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Review: Swiftwick’s Aspire and Pursuit Socks

A couple of months ago, I received a treasure trove of socks to test from Swiftwick‘s PR person. We got four different styles to try out, so for today’s review we’re going to start with the shortest and longest of the four pairs.

First up, the Swiftwick Aspire Zero in red:

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From Swiftwick’s site:

The ASPIRE™ Line is thin and light for serious runners, cyclists and athletes of any sport. We eliminated the toe seam using linked-toe technology, which means no bunching in the toe box.

Made of a thin synthetic, the Aspires are available in 9 colors, 5 cuff lengths (Zero, 1″, 4″, 7″, and 12″) and four sizes. There is even a military-compliant version, which means (I think) no visible logo on the cuffs.

The Aspire Zeros fit my feet great. I have an unconscious tendency to curl my toes inside my shoes when I am battling up a hill or really putting down the tempo, and that leads to cramps in my toes and foot arches. The compression nature of the Aspire socks helped keep me from doing that. See the whitish band visible under the surface on the photo above? That’s additional elastic that helps support the arch of my foot. That and the ribbing make for a very comfortable, supportive fit, indeed. My foot felt like one solid “unit”, if you can imagine that.

The omission of the toe seam means that even in snug shoes, there is no painful chafing. I think we’ve all experienced socks with pronounced seams in that area, and that’s no fun, especially when you’re out on your bike.

As far as for the cuff length, it’s just a hair too short for my taste — I prefer low cycling socks, but the Zeros were a little too close to the mouth of my shoes, and if they slipped down, there was a bit of chafing around my ankle. I think the Aspire Ones would have been perfect. Still, these lightweights are great on really warm days!

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Next up is the Pursuit Seven in black:

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From Swiftwick’s website:

Socks born from the same technology and spirit of our synthetic lines with two key differences: The PURSUIT(TM) line comes fused with the natural and thermal properties of super fine, 36 micron Merino Wool sourced from farmers right here in America AND is the only 200-needle compression wool sock on the market. In short, these socks are built of the finest, by the finest.

The Pursuits are made from a blend of Merino wool and synthetic (64% Merino wool, 29% nylon, 7% Spandex). That lends them a luxurious feel against the skin, and makes the socks thicker — perfect for cooler days, but plenty fine for warm days, too, as wool helps regulate the temps. They are available in four sizes, six colors, and six cuff lengths (Zero, 1″, 2″, 4″, 7″, and 12″). The Sevens have a bit of an unappealing “Lance Armstrong’s tall black socks” feel when worn with shorts and cycling shoes. However, the Pursuits in this length are PERFECT for wear with your office attire and regular shoes — they look, but certainly don’t feel, like regular old black socks. All the compression benefits of Swiftwick’s other sock lines are here, and the material feels great against my skin. I’ve been wearing these socks on cooler days and with regular street attire. They’re not bad on hotter days, either, but I like a thinner sock on the truly hot days.

The Swiftwick Aspires range between $12.99 and $35.99, depending on length, and the Pursuits range from $15.99 to $34.99, depending on length. That represents a pretty great value, as both pairs are made from great materials and have the advanced compression and anti-chafe features baked right in. Swiftwick makes a huge variety of other socks, too, all in a host of colors. Check them out by visiting their website.

Next week, we’ll have a review of the other two pairs of Swiftwicks. Stay tuned!

Riding in unpredictable weather

Tips for Cycling in Unpredictable Weather

Although summer is well on its way, which means sunny (and sweaty!) rides, there are many places where the hottest season can be unpredictable. England for example, is well known for its constant weather variability. The typical ‘British Summer’ is characterized by unexpected showers and bursts of hot sunshine where everyone cuts back on clothing all of a sudden. If you’re one of the unfortunate ones, and this sounds like the summer time where you are, here are some important tips for cycling during an unpredictable season.

Have a Base Layer
You might associate layering with colder, winter weather but layers can also work wonders in warmer weather too. It’s worth investing in a comfortable and high-quality base layer that is both breathable and insulating, as the cutting-edge material technology that is on the market nowadays can work with your body to naturally adapt to different weather conditions. With a base layer you can also add or remove other layers on top according to your comfort level and temperature.

