Gear Friday: Bundle Up, Buttercup

No shocker here.  This Gear Friday is dedicated to my favorite ways to stay warm during Portland’s Endless Winter.

I can ride for about an hour in almost any kind of weather, without a ton of fancy gear.  It’s when the rides start getting longer than that (which is basically all of them) that the gear becomes the difference between relative comfort and outright misery.

And while I admire the "hard-man-ness" of Belgian Knee Warmers (bare knees with embrocation even through the nasty winter), my body likes to be warm.  If all this "pansy" gear means the difference between riding or not-riding during the winter, then bring it on.

These have been my go-to items for the past 4 months:

el fito!Ibex El Fito 3/4 Knicker:  First of all, I *love* the look of knickers.  I love knickers more than words can say.  Maybe it’s cuz I’m a big-legged broad, but I think they look so much faster than yucky shorts. Add to this my almost freakish abhorrence of knee-warmers (hello! whose idea was it to put a big piece of elastic around my fattest part?!  The inevitable overlap bulge is just horrifying. I can’t deal.) and knickers become an even bigger draw.  No need for knee-warmers – these already cover my little knees!!  Ok, now that I’m done with my knicker pitch, back to the Ibex El Fito.  Ibex makes great wool goods, man.  And since moving to Portland, wool has been the order of the day.  These are super snuggly warm.  I pair them with tall, wool socks on the colder days and it produces a sweetly nerdy, sorta-superhero effect. I approve of the chamois in these as well.  I mean, they’re no Santini Twist-Gel, but they put up a good fight for second.  At $120, they are pretty reasonably priced for something so well constructed and sturdy  (mine have been with me now for two years.  I crashed ‘em but good in my first cross race and got a tiny hole in the knee but other than that they are in fantastic shape.)

The blaze!DeFeet Blaze Socks  Cold feet suck. I have carefully measured how long I can ride before my feet go numb with various combinations of socks, wind-block liners, heated toe-warmers, and booties.  Finding the Blaze was a banner day in the history of the Foot Warmth Experimentation Project.  These socks are seriously amazing.  I own just about every gray wool cycling sock that DeFeet makes – they are all good, but this one is by far the warmest.  Again, I’m all about the wool.  Surprisingly, despite it’s impressive thickness, it is not overly bulky in the shoe. I have very snug fitting Sidis that I did not buy to wear with many layers and they do well.  They’re also warm enough that I have found I can go with just the socks, shoes and booties on cold, wet days and I usually have about 2-2.5 hours before the toes go numb.  The left toes always go first.  Don’t know why.  The Blaze is another item that is constantly being hoarded, stolen and fought over in our house. I’ve seen these online for $13-15.  They are worth every penny.

Super Cheap Rain JacketSuper Cheap Plastic Raincoat  I realize that cycling gear can be really, really expensive.  I tend to believe that you get what you pay for but some brands (Rapha comes to mind) have gotten a little out of hand (I am not sure I will ever feel good about kicking down $350 for a cycling jacket.)  So, it’s a relief when I finally come across a product that really does the job and is also super affordable.  These super cheap plastic rain jackets don’t breathe particularly well, and are best used for pre-race warmups and such, but they are totally handy when it’s dumping buckets and blowing wind like a Japanese Typhoon.  In these conditions I say, "Screw breathability!  Just keep the damn weather OUT."  I bought four of these when they went on sale for $12 earlier this year.  At $19 they are still a bargain and totally functional.  Besides, if you get the clear white one, everyone will be able to see all the expensive crap that you are wearing underneath :).

Toasty Warm WombatsDescente Wombat Winter Gloves  Warm hands = good brakes.  For the worst weather Ma Nature can dish out, these are the only way to go.  The ingenious retractable mitt section delivers unbeatable wind-block, in addition to being waterproof.  When the mitts are stowed away in their little secret pouch, the fingers of the gloves are actually quite breathable, so you don’t get the inferno-hand effect you get if you try to go out and rock it in your snowboarding gloves.  Team Estrogen appears to be blowing these out at $35 so get them while the gettin’s good.  I paid full price in the debt of January. 

DeFeet Wool DuraGlove  Another affordable work horse of a product.  The DeFeet DuraGloves can be used for all kinds of things but I have found that on the days that are just a little too warm for the Wombats, these give me the perfect amount of comfort.  At $16 a pair, you can’t beat them for affordability.  Also, the grippies on the hands do their job which is not always the case. 

DeFeet Wool Knee Warmers  What!??? Knee warmers!!?  But I just spent all this time telling you how much I hate them, right?  Well, leave it to DeFeet to deliver the exception. These kneekers are SUPER insanely soft and cozy.  And they didn’t get all agro with the elastic at the top, so the leg-bulge is kept to an absolute minimum.  I like the length of these – I can wear them a little higher for the true kneeker look, or pull them low on those hail-strewn battle-with-the-gods type rides.  Another trick I do is to wear these under my Santini bibs.  The Santinis are pretty lightweight but adding a wool layer to the knee makes them more feasible for cold days.  And that means I get to wear my Twist-Gel chamois more often which makes my creamy Assos butt all the happier.

