In near future I’ll make a broader post about winter cycling gear; but for now, just a brief review of one component that I recently bought, the Craft brand neoprene cycling booties.

Riding in colder temps, the cycling shoes we all use, whose well-ventilated design is great for summer, are a detriment. Feet very quickly get cold even in 40 degrees, let alone 30, 20, or lower. Thicker socks certainly help, and a good pair of wool socks is indispensable. One inadvisable thing would be to layer multiple pairs of socks; this leads to compression problems with the feet and symptoms basically identical to being cold; besides which, the cold soon permeates the extra pair and your feet are just cold anyway.

The solution favored by many riders who insist on continuing to ride in the cold season – commuters, randonneurs, or just those hardbitten fools who love to ride – are cycling overshoes, or cycling booties.

These come in a variety of materials and designs, but the basic idea is the same: cover the entire foot (shoe and all), add another layer of wind protection, and insulate against the cold.

After reading a bit on various options, I decided to go with the advice of friend and local endurance rider Keith “Red Leader” G, and pick up a pair of Craft neoprene booties.

Below is a picture of me wearing one on a recent ride (the yellow ankle band is something I wear atop them; it is not part of the boot).

craft_03

First thing for the prospective buyer to be aware of is: BUY LARGE. Meaning, larger size than you need on paper. There are sizing charts out there for translating your bike shoe size to size of overshoe/booty; and, one piece of advice you see everywhere is, “buy larger than this indicates you should!”. I heartily second that. After referencing such a sizing chart, I bought the next size up; however, the ones I received are still quite tight. If I had it to do again I would have bought yet a larger size.

The shoes work great for me. I’m still fine-tuning my wardrobe for winter riding, but currently I wear these in anything less than probably 36 degrees or so (depending on ride distance). I’ve worn them down to nearly single digits (with a good thick pair of wool socks in that case) without feeling cold. My feet did feel “chilly” by ride’s end when it’s been that cold, but they never felt outright cold, or uncomfortable. This would never be the case with straight socks and cycling shoes.

Full disclosure, I DO think that, for me personally, if I were riding a prolonged distance – let’s say 25 miles or more – in 20 degrees or colder, I think my feet would be a little cold. Probably still not COLD, but, cold. So these aren’t a magic bullet. They do insulate your feet, they do hold in warmth and add another layer of wind protection, but they aren’t a fireplace. THIS winter specifically, I think there’s no likelihood that I will ride far enough in cold enough temps that I’ll need more; but, by next year, I expect to be up to doing long rides pretty routinely and for such outings, would possibly want – and need – more.

The shoes “fasten” in multiple ways. There’s a velcro strap across the foot bottom (somewhat visible in below picture); a zipper up the side/back (visible in picture above), and another velcro strap that closes across the top of the zipper.

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The shoes being quite tight on me as mentioned, it took me a short while to work out an easy way in and out of the shoes, but I’ve got it down pat now, as follows:

After putting on bike shorts, socks, leggings if appropriate, etc, I put the neoprene booty on one foot. I first zip up the zipper and fasten the top velcro; then, grasping it firmly around the top, pull it over my foot like a boot-style slipper. With the bottom velcro left open, I’m able to “peel back” the rubberlike shoe, bunching it around my ankle, to fully reveal my foot. I then put my shoe on that foot, tighten it up like normal, and then, grasping the “toe” portion of the neoprene covering, stretch it out and over the toe of the shoe. A second or two of adjusting the back and sides (especially over the ratchet strap on the bike shoe), and the shoe is well fit. I simply close the velcro on the shoe bottom, and then repeat with the other foot.

Upon arriving home after the ride, I take them off in exactly the reverse order. Undo the bottom velcro, pull the shoe back (toe portion first) to give some slack, unbuckle and remove bike shoe, then undo top velcro on Craft shoe, unzip and remove from foot.

craft_01

For comfort while riding I give these a 5 of 5.

For secure snug fit, also 5 of 5.

For protection from cold, probably 4 of 5. Again, depending upon your precise mileage and temps, these will be hugely useful in a wide range of conditions.

For weight efficiency, 5 of 5. The shoes do add weight, of course – they have mass – but it isn’t noticeable, and especially not for the value they add. Picture a lightweight, flexible, quasi-rubber set of slippers atop your bike shoes – that’s what these are.

For safety, I give them 4 of 5. Each shoe has a small reflective strip down the back (visible in picture #1), and the very tops of the boots as well as those “circles” on the shoes in the picture below are semi-reflective. I personally always wear the yellow reflective ankle bands in anything other than broad daylight, so those combined with these shoes = great awareness to following cars that you are there.

Winter here this year has been pretty mild, and I’ve not been able to really test these in LOW LOW temps and/or for longer mileage. But with my ride distances slowly creeping up, I am hopeful of another couple of good really cold days for me to test these guys for some distance.

