Riding outside in the winter, I’m perpetually cold. When other people are out in insulated bib shorts and light jackets, I have bib tights, a jacket, and a vest. Not this year, though, this year has been different. It’s time to discuss some of the great products that have helped keep me warm this winter in the 2019 Winter Clothing Round Up.
Last time I talked about winter riding gear, it was geared much more towards a wide range of conditions and riding styles. I looked at products designed to stretch from early fall through late spring. Nothing wrong with that, but this time I decided it should be much more focused, both in terms of riding intensity and also temperature. This is the gear that keeps me warm on the coldest days I am willing to venture out, and it’s gear designed for high intensity riding over many hours.
There are other options that may work well, but the Assos Mille GT Ultraz winter jacket, Assos LS SkinFoil Winter Evo7 Long Sleeve Base Layer, Bontrager JFW Winter cycling shoe, and the Castelli Polare 2 bibtights are some of the items that have been keeping me warm this winter.
Arguably, the most exciting pieces in this roundup are the Assos Mille GT Ultraz jacket and the accompanying Assos Evo 7 longsleeve skinfoil. The Mille GT Ultraz jacket is, without even a little hyperbole, the nicest cycling jacket I have ever touched. I love softshell jackets, but in the past, my experience was that they can get overwhelmed when it’s a bit too cold and/or too wet. My experience with other, similar, jackets is that they are too porous when it gets cold, and at the same time, if the rain gets a bit too heavy, while I stay dry, the water will pool in places like the forearms, and it starts to get really cold fast.
The Mille GT just doesn’t exhibit this behaviour at all. Assos is a company that loves to really flex their design muscle when it comes to different fabrics. They tend to use a lot of different fabrics so that each area of a garment is using a textile with just the right properties. The Mille GT jacket is no different and in the front Assos uses a material called NEOS Ultra Textile. The NEOS Ultra textile is a heavy, though not overly heavy feeling, fabric that is water-resistant and windproof. The windproof nature of the NEOS Ultra that Assos uses on the front makes a huge difference in your body’s ability to build heat even when it’s really cold.
There are a couple of supporting elements employed as well. The interior of the Mille GT is covered with a brushed material that Assos refers to as RX. It’s nice to have a soft layer against your body, but there’s also a very important air gap between the outside and the inside materials. The ability of the interior to move somewhat independently is one of the things I think is so nice about this jacket. It does make it a bit more difficult to get your arms through the sleeves, but once it’s on, the internal RX fabric moves with your body while the external fabric keeps wind and water at bay.
The other supporting character in the warmth that the Assos Mille GT Ultraz jacket provides is the integrated neck warmer. It’s not something any of the marketing calls attention to, but it really helps keep your core warm. If you prefer not to use it, there is a place for it to stow, so that it will sit against your upper back, inside the jacket.
I do find that when it’s really cold, I still like to use a second neck warmer, and for that I employ the Castelli Head Thingy that I discussed previously. You can check out the previous article for more info, but the reason I like to supplement is that I find the integrated neck warmer is difficult to pull up onto my face, and the Castelli Head Thingy can also be used a hat if you’d like. They do work just fine doubled up to keep your neck warm as well.
The Assos Mille GT Ultraz jacket does work wonderfully when looked at on its own, but Assos is a proponent of looking at your whole system of clothing. They have what they refer to as the Assos Layering System, and it’s designed so that it’s easy to grab a combination of clothing that will be best suited to the type of riding you will be doing. Honestly, it’s not revolutionary, but it is important to think of your clothing as a system.
In this case, I wanted the warmest system possible, and the Assos LS skinFoil Winter Evo7 Long Sleeve Base Layer is the warmest that Assos offers. As a part of the system, it pairs wonderfully with the Mille GT jacket to build warmth from the skin out. There is a thickness to the fabric chosen that accomplishes two main goals. It adds surface area, more surface area means more trapped air which means more warmth, without adding bulk. It also helps pull moisture away from your skin, so that when it’s wet from sweat, you don’t get cold as the liquid dries. I’m not sure how it will perform in the shoulder seasons – when I fully intend to continue using it – but paired with the Mille GT jacket, I have never found myself cold because of drying sweat.
In terms of practical use, I would say there’s not a need to size down on this base layer. My Rapha summer base layers are extra small, but I’m wearing a size small, same as my jersey size, in the Assos LS skinFoil, and I doubt I’d be able to fit an extra small. With the combination of seamless construction and highly elastic fit, I don’t feel any need to size down anyway. The Assos LS skinFoil Winter Evo7 Long Sleeve Base Layer feels soft and comforting against your skin and the perfectly thick, but still compressive, fabric paired with the high neckline, adds a layer of serious warmth under whatever you might pair it with.
