Rapha Hardshell Jacket, Winter Base Layer and Deep Winter Tights update

I wanted to give a quick update on these, that is emblematic of my experience with them.

On Saturday, Mr. B and I headed out for 50 miles on our respective gravel steeds.  I left my house at about 7:30am, with temps hovering at 30 degrees and a heavy fog in the air.  Heading out, I wore my Deep Winter Tights over a pair of bib shorts, along with a Rapha Wool Base Layer and Hardshell Jacket.  Heading out the door, I was zipped up fully, and on the fringe of being cold.

5 minutes in, I started to warm up, and opened the zipper on the jacket a bit.

During the ride, the temps went up to the high 30s, and the moisture content increased.  There was mist, and as I was headed back to my house, even some light rain.  The ground was saturated from the frost coming out, and we rode limestone paths that in some areas were complete mush…slogging along at 10-12mph and sinking in appreciably.

At times that we were working harder or had the wind at our backs, I would zip down the jacket a bit and ventilate.  If we stopped for a quick snack or headed into the wind, I could zip up and regulate my temps easily.  When I got home, I was amazed to see how dry I was after nearly 3.5 hours of hard effort in really damp conditions.  My base layer was damp, but not wet, and my skin was totally comfortable.

At first, I thought this was rain or dew on my jacket, but then I noticed that I had it in areas that were not exposed to the rain…

Sorry to tell you folks, but that’s sweat.  I was running late at the end of my ride, and for the last 10 miles, I was pushing as hard as I could.  How breathable is the Hardshell?  Breathable enough that it let the sweat through en masse.  How waterproof is it?  Waterproof enough that I didn’t get wet from the limestone spray or the mist or rain.

Having ridden them for a couple of months now, I did wash the jacket and tights.  I machine washed them, cold/cold, and then hung them to dry.  They look perfect, and ready for more action.

I continue to be impressed by this kit.

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45NRTH Sturmfist Review

I now have several rides in the 45NRTH Sturmfist.  Click through to see the video on the secret pre-launch demo at North Central Cyclery.

I picked up a set of the Sturmfist 4 gloves, which feature a thumb, index and middle finger, and a pocket combining the ring and pinky fingers.  These have a water resistant (thus far, waterproof) outer shell, leather on the palm and fingers (including leather that wraps up around the front of the fingers), aerogel in the palm and fingers (again, wrapping around the top of the fingers), and a removable merino liner:

The removable liner has screen-friendly tips on the thumb, middle and index finger.  That means that if you have to stop to use your phone or GPS, you can pull the outer glove off, and leave the merino liner on…which greatly helps in keeping your hands warm.  Seems like a small thing, but it’s an ingenious feature.  Last week, I did a metric century on the bike path, and mid-ride, I couldn’t remember which leg of the path I was supposed to take.  I stopped, whipped out my phone, and was able to scan the map without having to take the merino glove off.  Ordinarily (pre-Sturmfist) I would have had to remove all of my layers of gloves, get my hands cold, lose circulation, and then try to fight off the pain once my gloves were back on.  This is a simple idea that works amazingly well.

The palm of the gloves is nicely padded.  The aerogel inserted into the palm acts as an incredibly effective thermal barrier between cold handlebars and warm fingers.

The end of the glove is gauntlet-style, with a cinch-cord to tighten down when it’s super cold or raining.  They’re very easy to pull on and off.

The backside is water-resistant fabric (nylon?)  In a future iteration, 45NRTH might want to think about adding some more reflective details, given the position of gloves at the front of the bike, in a high position, that would be ideal for rider visibility in winter night conditions.

The leather wraps around the tips of the fingers (for durability), and the aerogel goes far up the tops of the fingers.  As your hands are at the leading edge of your body and the first thing exposed to cold wind, the aerogel does an incredible job of keeping hands warm.

I’ve had a chance to wear these a few times now, all in temps in the 20s.  Wednesday night, temps were low 20s, winds were 5-10mph, and I was riding a drop-bar bike on a completely exposed country road.  In the past, I would have worn a pair of liner gloves under my Gore lobster gloves, and would have needed a chemical warmer to keep my hands warm.  (Of note, inexplicably, Gore has dropped the lobster glove from their lineup).

