decided to try them out.

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The uppers are made of 3mm thick neoprene with a thick rubber toe box that is obviously very much windproof. The neoprene keeps the water out, and in spite of road spray, my socks inside stayed perfectly dry. I was concerned that the soles would be too flexy, but they are actually stiffer than I expected and felt very comfortable while pedaling. Of course, these were designed for walking on sharp rocks and other water-related debris, so it makes sense, but it might also be due in part to a layer of titanium in the sole that is supposed to increase heat retention. In regards to heat retention, I had a pair of wool socks on underneath and really didn’t notice much heat loss until about an hour and half into my ride when I noticed that my feet were just slightly colder than I’d like, but I think that’s to be expected after an hour and a half in freezing temps.

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All-in-all, I’d say these shoes performed remarkably well for something they were not designed to do. Now, while you can purchase a designated pair of winter cycling shoes, or install neoprene covers on a pair you already own, I wouldn’t recommend wearing either of those while swimming or kayaking, but that’s just me.

- Bicyclist Abroad

[The NRS Remix water shoe is currently being discontinued, so you can pick up a pair for $26 on their website (if they still have your size) or from Amazon for just a little more. Men's and Women's sizes available.]


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