A summary of footwear options for the winter cyclist; with a review of Northwave GTX mountain bike boots
Being able to stay warm on a cold day is so important for our well-being. In extreme situations, we can damage our extremities or weaken our immune system; which open us up to all kinds of infections. In addition, every time we feel too cold or hot; we become irritable and unable to relax. Our skin and blood system is working overtime to try and maintain a normal body temperature. Which in turn causes us to lose focus on other activities and not enjoy our day. By helping our body temperature with the right amount of clothing; we are able to relax and stay happy and comfortable. Here I look at the options to keep your happy feet warm and dry on a winters day; whilst trying to keep fit and ride a route to relax:
Option 1: Wear your normal trainers and hope for the best!
You are just getting into cycling and cannot afford anything more than the trainers you already have? Well they will work great on a short ride when there is no chance of rain.
If the trainers are big enough, try wearing a thick pair of socks. Ideally try to wear wool socks; as this natural material keeps your warm by trapping air within its thick fibres. Cotton is better than synthetic materials like polyester and nylon; yet it stills holds a lot more moisture and sweat than wool, lowering the thermal energy in your toes.
In addition, wool has natural anti-microbial characteristics meaning less toe jam! That yucky stuff between your toes; made up of: dead skin, sweat, bacteria and dirt! However, trainers are normally made from synthetic materials so the benefits of wool will be reduced by the fact that you are still wearing trainers!
Option 1 and a 1/2: Add a plastic bag!
Make your frugal footwear choice waterproof by simply adding plastic bags!
Yes you will stop the rain getting in; but just think of the rain forest effect going on inside those trainers!
I have tried this myself and trust me when I say you will regret it! As the sweat builds with nowhere to escape; you feel like you are swimming and not cycling! Then just wait until you take them off! Oh and take them off outside or you will have one unhappy household!
Option 3: A leather shoe or walking boot
When I first started cycling; I was a jobless teenager. Back then I would use hiking boots or rugby boots with the studs removed! Not stylish but very warm and if I got a puncture; at least I could walk home!
This is the most sensible option if you cannot afford or just do not want to buy cycling specific shoes. You might get disparaging looks from the lycra clad weekend warriors for not being in their expensively branded clique but do you care? No, your feet and your quietly confident ego; are warm, comfortable and relaxed.
Option 4: Summer cycling shoes
Now this is where cycling can get expensive but then what price do you put on your health? These £80; Northwave Origin MTB shoes have really improved my cycling experience.
Shoes designed specifically for cycling; are really worth their price tag. For a start they have a stiff sole so all your energy is transferred to the pedal. Shoes for road cycling are flat on the bottom so are very difficult to walk in; yet MTB shoes have raised tread to enable you to walk. A lot safer; especially in those slippery places, e.g. bike cafe loos! In addition, these shoes have vents on the upper and quarter panels. Great for keeping cool in summer yet in winter not so good! Venting cuts down on sweat evapoaration but does not prevent the ingress of that November rain.
Option 4 and a 1/4: Overshoes?!
As the name suggests; you put these on ‘over your shoes’ and secure them with velcro or a zip. They look stylish and space age; yet are flawed in their design.
More commonly used in road cycling; these overshoes in my opinion will help, yet there are better alternatives out there. Personally I have not used them for a number of years for a number of reasons. For a start, they have two big holes on the sole for the cleat and the heel of your shoe. These two big holes also let in water and the cold. Every time you put your foot down or engage into the pedal clip; you wear the fabric on the sole. Within a year they will be worn and torn so badly you will have to buy another pair. Costing over £20 for a decent pair; this is an expensive habit! Finally, if they don’t rip on the sole; the zip will surely rust and snap. Did I mention that because they are supposed to be tight fitting; they are also difficult to put over your shoe.
Try them once so you can at least warn others too!
Option 4 and a 1/2: Waterproof socks!
A recent development are socks lined with a man made wicking but waterproof material. I have not owned a pair myself; yet my father swears by them.
Some complain that the sock is too thick and inflexible; yet we are all different, so research and the choice is yours! Various materials are used such as Gore-Tex; with varying prices and quality. Looking on Amazon; these Sealskinz socks are currently priced at between £27 and £40.
Option 5: Gore-Tex MTB boots
Here we have my final option and my own personal choice. When it is cold and raining and you are riding through the great outdoors; this is how to keep your feet happy and relaxed!
After trying options one to four; I was getting cold feet every time I tried to go out on my bike and relax. Reading reviews I decided on a pair of Gore-Tex lined boots made by the Italian ski and bike outfitters: Northwave. Although they cost me £140 about five years ago; they have been worth every penny.
For a start, they show no signs of wear; unlike those aforementioned overshoes. The Gore-Tex lining keeps my happy feet warm and dry even on long rides in sub zero temperatures. The added ankle support, also extends the warmth up the leg; and stops water and dirt from entering the boot. The inner sole and lining is cushioned and comfortable. The boot is large in comparison to a trainer yet they do not give me the feeling that I am in clumsy clown shoes. The build quality is fantastic; with real thought going into the design and ergonomics. I could go on and on prasing these boots; yet this is a blog and not Wikipedia!
Since I bought my boots about five years ago; the design has changed from Velcro tabs to a wire on a ratchet. Whilst I am dubious of the longevity of the ratchet system over simple Velcro tabs; I am sure Northwave have used quality parts and researched and tested their products.
I am more likely to lose these boots than they wear out. Yet if they do; I will have no hesitation buying Northwave MTB boots again.
For fun, check out my: short review and waterproofing video; which you will find below on YouTube.
Stay safe, stay warm, stay out there until you are happy and above all stay relaxed; cheers.
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