What a strange winter it has been. Much of the country is readily prepping for spring-like weather, while other parts are getting a late hammering of snow. For me, the weather has turned decidedly spring-like with mild temps and plenty of rain, but it still seems like a good time to look back on some of my favorite products that helped get me here. Our readers in the Southern Hemisphere are just transitioning to their coldest months of the year, but more importantly – this is a great time of year to pick up deals on closeout winter gear to use for next season. I can’t guarantee you’ll find any of the following items on clearance on account of their popularity, but it’s certainly worth a look…
Keep in mind that this is not a definitive list – just a few of the products that really stood out during winter testing. If you’re looking for boots or the Specialized x 686 outerwear, follow the links to check out our earlier reviews.
Fat bike tires are perhaps more condition dependent than standard mountain bike tires, but if you’re looking for absolute grip, look no further than the 45NRTH Flowbeist and Dunderbeist. 45NRTH markets these as a “groomed snow trail” fat bike tire, but I think that may be short selling them a bit. I have friends (the racer type) who feel they are a little too slow and suffer from a lot of rolling resistance, but for our trails and winter conditions I’ve found any rider with these tires will be walking the least. Don’t get me wrong, they are fantastic tires for groomed trails. The combination of traction, braking, and cornering knobs allow you to ride more aggressively than snow should allow.
But when the conditions include craters left from hikers and dog walkers using the trail when it’s too wet (which then freeze), the tires’ deep knobs dig down deep to keep traction in the most unlikely situations. The front tire also sealed surprisingly well when that monster of a thorn above found its way through. These are not the tires for hard pack dirt trails or riders spending a lot of time on the road, but if you’re looking for an aggressive, tubeless fat bike tire for almost every winter condition this is it. Sold as a mixed pair with front and rear specific tread patterns, weights were 1487 and 1459 for the 4.6″ tires. Save your pennies though as they sell for $140 each.
45NRTH is also winning the glove game with their Sturmfist 5s. I tested out a few different pairs of gloves this winter and I kept coming back to the 5s for their combination of warmth and manual dexterity. 45NRTH also sent along their Sturmfist 4s, but with temperatures below 0ºf only for a few days this year, it really wasn’t cold enough for them. While 45NRTH lists the 5’s temperature rating from 15-35ºf, I’d say it’s more like 0-35ºf and that’s coming from someone whose left hand now gets extremely cold on account of the nerve damage. The actual goat leather palm seems to break in and get better with use, though I did find it to be slippery when used with ESI silicone grips. Built with a large snot wipe on the thumb, one of the best features of the Sturmfist 5s is how easy they are to get back on when you take them off mid ride with sweaty hands. A lot of times the inner liner of many gloves will bunch up making it very difficult to put back on, but not here. the Sturmfist 5s retail for $100.
For as many years as I’ve been riding in the winter, I’ve been getting by with simply wearing winter hats under my helmet. While perfectly functional, I thought it was time to try out an actual winter helmet – like the Lazer Dissent. Basically just a cycling adapted version of their ski helmet, the Dissent has a lot of features that will make it your new favorite winter accessory starting with the fact that you’ll never need an additional winter cap again. Thanks to the adjustable vents which can be completely closed, even rides starting out below 0ºf are comfortable, and when you start dumping heat you can just open the vents on top with the slider to cool things down. The insulated ear flaps and internal padding are very comfortable but still allow you to hear your surroundings. And as someone who sweats, a lot, even in the winter, the pad arrangement kept most of it out of my eyes and from freezing inside the helmet. Other bonuses include an easy to use (with bulky gloves) elastic goggle keeper on back, and a removeable multi purpose mount on top for lights or cameras.
About the only area I could fault the dissent is the front visor. Shortly after I started testing the helmet, I noticed it was cracked at the center mount. However, it simply bolts on so I just took it off. I found out that I actually preferred the helmet without the visor because it restricts your vision when in an aggressive riding position. This is one area you can tell it’s an adapted ski helmet – you’re more upright when skiing so the visor isn’t really in your sight lines. Even without the visor, the helmet still has a bit of a lip built in and functioned great without it. It may seem like overkill to have separate helmets for winter an summer, but like dedicated winter boots the additional comfort is so worth it. $160.
For those days on the road, it seems like there is a constant battle between those wanting a clean black look, and those who place visibility over looks. With gear like Pactimo’s RT collection, you get the best of both worlds. Thanks to strategically placed Plastotex Pixel thermal reflective panels on pieces like the Alpine Thermal RT Bib Tights and Alpine Thermal RT Jersey, you get a big boost in visibility.
Shown here at night with a flash, the panels are located across the shoulders, Jersey hem, ankles, thigh, and arms.
Of course if you want hi-viz colors and the RT technology, Pactimo has that as well. Almost all of their Winter/early spring collection is available in black and bright colors giving you a choice. As for performance, the Alpine Thermal RT collection is super comfortable but not the warmest. This would be a great combo for late fall/early winter and late winter/early spring rides where the temperatures will consistently be between say 32-50ºf. Layering will help extend the range a bit, but for really cold days I reached for the Cascade RT jacket above. The Climabloc front panels made this a great choice for cold, damp rides and with hi-viz and RT visibility I felt pretty safe. The Cascade RT jacket sells for $175, while the Alpine Thermal RT Jersey is $125 with the bibs another $155.
If you’re in to matching your accessories, Pactimo has a full line of hi-viz with a winter cap, toe covers, and neck gaiter to go with it.
Finally, for those days where you just can’t get outside, a trainer can be an important piece of gear (I can’t believe I’m admitting that). For years I’ve struggled with the motivation to stay on a trainer for more than a few minutes, no matter what the brand or style. A smart trainer changes that. Thanks to devices like the CycleOps PowerSync and programs like Zwift, indoor training is now more video game than boredom. By connecting the trainer to a computer or other device, virtual training programs will change the trainer’s resistance based on the riding on the screen. That makes your riding a lot more enjoyable since you are focused on the screen rather than the time spent in place. Regardless of the trainer used, virtual training will change the way you think of spending hours pedaling while going nowhere.
As for the trainer itself, the PowerSync has a lot going for it, but it still has a few areas where it could use improvement. One of the biggest bummers is the lack of dual band support – so you’re buying only an ANT+ compatible trainer or a Bluetooth trainer. However, Cycleops tells us the next generation will address this very issue. Which is a good thing, because for $899.99, you’ll only want to (painfully) make this purchase once. It also only has three pre-determined axle widths for 120, 130, and 135mm hubs. That will cover the bulk of road bikes, but with more and more bikes going thru axle this could be an issue. The Powersync fights back though with an impressive life like road feel with a heavy weight flywheel and adjustable resistance through whatever virtual training program you choose – like Cycleops’ own CVT. Then since it’s a Cycleops product, it’s made in the U.S. and includes a lifetime warranty. While the pricing may be a tough pill to swallow (especially when competitors’ prices are as low as $699), with a few tweaks to stay current the PowerSync will be a great tool to keep up on your fitness.