Prendas : Aqua Light Overshoes, Aqua Repel gloves and some lovely socks.

I’ve been a customer of Prendas for a few years now. They’ve been around for a bit longer, 18 years so far. They sell a wide variety of clothing and some other bits and bobs such as books and DVD’s. Their speciality is arguably the retro jersey ranging from the classic to the more garish offerings from the 80’s pro peloton. They do quite a few accessories as well. If you want a retro jersey then head over to Prendas first. Chances are they’ll have something that floats your boat, be that the iconic Mapei jersey or, my personal favourite, the La Vie Claire, influenced by Mondrian, and ridden by Lemond and Hinault. There’s some exciting new stuff on sale as well, in particular the Santini Reef jersey which looks like a very good foul weather riding jersey.

As I write this review, they’ve just announced that they are starting to support and supply race kit to the Drops women’s cycling team. It’s great to see that kind of support from a retailer. They previously supported the women’s Horizon/Matrix teams and a proportion from every sale of their “Rocket Espresso” kit goes to the Dave Rayner fund to support grass roots cycling.

Prendas are, without a doubt, the most efficient, dependable and downright speedy online retailer I have ever used. Simply put, provided you order by 3:59 pm it will get despatched that day. And, in all likelihood, it will arrive the next day. I don’t really know how they do it. You can imagine them sitting there, packaging poised, late in the afternoon, desperate not to become the first order that takes two days. And, once your order leaves them, it’s subject to the vagaries of the Royal Mail. But, honest to God, every single time I’ve ordered, it’s come the next day. It feels very personal with Prendas.

At this time of year, protecting your extremities is so important. It makes a bitterly cold ride into something that you can enjoy rather than endure. It’s really important not to test products in isolation. A pair of overshoes when wearing bib shorts is neither a good look nor the best test. So I’ve been dressing prepared for winter. That means a warm jacket, bibtights and a good base layer. In terms of my shoes this week, I’ve been using my trusty Shimano XC50n. That’s the all weather variant of the XC50, a mid range SPD shoe. They’re all weather because there’s no mesh on them at all. So, they are somewhat warmer, and certainly more enclosed, than your summer use MTB shoes. I have used Northwave winter boots in the past. That’s a good alternative to shoes and overshoes. But it does require yet another investment whereas overshoes just let you use whatever you already own.

In terms of whether I run “hot or cold” I’d say somewhere in between. I do struggle finding the right gloves but they can be a very personal thing. I see a lot of posters on internet forums claiming that they suffer from Raynaud’s disease, which is a form of reduced blood flow to the extremities. I often wonder whether this is just hyperbole and self diagnosis or whether it is something that is very common. In terms of my toes, I am generally ok as long as I have the right socks and overshoes.

It’s turned a lot colder this week and, arguably, the products I am reviewing are meant for more spring like weather, so cool and damp rather than cold and wet. But by my logic if a product can survive in conditions where it’s not meant to, then that’s a pretty good indication of whether it’s any good. And so, as winter finally arrived, I got out there.

Aqua Light Overshoes (click the link to go to Prendas)

These are a fairly lightweight pair of windproof overshoes. They are not water proof and are not sold as such. Indeed, it’s good to see Prendas be very specific that they are not so rather than implying some greater form of protection. The thing is that overshoes just aren’t waterproof, not really. There are two massive holes in them. One at the top, where you put your feet in. And one (or more) underneath. It’s all about a trade off, balancing good protection with the need to put the thing on. And, remember, no matter how tight you pull the top section together, if you’re wearing bib tights, water will just run into your shoe because of simple physics. So it’s just about being the best you can be. Even the full on neoprene waterproof deep winter products you see suffer from the same issues.

The Aqua Light overshoes are also available in black if fluro isn’t your thing. In terms of temperature they’re sold as a spring/autumn piece rather than for the deepest winter conditions but, as I say,  a lot of this depends on whether you suffer from particularly cold feet. I tend to regard myself as being pretty normal in this respect and can quite happily eke out comfort from spring overshoes in all but the most arctic of conditions.

I’ve always liked the overshoes that Prendas sell. I have a pair of Windtex ones in my drawer and they’ve always kept my feet warm and dry. The quality is excellent and they’ve proved particularly durable.

