For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s that time of year when the days are getting shorter and colder. And windier. I’m not a diehard cold weather rider, but I can ride down to 40F or so (about 4C) without having to totally bundle up with tights and a jacket – instead, usually knee warmers and a vest. Even though I’m of tropical heritage so not as genetically hardy as my more Nordic riding buddies, I can suffer the cold temps pretty well with the right kind of gear. And I’ve found that the wind chill can be as big – if not bigger – factor in how cold I get.
Both of these were purchased for personal use so this isn’t a typical review where a manufacturer provides a product for review. Rather, it’s more like a consumer review. Full disclosure: I’m a member of Gore’s Influencer program and one of the things I’m supposed to do is “help spread the word to other consumers about the quality, breadth and depth of the GORE BIKE WEAR® offering.”
Oxygen WS SO bib knickers – $189.99 retail
What sets the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers apart from what all the other manufacturers are offering is the Windstopper material. According to Gore, the material uses “an ultralight inner membrane technology that combines total windproofness with maximum breathability.” Plus the outside of the fabric is treated to provide water repellency. However, it’s not Gore-Tex so not totally waterproof.
The Windstopper fabric is stretchy but not as stretchy as typical stretch fabric found in shorts and tights. It’s 4-way stretch, but it actually feels a little “stiff” to stretch. Unlike lycra and other stretch fabrics that feel like they can stretch forever, there’s a real limit to how much the Windstopper fabric can be stretched to fit. That means paying careful attention to Gore’s sizing chart and fit guide. If you’re in between sizes and could usually squeeze yourself into a smaller size pair of shorts, bibs, or tights, the Windstopper fabric might not stretch enough and you might need to go with the larger size instead. The Oxygen WS SO bib knickers are what Gore calls “tight fit” which is “very athletic and very close to the body cut.” Think race cut. I usually wear a size small (I’m a skinny little runt) and that’s what size I got and it fits me well.
But while the Windstopper fabric may feel stiff to stretch, it’s soft to touch on the inside. It’s smooth and almost fleece-like against the skin. And despite the multitude of panels (more than dozen), the flatlock stitched seams make it feel more like it’s all one piece. So the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers are very comfortable.
The bib section of the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers is pretty conventional. The bib straps are comfortably wide (4cm or not quite 2 inches) and made with a more conventional stretch material to more easily fit them. Since these are cold weather bibs, the front is a little higher than regular bib shorts. The back has a mesh panel to provide some ventilation and allow moisture to escape.
Instead of traditional leg grippers or a tighter compression band to hold the legs in place, the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers use what looks and feels like an elastic cuff that you would expect to find on a jacket. Different, but it works. I have relatively “skinny” legs and the knickers stayed in place over my knees. And the “cuff” is very comfortable and doesn’t bind tightly.
If you’re wondering what the “oxygen” is in the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers is, it’s the chamois (or as Gore calls it, the “seat insert”). The Oxgen seat insert is a triple density design for long distance riding (Gore rates it at 4 hours). It’s dimpled for breathability and has a central channel additional comfort. Size-wise, I found it big enough to pad where padding is needed without any extraneous material. And the padding itself was firm/dense enough to cushion and felt a lot like memory foam. Like everything else about the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers, it was very comfortable.
Finally, for the safety conscious, the minimal graphics/logos on the outside of the leg panels and on the back of the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers are reflective.
Power Windstopper soft shell thermo vest – $139.99 retail
I actually have the jacket version of this vest, but found it too warm except for the coldest of cold and windy rides last winter. More times that not, I rode with a wind vest over a thermal jersey with a base layer underneath. A lot of times, I wished the vest had kept my core a little warmer. Hence my decision to get the Power Windstopper soft shell thermo vest.
I normally wear a small in pretty much every piece of bike clothing I own (did I mention I’m a skinny little runt?), but I got a medium based on Gore’s sizing and the fact that my jacket is a medium (and fits me pretty well). This is a “slim fit” garment according to Gore so is still a “close to the body cut” but just not as form fitting as their “tight fit” clothing. So not race cut. But don’t’ confuse “slim fit” with “club cut,” which would be more like Gore’s “comfort fit.” The way I would describe the way the size medium slim fit vest fits me is “loosely tight.” Considering that this is winter wear – which means will be worn with various layers underneath – that’s about right to make it comfortable without constricting.
My Power Windstopper soft shell thermo vest is hi-viz flou yellow, but it comes in other, less loud colors too.
As far as the vest is concerned, it’s a vest (basically a sleeveless version of my jacket). The entire vest is made with a soft, brushed thermal Windstopper material that I would describe as mid-weight. Because this is winter gear, there’s no back mesh panel for ventilation like you would find in most cool weather wind vests. The collar is high for warmth and wind protection. There’s an open top center back pocket that’s deep enough to carry a mini pump and other small stuff. Plus a small, zippered pocket for anything you don’t want to loose (like ID, credit/debit card, and money), but it’s not big enough to stow a phone (unless it’s an old fashioned, compact flip phone). Like the Oxygen WS SO bib knickers, the logos on the vest are reflective and there’s some reflective piping on the front and back.
Test ride and verdict
My maiden voyage in my new Gore Windstopper kit was under “perfect” conditions – sunny but temp in the low 40s and steady 25mph wind with gusts up to 40mph, which meant a wind chill of about freezing. With a base layer and PEZ Mondrian long-sleeve jersey, the Gore Power Windstopper soft shell thermo vest kept the wind off my chest and my core comfortably warm. If I had been wearing Windstopper soft shell thermo jacket, I would’ve been too warm. The Gore Oxygen WS OS bib knickers kept my legs and knees protected from the wind and warmer than regular shorts with knee warmers. And I didn’t really even notice the cold/wind on my exposed skin below the knickers. In other words, the Gore Windstopper fabric really works! I’m also happy to report that my Sugoi Zap shoe covers that I reviewed previously also work really well keeping the wind chill off my feet.
Without doubt, my Gore Oxygen WS OS bib knickers and Power Windstopper soft shell thermo vest will be “go to” kit for cold/windy weather riding throughout the winter. If I need to keep my legs warmer on a frigid ride, I can layer over the bib knickers with thermal tights – and wear a Windstopper jacket instead of a vest. Plus the bib knickers will be great for early spring riding when a little added warmth is welcomed. Definitely “winner, winner, chicken dinner” kit!
Pez contributor Chuck Peña is a former weekend warrior racer who now just rides for fun, but every once in a while manages to prove Fausto Coppi’s adage true: Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill. He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, Karen (who works for Revolution Cycles), his daughter, Marin (an aspiring junior golfer who can beat him, but at least he’s still faster on a bike), and their dogs, Cooper and Roxy. You can follow him on Twitter @gofastchuck.
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