We test four different winter MTB shoes to find the ideal kicks for wet, muddy and sub-freezing conditions.
It might be March, but don’t tell that to all those half-frozen humans living in the Midwest and East Coast, where it’s been one of the worst winters on record. For many, riding outside in subzero conditions is absolutely out of the question. But for those few lunatics who have to get their fix outdoors on the bike no matter how wet, cold and oppressive the winter has been, some good insulated footwear is required to keep the feet from becoming ice blocks.
My feet have always been the weak link when it comes to cold winter rides on the bike. No matter how many pairs of thick wool socks I put on, my toes go numb within the first hour of a ride. Actually, my winter rides don’t really begin until I can’t feel my toes anymore.
Since wearing booties on a mountain bike ride absolutely sucks and wearing a plastic bag between two layers of socks keeps my feet warm in a pinch, yet sweaty as all hell, I decided that a legitimate pair of winter mountain bike shoes was needed. Thankfully there’s no shortage of options out there, and I was able to rustle up four different shoes courtesy of Shimano, Specialized, Mavic and Lake.
Weight (pair of size 47): 1150 grams
More Info: www.specialized.com
I got to use the Specialized Defroster in a number of different scenarios including full on mountain bike rides in 15 degree temperatures and a 90-mile road ride in the mid-30 degree temperatures, which is what makes the Defroster so great – it’s extremely versatile. While a few other shoes have gnarly, aggressive tread, the Defroster has a more subdued outsole that could almost pass for a winter road shoe but still has enough tread to handle most muddy and snowy conditions.
The injection-molded midsole offers a reasonable amount of stiffness for good power delivery, yet still flexes nicely when off the bike and hiking up hills. But for real nasty mud and snow, you’ll need to use toe spikes because the Defroster tread alone isn’t quite aggressive enough.
Thinsulate 400 gram insulation lining keeps heat in while letting moisture escape, and even on the coldest rides, with one Merino wool sock layer, my feet stayed surprisingly warm. My hands were a different story though. I think I did permanent nerve damage to them on a 15-degree ride with a three-mile downhill.
This was the first pair of shoes I ever had with the BOA closure system, and it kicked ass. Lightweight, simple, and effective, the BOA system is flawless, however, it can be subject to user error. There is a tendency to want to over-tighten the BOA closure, which not only cuts off blood flow to an ever expanding foot and making it cold, but also causing pain on the top of the foot. It was happening to me until a friend said to loosen the BOA closure. After I backed off, the shoe was much more comfortable and warmer too.
The neoprene upper collar with a seam-sealed internal bootie does an exceptional job of comfortably locking in heat and keeping water out, and the wider toe box for thicker socks was a welcome feature for my gargantuan feet.
A sheet rubber heel and toe make the Defroster look durable, while a flap over the midsection of the shoe gives it a distinct bootie-type look. A few of my roadie buddies mistook the Defroster for a road shoe with a winter bootie over it.
Who is this shoe for?
The Defroster is perfect for someone who wants one shoe to do both winter road and mountain bike rides. It’s capable enough to handle wet, muddy and extremely cold conditions off-road, but also sleek and low profile enough to look good as a winter road-riding shoe (provided you put mountain bike pedals on your road bike).