What's Cool In Road Cycling

Sidi Winter Gear: Nice and “Toes-ty”

If there’s one thing worse than having your feet frozen on a ride, it’s scrounging through your gear drawer for every piece of bike footwear you own, then bundling your feet up in multiple layers to ward off frostbite. “Hot” off the inventive minds of Sidi comes the Toaster Insoles, which we paired with their Hydro GTX Winter Road Shoes to keep our feet nice and “toes-ty” in the depths of winter.

What better way to really review this gear than to go where the cold is- that’s eastern Canada in the dead of winter – we’re talking Nova Scotia where the cold Atlantic keep things colder than … well let’s just say this is the cold that launched a thousand punchlines about witch’s private parts…

Lucky for us our ToolBox editor Dr. Stephen Cheung lives in Nova Scotia (don’t ask us why), and reports the climate is excellent for his ongoing research into the human body’s reactions to extreme cold.

Sidi’s Hydro GTX Winter Road Shoes & Toaster Insoles ready to take on the cold Canadian winter.

Extreme Extremities
After a relatively mild start, winter has kicked in with a vengeance here on the eastern edge of Canada. It has been cold and windy, but for the most part dry and devoid of snow. Therefore, it has made it difficult to come up with good excuses to avoid riding and commuting to work. Most of the time, my main excuse is that my hands and feet soon feel like blocks of ice as soon as I get outside in the cold.

While it is relatively easy to bundle up in multiple layers with cold weather gear for the legs, body, and head, it’s a bit tougher to keep the hands and feet warm, due to their high surface area – to – volume ratio. In addition, one of the first responses to cold is for blood to be diverted from these areas to preserve the core. For these reasons, the hands and feet can be extremely sensitive to cold. Bundling up in multiple layers is not always the answer, as it makes handling the brakes and gears difficult and can screw up our pedaling stroke.

Minus 10 degrees? Brrrrrr…

Removing one of my prime excuses for avoiding winter riding, the folks at Sidi and Veltec Sports sent along a pair of their brand new Toaster Insoles, accompanied by their winter Hydro GTX road shoe. The Toaster insoles debuted at Interbike this year, and really are a fabulous piece of engineering.

The first thing you notice pulling the Toasters out of the box is just how “normal” they look. There really isn’t much on initial inspection to differentiate them from any pair of insoles for your shoes. For one thing, they are neither bulky nor heavy, having about the similar weight and depth as a typical orthotic insole, so just take the normal insole out of the Hydro GTX or your normal road shoe and you’re set.

Sidi’s Toaster Insoles come with everything you see here – rechargeable batteries included!

The insoles consists of a rechargeable battery built into the heelbed and a wire mesh network built into the forefoot of each insole. Therefore, DO NOT trim the insoles to fit into your shoe! If in doubt, it is probably safer to err towards a smaller size. I ride 40.5 euro shoes, so the size 40 insoles comfortably fit into both the Hydro GTX and my normal road shoes.

No need to even reach for your feet to turn on the Toasters – thanks to this tiny remote.

To charge up the insoles, simply plug them into the adapter for approximately 3h. The adapter is “smart” and turns from green to red when charging, then back to green when fully charged. Battery life is claimed for about 3h depending on external conditions. The reason for that variability is that the insoles will automatically adjust their electrical resistance, and hence the heat output, depending on external temperatures. Therefore, it’s not just a “dumb” heat source, but will increase its heating when it is colder. That’s terrific so that you’re not suffering “hot feet” when it’s cool but not crazy cold, but there’s still a good amount of power when it’s Canadian cold.

See – some well thought out technology and well-placed wires are all you need to keep your feet warm and happy.

And for the guys out there not wanting to leave the couch and the remote control, what can be cooler than having a remote control for your shoes? The Toasters come with a remote with a 3 m range that is more than small enough to stuff into any jersey pocket, so you also have the flexibility of turning the insoles on and off during the ride itself. Of course, make it a habit to leave the remote in your shoes each time so that you don’t lose it!

Hydro GTX Winter Road Shoes
For a nice piece of winter comfort, Sidi offers the Hydro GTX winter road shoes (or the identical shoe with a mountain bike sole as the Diablo GTX). The upper is made from synthetic Lorica fabric with Gore Tex membrane built in. Obviously, ventilation is kept to a minimum with not much mesh to go around. The closure system consists of three Velcro straps across the top of the foot, mated to a soft, neoprene-like strap around the ankle for a high-cut fit. Altogether, the system removes the typical need for a pair of neoprene booties over your road shoes in wet weather. Sizing runs from 39 – 50 in full sizes. Wearing a half size in shoes like I do, I opted for the size 41 to give me the option of wearing thicker socks in extreme weather.

Down on the sole of the shoe, the shoe is the same quality and grade as you would expect from the shoe company used by McEwen, Bettini, Di Luca, Team CSC, and what seems like half the pro peloton. Sidi’s Millenium 2 fiberglass sole should be stiff enough for most riders, and I’m typically not too worried about doing all out sprints when it’s freezing outside anyway. All Sidi shoes are designed to be as replaceable as possible, and in this case the heel walking pad is a standard Sidi replacement part.

A nice tall ankle and enough velcro to lock down Fort Knox make this is a solid shoe.

Overall, I’ve focused most of my outdoor riding this winter on using my PowerCranks as much as possible. With its independent pedaling, the PCs place a heavy emphasis on pulling through the entire pedal stroke. Therefore, it’s a good test of a shoe’s overall fit and comfort. With that in mind, I’ve had no complaints at all with the Millenium 2 sole or the security of the shoe in holding my foot during pedaling, with minimal slopping around of my heels despite the slightly larger sizing.

The Hydro’s cleat plate features small stoppers to plug unused bolts holes – helping to keep the coldout and the warm in.

So Just How Warm is Warm?
OK, so the technology is cool (or is it “hot” in this case?) and the fit is nice, but the litmus test remains outdoors in the great Canadian winter. Over the past six weeks or so, outdoor temperatures have ranged from 10oC and drizzly down to -17oC and crazy winds. The first day I got the shoes, I decided to test them “au naturel”, wearing only my thin Pez socks and with no shoe covers in -9oC and mild winds. Much to my surprise and pleasure, my feet stayed, while not exactly warm, but definitely on this side of comfortable.

Since that first day, I’ve ridden the shoes and insoles in -11oC and high winds with a pair of wool socks and had my feet felt nice and warm. I’ve also worn them with thin socks in near freezing temperatures and super high winds with comfort. The shoes have been resistant to light showers even when riding without fenders, though I have yet to take them out in a real solid rain yet.

The Hydro’s tall upper uses neoprene to keep the fit snug and your ankles warm.

I have to admit that I had never really embraced the concept of a winter-specific cycling shoe, even after all these years in Canada. I had always thought that the fit wouldn’t be that great with these types of shoes. Well, the Sidi’s blew away any of these pre-conceptions. While it may seem a small thing, it is a nice luxury to be able to just wear normal socks and thrown on one pair of shoes before every ride, rather than always having to rummage through various drawers to find the warm socks (which don’t fit into my normal shoes anyway) or booties. I have been able to keep my feet MUCH warmer and comfortable riding in some miserable conditions, to the point that the Hydro GTX and especially the Toasters Insoles have kept me out on the road more often and consistently than in any previous winter.

• Toasters: US$299.99
• Hydro Winter Road Shoe: US$319.99

More info at:
• US Dealers contact SidiUSA.com
• US Dealers contact VeltecSports.com

Note: If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limits that may limit their use.

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