Cold weather and Winter Cycling Apparel

Keeping toes warm and legs dry is a continual challenge for wintertime bike enthusiasts. Road spray on your seat, numb ankles exposed to cold wind, loose pant legs snagging in the chain — all are annoyances and safety hazards on the snowy road or trail.

Over the past month, biking about 10 miles a day on city streets, sidewalks and nearby trails, I tested cycling apparel made to alleviate some of this cold-weather frustration. The SP Rain Pants by Showers Pass, for example, are weather-resistant nylon pants with articulated knees for easier pedaling. While the company (www.showerspass.com) calls them rain pants, they work well for wintertime riding, at least on most fronts.

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The $79 SP Rain Pants are made of a medium-weight nylon that the company says is waterproof and breathable. The fabric is heavy enough to take breezes without shuddering like a windbreaker jacket, but it also packs down small for stowing away.

I was happy overall with the pants, though they were not perfect. The fabric does not breathe well, for starters, causing clamminess. Also, though the fabric is waterproof, the pants leaked through the seam on the seat from road spray one particularly wet and nasty day when I rode a fender-less bike.

Nice features with the pants include double Velcro ankle closures to prevent chain snags, an elastic waist with Velcro closures, openings for ventilation, ankle zippers to take off the pants without removing shoes, and reflective taping to make you visible to passing cars.

On my feet, pulled on over my bike shoes, I wore the Showers Pass SP Shoe Covers. Made of a thick and stretchy nylon-polyester fabric, the $39 covers kept my feet dry and warm in temps down to 20 degrees.

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But after a month of riding, the SP Shoe Covers are shredded up and nearly unusable. The aggressive sole on my bike shoes slowly wore through the fabric as I pedaled around and walked short distances with the covers left on.

Another sore point: The zippers on the back of the SP Shoe Covers were uncomfortable when fully zipped up, as they rubbed weird on my Achilles tendon. Because of this, I had to keep them partially open and zipped down about 1 inch when riding.

For base layers, I tested new biking apparel from Louis Garneau USA Inc. The Scoop jersey and Finland Chamois tight, which cost $140 and $170, respectively, are fancy and high-performing pieces that can be worn alone on temperate days or under breathable outer layers in the cold.

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Both garments are made of Lycra Power fabric, which makes for a tight fit that the company (www.louisgarneau.com) says optimizes performance by increasing blood circulation in muscles.

The Scoop jersey has a 15-inch chest zip for ventilation, reflective logos for visibility and three pockets on the back. The Finland Chamois tight has elastic
ankle grippers to keep the pant legs from riding up and a molded seat pad that is perforated to wick moisture.

In my tests, the Louis Garneau jersey and tights were supportive and comfortable. They fit well, breathed and performed admirably on all fronts, even in the worst of weather.

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