Swobo Wool Base Layer  This is the only Swobo product I own, though I love their stuff.  I actually put this on my Christmas list two years ago and received it from Sal’s sister.  I think it was $45 then and apparently the price has since gone up to $58, which is a bummer but – to be honest – I’d probably pay that much for another if I lost it.  It is my single favorite baselayer and absolutely miraculously warm and breathable.  Here’s what I really like about it:  it fits.  I usually hate womens specific cycling clothing because I find that typically translates into sleeves and torsos that are too short (and I’m not tall, dude!)  This base-layer is cut for a smaller body but not a totally tiny 12 year old body, the way American Apparel T-Shirts are.  It fits.  It’s just the right length and the sleeves go down to my elbows, which is not a great look for everyday, but is a really functional quality to have in a baselayer.  I got caught in a HUGE rainstorm on an 11 mile run back in February and when I got home, the only part of my body that wasn’t bright red with stinging cold were the parts that this shirt was covering.  Can’t say enough good things about it.

Warm HeadGore Skully   Everyone knows that you lose tons of heat from your head, so on bitter cold days, having this skully (with windblock!) is an incredible asset.  Also, it prevents cold ear syndrome, which inevitably leads to a raging headache.  There are cheaper versions of this product out there and, in my opinion, they all work just fine. My main consideration is fit and thickness as my helmet fit is very snug and doesn’t leave a lot of room for layers underneath. 

warm legs are happy legsPerformance Bike Thermal Tight Without Chamois  I bought these this winter after a nasty ride out on Sauvie Island.  In all but the worst of weather they are total overkill, but when the wind and rain are raging, the thought of being protected in these is sometimes the only thing that gets me out the door. They don’t have a chamois, so you pull them on over your bibs, which means you’re already getting double-layered protection for the legs. They’re lined with warm fleece and fit very snugly (like, I almost had a heart-attack the first time I put them on) but the tight fit provides compression that actually feels really good on the muscles. This is another great example of an affordable product that really performs.  Performance is blowing them out right now for $40.

Wind Stopper!Gore Xenon Jacket  I bought the women’s version of this jacket but if I could do it again I would probably go hunt down a mens small as they torso is just barely long enough and longer jerseys sometime peek out from underneath, which is so not cool.  That said, I have been astounded by how much protection this jacket offers.  It’s extremely thin and packs very small, but I’ve stayed tolerably dry and warm in it for 3+ hours in a steady drizzle.  The wind resistance is probably the most impressive part about it – I ride pretty hot so thicker jackets often have me suffocating within the first 30 minutes of a ride.  I love that I can throw this on over a good baselayer and long-sleeved jersey and be comfortable on days when I am really working hard.  The orange color makes for good visibility (without having to go into the world of "screaming yellow") but I am still kicking myself for not buying the white version when it was released.

All Condition Armadillo Tires (700x25c) with Specialized Airlock Tube  Last but not least, tires and tubes.  Getting a flat in pissing rain is the pits. Usually, your hands are already cold and if you can’t find shelter to duck under, you’re in for a miserable few minutes there playing Monkey Wrench in the downpour. Personally, I HATE changing flats no matter the weather so this year Sal put this set up together for me. I could probably ride through a pile of broken glass and still be fine with this combination – the Armadillo tires in the thicker size are almost embarrassingly beefy and the airtight tubes are ingenious.  Basically, the tubes are filled with a sealant, so if you get a puncture it self-heals.  Huge drawback here: weight. I think my bike weighs thirty pounds with these on right now, but for training that’s not a big deal. When it’s race day, throw on the race wheels and it’s go-time.  It’s like training for a foot-race with a parachute and then taking it off on game-day. :) (No link here because the fancy people at specialized have a flash site that is impossible to link to.)

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  1. Nice write up! I also like the Armadillo tires, but I think using them WITH those tubes is a little overkill. I can ride mine on gravel roads without flatting, and I’m about 200 pounds. You’d be fine with regular tubes. I ride a 25c in the back, 23c in the front.

    And man, I just realized how lacking my winter gear is. I just wear my fall and summer gear, but more layers. I put a jacket on top, and I’m good to go. I can’t stand sweating in a jacket, and I really hate wearing tights over my shorts.

    The only exception is gloves. I have lots of gloves.

    And booties…I should have bought a new pair this winter, but I never did. I had one P.I. bootie, and one Performance. They had holes in them, and my feet were cold. It all builds character, though, so I’m good.

  2. I’m all about overkill, dude.
    Booties! I have a pair of Castellis that I got cheap at a warehouse sale, a pair of pearls that I’ve had for about 8 years, a pair of the really thin performance ones, and a pair of the Sugoi Resistors.
    After this winter, I heart the Sugoi most.

  3. Great reviews – I actually just got one of those clear jackets and have loved the DeFeet Blaze socks for many years now. Hope spring gets there for you soon!

  4. Warm muscles are happy muscles.

  5. Guy Smith

    Great reviews! You Time trialing on this bike? No really all great stuff own most of it side from the Knickers I prefer the Embrocation and shorts over the “Knickers”

  6. I’m with erikv, I run the same tires also 23/25 through some really ugly debris with rare flats. I used to run Tuffy liners but found the edges causing more flats than they prevented. I’m ready to join the knicker brigade – I love my Ibex arm warmers.

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