Can you buy a complete winter cycling clothing wardrobe for $200?

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Back when the sun was shining here in France I put together a few videos for all the new cyclists out there, all those folks finding two wheels as a pandemic escape. One video, in particular, seemed to managed and capture the imagination and attention. I was challenged by Caley here at CT to kit myself out in summer clothing for under US$200.

This is part two – could I get a full winter kit for the same budget?

The challenge

I’ll let you into a secret if you haven’t seen the Part 1 video yet: I successfully kitted myself out from top to toe in some very well-performing gear for US$200. From some very lovely messages I received, it also looks like I managed to help out a few of those new cyclists too with what to buy and what to avoid. Not a shoddy result in both regards.

Now that the weather has turned nippy, I thought it worth returning to the $200 challenge, but obviously this time around with gear that should keep you toasty and warm.

Back in that initial video, I managed to get everything that you’d need if you were getting to grips with cycling, from the stiff clip-in shoes we wear to the funny looking helmets we don. This time around I haven’t bothered with shoes or a lid; I figured if you started in the summer pedalling than you’ve already gathered those bit ‘n’ bobs.

That certainly doesn’t make this challenge easy, far from it. As any cyclist who’s been in the sport a while will know winter kit can be silly money.

This time around the list of necessary items was just as extensive, if not more so.

Starting at the bottom, we needed:

  1. Warm socks: Summer socks are all good and well and on occasions can do the half-decent job, but as anyone who’s been out in serious winter conditions will grumpily concur numb toes can ruin a ride, quickly.
  2. Overshoes: Something to keep your prized cycling shoes clean, dry and add that extra toastiness.
  3. Tights: Something warm with a good chamois.
  4. A warm undershirt: The layer closest to the skin is vital.
  5. A good jacket: The final layer.
  6. Gloves: Warm enough to keep our digits working the whole ride.
  7. A cap or hat: Crucial for keeping the noggin working properly.

So the big question is, did I kit myself out for 28.7% of what the top end Assos jacket would cost you (that’d be $725)?

Was it any good?

Did my toes fall off?

Did I stay dry?

Well, just like every other week, you’ll just have to tap that play button at the top of the article to find out…

…then again if you’re not into all that moving image and sound nonsense I’ll do you a favour and continue here. Let’s dive into a quick rundown of how things panned out, in the good old fashioned written word.

The winter gear that worked

To fill out the list above, here’s what I ended up purchasing. Some of it was based on prior experiences (as with the DeFeet stuff), some of it took a bit of experimentation. You’ll notice the same brands cropping up again – there just aren’t that many good options in these price ranges, so the brands that do this budget range well feature frequently.

Spoiler alert: US$200 for full winter kit that actually keeps you warm in conditions down to zero degrees – that’s Celsius for all you Americans with you’re crazy Fahrenheit – isn’t all that easy. This time around I very well may have failed. Here’s what I liked, didn’t like, and what I learned about buying inexpensive winter kit.

Warm socks: DeFeet Wooleator

US sock maker DeFeet just make kit that works and doesn’t break the bank. Their gloves, booties and woolly socks all came out as firm favourites. As a bundle you can pick them up for somewhere in the region of US$65, a bargain as from experience its kit lasts and lasts. I’ve actually a set of their winter gloves that have now seen something like 12 years of action. Sure they’re looking a bit tired now but they still see action every winter at some point.

Booties: DeFeet again!
I tried a pair of thin DeFeet sock-like booties and was very impressed. They come in all sorts of bright colours and are about US$20. They’re no good in wet weather and aren’t thick enough for temperatures under freezing, but they’re cheap and cheerful and they work.

If you want to add some temperature range to them, try a bit of aluminium foil or plastic wrap between your shoe and the oversock.

I tried the Sportful Giara booties as well, and they were great. Much warmer than the DeFeets, which is no surprise because they’re much thicker and more waterproof. But unfortunately, at US$60 they put me over budget. So DeFeet + plastic wrap it is.

Undershirt: DHB Long Sleeve Zipper Neck Merino

As for the undershirts in this test, well they were a bit on the hit and miss side of things. One being a hit the other being a bit of a miss. At US$15 Decathlon’s long-sleeved base layer is a bargain, but only if you don’t mind being a tad bit nippy.

Don’t get me wrong, it works fine, but when you’ve been used to using Craft base layers – the best in the biz if you ask me – anything else is going to be hard pushed to even come close.

