Review: Bontrager RXL Softshell and Race Thermal tights

Bontrager continues to improve upon and expand its women’s line of cycling clothing. I’m always pleased to see when high-end offerings get women’s-specific versions, such as the RXL Softshell Tight reviewed here, and versatility in investment pieces. Neither of the bottoms have built-in chamois, for example, making them endlessly useful through winter and allowing you to choose the right padding for each ride. Both of these pieces have comparable men’s versions, as well.

RXL Softshell Tight – $130

I was told when I started working here to expect inconsistent product review times. Some items could be written about right away—their virtues and flaws would be obvious. Then, there would be bicycles, gear and other items I would have to stick with for a while to figure out. These tights fall into the latter category.

I know, I know, they’re just pants. But they’re fancy pants.

Bontrager weatherproof tights

The downside of this relationship is the fit. The RXL doesn’t stretch as much as I think “tights” should and I find them a tad short for ensuring warm ankles (I don’t have long legs). They’re too fitted around my cyclist thighs and too loose at my little waist. I can’t hoist them up enough to prevent the crotch from sagging and have caught the pants several times on various saddles.

That said, they might fit your body type just fine. Mine is apparently called “spoon,” which is like an hourglass figure but with a smaller chest. Anyway…

The upside of this relationship is everything else. The RXL Softshell Tight is a very nice product that, fit issues aside, I still wore the heck out of over the past couple of months and will continue to reach for on cold, snowy rides. They are pre-bent at the knees and have a nice rise in the rear to prevent gaping when bent over. The RXL tights are windproof, water resistant and lined with a light, cozy fleece (Profila Thermal fabric). As advertised, these thick and hearty pants kept me warm and dry on the most frigid of outings, including a multi-hour fat bike ride through spitting snowfall and temperatures in the low teens.

The ankle area of the tights is longer in the front. The shorter back of the ankle allows for unrestricted pedaling motion with cycling boots and the longer front means less cold air seeping through your laces, but I’d rather see an overall longer length.

The quality of the RXL Softshell Tight is impressive. They’re impeccably made and full of nice, little touches like a drawstring at the comfortable, yoga-pant-inspired waistband, ankle zippers and reflective detailing. My pair has been through the wash several times and so far, so good. I would also be perfectly happy wearing them hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Sizes: XS-XL
More info: bontrager.com

Race Thermal Tight – $90

The Race Thermal Tights were designed to be performance tights that remind the wearer of yoga pants. They are versatile for winter activities, both on the bike and off, as well as layering for winter warmth.

Bontrager Thermal Tights

The Profila Thermal fabric is the same medium-thickness, smooth-faced, cozy fleece as the RXL tight, but without the windproofing front. The outer fabric of the tights feels particularly hearty. I think they would work better than a thin base layer tight for tramping around in thick, snaggy underbrush, should you find yourself on a rather adventurous outing. The tights also wick and breathe as advertised, preventing clamminess when you heat up too much on that hard road ride.

These tights offered me some of the same weird fit issues as discussed above, and I’ll confess that I heard some ripping noises in the waistband area the first time I put them on and had to yank them up over my thighs (but sizing up would have meant serious waist gaping). Again, I’m willing to concede that women with other body types won’t have this issue, but I like to think of tights as generally more stretchy and universally shaped enough enough that one-design-suits-most. Admittedly, because of the tight fit, I can’t comfortably get chamois liners under these tights, so I primarily wear them running and snowshoeing.

Speaking of the waistband, it’s wide and soft, but the comfort factor is interrupted by harsh, itchy seaming on either side near the hips. Because of that, I always make sure to have a long under shirt tucked in if I’m wearing them. This might be a problem with my pair, only, so try to find these at a Trek dealer to try out before purchasing.

Sizes: XS-XL
More info: bontrager.com

 

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Button Up & Bike: Winter Wear

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Were in the thick of it now. Winter. This round of Button Up & Bike is focused on a small group of go-to items that make a big difference in cold conditions. The prevailing characteristics? Warm, water repellent, and wind resistant. Some are an investment, but their functionality outweighs the cost. Many we’ve worn happily for years, biking and otherwise, and they don’t show signs of giving out on us anytime soon.

