RPC’s run down of must have’s for making the UK winter training a bit more pleasant.
So with the arrival of the Autumn and soon the Winter, what better way to start of the new blog than with a winter based topic. We all know that winter will rear its big, ugly, dark, dank, cold, wet, windy head at some point very soon. Its a cert and there is nothing that we can do about it, well apart from pack up and move to the canneries for the next 5 months but this isn’t really a feasible option for your typical amateur cyclist. So al we can do is hope that that we get an a Indian summer and prepare ourselves and best we can for the on slought of the big freeze!
To help you in your battle against the cold, wet and dark winter days, I have decided to present to you what I consider the best pieces of equipment and clothing that i have brought over the last couple of winter which have made a huge difference to my winter training. The following items are simply my own choice, they may not be the best or even the latest in there given category and you may not agree or even care but it may give you an idea of what you can get your hands on, how they can help and also prove that you don’t have to buy the latest, greatest and most expensive pieces of kit to get the most out of your winter cycling. Unfortunately the old saying “you get what you pay for” does ring very true when it comes to winter kit so for many, a lot of these products may still be way out of your price range. However what I will say is that when I brought these products they were pretty far out of my budget but I came to realize that they were very worth while investments and have more than paid for them selves and are still working hard and proving there worth.
I would also like to make it clear that I am in now way endorsed by any of the companies featured and have not been sponsored or loaned any of these products for testing purposes. I brought each and every single item from my own pocket (I have the receipts to prove it) and all of the information given is my own view and opinions and have not being influenced by anyone else.
Winter Essential No. 1: Ortlieb Classic Large Saddle Bag.
There’s a saddle bag and then there’s this bad boy! 2.7 liters of fully waterproof empty space all strapped to your saddle using a very simple clip system and a bit of velcro. This is one of the best things i have ever brought with out a doubt, yes you will get a few sarcastic remarks from you club mates; “Oh I see you brought the kitchen sink with you again”, “Since when you become a Audax rider” ect ect. Yet little do they know the use of this great bit of kit. Originally i brought this after i started a new job which required me to commute and fit my training in o my ride home. I didn’t fancy doing intervals with a rucksack on my bag so i though i would get this to put my lunch in and then wouldn’t have to use anything else. It did this job perfectly but it soon became apparent how useful it was when riding through the winter. Apart from the fact that there is ample room for all of your tools, tubes and your pump, you can also stash various bits of extra clothing in there or you can layer down mi ride a pop your warmers in to it rather than your pockets. It can also hold your extra food, phone, money, basically everything which means you can keep you pockets for the food you plan to eat on the ride. One thing to be wary of is that if you run your saddle right forward you will struggle to get the clip on to the saddle rails which is what the bag clips in to, this just means that you may have to run it a bit further back or get an inline seatpost if you have set back one.
RRP – £37.00. Price Paid – £33.00 from Wiggle.
Winter Essential No. 2 – Exposure Maxx-D Rechargable Front Light.
Ok so the story goes; With another new job and the descison made that i wanted to do as much riding outdoors during the winter rather than roasting on the turbo, i knew that i would have to do my training after work in the dark which meant that i needed a light capable of showing me the way at pretty high speed. As I am a bit of a tight arse I decided to set my budget at £100 and ended up buying an Exspoure Joystick which can be helmet mounted and bike mounted. Now dont get me wrong this was a great light in its own right but after a few rides i just had to face the fact that riding fast was hard work and pretty dodgy, the 300 lumin output just wasn’t enough. With the light sold on eBay i Bit my lip and dug deep in my pocket and, still buying from the fabulous Exposure brand, I went a few models up and chose the Maxx-D and if I had to use two words to sum this light up it would be; “Holy Shit”!!! This is one hell of a powerful light; 1350 lumins at full power which is 4 times the power of the Joystick and this will last for just under 2 hrs providing the light is fully charged. It is literally just like riding in day light and i had no problems in riding flat out intervals in the pitch black or hammering down rough Cotswold hills at 40+ mph.
Its a pretty big hunk of a thing yet relatively light considering but its just so nice to have a self contained unit rather than a cable trailing to a battery back which is mounted squiriley to the frame which always ends up being in the way of your knees when you out the saddle. Its cleaver to as it will drop down to the next lowest power out put about 10 minutes before it would run out of juice on the current setting which means it will just keep going, the lowest setting will last for a bout 12 hrs whist the flash mode will go for 24 hrs!! The only draw back is the very long charge time, basically to go from empty to full you need to charge it for about 12 hours so you really need to keep on top of it. This is an amazing bit of kit and if you plan of doing lots of dark miles then this is the sort of thing you need. The moral to this story? When you set your budget for buying a light, scrap it, double it and but big powerful and expensive the first time round to save you any hassle!