But surprise, surprise, the second base layer I had on test came as close as any I’ve used in the past. Again DHB with their the merino zipped base layer at US$50 isn’t what many would class as budget, but you try finding a merino undershirt for less than that (if you do, please let me know). If you’re a fan of merino and have US$50 to splash on a base layer take a look.

Winter tights: DHB Roubaix bib tights

Well-known brand DHB has excelled itself with these comfy Roubaix bib tights. Though not as warm as some of the more expensive tights I’ve pulled over my legs, they did a great job for the US$63/£60 that they retail at. Plus, just like their summer shorts, the pad made by Elastic Interface had my bum cheeks in a happy place.

I tried some tights from Decathlon, the big sports store here in France, and frankly don’t recommend them. They’re even cheaper but the pad just wasn’t as good.

Winter jacket: Abject failure
When I said before that I couldn’t do a full freezing temps winter kit for US$200, this is why. The jacket I got in was the Decathlon Van Rysel RCR Winter Softshell Road Cycling Jacket, which cost US$70. It just wasn’t warm enough.

This thing just isn’t built for an Alpine winter’s ride. Even though it’s advertised as a winter jacket, I’d throw it in with kit that’s more at home when the spring or autumnal temperatures roll around.

I will give credit where credit’s due, as it’s a lovely garment, the cut is close fitting and on-trend, the material looks relatively hard-wearing and the drop tail should keep your arse a touch dryer than what a standard cut jersey would. But just keep in mind that it’s just not ideal for deep winter months.

Worrying this may be the case, I actually brought along a Sportful Tempo jacket that I love, and I had to throw it on mid-ride. This isn’t a solution to our budget jacket problem though, as this jacket alone uses up my entire US$200 budget.

There have to be good jackets out there in the US$70 price range. If you’ve found one, let me know in the comments.

Gloves: DeFeet Merino Gloves
Another point for DeFeet here. I compared their simple Merino gloves with some cheap knit gloves I dug up at a petrol station and the Merino options were warmer by far, despite being no thicker. The DeFeet version are US$25.

That said, I would want a shell of some sort to go over them for wetter rides, or if the temps dropped further below freezing. For a thicker option, our editor, Caley Fretz, swears by some gloves from Kinco which can be found in hardware stores and even gas stations for skiing and riding in Colorado, and they’re less than US$40.

Necessary accessories: A buff/neck gaiter and a cap
The neck gaiter is key. Keeping your neck warm keeps your whole body feeling warm. These things are easy to find for less than US$15, and in these pandemic times, double has a handy face mask when you haven’t got something more medical handy.

What you need to know about cold-weather cycling clothing

I had gone into this seasons clothing cash challenge positive that it would be easy. After all, I didn’t need a helmet or shoes, as I did back in the summer’s challenge. And from the summer’s exercise I had a few bucks left over and still got some great items. But it turns out finding quality warm kit that’s cheap isn’t all that easy.

All in all, I again loved attempting to build a wardrobe for the same price as a set of a quality set of sunnies. And again I learnt a few thing, or at least had a few things I previously knew reaffirmed. As the age-old saying goes, “you get what you pay for” rang true; or for the most part it rings true when it comes to winter kit.

Winter clothing just need to work. If it doesn’t you’ll know about it soon enough, mid-ride you’ll be grinning it and bear it, cold hands, feet or any other body part numb or damp from the cold for long periods of time will just not encourage you to keep riding. It’ll turn in to a slog of a ride. Keeping warm and dry in the winter months is a must.

Slapping down a few extra bucks for each of the items on the winter clothing shopping list, in the long run, won’t have you wishing you had when your miles from home with frostbitten bits. The larger ticket items, such as bib tights and jackets I’d fully advise anyone to seriously think about saving up a little more cash than they anticipated and buying as good as you possibly can.

You should be able to get a really good mid-range jacket start at around US$160-$200. For that price, you should get an item that will see you through multiple winters worth of riding, especially if you look for something made with a quality brand named fabric. For instance Gore and Sportful both do great stuff in that price range. It’ll be an investment, trust me. Anything of lesser quality I could quite easily see being destroyed by a harsh winter’s worth of grit, grim and salt off the road. The same goes for the tights, the more you pay the longer they’ll last you. Yes, I know, I sound like a big old snob with that comment.

OK then, that’s your lot. If you’ve got this far down thanks for reading, but how about doing me a big favour and delve into the YouTube video, it’s only like 10 minutes of your life you have to commit to! You never know, you may enjoy it and I very well may have omitted a few key points from this article to force you to watch it.

Or then again I might not have.

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