Arm and Leg Warmers
In the summer months, you’ll probably want to keep to cropped cycling pants or shorts and t-shirts or more sleeveless tops. These are great in hot weather but when it starts spitting or getting windy all of a sudden, you need to be able to adapt. Keep some leg and arm warmers to hand to stop off and slip on just in case it gets chilly or you need some extra coverage.

A Lightweight Mac
For any outdoor activity or exercise, it’s imperative to have a lightweight, manageable and comfortable waterproof jacket that you love. Especially when riding to and from work, you need to keep protected just in case the clouds start rolling in. Look for the right material and be sure that is has tight, taped seams to stop water getting in. Mesh lining is an important feature as it allows sweat to escape but look out for too much mesh, as this can make the jacket bulky. One of the best features of waterproof cycling jackets is the dropped tail that covers your lower back and derriere from those dastardly mud splashes, so be sure to look out for that too!

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A Protective Bag

Don’t let your important documents, clothes and snacks get soggy on the way to work! To protect you from the wind, mud and rain, be sure to grab yourself a good waterproof bag cover that fits securely over your rucksack. There are plenty of different covers on the market and you can even buy a separate waterproof bag for all of your belongings to save fiddling with the bag cover.

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Preparation is key if you don’t want to end up arriving at your destination looking like you’ve been dunked in the nearest pond. Make sure you have all the precautions in place and check-up on the weather conditions regularly for enjoyable cycling this summer.

Review: Bolle “Copperhead” polarized sunglasses

Just before Interbike, the good folks at Bolle sent over a pair of their “Copperhead” sunglasses to try out. We’re big believers in protecting our eyes when we ride, whether it’s to the corner store or across town, so we jumped at the chance to check out a new pair.

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The Copperhead glasses come in a padded case with a microfiber cleaning cloth included. I got the “Shiny Black” color; the glasses come in five other color combinations. The frames are nylon with small hydrophilic rubber pads on the ends of the temples and at the nosepiece to prevent slipping when things get sweaty. The lenses themselves are polarized to help fight glare, and are coated with both anti-fog and anti-smudge treatments. The glasses themselves are suited for smaller faces, like my own — our pal Jim Katz, the PR man for Bolle, helped determine that these would fit my face better than some of Bolle’s other styles.

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As you can see, these are more of a casual style — lending them the ability to go with office attire as well as cycling togs. I found the temples to restrict my vision a bit, which may be an issue for those of you who prize extra peripheral vision while dodging traffic. The frames around the lenses are suited for riding more upright bikes; I also had obstruction issues when I rode my more aggressively-set-up road bikes. Hardcore roadies might be better served by rimless lenses.

Despite the minor issues with the frames getting in the way, the Copperhead glasses fit nicely, provided great coverage for my eyes, and stayed in place. No one wants to fuss with readjusting glasses on the go. The temples hugged close to my head, allowing me to tuck them under my helmet straps (decidedly “un-PRO”, but hey, I’m not fooling anybody).

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The lens clarity is great and the polarization really helps, especially when going from brightly-lit areas to more shaded parts of the road. And the glasses are pretty stylish — I didn’t feel like I was wearing sportswear; in other words, the glasses didn’t clash with my casual work clothes.

After I wore them for a bit, our friend Wesley (an alumnus of our mountain bike racing team) reached out to us — he was training with the U.S. Navy near Chicago and desperately needed a pair of sunglasses he could wear out on the water. Always one to support our troops, I got the glasses into Wes’s hands in short order with the request that he snap a photo wearing them in uniform:

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Wes reported that the glasses worked perfectly for him, and also looked pretty snappy with his “blueberries”. I wholeheartedly agree!

The Bolle Copperheads retail for around $99, and are available directly from Bolle or at retailers near you. If you’re looking for a casual pair of sunglasses that have performance features, but you’re not sitting on a fortune, these might do the trick nicely.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Good news from Pearly’s

Remember a couple months ago, we reviewed Pearly’s Possum Socks? Well, Duke from Pearly’s has some good news to share with everyone:

Pearly’s volume has grown significantly over the last 12 months and we are now getting far better prices on our raw materials…which allows us to lower the list price. So…I am really excited to share that Pearly’s now have a much lower list price of only $38 bucks a pair!! We are so stoked to be able to do this price reduction, I think it is going to open up the awesomeness of Pearly’s up to a much larger group of people.

