The growing popularity of fat bikes has inspired all manner of accessories for winter riding. That’s fine by us because we hate being cold, wet, or miserable on the bike, and the right gear is the perfect antidote.
Perhaps the toughest things to deal with in frigid conditions are your extremities—especially cold feet. While racing the Arrowhead 135 a couple years ago, a good friend of mine was forced out of the event at the final checkpoint after dehydration compounded with the extreme cold led to severe frostbite on his toes. Happily, his toes made a full recovery, but the part that got my attention was that he couldn’t feel his feet enough to know they were in trouble. The takeaway: good boots are absolutely critical when riding in the very cold.
This season, there’s a preponderance of new footwear for snow biking. We’ve had the chance to try a broad selection and these are some of the most notable models.
Giro Alpineduro ($200)
These three-quarter-height cleats look and feel more like hiking boots than full-on winter weather gear. The upper is cut from soft synthetic leather, which, wisely, has few seams that could fail or leak. There’s a light layer of PrimaLoft insulation, a waterproof barrier, and a sticky Vibram outsole complete with cutouts for clipless pedals. The midsole is relatively soft, meaning that pedaling efficiency wasn’t as high as a pair of race cleats. But walking, which happens more frequently in the winter, is a lot easier. I’m not always a fan of the complication of laces, but here they worked great, allowing micro adjustments and locking in the ankle without loss of circulation. And while these boots were warmer than a typical pair of cycling shoes, they seemed most comfortable in temperatures around freezing or just below.
Bottom Line: A perfect shoulder-season pair or winter standbys if you live in warmer, drier climates (such as New Mexico), but not cut out for true cold.
Bontrager OMW Winter Shoes ($300)
The Old Man Winter boots, with a zip-closure waterproof Outdry upper swaddling a removable, fleece-lined Thinsulate bootie, are as cozy and soft as a pair of slippers. I liked removing the inner boot and wearing them around the house as slippers post ride, which would make them perfect for hut trips and ski lodges. Unfortunately, the liner had a way of slipping around inside the outer boot unless I cinched down the Velcro straps, in which case I ran the risk of quashing circulation. The waterproof exterior held up fine in some long, wet rides in sleet, mud, and snow, though I worried about the long-term durability of the zipper. And while they look extremely warm, I found these boots only comfortable down to around 25 degrees, at which point my feet went icy. The Glo Multi-Use Lights (sold separately for $13) which strap to your heels for visibility in traffic are another good idea, but the Velcro straps proved too loose an attachment point to keep the lights steady.
Bottom Line: These are comfy for hard-to-fit feet and aren’t bad for occasional recreational use. But there are better boots out there (consider 45Nrth’s Japanther or Lake’s MZX 303s) for very cold winter riding.
45Nrth Wølfgar ($450)
Rated to negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit, these monsters aren’t for everyone, but if you plan to ride long distances in the very cold, nothing else out there compares. The double-boot construction features a removable felted-wool inner boot that fits neatly inside a Cordura nylon and rubber outer boot. The combination of PrimaLoft insulation throughout, aerogel in the toe box and underfoot, and a waterproof-breathable barrier kept my feet toasty on three-hour rides down to zero degrees. It doesn’t get much colder than that in New Mexico, so I’ve yet to truly test out the temperature ratings, though I have friends with these boots who have ridden them in far colder conditions and swear by them. The dual lace system uses quick-toggles for easy closure with big gloves, and the swaths of Velcro keep the strings out of the way and make for easy closure of the wide top strap. There’s a full rubber toe cap for protection, a chunky Vibram sole with cleat cut-out, a carbon fiber midsole that adds stiffness without heat loss, and even gaiter hooks in case it really starts to add up. In short, these boots have it all. And though they’re hardly light at four pounds (size 42), that seems like a small penalty to pay for healthy feet in the very cold.
Bottom Line: The ultimate tool for epics like the Arrowhead 135 or Iditarod Trail Invitational.
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