RRP – £295.00, Price Paid – £220 from Shiny Bikes
Winter Essential No. 3 – Assos 851 Winter Jacket
Any cyclist will know the name Assos and they will also know that it is linked to only the highest quality and most effective cycling clothing ever made, well probably. I live and ride by the following statement; “Only race what you can afford to replace”, this is why I race on a Planet X frame and only use Sram Force and not Sram Red. Why spend the world on something that you are going to be using to charge towards a finish line with 80 other guys! however, I do not live by these same rules when it comes to long, solo winter miles where all you have on your mind is pedaling and how cold and uncomfortable you are gradually becoming! This is why when it came to buying a winter jacket there really was only one choice; Assos. I decided to go for the 851 because it seemed so versatile yet capable of keeping me warm in very cold temperatures also i still couldn’t quite justify £300 for the top line jacket! This jacket really quite great, the fit is perfect, it has 4 pockets in the rear which is so handy, Its water resistance and of course its very warm. I used this all through the last few winters and it was never caught out. Ok so sometimes I wore a pair of arm warmers as well or a light gillet over the top but all i ever wore on my torso was a lightweight base layer it was perfect. The only thing that wasn’t so good was how the white color held up after only a few washes as it soon tuned in to a dull, dank looking grey but this was a small price to pay for the level of comfort and warmth it provided me with. As it turns out I have now sold the jacket and have brought a Castelli Radiation Jacket for this winter, the deal was too good to pass up on and I wanted to try something new so I a few months I will give you guys a review on it.
RRP – £225.00, Price Paid – £150.00 from Wiggle
Winter essential No. 4 – Sealskin Bar Mitten Lobster Gloves
I have tried every kind of glove you can think of during my winters of cycling and every glove failed to keep my hands warm past the 30 minute mark no matter what combination of liners, under glove and over glove I tried. All but one glove that is and that glove is non other than the oddest looking glove known to mankind; the Lobster Glove! Sealskin’s Lobster Glove to be exact. I read the reviews and I have to be honest I doubted them, all this talk of these amazing gloves keeping hands toasty down to minus 15 degrees and blah blah blah! I just thought well surely they cant suffer as much as me then because there is no way a pair of gloves can just be that good. Boy, how wrong I was. These are amazing, yes they look odd and the time it takes to get used to using them and opporating your sifters and brakes is a fair old stint but trust me, its worth it and once you do get used to it its second nature and I can honestly say that I ride through the worth that the British winter had to offer last year and not once did my fingers get cold. In actual fact, sometimes I had to stop at the road side and take the gloves off to cool my hands down a bit and get rid of some of the sweat! This makes a nice change to stopping to piss on your hand to warm then up which I have had to do in the past! Also it great to arrive at home and actually be able to take your keys out and open the door easily with out using two hands or looking like a war veteran who lost all of his fingers. They are also fully water proof so you basically wont need any other gloves other than these. Oh and being Sealskin’s the quality is faultless and i should imagine they will last a very long time.
RRP – £45.00, Price Paid – £35.00 from Wiggle
Winter Essential No. 5 – Northwave Fahrenheit Winter Boots
Although all of the products I have listed here are fantastic and have all made my winter training so much more bearable there is no doubt that I have saved the best until last. I have a condition called Reynauds Syndrome, some of you may know of this and its where the small capillaries in you extremities close up causing blood flow to cease. This means that your fingers and toes become painfully cold, to point of being unable to pedal and then when they warm up again the blood flows back it but leaks out of the capabilities causing hideous burning and inflammation and this cycle goes on and on and on. Its bloody horrible. I suffer with this in my toes and its been getting worse and worse, I had tried everything except for dedicated winter boots, I didn’t know if they would help but i needed to try just in case. The outcome……….OMG!!!!!! Quite possible the fastest ever cure to painful cold, lifeless numb feet ever in the history of anything. These are unbelievable. Although they appear quire bulky with there high ankle profile and big Gore-Tex panels they are incredibly light and although the first few minutes of your maiden voyage it will feel like you have small boats on your feet, this feeling passes pretty quick and you are left with the feeling of you toes basking in blood filled capillaries
I decide that I would go up a size with these in order to make sure my feet had plenty of room to move around, this meant that I could periodically wiggle my toes throughout a ride which also makes a huge difference. I run a 44 in specialized shoes so I went for the 45 in these and yes they did feel very roomy when I first tried them but once you get going they don’t feel big in any way, for me they are perfect. They have a nice Triathlon style speed lace with 2 Velcro panels that strap over the top, the shoe its self is so rugged feeling and I can see them lasting a long time. All the rides I have done so far in these shoes have been with normal everyday socks and even then my feet were toasty. They started to chill slightly the other night when it went very cold but once I slip my woolly winter socks on the cold dosent stand a chance. If there is one purchase that you have to make this winter or if you always suffer with cold feet then get a pair of these babies, the cost dosent even factor in for these they are just that good.
RRP – £150.00, Price Paid – £111.00 from an eBay shop. Bargain.