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Walz Plaid Wool Ear Flap, $33: This 100% wool cycling cap from the Walz Winter Collection is my favorite for the cold months because it keeps the wind out of my ears and looks cute. The flap is generous over the ears and provides more than enough room to tuck away unruly hair. Walz caps are all U.S.A. made and feature many styles and patterns, in addition to personalization options. -Emily

Neck gaiter: A neck gaiter can really help hide from the elements. I really like this gaiter because it’s not squeezing my face, fogging up my glasses while I attempt to breath. This is an old Buff Windstopper that doesn’t appear to be available anymore, but you can pick up a slightly different version with the Bicycle Times logo in our online store. Surly makes a wool, moisture wicking neck gaiter and Marmot has a GORE-TEX gaiter. Both look like they have a similar fit and would get the job done. -Trina

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Ryders Eyewear Via Photochromic glasses: The Via Photochromic glasses automatically adjust to the amount of sunlight you’re currently dealing with. Wearing sunglasses does not always work in the darker winter months so a transition or tinted pair of glasses is great for protecting eyes from cold and snow. The Via’s have wrap-around coverage and fit under my helmet with issues. Retail price: $100. There is a less expensive version of the VIA with a non-transition lens tint, designed for medium to bright light for $50. -Trina

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Wool jersey: This is a must for my cycling closet. The Bicycle Times wool jersey has three back pockets and is made of merino wool. Merino wool is soft, comfortable and warm. I’ve had my wool jersey for three years and have put it through the wringer. A few minor sewing repairs have been in order, mostly due to battles with a thorn bush. Price is $125, but on sale right now for $90. -Trina

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SmartWool NTS Mid 250 Baselayers, $100: Merino wool is the queen of all baselayers. Who can argue with apparel that’s warm, moisture wicking, and odor resistant? SmartWool baselayers come in mid, light, and micro weight. I’ve found the mid-weight Zip T and Bottom the ideal candidate for cold weather, but because merino is ace at temperature regulation I can wear it comfortably all day. I like the high quarter-zip collar to vent or block the wind and unlike some long underwear tops, this one is presentable when worn solo. -Emily

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Bar Mitts, size small, $75: How I pedaled through winters past without these things, I’ll never know. What a difference! Wind and moisture be gone, these neoprene sleeves are the answer to cold cycling hands. Most days I wore only a pair of mid-weight gloves and my hands were toasty; at times too warm! I didn’t have any issues shifting or braking, but I’d recommend sizing up to a medium for a little extra space and ease of getting your hands in and out while riding. There are also versions for drop bars or flat handlebars. I’m confident that these neoprene sleeves will keep my hands happy for years to come, making them well worth $75. Or, scoop up a pair on closeout for $45! – Emily

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Outdoor Research Aspect Jacket: Any softshell is great for cycling, but I’m partial to the Outdoor Research Aspect Jacket due to its large chest to waist vents. I begin my ride with them closed and unzip as my core temperature rises. The body is roomy compared to your average softshell making it great for layering; I often wear two wool shirts and a fleece vest underneath. The collar and waist have an elastic drawstring to trap heat in and the bright color is good for daytime visibility. Outdoor Research no longer makes this jacket but the Showers Pass Portland Jacket has similar characteristics at a price of $175. -Emily

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Novara Stratos Gloves: I have trouble keeping my extremities warm in the winter, especially on a windy day, but these waterproof Novara gloves do just the trick. The elastic cuff allows me to cinch down over my jacket keeping the heat in and the elements out. I’m a one finger on the brakes kind of person so I prefer to have my middle and index finger separate. Unfortunately, the Stratos are no longer available in women’s, but the men’s are still out there for $38, and they’re tech compatible. -Emily

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Hiking boots and wool socks: Hiking boots are generally what I wear in winter or rainy weather. These LOWA boots have GORE-TEX lining, are lightweight, waterproof and breathable. A pair of good boots with wool socks (sometimes 2 socks), result in happier feet. The LOWA Bora GTX I’ve had for 2.5 years and they’re still in great condition. A good pair of long-lasting hiking boots will cost you about $120-$250+. -Trina