Wednesday, I had cold hands from unloading my bike at the start of the ride (which is usually a death knell for my reynauds), and just slipped on these gloves and went.  My hands actually warmed up at the start of the ride.  I was completely comfortable for the entire ride.  No chemical warmers, no extra layers, no shaking or waving my arms to get blood flow going.  No gimmicks.  The gloves just plain worked.

The fingers are kind of bulky–so using drop bars with Di2 requires some attention to shifting…but the 4 finger design works great for general riding and braking.  With flat bar bikes, shifting is no issue at all.  Don’t get me wrong–it’s not impossible with drop-bar Di2 either…it’s just more challenging because of the loss of dexterity.

I have not had a chance to check waterproofness beyond a light mist.  For that, the gloves beaded up nicely and shed the mist.

I’ve had many gloves over many years, between farming, firefighting, skiing and biking.  The Sturmfist gloves are the warmest “glove package” I’ve ever had, short of an expedition mitten that goes up to your elbow.  They’re pretty amazing.  I did pick up a pair set of the wool liner gloves for the Sturmfist, to use in the event that my hands get wet.  That’s a pretty fantastic option as well…being able to switch out the inner liner.  Since the liner glove is merino, it insulates even when wet…but it will be nice to be able to have dry gloves on super-long winter rides.

My preliminary, one-week-in review?  These are the best cold-weather biking gloves on the market.  I say that having tried the full Gore lineup, having tried the cold-weather Pearl Izumi gloves, Giro gloves, and a host of others.

Rapha Deep Winter Overshoes

Let me note at the outset…these are for road shoes only and are not compatible with gravel or mountain cleats (SPD, eggbeater or otherwise).  For off-road and gravel use, I still recommend the Shimano MW-81 shoes (which, three years in, are still functioning perfectly) or, for extreme cold weather, Wolvhammers.  But with road shoes, the use of overshoes can be a great season-extender.

You can see them in use, on Mr. Pink, here:

The overshoes are not neoprene.  Neoprene is very warm and waterproof, but is not breathable.  These overshoes are made from a 3 layer laminate fabric that is waterproof and breathable.  They have taped seams and a covered zipper that adds to the weatherproofness.  The sole is made from a kevlar-impregnated fabric that is supposed to be very durable.  The zipper also has a nice guard on it that keeps it from cutting into your leg when zipped up.

Coverage on the overshoes is great.  They cover the entire shoe, and come up above the ankle to integrate nicely with a set of winter tights.

From my riding with them thus far, I can confirm that they are waterproof and breathable.  My road shoes have a lot of vents in them, and the overshoes do a great job of covering those openings up.  They also have some nice reflective features, which is appreciated when riding at night.

I’m surprised by how warm these overshoes are, when paired with a set of wool socks.  They greatly extend the season for road shoes.

The downside to these, or any overshoes is that they do not do anything for the cleat.  That’s the downfall of road shoes.  In cold weather, the cleat acts like a giant ice-cube under the ball of your foot, and pulls all of the heat from your foot.  If the temps are low 20s or below, I can only wear these for rides of 90 minutes or less, or the foot pain from a cold cleat becomes too intense.  Even then, the end of the ride gets quite uncomfortable.  Perhaps using a winter insole or a chemical heater would improve conditions, but frankly, when it gets that cold, I’m usually not on a road bike, outside, for longer than 90 minutes anyhow.  At that point, I’m usually riding fat, gravel or mountain.

From an economy perspective, these don’t make sense for everyone.  If you’ve got a set of winter shoes like the MW-81s, I’d recommend picking up a spare set of pedals and just suffer along with some mountain cleats on your road bike for winter riding.  (I’ll throw some Crank Brothers Candys on my road bike for extreme cold).  But if you’re just looking to extend your road riding into temps below the mid 40s, when you need some sort of shoe cover, the Overshoes are pretty fantastic.

Rapha Deep Winter Tights Review

Continuing Rapha week, we’re looking at the Rapha Deep Winter Tights today.

The first year I rode in the winter, I had a set of really inexpensive Bontrager winter tights that did not have a chamois; you wore them over a set of bibs.  They were relatively warm, but not terribly wind-resistant, and not at all water-resistant.  However, for the price, they were a great piece of kit, and they helped me learn that I could ride all winter.

