Only real cycling talent I have is putting my face in the wind. Head down and pedaling, I push air out of the way with broad shoulders and chest. Today, just past the wind farm on Maui, heading towards Lahaina, the biggest gust I’ve been hit with stopped the bike for a millisecond, and threw me sideways. While correcting with a lean and getting back inline, Pam rolls up and says, “Hey that big gust of wind just then! I was taking a drink!”
“And you didn’t get blown off the road?”
“Nice, I know I can trust you on my wheel.”
“A lot goes on back here.”
“And you got a steady wheel to follow.”
Now is the winter of my discontent
made glorious by these shoes of Yellow.
Well, if not glorious, then at least comfortable. Northwave has long offered competent winter cycling shoes, perhaps because the Italian company also has a successful line of snowboard products including boots. Of course, in the cycling world Northwave first made its reputation with completely over-the-top print ads featuring the stars of professional cycling in outlandish vignettes, like Mario Cipollini dressed as a musketeer and holding a naked blonde. Though I have known all that for years, I have never before owned Northwave shoes until now.
Northwave now actually makes three different levels of winter shoe, and each level in either road and mtb soles. The newest versions incorporate the thermal welded uppers that are carried over from Northwave’s regular cycling shoes. Though not imported into the US, the current entry-level Celsius 2 GTX (mtb) and Fahrenheit 2 GTX (road) both use the Gore-Tex Pique membrane, while the Arctic GTX versions use the Gore-Tex Koala membrane. The suggested temperature range for the Arctic versions is -25 to +5deg C (-13 to +41deg F). The top-of-the-line winter shoes from Northwave are the Extreme Winter GTX-M ($299, mtb) and GTX-R ($319, road). Though these models use a different Gore-Tex than the Arctic, I’m not sure if the shoes are designed for colder environments than the Artic shoes. In the Northwave lexicon, “Extreme” designates a flagship model rather than extreme weather. What makes it a flagship model is the dual twist-ratchet fasteners.
I chose to test the Celsius Artic 2 GTX shoe rather than the road shoe since I can count on using mtb pedals on my commute to work at least 5-6 times a week, whether or not I am motivated to train outdoors on my a bike with road pedals. And this shoe is great for commuting. Rather than clumsily adding booties to regular shoes, I can just pull on the Celsius Arctic 2 shoes, snug up the speed laces, and go. Cycling during the wet Pacific NW winters is already such a hassle that one appreciates anything that reduces the rituals of dressing for the weather.
The neoprene & velcro cuffs secure interior storm flaps, and the rest of the shoe’s upper is protected by the Gore-Tex Koala membrane. The first chance I got, I put my foot into an ankle deep puddle, and I was impressed that my foot was still dry after 20 seconds of immersion. Depending on the air temperature, the shoe can feel a little moist after a while of hard riding, but overall I feel like the Arctic 2 GTX is almost perfect in the 30-45deg F range with regular weight cycling socks. You’d definitely want warm socks if below 30deg F though, and there is no way that I would consider this shoe suited to -13deg F. If you already own Northwave standard cycling shoes, you may need to size up to wear thicker socks since their winter shoes have about the same internal volume as the rest of their shoes.
Actually for me, I find that the interior volume of Northwave shoes to be almost too much for my foot. The Celsius Arctic 2 GTX fits almost loose on me even when I have the speed laces draw all the way tight. I had to replace the stock insole with something a little thicker, though that did give an appreciated increase in arch support. I don’t consider these observations to be a complaint against Northwave so much as issues related to my foot shape. I wear a size 39.0 in Sidi and Giro shoes, and without a doubt 39.0 Northwave fitsbigger though not really longer. I generally like my shoes to fit snug and stiff, but maybe that’s not even possible with a high-top cycling shoe that still allows sufficient range of motion. A performance winter shoe needs to offer some support to one’s foot; otherwise it ends up being feeling like an UGG boot with a cleat attached, but if the whole shoe is both tall and stiff then one’s pedal stroke will be hampered. These Northwave winter shoes strike a decent balance between support and flexibility for near freezing temperatures. But despite the name of these shoes, the Northwave is not for arctic cold. If your winter riding is more about fatbiking in the snow all day than laying down base mileage before road season, then you should be looking at something from 45North. Such shoes are however much bulkier and massive.
If you consider combating water rather temperature, the achilles heel of any water-resistant cycling shoe is that there must be at least one large and difficult to seal hole: the hole into which your foot fits. The Northwave shoes have a well-shaped, supple neoprene ankle cuff that fits far better than the one on Sidi winter shoes, but in a downpour, the water will eventually wick into the shoe if your socks get wet. Or maybe it’s not a downpour but lots of deep puddles splashed by your front wheel. For commuters, this can be solved if you have rain pants that can overlap the top of the shoe and perhaps a full-coverage front fender. For rainy road training, maybe a rain booty over a regular shoe might be a better choice. If you actually plan to use the Celsius shoe for offroad biking where you might have to portage your bike through water, there probably is no setup that will keep you dry and warm while still giving the performance of a racing shoe.