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Craft Women’s PXC Storm Tight, $125: These Craft tights are breathable and warm, making them great for both city riding and mountain biking. They’re 100 percent poly, with a super soft lining and a wind resistant front. The stretch fabric and ankle zip allows me to easily pull them on over long underwear or jeans. They also have an opening by the knee that provides a little more movement while pedaling. -Emily

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Vittoria Arctica MTB, $245: I had trouble finding women’s SPD cycling shoes that were winter friendly in a size 6.5, so I was thrilled to stumble across the Vittoria Arctica MTB. You’ll usually find me in my hiking boots on city commutes, but I wear these for longer rides as well as for mountain biking. The waterproof membrane and neoprene top keeps the moisture out and the knobby sole keeps you from slipping around at the store or in the woods. Vittoria offers narrow and wide widths as well as low volume upon request. -Emily

Want to ride all winter but on a tight budget? Check out our post Winter Riding on a Budget!

Now go ride!

Don’t let us keep you, button up and bike!

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This Just In: 45North Sturmfist Cold Weather Gloves

Just in time for the first Polar Vortex of the season, cold-weather specialists 45North has new gloves to keep your hands warm this winter. For those of us that keep riding into sub-freezing temps, cold feet and hands can turn an otherwise enjoyable ride into a sufferfest. And the only thing that may be as bad or worse frozen fingers and toes? The pain when they thaw out.

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Sturmfist 5

45North has your feet covered with the Wolvhammer boots (which we reviewed last year), and hands too, with the Cobrafist extreme cold weather pogies, but the Sturmfist 4 and 5 are the first glove offering from 45North. While new gloves aren’t often news we’d find the need to cover, 45North is based in Minnesota where it gets truly cold, and 45North only does cold weather gear for cyclists, so new gloves are a big deal.

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Sturmfist 4

From the press release:

“The Sturmfist collection will be available in two different models. The five-fingered Sturmfist 5 incorporates a 100% Merino wool liner for total moisture control and keeps hands protected in 15–35ºF conditions.

For days when the mercury plunges below 15°, there’s the four-fingered Sturmfist 4. Utilizing a double glove design, Sturmfist 4 features a removable 100% Merino wool liner glove, and is rated for more frigid, 0–15ºF days. The Merino wool liner is also available separately to be used as a replacement for mid-ride freshness, or with 45North’s Cobrafist pogies.

For the ultimate blend of wool and insulation technology, Sturmfist 4, Sturmfist 5, and the Merino Wool Liner will be arriving at retailers next week for $130, $100, and $50, respectively. All pieces in the collection will be available in sizes 7, 8, 9, and 10.”

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Merino Liners

The most interesting aspect of these gloves is the use of Aerogel in the palms and fingers. Aerogel claims to have the lowest thermal conductivity of any solid. This is the same material used for the insoles of the Wolvhammer boots to insulate the bottom of the foot from the metal cleat. In this case the Aerogel will help keep hands from losing heat to metal handlebars, shifters and brake levers.

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With more features including conductive patches on thumbs and first two fingers, Polartec Alpha insulation and Polartec waterproof  and windproof Neoshell outers, there are not corners being cut here. Since 45North is one of the many brands that falls on the the umbrella of Quality Bicycle Products, most local bike shops should be able to order some Strumfist as this is post. I wouldn’t wait around if you are interested, it seems that cold weather gear is always, always, always sold through much sooner than anyone expects.

By the time this is posted, the odds are good 45North will have full details on its website: 45north.com.

 

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Have thick skin? Take the Icy Bike Winter Commuter Challenge

Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge is not designed to be a competition, more a challenge to those willing to put on some gloves and shoe covers, get out there to show what you’re made of and keep the pedals turning through the winter. Bicycle commute to work 52 times between October 1 and March 31 and not only will you’ve earned badass status, you can attend the Icy Bike Gala. Join the Facebook group to track your progress.

ChainRing Films has even made a short film about the experience, A Winter of Cyclists. Watch the trailer here.

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