As a cyclist, the search for newer and better gear is constant — there's always something else out there. Premes, Picks, Promos will highlight both the next big thing and the sleeper deal.
The weapon of choice for winter riding in Omaha — and elsewhere, I'd suspect — is the cyclocross bike. (If you thought I was going to say "fatbike," go run two laps and hang your head in shame.) Winter around here usually means enough snow to make pavement riding a bit sketchy on a road bike.
And though I've ridden plenty during the winter on a road bike, this year was when I decided to go all-in and get a 'cross bike. And since I had SPD pedals for it, I decided to get some winter boots, too. Like others, I'm sure, my hands and feet suffer most in cold (sub-freezing) temperatures. Relying upon a shoe cover for warmth in the snow was probably not going to do the trick.
But there aren't a ton of choices for winter boots. Shimano, Sidi, Lake, Northwave, Garneau and Mavic are your options. And it's usually only one model per company. In terms of accessibility for me, Shimano, Sidi and Lake were the top three.
I went with the Shimano MW81, which was new in the fall. It has a Gore-Tex liner, thermal insulation and a neoprene ankle cuff. It retails for $230 and is probably the easiest to procure of all of the brands listed. Plus, since I was ordering them without trying them on, I knew the MW81 would probably fit properly. Eric O'Brien, meanwhile, ordered the Sidi Diablo at $330. (This will be important later.)
After the first few rides, it was evident that the value of the MW81 — and most winter boots — isn't so much keeping your feet warm. Rather, it's keeping them from freezing into solid blocks of ice. Below 25 degrees, I've come to believe that you're just delaying the inevitable. Your feet will get cold in boots — but they won't freeze.
I spent the first few weeks just trying to figure out which socks work best. Thick wool socks (like GamJams Woolie Boolies) are not it. The boot's last is slightly wider than a standard shoe, but not that wide. Had I gone up a full size — as some do with the MW81 — that might have worked. But a full size up is a lot, and I don't want to have to wear a heavy wool sock just to make my shoes bit correctly.
A medium-weight wool sock, like Castelli's Gregge or Quindici, works better. I've tried it with and without a charcoal warmer underneath my toes. Why use a warmer instead of a thicker sock? A thicker sock adds bulk all around your foot. A warmer can fit under my metatarsal arch, which is ridiculously high.