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.

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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.

Rapha 3/4 Bib Shorts Review

I’ve had these bibs for about 2 years now.  You can’t tell by looking at them, because they still look like new.

Excuse the garage poseur pics…I don’t have any good pics of them on actual rides.

The shoulder straps are incredibly comfortable.  Despite not having any rubber grippies on them, they stay in place on your shoulders perfectly.

The length of the bibs tends to fall about mid-calf, or a little above.

The chamois is one of the best, most comfortable chamois I’ve ever had.  Notwithstanding 2 years of heavy use, it looks like new and still feels great.

I wear a medium in the bibs…and they’re snug in the legs.  If you just pull them on and go ride, the legs will pull the bibs down and move the chamois in an uncomfortable way.  Over time, I’ve found that when you put the bibs on, it is critical to grab the leg fabric and pull it up firmly…you have to really make sure the legs are up enough that they don’t pull down on the rest of the bibs.  Once they’re in place, they’re perfect and don’t move at all.

Aesthetics are typical Rapha–understated and elegant.

I wear these from the 50s down to the low 40s/upper 30s.  If it’s 35 and it’s going to go up to 50, I wear these.  Some question the need for bib-knickers.  I find that keeping my knees warm is critical to being comfortable on the bike.  If your knees get cold, particularly in damp weather, they don’t feel good.  Knickers help keep you comfortable, without getting too hot, and without any binding or adjustment of knee-warmers.  They’re a great compromise piece for fall/spring riding.

The fabric is what Rapha calls fleece-backed Thermoroubaix; it’s insulating/windproof, but not terribly water-resistant.  If it’s raining, you’re getting wet.  The back of the bibs has some very breathable fabric that makes these comfortable under a jacket or winter jersey.

I’ve tried 3/4 bibs by Capo, Pearl, Rapha, and others…and the Rapha are unquestionably the best.  I should also note that the Pearl bibs, while significantly cheaper, started to unravel at the seams after about a year of use and are not insulated.  The Rapha bibs have been bulletproof.  They’re an investment piece…twice as much as the Pearl bibs, but more versatile, and they’ll last more than twice as long.

One final note on Rapha: I think the post-ride care of these is pretty critical.  I turn mine inside out, and machine wash them (cold) with an extra rinse, and then air-dry them.  They still look like new.  These are the best bib knickers I’ve ever used, and one of the best chamois I’ve ever used.

Ground Loop

I’m not a terribly good technical rider.  When I ride mountain bikes, to the extent that I’m able to keep up, it is because of my stubbornness and willingness to punish myself in the straightaways, and not because of my ability to demonstrate excellent bike handling abilities.  But I’m looking to improve my abilities–always striving to be better.

Last Wednesday, during the day, I saw a fantastic video of a guy riding a rigid fatbike in a terrain park, and absolutely killing it.  One of the most impressive parts was seeing how he would approach a jump or berm by either doing a natural or a wheelie, picking the front end up, and then just lofting onto the jump.  Hence, Wednesday night on our fatbike ride, I decided to try to learn how to wheelie.

At night.

Clipped in.

In Wolvhammers.

With lobster gloves.

On a carbon fatbike with longish seat stays.

On ice-cold pavement.

Nothing about this went terribly well.

My past experience with trying to wheelie has been just barely lofting the front tire, but not being able to hold it up.  I was advised that you have to pedal harder to loft the front…and after a few unsuccessful tries, I really punched the pedals as I lifted the bars and shifted my weight back.  The front tire rose precipitously, and things looked great.

This happened pretty quickly, and I’m not sure exactly what happened.  Because of the clipped in Wolvhammers, I was unable to unclip and get my feet down.  Because of the lobster gloves, I was unable to grab the brakes quickly (without losing precious grip on the bars).

think what happened was I got my weight too far back, and instead of wheeling, I pulled the whole front of the bike off the ground.  As the bike rotated vertically, I’m pretty sure I spun completely backwards and pulled the rear wheel off the ground as well (at that point, looking like I was riding upside down).  I landed squarely on my spine, on the cold asphalt, still clipped in, the bike still vertical between my legs, my hands still on the bars.  I rotated the bike to the side, and immediately felt the panic that is associated with the feeling of not being able to breathe.

I did a quick self-assessment.  I was conscious, jealously huffing tiny breaths.  I hadn’t hit my head.  I could move my extremities.  Friends came over and grabbed the bike, and tried to move me.  I mumbled a feeble “No…”, and they left me lying, asking if I was alright.  I had the wind knocked out of me, but the pain I had was diffuse.  Bad, but diffuse.  It didn’t feel like anything was broken.  I lay there for a few minutes and then rolled on my side.  That was worse.  I got up.  That was worse still.  I walked for a few seconds, and then got back on my bike.  Everyone asked if I was alright, and I said I was ok.

That night, it hurt to breathe.

The next day, I felt quite a bit better.

The third day, I could barely get out of bed.  A quick trip to the doc and some radiation later, and I can confirm that the escapade cost me three broken ribs.  Left side, towards the back.  None fully broken, none displaced, no threat to the lungs.  Just pain.  Constant pain.  It’s a paradox…you have to breathe to live, but every breath hurts.

I’m writing this with a smile on my face, because I realize how asinine it sounds.  I also realize how asinine it is that I was on the trainer a few days after the fall, keeping my legs up.  The jarring nature of riding on the road is unbearable right now.

I fell, and that sucks, but you know what?  I was able to wheelie.  A little too good perhaps, but a wheelie nonetheless.  And when the weather improves, I’ll do it again.  On a soft surface, with platform pedals and a pillow strapped to my back, but I’ll do it again.

This is also a good time to ask a question: are you prepared for a bike emergency?  If one of your friends ground looped, would you know what to do?  What if she suffered a broken bone, or a spinal fracture?  What if shock was setting in rapidly?  The first impulse in helping another person is to touch them…to move them from wherever they were injured.  That is almost always the wrong impulse.  I’m pretty confident in my ability to respond to an emergency based upon my time as an EMT/Firefighter…but if you’re not, you should give some thought to some first aid or wilderness first aid coursework.  The life you save may be your friend’s.

This blog is about disclosure, so even though this is an embarrassing chapter for me, and despite the fact that it requires disclosing a weakness, I’m publishing this post.  The ground loop.  I do not recommend it.