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 a perpetually warm and sun-splashed locale, dressing for wintertime rides is 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 several months, we’ve been testing all manner of winter riding apparel, from budget priced to budget busting. Some of it flashy, some subdued. In this final installment of our three-part series, we’re revealing our Ultimate Arctic Weather Kit, with arctic being defined as 19 degrees and below. You can check out our Ultimate Cold Weather Kit here and Ultimate Freezing Weather Gear here.
In all cases, we offer this important caveat: What 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 a sunny 15-degree day in Colorado (our test HQ) is not the same as 15 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.
Specialized 3L Tech Bibs
As you’ll quickly see, this round-up is heavy on the high-quality (and high priced) fat bike-specific apparel line recently released by Specialized. All three pieces were made in collaboration with respected snow sports clothing maker 686. You can read more about that relationship here. And yes, we know that $450 is far more than many people will be willing to spend for a piece of cycling clothing. But this is “ultimate” gear, not budget friendly. It’s also worth noting that all three pieces have a variety of uses beyond the bike.
Indeed, I’ve pulled these bibs on numerous times for backcountry ski tours and even Nordic skiing on frigid days. Just a few days ago, I wore the 3L Tech Bibs while competing in the 22-mile backcountry Gothic Mountain Tour ski race with roughly 5000 feet of climbing. The inner cuffs didn’t fit completely over my AT boots, and I had to leave the exterior cuff zipper undone to pull it overtop my boots, but otherwise these pants worked great, breathing well, and providing convenient easy-to-access storage via four exterior SWAT packets on the back. (And no, I didn’t get snow inside my boots.)
On the bike, the tapered ankle cuff helps avoid drivetrain snags or greasy clothing, and the technical 3-layer fabric has a light and airy feel, yet still keeps heat in and cold and wet out. I also really appreciate the pair of zip pockets on the thigh that double as thermal exhaust ports, and the tall cut up front, which helps keep your core warm. Bottom line, due to cost these bibs aren’t for everyone. But if you regularly ride when it’s arctic out and/or are looking for a piece of wintertime apparel that can do multi-duty with other sports, they’re certainly worth trying on. Price: $450 | More info at www.specialized.com
Specialized 3L Tech Jacket
It’s a similar story with this jacket: super high price, but great performance and versatility. It uses the same lightweight 3-layer fabric construction as the bibs, where the more robust exterior layer is wind and water resistant, the middle layer has a breathable membrane to keep moisture moving out, and the interior layer is soft on the skin (though that doesn’t really matter, since you’d never wear just the jacket. The pants on the other hand might be worn along if you were riding or skiing on a warmer day.)
Other notable features include two massive vent/pocket zips on the chest (great place to keep AT skins), one big vent/SWAT pocket with dual zips on the back, and a pair of smaller pit zips. To say this jacket is well vented would be understatement. Seams and zippers are all taped and sealed, and all the sturdy zipper pull tabs are easy to operate with gloves on. There’s also an interior powder skirt at the waist, and breathing vent holes in the front of the high neck area, so you can zip up but not fog up.
Inside are a pair of bottle-sized SWAT pockets and a small zip pocket to stash your phone. The jacket’s also equipped with RECCO reflectors, which can aid searcher if you happen to get lost or buried in an avalanche. Our lone niggle is with the hood, which isn’t quite big enough to fit comfortably over larger enduro-style bike helmets. Yes, it does the job, but there’s a touch of that wearing-a-neck-brace feel because the fit is so snug. Price: $500 | More info at www.specialized.com
Specialized Tech Insulator
The final piece of the 686 x Specialized collection is essentially a lightweight hooded puffy coat that has a water resistant DWR coating and 100-gram Primaloft insulation for warmth. Unlike the 3L Tech jacket, there’s just one large vent zipper on the back right (we wish there were two), so it needed to be seriously cold before we pulled this on as an under layer. More often I wore it on its own, sometimes for fat biking, sometimes to go pick-up my daughter at daycare.
On-bike features include two interior bottle sized SWAT pockets, a small media pocket with cord opening on the chest, and a pair of roomy zipped hand pockets at waist level, where there is also a droptail and cinch cord. All the zippers have easy-to-grasp tabs, and the underarms and sides are made of a stretchy material that enhances range of motion. Like the 3L jacket, the hood will fit over a helmet, but it’s snug. However, given the jacket’s soft hand feel, you could wear the hood comfortably under a helmet if the mercury plummets, or you’re facing an extended descent. Price: $250 | More info at www.specialized.com
Pearl Izumi ELITE AmFIB Bib Tight
Though it was a tight battle between these and the Bontrager RXL Softshell Bib Tight with inForm Chamois that are featured here, the Pearl Izumi ELITE AmFIB Bib Tight won out for the coldest rides due to a slightly better fit and internal stirrup plus gasket that does a superb job of keeping warmth in and snow out of your cycling shoes. We’ve also been impressed with the comfortable and well-aligned 3D chamois, wind and waterproof exterior fabric, and the handy opening at the top of the waist that makes bathroom stops a little easier. Price: $150 | More info at www.pearlizumi.com