Thursday, 9 April 2009
Over the years there have been many items of clothing that I have discovered and wish someone had told me about. I just wish they had taken me aside and given me a list of the most important items to have. This isn’t a brand endorsement for a group of companies but my thoughts of the items that any serious cyclist should have hidden away in their wardrobe. Hopefully you will be able to invest wisely in your kit, and so equip yourself for any weather condition.
With the advancement of super cooled cycling shoes, sometimes you need something to cover the vents before your feet freeze off. In winter thicker overshoes are used. They come in a few formats but you can break them down into three main groups: Neoprene, Wind blocking and Full waterproof.
The Neoprene type is very popular as it has both thermal and some wet weather qualities. People who want one overshoe to do it all favour this type. These overshoes tend to look a bit ugly, but they are very effective in doing the job. When wet they will still keep your feet warm as they do trap a small amount of air between the overshoe and the shoe itself. Even it this wet state the wind does not piece through the material fully.
Wind blocking versions of the overshoe come in both winter and summer variations. The heavier winter ones although not generally being fleece or roubaix lined provide a good level of warmth due to the fact that the wind isn’t getting through. These tend to be very popular with riders who do not experience getting ice blocks instead of feet when the temperature drops. The summer versions can be a very flexible friend as they come in many guises. Choose from a very minimal Lycra cover that will keep out some of the wind, these are favoured by both track and time trail riders; also you might see some Pros using them to hide a shoe that is not from the sponsors. There also exists a heavier weight option, which normally looks a bit like a sock. Some companies use cordura in the fabric blend as it is very tough and has good wind proofing properties.
We are seeing more of the Fully Waterproof on the market. It is true to say that a fully waterproof overshoes does not really exist as with both holes underneath for cleats, and hole to put your feet through, it is truly hard to make it water tight. The fabric used in these range massively from a no name fabric up to the king of the hill in waterproofing with a full Gore Tex XCR fabrics being used. In the ugly front this type tends to be king, as they are generally bulky but with new fabrics this does seem to be changing slowly. I have seen a few examples that look a bit more stylish than what is currently available but expect to pay around the £50.00 mark for such elegance.
For people who suffer with very cold feet layering up with a lightweight summer overshoe with a Neoprene of fully waterproof overshoes will probably provide the best combination.
As overshoes take up very little space having both a winter and summer set in the wardrobe is a real bonus. They truly can be used all year round from cold frosty mornings to that wet winter commute ride to work.
Over the last few years’ high-end shoes have been to weight watches and lost some vital grams. Lorica has now taken over from leather as the major material choice for the uppers of shoes. The retention systems are split into a few areas: Velcro straps, ratchet and Velcro and the space age!
Velcro straps have been commonplace on cycling shoes now for quite some time. In some cases they were just used to create a cover for the laces that lay beneath, this was commonplace in the mid eighties to the earlier nineties. But as we have moved away from laces the three strap Velcro system has become the norm on mid to high end shoes (two straps remain the preserve of the cheaper shoe or for Triathlons). Some riders even today prefer this set up over the what is deemed to be more performance driven option of Velcro and a ratchet. Velcro straps are a good option to consider if you have a high instep, as they allow more flexibility. Many riders who ply their trade on the road and track favour different fit systems for the two disciplines, UK rider and Olympic hopeful Chris Newton being one.
Ratchet fittings on shoes are popular at all levels of shoes now across most suppliers. Sometimes you might lose out on a carbon sole at the entry level but I think having the ratchet more than makes up for the stiffness. The ratchet is designed to pull the heal into the heal cup of the shoe. This stops slippage under extreme efforts. As more understanding of how the foot woks has been applied to shoe design this has result in such things like offset strapping to eliminate the dreaded numb foot due to all the pressure being spread down one centre point.
Space Age, well it’s the best way I can describe them. Sidi, Specialized, Lake and a few other companies are using what would be best to describe as winding mechanisms. Sidi use them on the metatarsal and mid point in the foot (but still use a ratchet for the top), where the big S uses it across the length of the shoe. In use these systems provide an almost glove like fit but for your feet.
I always say that you should invest in your shoes first and then pedals second. Look to spend around double what you’d be happy to spend on the pedals. Okay you will save some rotational weight by going for a lighter pedal, but the comfort levels that can be obtained by having well fitting shoes is probably worth losing the extra grams.
A sock is a sock right? This was case until two things happened the first being Coolmax being invented, and the second when a certain Greg LeMond started using early prototypeDeFeet socks. DeFeet have become the sock world leaders in regards to both design and construction. They currently sponsor the worlds No1 Classics squad in Quick Step.
If you ever look at photos from the seventies, they are normally wearing very basic cotton or blended socks that didn’t wick very well. You hear stories of pros putting wet toilet roll in their shoes to keep their feet cool in the searing temperatures of summer races. Thankfully now we all can wear better fitting and comfortable socks.
Coolmax is a great material as it keeps the foot cool and dry. Moisture on the skin can be one of the biggest problems in causing blisters and the skin cracking at the heel. Merino wool in recent years has had a bit of a resegance amongst cycling companies. It performs as well if not better than a synthetic material. It has natural anti-bacterial properities (which stop your feet and the sock smelling) and the material helps regulate body temprature. Many companies use this in there socks, commonly with a bit of Lyrca or elastine to give a bit of stretch and sometimes with a small amount of poly to resist shrinkage.
Keeping your feet warm in winter has benefited from what has been learnt about how to keep your feet cool. It sounds ironic but it is true. This is an area where Merino has become the new king. Offering fantastic moisture management, due to the natural antibacterial nature of the wool, it is friendly even for the smelliest of feet. Theramax and such called fabrics are often names given to a polyprop thermal sock to indicate the warmth factor.
More to follow in Part Two