After that, I went to Gore bibs–more specifically, Xenon Windstopper tights.  I wore those for two years until, due to no fault of the bibs, I developed a hole in the inner thigh, in a most unfortunate spot, early in the spring of this year.  Accordingly, I spent much of the summer thinking about what to replace the Xenons with.  They had an integrated chamois, and I had come to appreciate their comfort…but the downside of the integrated chamois is that you have to wash the bibs after every ride.  When you’re wearing bibs that don’t have an integrated chamois, you can wash the (much smaller) inner bibs every ride, and wash the outer bibs once in a while.  I did a lot of searching and reading, and ended up trying the Rapha Deep Winter Bib Tights.

Radha Deep Winter Tights, on me, on Mr. Pink.

The Deep Winter Tights are made from Rapha’s Thermoroubaix fabric.  Windproof, breathable, and water-resistant.  They have an integrated chamois (which is fantastically comfortable), a fleece lining, and pre-bent knees for on the bike comfort.  They also feature stirrup loops, a water-resistant seat panel, and incredibly comfortable bib straps.

The upper half of the bibs is much thinner, for comfort when wearing under other layers.

Again, this is my first year with these bibs, so I cannot comment on long-term durability…however, for comfort, they’re incredible.  I wear a medium, and the fit and cut is impeccable.  Like the Rapha 3/4 Knickers, the legs are snug, so you do have to pull them up.  The stirrup straps are also pretty tight, making putting on the bibs a bit harder than you’d expect.  However, they fit ultimately perfectly over any bibs I have.  For super-cold weather, if you wear a set of 3/4 knickers under the tights, they’re unbelievably warm.

They are not advertised as being water-resistant, but I’ve found that they are reasonably so, for most conditions that you’d ride in.  They won’t keep you dry in a daylong downpour, but they are at least as waterproof as the Gore Xenons, if not more.  They are 100% windproof, and have an ideal amount of fleece lining for active riding, even in ridiculously cold conditions.

The advertisement indicating that they have pre-bent knees seems weird until you ride with these.  The cut is perfect on the bike.  The design is similarly Rapha-fection.  Understated aesthetics (other than the reflective Rapha logo mid-thigh), coupled with the most functional design possible.

If the temps are in the 40s, I’ll wear bib knickers.  If the temps drop into the 30s or colder, I’ll wear these.  I’ve worn them down into the teens, with a lot of wind, and been incredibly comfortable on a road bike in exposed conditions.  I wouldn’t wear these fat biking (thorns and burrs and such being destructive to tights), but for road and gravel, these are incredible.

As with the other Rapha pieces, they’re expensive–and I don’t have enough experience to indicate if these are investment pieces or not–but based on my experience with other Rapha kit, I’m guessing that these will be with me for a long time…and the design will never go out of style.

With a month of cold weather riding under my belt in these, I can say I’m glad I went back to tights that do not have a chamois.  It’s a lot easier to wash and dry a set of bib shorts than it is to wash and dry a set of full winter tights…and because they do not have an integrated chamois, I can layer up or down with heavier or lighter bibs underneath, which makes these a bit more versatile.

So far, so great.

Rapha Hardshell Jacket Review

The Hardshell is Rapha’s most uber cold-weather jacket.  Their best breathable laminate fabric, taped seams, water-resistant zipper, 3 pocket (plus 2 zip pockets).  They say that it’s waterproof and breathable, and believe me…it is.

This is the jacket, on me, on Mr. Pink.  This is a large, with a Rapha base layer underneath.

The tail provides enough coverage to keep your rear dry in the rain.

It has an asymmetric zipper, so the zipper doesn’t conflict with your jersey (if you’re wearing one).  The zipper his highly effective at regulating temperature, and unlike many jackets, it stays zipped wherever you leave it zipped (and doesn’t gradually unzip itself).

I originally ordered a medium.  It arrived and it was very fitted.  I could fit a base layer under it, but just barely.  I was concerned that I would be cold with just a base layer, and thus upsized to a large, so I could fit a base layer and a jersey under it comfortably.  In retrospect, the medium was all I needed…this jacket is thin–very thin.  It is completely unbelievable just how warm it is when it’s zipped up.  I’ve worn it in complete downpours, in frigid temperatures, and in ridiculous wind.  I’ve worn it in combinations of all three of those weather conditions.  It.  Is.  Much.  Warmer.  Than it looks.