The Celsius’ carbon-reinforced sole is reasonably stiff but not so much that it makes the upper seem flimsy by comparison; the shoe has a good balance both on and off the bike. The tread compound is just adequately grippy. I have definitely had shoes that could cope with cold, oily asphalt or linoleum floors better, but Northwave is far ahead of Sidi shoes, which will readily betray you on such surfaces.
Overall I would recommend the Northwave Celsius Arctic 2 GTX to commuters and other winter riders so long as the temperature is not too far below 30deg F. They are a worthy investment at $229. I chose the visually offensive fluorescent yellow version, but it is also available in black with minute accents of blue.
If you’re going to ride an aero road bike, you must resign yourself to certain inconveniences. For one thing, you cannot run your stem angled upwards. If you can’t ride slam-low, you’ve no business throwing a leg over such a bike. That’s like wearing water wings and a Speedo. Another issue is that anything you might want to attach to your bladed seatpost is going to be a hassle. And the only thing you are allowed to put on your seatpost is a tail light. The problem is that the bladed seatposts/seatmasts that many aero road and triathlon bikes sport don’t provide an ideal shape for the common tail light to grab. A second issue is that tail lights ruin the aesthetics….errrr, aerodynamics…of your pricey rolling carbon sculpture. Hold on a moment, and I’ll try to solve these two problems at once.
First up I’ll give this Cygolite Hotrod 50 a chance. The Hotrod definitely scores the full point on form. A slender, clean design, this little bon bon looks like the little black cocktail dress of bike lights. Like all the better lights in recent years, the Hotrod 50 is USB-rechargeable. Now that li-ion integrated batteries have come so far, really powerful yet long-lasting tail lights can be made surprisingly small by eliminating the accessible battery compartments that were necessary for the previous generation of lights. Since waterproofing is a prerequisite for bike lights, it is much easier to seal a mini-USB port too. The Hotrod hides the charge port on the back side of the light, so when you strap the light to a bike appendage the charge port is partially held closed by being squeezed between the light and bike.
The $37 Hotrod 50 weighs 29gr and takes 3hrs to charge. From that little package, you get 3.5hrs at full power flash (50 lumens), 1.5hrs steady, and 30hrs on low flash. It also has a “group steady pulse”, a low intensity setting suitable for use within a group, that lasts up to 100hrs.
However, as a tail light for aero-shaped seatposts, the Cygolite misses the bullseye. The rubber strap is a little too short for some bladed seatposts, and the back side of the casing, while narrow, is still flat with only a hint of concavity. On the sharp trailing edge of a bladed post, the Cygolite looks great for a moment but simply won’t stay in position for long before it pops askew. And when it does, the charge port cover can peel open as the Hotrod slides sideways on the post, looking like Goodwill handbag hanging awkwardly off a super model. On some Kamm-tailed seatposts like on Trek Speed Concept/Madone or Scott Foil bikes, the flattened back edge of those posts present less of a challenge to the Hotrod 50 (assuming that the strap is long enough). But then, who cares?… the market doesn’t lack for tail light products that can do the same thing.
One thing that the Hotrod does do well is fit on really narrow, round cross sections, such as uber skinny seatstays and the tubes of racks. The slim casing and light weight benefit here. But then we wouldn’t be talking about aero road and triathlon bikes, would we?
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention before that you’re not allowed to even think about putting a rear rack on those bikes. There are laws against such attrocities.
Light & Motion uses an alternate method to make their product fit an aero seatpost. Their Vis180 tail light has been out there on the market for several years now. At the time of its introduction, it was a leading edge product among USB-chargeable tail lights, but honestly the design suffers in comparison to newer tail lighs. In fact, compared to L&M’s relentless improvement and aggressive pricing of their Urban-series headlights, their tail light development seems a little stale. At 102gr and $100 retail, the Vis180 (70 lumens) seems bulky and expensive, though that is at least partially related to US manufacturing and the durable, aluminium casing. No surprise then that I have owned the same Vis180 for at least 4 years, and it keeps going like a champion. The Vis180 by itself is even less suited to aero cross sections, but L&M sells a $10 aero seatpost bracket as a add-on solution. The bracket is a simple rubber block with a deep V-shaped groove moulded into one side, and you just stick the bracket between the light and post, resulting in a secure position on your aero seatpost for this decidedly non-aero tail light. A very practical solution that nonetheless offends the eye, but it will have to do.