As you can see from the photos above they are designed, primarily, for use with road shoes. However, I’ve actually been using them with my MTB shoes. You’ll note that most of the sole section is made out of a  very hardwearing fabric surrounded by a a stitched heel and cleat cut out. It’s a very strong material indeed and, given my previous experience of Prendas overshoes, will prove to be particularly durable and resistant to abrasion from the road or from pedals.20160108_112306

Despite me using these with MTB shoes you can see that the fit is still particularly effective. There is a small risk that the part of the overshoe which fits over the tread of the sole could become worn if you walk too far in them. That’s not rocket science. But, the thing is, I already do this with my wind tunnel overshoes. I don’t walk particularly far in them but they’ve never worn through. Bear it in mind, don’t lose sleep over it. The point I’m making is that these will fit both types of soles. If you’re using them with road shoes then, as long as you don’t abuse them, they’ll last for years. The quality of construction overall is excellent. The stitching is strong.

In terms of design these are slightly different to the norm.  Most overshoes are effectively once piece, like a giant sock. But, in order to get into them, you have to unzip the back. Virtually all of them are made like that. But not these. The above ankle section is essentially a giant cuff and the bottom zipped section only goes up to just above the top of the shoe. It’s probably easier to show you a picture rather than describe it.

20160113_110110

For me, this worked particularly well. The thing about overshoes is that they need to be snug but shouldn’t interfere with pedal motion. They also need to be tight to keep the water out. Very often, with a one piece construction, you can feel the zip at the back and you know you’re wearing something extra. I thought that this slightly different form of construction worked particularly well for me. It was easy to get the overshoe on and zip up, and then easy to get a nice snug fit with the collar just by pulling the velcro far enough around to be comfortable. And I honestly couldn’t tell that I was wearing them when riding.

In terms of their performance I’d rate them very highly. My feet were never anything other than toasty warm. But remember that there are factors at play here. My shoes are good and my sock choice is correct. We’ll get to the socks a bit later. There was absolutely no perception of wind getting through and there was none of that sweatiness that you get with some of the heavier neoprene offerings. And whilst they are not described as waterproof none of the rain or road spray ever got in. Would they provide protection in a monsoon? Of course not. But, for the reasons I discussed above, virtually no overshoe can do this. It’s all a trade off. These are a very versatile pair of overshoes and are a great addition to your off season wardrobe (that off season is pretty much all year now).

The fluro colour is very arresting and the reflective highlights provide some useful rearward visibility for approaching drivers. You may need to clean them a little more often as the fluro does show up the dirt. That’s hardly a flaw. It’s a light colour being used in awful conditions. The only thing that affects is my OCD. But that’s just me. You can get them in black if you have a problem with dirt. So far they’ve kept all of the rain out, kept me warm and I can’t feel that I’m wearing them. That has to be a win.

Aqua Light Gloves (click the link to go to Prendas)P1020660P1020661P1020663

It’s probably easier for a pair of overshoes to pass a test they weren’t designed for provided that they are well thought out. But, arguably, it’s much harder to make a pair of gloves pass the winter test if they’re designed for spring. It’s manifestly unfair to test them at close to freezing in the driving rain. But those were the conditions at hand.

Once again Prendas has tagged this product aqua light. And once again they make it clear that they are not waterproof. They’re just designed to give some protection from damp and road spray but, crucially, to be windproof. Essentially they are a windproof upper combined with a perforated palm which allows your hands to breathe. I think that’s often overlooked. In the quest to make a product windproof it’s very easy to just make it all out of windstopper and very often your hands heat up, then get sweaty, then that sweat either transits out, taking the heat with it, or builds up inside and your hands get clammy. So having a perforated palm is a nice idea.

When I first put these on I wondered whether they were the right size. They are very snug. It’s very hard for glove manufactures to cater for everyone’s finger size, length and palm girth, there are so many variables. But, like any good cycling product, what’s important is how they feel when on the bike. And, once I was on the bike they felt perfectly sized. Prendas advised me to go “one size up” from the Defeet Dura gloves I had been wearing so bear that in mind if you plan to purchase.