It is completely windproof and waterproof.  Completely.

The sleeves are the perfect length to pull down over your glove cuffs, and they have a nice elastic band that is just the right tightness to hold in place without feeling restrictive.

The 2 side pockets are large enough for water bottles, and the middle pocket is a bit smaller and has some very grippy rubber in it; perfect for a pump and some tools.  There is also a zipper pocket in the middle (perfectly sized for an iPhone), and a small zipper pocket on the side (perfect for keys, a few bucks, and a credit card).

The jacket is expensive.  No doubt.  There’s no way around it.  However, it does have Rapha’s ridiculously good warranty/repair service behind it.

I’ve only had this for a few months, so I cannot comment on durability beyond saying that everything I’ve had from Rapha has been incredibly durable.  It hasn’t needed washing yet, as it has self-washed in the last downpour I rode it in.

It is one of the most breathable jackets I’ve ever worn, in any circumstance.  With a wool base layer underneath, it is an incredibly comfortable jacket for temps ranging from the mid 40s down to freeze-your-toes-off temps.  I haven’t worn it in warm weather, and don’t anticipate doing so…it’s too warm for that.

The cut is unreasonably good.  It’s perfect.  Perfect in riding position, perfect off the bike.  The sleeves are cut perfectly, and are amazingly comfortable.  I can offer absolutely no constructive criticism with regard to the cut of the jacket.

From time to time, I think it would be useful to have vent zippers on the rear/side of the ribs in back.  I realize this might compromise some of the waterproofness of the jacket, and that’s likely why they weren’t included.  This request is not because the jacket isn’t breathable–it’s just to facilitate more airflow through the jacket when you’re getting warm. As it is, unzipping the front a bit does a good job of getting airflow in, so it’s not really an issue.

I’m sure this will inspire questions of Rapha v. Gore.  Frankly, even having bought this on clearance, with a discount code, it’s too expensive for me to contemplate mountain biking or fat biking in.  That’s the biggest limitation.  Comparing jacket to jacket, the Rapha’s fit is more tailored and just a bit better for me, and the Rapha fabric is pretty damn hard to beat.  The jacket is thinner than a comparably warm Gore jacket, and warmer than a comparably thin Gore jacket.  Also, the seam taping is far better, and many comparable Gore jackets are just water-resistant (and not seam-taped), rather than waterproof.  I don’t believe Gore has a jacket that is directly comparable to this in terms of both waterproofness and warmth, and certainly not in terms of tailored fit.

Of note, this is a jacket to wear when you’re riding.  It is not insulated enough to be a good jacket for rides that are likely to involve much cold-weather stopping.  But it is an incredible–incredible–jacket for the intended purpose.

Rapha Winter Base Layer Review

The Rapha Winter Base layer is a merino (you must not say wool.  It’s merino) turtleneck, available in black or charcoal.

I’ve had this for over two years as well, and it is one of my go-to pieces for cold weather riding.  The turtleneck is long enough that you can pull it up over your jaw and protect your lower face and entire neck, yet loose enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s choking you.

I’m perpetually amazed by how warm this is.  I find myself wearing fewer and fewer layers each time I ride with it.  On the coldest of days, on a road bike, on an exposed, windy road, I can wear this layer with a light winter riding jacket over it and be warm and comfortable.  If you start getting too warm, you can unzip the jacket a bit, and it is amazing how fast the merino air dries with a little blowing wind.  If you’re getting sweaty, the merino keeps you insulated even when wet.  (If you’re riding more slowly or stopping frequently…i.e. some Fatbike rides, more layers are needed).

As with my other Rapha pieces, I machine wash this, inside-out, cold water, extra rinse, and air dry it.  It hasn’t shrunk a bit, and still looks as good as the day I bought it.  Durability has been excellent.

I still like Gore base layers with windstopper material…but what I’ve found is that if I have a good jacket on, I really don’t need a windstopper base layer.  Windstopper base layers are most useful when it’s transitional weather and you wear one under a regular jersey.  If it is cold or wet enough to demand a jacket, I’m finding that wool merino is a better choice for base layers.

Once again, it’s perfect kit, and I have no regrets or complaints.  A medium fits me perfectly.