Are winter shoes worth it?
This started out as a gear review and then became more of a meditation on gear to retain warm feet. I’ll post the actual review later in the week.
I suffer from Reynaud’s Phenomenon. It’s hereditary so my siblings are afflicted by it. Put simply: my body cuts of the blood supply to my extremities when I get cold. Not even very cold, just enough to stimulate the reflex. I get it a lot in my hands, there’s a line across my knuckles beyond which my fingers are ghostly white from lack of circulation. My feet are pretty bad too. Getting cold is painful in a fingers-in-boiling-water kind of a way. Warming up again afterwards is like having carpet tacks fired at my toes.
So I’ve taken a keen interest in keeping my extremities warm whilst riding. Especially in winter. Particularly at night.
Riding’s odd in that, no matter how cold it is, you want to be able to vent heat from your core or you’ll boil in the bag. At the same time you need to guard against extremities such as fingers & toes from getting cold. Incidentally, this is why I get incensed at football commentators castigating players for short sleeves and gloves: it really does make sense. So choosing what to wear for a ride is often a delicate balancing act, particularly for me and my fingers.
Losing feeling in fingers is as easy to spot as it is dangerous: you can’t brake or change gear. There’s a lot you can do to avoid it. Wearing warm, windproof gloves goes a long way. Adding a silk or merino baselayer adds warmth without too much bulk. The mere action of pulling on the brake levers and shifters can really help.
Toes are a different matter entirely, and much more vexing. For the entire ride they stay still. Then you ride through a puddle of cold water. It all adds up to a recipe for frozen toes. Yes, you can wiggle them but not that much. I’ve tried many of the traditional remedies. Windproof socks make a difference until you ride through a puddle and fill your shoes with cold water. I’ve tried waterproof socks but they feel horrible next to the skin and don’t breathe so my feet end up just as wet as if I’d not bothered. I’ve even tried overshoes. When they don’t rub on pedal cranks they die after about one winter and have a big hole in the bottom for water to get in. They’re better than nothing but more of a bodge than a solution.
I’ve always balked at winter boots for the bike: it’s a lot of money to spend on something I’m going to wear for rides in maybe mid-November to the end of February. It’s an awful lot of money to spend on something that might not work or might feel like wearing a moon boot. This winter I cracked. I stumped up the cash for some winter boots when my old disco slippers died. They’re not full-on winter boots but they are waterproof, padded and have a sole designed for the kind of conditions you’ll find in winter (i.e. deep mud). They’re even designed to walk in if conditions get too horrible to pedal through.
They promised much, but did they deliver?
In a word: yes. They’re superb and make me regret not making the jump before. They are toasty warm and the waterproofing means my toes, for the most part, stay dry. The difference is huge. I no longer ride with half an eye on the condition of my feet, worrying that they’re about to freeze. I don’t worry about puddles knowing that the shoes are sealed against most things. I can, and have, even walked significant distances through mud with the bike on my shoulders. They feel like a walking boot when I’m walking. The phrase gets used too much but they are, for me, a game changer. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to ride and gets cold toes.
The true joy of these shoes is that they’re not overkill for spring and autumn so I can see myself wearing them through into May and probably picking them up again in September. So they’ll get enough use to justify the cost.
So, the moral of this story is that, while you don’t need the perfect kit to enjoy a ride, sometimes having good kit can make all the difference.
The cost of warm feet? About £120. Is it worth it? Yes, a hundred times.