That is huge news, indeed. I am sure a few people stayed away due to the high price of these wonderful socks, but now the lower price point means they’re much more affordable. Do yourself a favor this winter, and track down a pair of Pearly’s…your feet will be glad you did!

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Review: Pearly’s Possum Socks

Winter’s here, and it’s time to suit up for battling the cold. I’m not talking to my many Florida friends here — I am looking at you, O Winter Warriors!

A few weeks ago, Duke from Pearly’s Possum Socks sent a pair of their cold-weather riding socks for us to test out.

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I had heard of these; in fact, Jeremy over at our sister site Mtnbikeriders.com reviewed a pair about a year ago. I remember being very intrigued by socks made from “exotic” materials, so when the opportunity came to try these out, I volunteered myself in a heartbeat!

Exotic materials, you say? Yes — as they say in the Deep South: “thar’s possum in thar!”

Let’s get something straight right off the bat, though…this isn’t the possum most of us are familiar with. Not the late-night garbage can-marauding, cat food-stealing, angry hissing variety found in the United States, but rather the cute and cuddly-looking New Zealand Brushtail Possum. Cute as it may look, it’s considered an agricultural pest in NZ.

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The socks, according to the manufacturer, are:

45% fine merino wool
40% possum fur
10% Nylon/Lycra
5% Isolfil (a polypropylene yarn)

The socks are THICK…the manufacturer states that they will compress into any shoe, but I will warn those of you with very low-volume shoes that these socks do take up some precious real estate. I myself had no issues, but I did have to adjust the straps of my road and mountain shoes quite a bit wider than normal. And LORD are these socks luxurious…they feel fantastic on the foot; soft and utterly itch-free.

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As you can see, the socks have about a 4″ cuff. For really cold rides, I thought to myself that I’d enjoy a little more cuff length, but I didn’t have any problems with drafts around my ankles. Extra length would have merely been a guilty pleasure (to be fair, I’ve spent a bit of time fantasizing about a possum/wool bodysuit on the frostiest days).

While the socks are not windproof, they’re tightly-woven. So far, I have taken them on several rides with temps just above freezing…all this while wearing my regular vented cycling shoes and no other foot coverings. The Possum Socks are warm enough for about 2 hours of riding before I started getting tingly toes. Suffice it to say that I am fairly blown away by that! In winter-weight shoes, or in shoes with foot covers, these socks should handle temperatures much lower than I experienced, and I hope to test that theory out as winter progresses.

Now, let’s talk about the price: these socks aren’t cheap. In fact, they’re rather stunningly expensive at $58 a pair. That stings, but consider this: we spend a lot of money on gear and bikes…why not spend money on stuff that actually WORKS and helps us get to work/school in comfort? I put the following question to Duke at Pearly’s:

Jack: What would you say to the naysayers who might balk at the price of these socks?

Duke: We typically ask them how much their bike cost, and how much their shoes cost. And then, how much are comfortable feet worth?

Generally, the answer is….well yeah if they actually keep my feet warm and comfortable, it doesn’t really matter what they cost.

Last year I had this great exchange with James McLean down in Santa Barbara. He was like “Are you crazy? I use plastic bags when its cold! ” And I was “James, how much did your bike cost?” And he goes “$10,000” and I go “You are riding a $10,000 bike with your feet in plastic bags???” Then I sent him a pair of socks and now he is a champion of ours.

For my own purposes, I am prepared to spend whatever it costs to stay warm in conditions like this:
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Pearly’s claims that their socks remain stink-free (like most wool clothing does) over several days of use. In the interest of science (and, to be fair, to mess with my child a bit), I wore these socks for about 5 days in a row and had my boy give them the “sniff test”. The results:

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Pearly’s Possum Socks are a luxurious way to keep your feet warm on cold rides. Yes, they are expensive, but they fully stand up to the claims the company puts forth. I look forward to slipping into them all winter long!

Visit Pearly’s website for a pair of your own, or stop by your local shop and demand they carry them. They are worth the price of admission.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.