Shimano MW-81 Update Review

Over three years ago, in one of the first posts on this blog, I reviewed the Shimano MW-81 winter cycling shoes.  Back then, I talked about them being warm, waterproof and durable.  I provided followup thoughts a couple months later, and again a couple months after that.

I’ve now had the shoes for 3 years.  To be completely honest, there aren’t a lot of things that have remained a constant in my cycling gear lineup for 3 years.  I still ride the Vaya and the Dummy, but have replaced my road bike, introduced a new gravel bike, replaced my fatbike, and am in the process of replacing my mountain bike.  I’ll readily admit that I enjoy trying new gear, and updating/upgrading.  For something to remain in my primary use for 3 years is saying something.

The Shimanos look largely as they did when I got them.  They’re dirty, but none the worse for wear.  They’re still totally waterproof, including for immersion up to the neoprene bootie at the ankle.  They’re windproof.  They’re still comfortable.  I use them for anything road or gravel when the temps hit 40 or colder.  For that use, they’re perfect.  If the temps get into the low 20s, I might consider a chemical warmer if it will be a long ride.  Otherwise, it’s just wool socks and the boots.  I wear them mountain biking in cold temps as well (provided that I won’t be riding in a lot of snow).

For fatbiking, where you might be off the bike walking more, I’ll take Wolvhammers every day of the week.  The extra insulation and traction of the Wolvhammers is totally worthwhile.  But when you’re not putting your feet down, that extra insulation isn’t always necessary, and it’s nice to not be spinning all of that boot when you’re cranking on the road or on gravel.

The Shimanos are not the prettiest shoes.  Honestly, they’re ugly.  They’re those black velcro shoes that the 3rd grader who eats crayons wears.  But they work.  They’re incredibly functional.  And frankly, I’m amazed at how well they hold up.  They’re one of the best pieces of kit that I have, notwithstanding their appearance.  I had replaced the insoles with a set of 45NRTH Jaztronaut insoles, but frankly, I don’t think that’s necessary.  The stock insoles worked just as well, and left more volume for warmth inside the shoes.

If you’re looking for deep winter, trudging around in snow boots, get the Wolvhammers.  If you’re looking for rain/cold/wet conditions boots for riding, when you won’t be putting your feet down much, these are the shoes to get.

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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.

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.