I bicycle commute to work basically every day now. Well, sorta commute – I actually live a good 45+ miles from work. To commute that would take a few hours in the morning and then again in the evening. If I commuted THAT I’d be doing nothing but working plus riding to and from.

Instead, I drive in part way, park the car, and ride in. TYPICALLY the ride is 11 miles, but I vary it up. Some mornings it’s 8, some mornings 15, some 20.

I hadn’t previously mentioned this commuting on this blog mostly due to my dead silence for some 4 months, recently broken ūüôā I’ve been commuting in this manner to some extent for a couple months, but VERY regularly for the past few weeks.

Anyway – sadly, June 21 (longest day of year) has come and long gone. Days are getting shorter and shorter. My preferred morning commute start time is already too dark to ride on the paved trail that I commonly take, which has forced me to either start later, start on the road for a few miles & transition to trail, or just go all-road. This, plus the fact that I intend to ride as much as I can in winter (when there’s darn-near no serviceable daylight on weekdays), and also resume randonneuring very shortly (which will entail some evening riding), means that it was time to bite the bullet & get a better bike headlight.

What I had previously is scarcely worth mentioning. Bike headlights serve one or both of two purposes: See, and be seen. What I had previously was fine for the latter, but for the former, it left much to be desired. I could safely see ahead of me, but peripheral visibility was very poor.

So, I sprang for a nicer light. There are oodles of choices out there; I put a premium, for now, on something low maintenance, low barrier to entry (easy to get up & running) and easily rechargeable. What I settled on among these considerations, plus price and quality of light, was Busch & Muller’s Ixon Core. Lithium Ion integrated battery, rechargeable via USB.

I ordered mine from Peter White Cycles in the US.

Here’s a side shot of the Core:

Core_side

It arrived a week ago or so. Very simple to use. Two intensities. 3 hours on high power, 15 hours on low. High power mode kicks out 50 Lux.  Intuitive-to-understand flashing of lighted top button conveys how much battery life remains.

Super simple to attach to bike. Came with two sizes of included rubber straps, which stay mounted to handlebar. The light itself is easily enough removed from and clicked back into this strap. The light can pivot slightly from side to side, and while the band is firm and holds its position on the bar, you can easily enough pivot the light forward or back to direct the light more down or up.

Below, looking directly at the light.

Core_front

Finally I got the opportunity late last week to use it on the paved trail in truly dark conditions. The local system of paved trails, a wonderful commuters’ resource, is however darn-near pitch black until the sky is fairly light. Patches of it, of course, run along decently-lit streets; but there are stretches of it that are basically pitch black. Great testing ground.

Verdict: I was underwhelmed for specifically pre-dawn trail riding. Make no mistake – the light is great in its own right, as a directional light. Light is focused on the road ahead, with not much spillover on the sides. This has its place; but on a pitch black trail that curves, dips, dives and climbs, being able to get a full sense of what is ahead of you is very important. I have ridden this trail now dozens of times, and am quite familiar with it; yet, what is familiar in the light looks totally alien in the dark, and even as familiar as I was with the terrain, I found myself wondering exactly where the next bend was coming up or going. If I were unfamiliar with the trail, or if I needed to do some technical descending – I do not feel like this light alone is sufficient.

Beam picture of the light on high in darkened room:

Core_light

Again, for road riding it is a very good light. I have ridden a few times with it now on the road, neither time in absolute darkness, but each case was WELL before sunrise. The road ahead is lit up very well, cars certainly see you so the safety factor is fine, and visibility is generally good. I have yet to take it on pitch-black country roads and am guessing it’ll light up the road ahead just fine; but, if there is need to see street signs off to the side, I suspect it will be lacking.

Therefore, after some more research and talking with a couple friends, I have ordered a second light – this time the Light & Motion Urban 550 light. 550 lumens (on high mode), more “side lighting” than the Core. Looks like similar mounting although most people seem a little dissatisfied with that aspect of the light. Also, its duration isn’t as good: 1.5 hours on high.

The plan is to run both lights as handlebar headlights when commuting on trail in dark. Turn both out to the sides about as far as they will go. This SHOULD provide me with a very big center swath of light plus plenty out to both sides.

For normal road riding after nightfall or pre-dawn — and that includes randonneuring¬†– I feel pretty good that EITHER of the two lights is sufficient. ¬†I will still go with both on bike, for a backup, but just run one or the other. ¬†In places where peripheral vision is key (searching for a road sign or just the correct turn in the dark), I’ll switch both on for short stretches. ¬†Should be more than sufficient.

The new¬†light should arrive later this week or so; I’ll try it out as soon as I get it and post a review after a couple uses.