Moving down the body, I took a look at the Castelli Polare 2 Bibtight in this winter roundup. Last time I looked at winter gear, I went with a hybrid option that paired unpadded tights with insulated bib shorts. It was a solid solution with a lot of flexibility, but it’s not ultimately the warmest option. This time around, I chose warmth over flexibility and the Castelli Polare 2 Bibtight definitely delivers on warmth.
It’s interesting to look at it next to the Assos gear, though. Unlike the Mille GT jacket, which feels completely revolutionary, the Polare 2 bib tights feel completely evolutionary in nature. I’ve ridden with other bib tights that were similar, but the Polare 2 is just better. They are far and away the warmest I’ve ever experienced, and from the very first time I tried them, I felt a bit silly that I hadn’t been using them sooner.
In the front of the Polare 2, you’ll find a generous usage of Castelli’s warmest Gore Windstopper fabric, and it wraps around to the sides for most of the leg. In the rear section of the bibs, there is fabric that feels almost as thick as a light wetsuit, and it does a pretty good job of both keeping road spray out as well as allowing moisture from sweat to evaporate. I don’t run fenders on any of my bikes, and these do a good job keeping you feeling warm even when dealing with road spray.
This winter has been drier and colder than is typical, so what I have most appreciated is the full fleece lining. At the bottom of the ankle, you will find a quality fit with a good zipper, and from that point all the way to the top where it transitions to the mesh straps, there is a thick layer of fleece. Once you get to the straps, Castelli makes a big deal about the design of the straps being thought out so as to not interfere with whatever insulation you might be wearing. I can’t say I noticed this much however, the straps are comfortable and given that the objective is to not create a problem, I’d say they did a good job.
The last new piece of gear I looked at this winter is definitely a nod to changes in the industry. In the past, I used my road bike in the winter, and although I discussed a Mavic overshoe option in the previous winter article, I later discussed the Assos thermobootie.uno_s7 and that is the overshoe I have stuck with. It’s still the best option I have used for road shoes in cold weather, but this year I spent far more time on my gravel bike during the cold weather. On my gravel bike, I run SPD pedals, and this opens up a whole new range of options for keeping your feet warm.
In recent years, I’ve seen a couple of winter specific road pedal oriented cycling shoes pop up, but the vast majority of winter cycling boots are designed around offroad pedal options. The Bontrager JFW Winter Cycling shoe falls into that category, and they have been a dependable partner through the cold, the wet, and the mud. I absolutely love boa adjusters, and it’s been with reluctance that I’ve given them up on my summer road shoes in favour of weight reduction.
In a winter environment, weight is the last thing I worry about in my shoes, and when you’ve got thick gloves on, the simplicity of a single boa adjuster is a joy. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the crazy conditions I’ve subjected the boa adjuster, without an issue. Should you ever experience a failed boa adjuster, they are guaranteed for the lifetime of the product they are integrated into, and the process is straightforward.
One of the big reasons that I run SPD pedals on my gravel bike is that I often find myself following a friend into uncertain territory and hiking with my bike is something that happens often. The Bontrager JFW Winter Cycling shoe, with it’s Tachyon rubber outsole and Nylon composite sole, is easy to hike in. There are also times where I feel like I want to keep my heart rate up even though I’m needing to hike, and in those instances, I have run in the JFW cycling shoes without issues. The neoprene upper keeps your feet warm and dry, but it also allows enough flexibility that you can run if you want to.
The bottom line is that I’ve had them out in the worst weather hiking, and running, along muddy single track and under every situation, they have kept my feet warm and dry. The Assos thermobootie.uno_s7 is very good, but it’s still an extra piece of gear, and eliminating one more piece of gear is nice. The Bontrager JFW is also generously cut so that thick winter socks and chemical foot warmers don’t leave your feet feeling like sausages in a casing.
Last time I looked at stretching riding through the three colder seasons(Link). This time around I looked at what I could recommend for the coldest months of riding. I was also looking for products for people like me, who are constantly cold and want seriously warm gear even in the shoulder seasons. For the coldest times, I recommend the Assos Mille GT Ultraz jacket, MSRP $349.00, the Assos LS skinFoil Winter Evo7 Long Sleeve Base Layer, MSRP $105, the Castelli Polare 2 Bibtight, MSRP $199.99, and the Bontrager JFW Winter Cycling shoe, MSRP $199.99.
This stuff is some of the best cold weather gear out there, and I supplement it with a few accessories that I’ve previously talked about. I love the Castelli Head thingy, as low as $13.26 online, and if I’m riding my road bike, I use the Assos thermobootie.uno_s7, currently available from Assos for $62. For my hands, my favourite gloves are the Sportful Fiandre, MSRP $79.99, gloves that I previously reviewed, and I pair them with a pair of Burton Screen Grab Liners, available online for $19.99, that add just enough extra warmth when I really need it without being bulky and also allows for phone usage without taking them off.
The bottom line is that if you need some serious warmth, these might not be the only options available, but this is stuff that has kept me comfortable when riding for hours in the harshest conditions.