Cold Weather Cycling: Footwear

fullsizeoutput_57fHope everyone had a great Christmas! I know I did. I even got some miles in, but that was when temps were around 40-45°. Today, a cold front has most of America in the teens while here in Tennessee it’s in the low 30’s. Back in the day, I would have braved the chill and ridden outside if nothing more than to get bragging rights. Not anymore!
Like most cyclists, I’ll take riding outdoors over logging time on the indoor training. I suppose if my budget allowed for the techno gizmos to get my bike Zwift-ready I’d love it more. But then again, probably not.
Which gets me to today’s post about cold weather cycling. To this day, my feet get cold quickly and make riding miserable so I’m focusing on footwear first.

The Problem

I’ve ridden during the winter now for 30+ years, and like Sir Lancelot, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect gear to keep my toes warm. I’ve tried every trick imaginable but always ended up with numb toes. After years of field testing various products & tricks, I’ve concluded that the problem is two-fold:
  1. Cycling shoes: they’re designed for warm/hot weather (vented, light-weight materials, etc.)
  2. Booties or shoe covers only protect the upper portion of the foot/shoe but offer no insulation for the bottom due in part to the placement of the cleats. Nevertheless, frigid temperatures bombard the sole of your shoe which radiates iciness into your foot.
Winter BootsFrom everything I’ve researched, the only solution to these problems (especially if you’re riding where the temperatures stay in the 20-30’s) are self-enclosed winter boots like this Lake MXZ. But these babies go for about $250 and my budget doesn’t allow for such extravagance, nor does my wife!
Besides, Tennesse doesn’t get THAT cold.

The Bootie

The best winter booties I’ve owned, and we’re talking 10-15 years ago, were made by either Nashbar or Performance (I can’t remember.) They had thick neoprene (I’m guessing 1/4″) were fleece-lined, had a one-piece rubber sole with a heavy-duty zipper on the back. The trick was cutting an opening in the rubber for your cleats, but other than that, these booties endured many a snowy ride. Nowadays, you’re lucky to get something that even remotely covers your shoe, let alone the bottoms.
I currently use neoprene booties by Craft. Although not as thick as the gems I just described, they have a unique design. My Craft are zipperless; they’re a one-piece neoprene. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the first thing to break on booties are the zippers so I was eager to give these a go.
To put them on, I slide one onto my calf, put on my shoe, and then pull the bootie over the shoe. The bottoms, which are somewhat open, are secured by Velcro straps. To date, these offer great coverage and protection, don’t require a king’s ransom, and have held up well.

The Insoles

Thinsulate Sole

So if the sole of the road shoe is acting as a radiator for Mr. Freeze, what can I do to combat this issue?
Enter 3M and the Thinsulate insoles. These go for about $25-30 and are sold on-line or at most sporting goods stores. I removed my summer insole (which you’ll need to do anyway) and used it as a guide to trim the Thinsulate down to size. Since they’re thicker than the original insole, and because I’m wearing thicker socks (more on that later) it’s a tight squeeze for my foot. In order to ensure I’m not cutting off circulation in my foot, I keep my road shoes as loose as possible. If I could, I’d purchase a larger set of cleats just for winter riding. Bottom line: my Thinsulate insoles definitely help keep the cold out.

More Socks, Please!

I use my Switfwick sock as the base layer followed by a thick marino wool sock. I like the fact that these socks, designed for hiking, go up my calf for extra warmth.

Add Some Heat

Toe Warmers

On really cold days, I’ll add these Toe Warmers to the mix. I’ve tried sticking them on the bottom and on the tops of my socks; either way seems to do the job and I really don’t notice them at all while riding, which I thought for sure I would.


Kit & Kaboodle

IMG_5755So here’s everything  I wear on cold days to keep my feet warm. Yeah, it gets old pulling all this stuff on but I’d rather ride than not ride, or hop on my trainer, for that matter!

I hope this post has been of some help and will encourage you to forego a Zwift workout and instead, go take on Mother Nature. I’ll address other winter apparel in subsequent posts. In the meantime, stay warm and log some miles!

2 thoughts on “Cold Weather Cycling: Footwear

  1. Hi,

    I feel your pain, over here in Scotland cycling shoes work about 3 days of the year. This was great when I worked in a bike shop as we would sell you overshoes and socks to go with the shoes but we never really get cold enough to justify the pure winter shoes.

    In the end I ditched clipless pedals, somehow I still climb at the same speed but now I use a flat soled hiking shoe. These grip the pedals as if I was clipped in and as they are waterproof and windproof I never have cold feet. The shoes cost me the same as a set of Castelli socks and they are also comfier for café stops or if you go off-road and need to hike a bit.


    1. Greetings, Scotland SultrySingleSpeeder! Yeah, I imagine your weather flat out sucks most of the time BUT your beer is definitely better than ours. 🙂 You bring up a great point I didn’t cover: changing pedals to old school flats or ones with cages and donning winter boots. It’s the poor man’s version of the expensive Lake boots. Way to adapt! Safe spinning!

      Liked by 1 person

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