Winter’s back! Rejoice! I’m pretty sure everyone, like me, was a bit bored of the ridiculously long and hot summer we were subjected to by the time September hit. Thankfully those long, hot, blue sky days, dusty trails and clean bikes are but a fleeting memory, and we can now get back to being proper British mountain bikers. Once again we can revel in being caked head to toe in mud and sheep poo, enjoy our bikes gliding gracefully sideways down the trail, laugh about sinking into the bog down to our axles, and recount fond stories in the pub about how we were so cold we lost all feeling in our toes.
Or maybe not, at least on the last part. Thanks to the people at 45nrth, based in the frozen wastes of Minneapolis, who have designed a shoe that looks to be particularly suited to the cold and damp British winter climate. The Ragnarök shoe is the latest in the 45nrth range, taking the place of the well regarded Japanther. It’s designed specifically for conditions where low temperatures (down to -3c) combine with wet and muddy trail conditions, providing a high level of water resistance, breathability and comfort without compromising performance.
The shoe, and it is a shoe even though it looks like a boot, is based on a performance last focused on training and competition, but with a larger than normal forefoot volume to aid comfort. The semi rigid midsole is constructed from fibre-glass injected nylon to aid with impact absorption, and this is complimented by a chunky rubber outsole which features anti-slip micro-glass filament lugs which as well as providing extra impact protection also provides grip for those times where walking is required. The upper is constructed of a micro-fibre shell with abrasion resistant heel and toe reinforcements, and an adjustable neoprene ankle cuff to aid with both fit and protection from the elements. A side mounted BOA IP1 closure completes the design giving the wearer the ability to adjust the fit to suit.
Importantly these shoes don’t claim to be waterproof, which is a good thing, because the many winter shoes that do seem to forget about the large gaping hole at the top which lets all the water in. Instead the rubberised outer shell and internal insulated membrane provides a level of water resistance which for most riders will keep your feet dry in all but the worst conditions. It also provides for a modicum of drainage should they become filled with water, helping, if not completely avoiding the dreaded ‘wellies full of water’ scenario. Even then though, they remain warm thanks to the insulation built into the upper. I’ve taken these on numerous wet and cold rides, including a particularly sodden and freezing cold 24 hour race in Scotland, and only once did they fill with water, but thankfully remained toasty once my feet had a chance to warm up whatever water had found it’s way in. It’s probably advisable in colder conditions to wear these with thick winter socks. Whilst they are warm and mostly dry, the insulation isn’t so thick that you can wear thin summer socks and get away with it.
As always, getting the right size is important. Instead of the usual guess work or having to buy multiple pairs and then sending the wrong ones back, 45nrth provide detailed instructions and a sizing tool on their website to help you get the right size. This involves drawing a stencil of your feet on a sheet of paper, measuring the length and width and then inputting these into the sizing tool which will tell you which size to buy. I followed this to the letter and whilst I normally have size 43 shoes (all sizes are European), a size 44 was the verdict. I wasn’t going to disagree, but was initially dismayed when I first tried them on and they felt too big. Any worries on this score though were soon dispelled with the addition of thick winter socks. The heel is quite snug without being tight and has a minimum of slippage, whereas the front of the shoe has a larger than normal volume, which not only helps to accommodate the thickest socks you can find but also allows you to wiggle your toes, aiding both comfort and insulation. This is especially welcome for people like myself who have wider than normal feet.
One problem I’ve often experienced with winter shoes and boots is getting them on. The ankle enclosure on many shoes often consists of a fairly tight neoprene – or other similar material – collar. Whilst being necessary to keep out mud, water and grime, this often means getting your feet into them can be a struggle. The Ragnarök avoids this problem through the use of an open neoprene collar which is fastened with heavy duty velcro. This allows easy foot entry whilst still being able to fasten the collar tight around the ankle to prevent the ingress of unwanted elements. Once they’re on, the BOA closure system provides the final element to get a tight and comfortable fit. Even though there is only a single reel to tighten the system, the wire lace in conjunction with the thick rubberized tongue distributes the compression of the system across the whole upper, resulting in a very secure fit without any pressure points or tight spots. The IP1 BOA reel is very quick and easy to use, even with thick gloves on, although in my experience these systems never last forever so you may want to look into how to keep them maintained (clean them basically!) to avoid any issues.
Riding the bike, even though these shoes are focused on training and performance, they are by no means similar to rigid XC summer shoes. Instead, they focus on maintaining comfort and protection as opposed to transferring every last watt to the pedals. Seeing as they’re winter shoes, that’s no big deal. As far as I’m aware there are not many winter races outside of the cyclocross scene, and you probably wouldn’t wear these for those in any case. What they are very well suited to however are extended winter rides where your feet need to remain warm and protected for multiple hours. The semi-flexible midsole and beefy anti-slip rubber lugs on the outsole also perform excellently when riding the bike isn’t an option and you have to hike across muddy or rocky ground. In this respect they feel less like cycling shoes and more like hiking or approach shoes. This is a particularly attractive quality if you are one of those crazies who likes pushing and carrying your bike up, (and sometimes down) mountains. Due to the depth of the grips on the outsole the cleat is quite recessed, this is good for walking, but not quite as good for quick and easy engagement with spd or similar pedals, although this is a small gripe as it takes very little time to get used to this.
The Ragnaröks are an excellent solution to the infernal problem of keeping your feet warm, if not fully dry, in the depths of a UK winter or the cooler periods in spring and autumn. We only tested these for a couple of months so can’t yet testify to their longterm durability, but they are solidly built with few apparent weaknesses apart from the potential for the BOA closure mechanism to break or be damaged. They will particularly suit the bike-packing and endurance crowd, whether that’s in winter or other parts of the year, but equally they wouldn’t be overkill for more casual winter bikers or regular commuters. They’re not cheap though, and at £199 a pair you’ll struggle to find many shoes that cost more, but on this evidence they would be an extremely worthwhile investment.
|Tested:||by Daz Hall for 2 months|