The overall feel of the glove reminded me a little of an XC mountain bike glove. And that’s a positive thing. They have really excellent padded palms and they were really effective whether I was using my drop bar CX or my flat bar commuter. The grip of the gloves is excellent. That white anti slip coating provides for an excellent interface in damp conditions. I cannot comment yet in relation to its durability but it appears very substantial and I have no reason to believe that it would eventually pick off or fall away.

The wrists are a super roubaix material and are double lined, so they’re effective in keeping your wrists warm. I do have a slight niggle here and it’s personal one. Because the interface between many jackets and gloves is a piece of non windproof fabric it’s nice to have a good overlap in that area. For me, and I speak for me alone, I’d like the cuffs on the gloves to be a cm or two longer, just to ensure that there are no drafty bits. But, otherwise, the cuffs are very comfortable indeed next to your skin.

The first time I tested the gloves it was pretty much as specified, windy, a bit damp and around 5 degrees. On the margins of spring, but not deep winter in my eyes. They were excellent. My fingers were warm and comfortable, there was no road buzz in the palms of my hand and there was absolutely no dampness to the glove once I took it off. I would not hesitate to use them in conditions like that. Indeed, I’m pretty much consigning my other gloves to the drawer from this point onwards. It’s a shame I didn’t have them for some of the CX rounds this winter as they’d have fitted the bill brilliantly.

And then, yesterday, winter arrived. Not so much in the morning, that was around 2 degrees and dry, and the gloves worked very well and even then, arguably, beyond their specification. No, the way home was awful. It started dry but windy, then it went pear shaped. Strong winds, depressed temperatures and driving rain. And, you know what, these are not winter gloves. But, honestly, I was fine. My little fingers were a little chilly, the gloves were becoming wet and I wasn’t as toasty as I wanted to be. But, come on, it’s not what they were for. If you are one of the lucky people who run warm, they’ll be just the ticket.

I really liked these gloves. Given that we seem to have one season a year now I can see them having a lot of use.

Thermocool socks  (click the link to go to Prendas)P1020665

I love socks. I don’t know why. When I was young I pitied my poor father getting socks for Christmas. But as I got older I understood the magical draw of them. Aside from a few posh socks for work I pretty much survive with cycling socks and my cycling accessory drawer is full of them. It’s pretty easy to make a summer sock, just come up with a nice design and make it from something light. It’s much harder to make a winter one, you need to choose between different forms of construction. On the one hand I like my Woolie Boolies and Rapha winter socks. But they’re definitely from the thick is best school of thought. It’s also true that, as they get washed more often, they lose that wonderful softness that they once had.

The other way is the technical way. Make something light but insulating and breathable. Witchcraft I tell you. On the face of it Thermocool sounds weird and suggests that the cool part is the focus of the product. It’s not meant to be, it’s just a reflection of the socks being designed to carry out both parts of an important job, keeping you warm while still being breathable. The socks are made from ThermoCool fabric which is itself a combination of Thermolite and Coolmax. The carbon merely refers to the addition of Resistex for durability.

A technical approach then. The temperature range of these is claimed to be 0-12 degrees. Look, I’ve had these in my wardrobe for a long time, well before Prendas sent me these to test. So let’s deal with durability. The ones I already own look the same as the day I bought them and they’ve seen a lot of use, from commuting to some pretty muddy CX races. They are a very versatile sock and really do have the temperature range that’s claimed for them. That is very personal though, it could be that you do suffer from cold toes and, as such you might find it better to get something more heavyweight such as the Thermolite winter sock (which utilises hollow fibres for heat retention). But for most of us, provided that we partner this sock with a good pair of shoes and overshoes it’s going to do what it says on the tin. As I write this review they are £7.95 or 2 for £15, which is superb given how long they will last.

I have no hesitation in recommending these socks if you are of a similar temperature inclination to me. The only slight niggle I have is that they can be a little hard to pull over your heel as the cuff doesn’t stretch a huge amount. It’s insignificant, once they are on, they stay put. It’s probably the resistex that does that and it’s a tiny price to pay given their durability.

Socks, bloody hard things to review frankly. Not really sexy in any way. No one really talks about socks. But they are essential things and are fundamental to making the rest of your clothing system work properly. You can never have enough socks.

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