Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel, lights and trainers. We are taking a deep dive into all manner of cold weather mountain bike gear, with round-ups and reviews of fat bikes, tires, wheels, apparel, trainers, lights and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.
Unless you live in Florida, SoCal or some other perpetually warm and sun-splashed locale, dressing for wintertime rides can be tricky business. The right outfit for that long chilly descent may be too toasty when the trail turns back uphill. The key is finding apparel that keeps you warm, but also breathes well and wicks moisture away from your body. Of course looks and comfort count for something, too.
During the last two and half months, we’ve been testing all manner of winter riding apparel, from budget priced to budget busting. Some of it flashy, some subdued. In the first installment of this three-part series, we’ve revealed our Ultimate Head-to-Toe Cold Weather Kit, with cold being defined as roughly 32-39 degrees. Check out the best Freezing Weather options here and stay tuned for the final round-up on kit suitable for truly arctic rides.
In all cases, we offer this important caveat: What has worked great for us wont necessarily be perfect for you or your weather. Some people’s bodies simply run hotter (or colder) than others. And obviously 32 degrees on a dry Colorado day (our test HQ) is not the same as 32 degrees with lots of bone-chilling Midwest humidity mixed in. That said, we stand by all the products featured here, each one offering exception performance, value, and sometimes both. So without further ado, we’ll start with the toes and head up.
Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex Shoes
Truth is these cold feet stoppers from Shimano will work over a wide array of temperatures, but we slotted them here because most of our winter rides occur in this range — and the MW7 with its cozy fleece lined insole was our favorite among a test group that also included winter shoes from Northwave, Specialized, and Bontrager.
With a reasonable 505-gram per shoe weight (size 44), the MW7 bridges the gap between cumbersome boot and functional cycling shoe. Closure is a straightforward three-step process with a pull cord, Velcro strap, and then Velcro ankle closure. Fit is snug but not tight for our standard width foot, and ankle seal is tight enough that post holing in deep snow doesn’t immediately result in wet socks.
The waterproof Gore-Tex liner provides further protection from the elements. Heel hold is secure when off the bike, and the rubber outsole delivers secure grip and walking comfort when trudging up slippery unrideable slopes, but it’s not so soft that it feels like pedaling energy is wasted. Price: $250 | More info at www.shimano-lifestylegear.com
Bontrager Race 5” Wool Socks
I’m not a fan of thick socks unless absolutely necessary. These toe toasters from Bontrager help maintain my allegiance to thin footwear. The Profila yarn fabric is warm and wicks moisture well, while the flat toe seam and compressive arch enhance comfort. And they’ve held up to a full season of use with nary a toe hole. Available in black (pictured) and gray. Price: $15 | More info at www.trekbikes.com
Pactimo Alpine RFLX Thermal Bib Tights
Technically these reasonably affordable bib tights from Colorado-based Pactimo are meant for road use, but they’ve also been a faithful partner during mild fat bike rides this winter. Stretch fabric is super soft and comfortable, YKK zippers seal the cuffs, and most important in the case of riding on snow, foot stirrups keep everything in place and enable tight shoe collar closer at the ankle. I also like the taller back panel, which helps keep you insulated against the cold. And if you happen to end up on a road during your ride, hits of impregnated reflective material on the rear calf panels and left side thigh strip (car side) light up brightly when illuminated by headlights. Price: $155 | More info www.pactimo.com
Pearl Izumi Transfer Wool LS Baselayer
I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to baselayers. Grab whatever’s at the top of the drawer and go. But this offering from Pearl Izumi gets the nod due to a host of smart design features. Finger loops at the wrist make it easier to slip on a tight fitting jersey without the baselayer’s sleeves bunching up. Multi-material construction includes a breathable mesh back panel, while the chest area is thicker weight material for better wind protection. The anatomical cut reduces fabric bulging at the belly when you’re bent over the bars, and the elongated tail gives you rear end an extra buffer from trail spray. Most importantly it does a great job of wicking sweat away from your body so you don’t get chilled. Price: $85 | More info at www.pearlizumi.com