Should there be such a thing as an avid and attentive SLJ reader (and Lord, have mercy on their soul) they may recall that last year, when I published my Tips for Winter Riding, I mentioned that I was keen to try proper winter boots, instead of different combinations of various shoes, socks, overshoes and ad hoc barriers such as tin foil, cling film or Asda carrier bags. (Other brands are available).
That was well over a year ago. Shortly afterwards, I did indeed buy a pair of boots, which I guess you could say have been thoroughly field-tested in some horrible conditions, and through the worst of what the North East weather can throw at cyclists. There is then nothing to stop me reporting on my impressions of these boots, except my own inherent laziness, so let me finally try and correct that…
My boots of choice were Diadora Polarex Plus shoes. I bought these as an early Christmas present to myself and then negotiated extra-special dispensation from Mrs. SLJ to use them straightaway, rather than wrapping them up and hiding them under the Christmas tree while my feet froze on winter rides.
I got the boots for what I thought was a reasonably discounted price of about £70, from the Sport Pursuit website. I think this was around half-price at the time, they now seem to retail for just over £100, although I have, rather inexplicably, also seen them advertised for as much as £350!
While these Diadora Polarex Plus shoes form the basis of this review, in the wider scheme of things, I wasn’t so much interested in this particular brand, rather the concept of winter boots in general and how they compare with the alternatives. In this I’m assuming that similar winter boots, from Shimano, Gaerne, Mavic, Lake and Northwave et al, do pretty much the same thing.
I’ve had, and been happy with, 2 or 3 pairs of Diadora cycling shoes in the past and they’ve all seemed decently solid and reasonably priced, so I never felt I was stepping into the unknown with these boots. My usual, size 43, weren’t in stock, so I went for a 44, that proved a fortuitous choice. Diadora shoes are not the most generous of fits, and the little bit of extra room in the 44 size gives me a bit more comfort and allows for a little wiggle room – even with thick or double-layered socks.
I went with the version of the boot, which comes with a heavily rubberised Duratech sole, based on Diadora’s high-end, mountain bike shoes. In direct violation of Velominati Rule # 34 (Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place. On a mountain bike) I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter and commuting bike, as the recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.
The value of my choice was illustrated a couple of years ago, when we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood, as a felled tree blocked the road, and then again on a ride which ended in a snowstorm, when I had to push the bike uphill on the pavement to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road slippers, with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.
It should be noted that, for the ultra-orthodox Velominati out there, Diadora also produce a road version, with a beautiful carbon-weave sole. I’m sure its impressively stiff, but I couldn’t attest to its durability. Still, even without the exotic carbon sole, my boots weigh in at happily light 400 grams, or so.
Technically the Duratech Rubber sole of the mountain bike version of the boots is rated as a 6 on Diadora’s 10-point stiffness index, whatever that means. In practical terms, I’ve found the boots to be extremely comfortable to walk in and haven’t noticed any flex when pedalling, although I’d be first to admit my feeble power output would be unlikely to trouble wet cardboard.
The chunky, heavily lugged, sole provides impressive levels of grip, which I’m sure would be a real boon out on a trail, or slipping and sliding on a cyclo-cross course. And, while the sole seems stiff and doesn’t flex, the studs and crenellations on the bottom are a soft, flexible rubber that does give, and aids walking.
The boots came with a couple of rubberised strips to place over the cleat holes. I’m still not certain what their purpose is, I’ve never used them and haven’t missed them. I would be interested to know what the hell they’re for though, so if anyone can enlighten me …
The outside of the boot is constructed with “element-proof” Suprell-Tech. It’s matt-black and has a warm, rubberised feel to it. As well as being impressively waterproof, it seems to be extremely durable and the boots look little different now, to when I first unboxed them, even after a year and a half use, riding in some ultra-tough weather conditions.
They’re a doddle to clean too, a quick wipe down with a wet sponge will usually do the trick, or, if muddy and “crudded” over, I just wash them in the kitchen sink, using a bit of dishwash detergent.
Appearance is subtly understated, as mentioned before a dull, stealth-black upper, enlivened only by a stiff, gloss protective heel cup embellished with red, white and green tricolore “beads” and the Diadora swoosh(?) on the outside of the toe, with the brand name on the inside. These are picked out in a high-viz green, which I think has been replaced on the latest version with white brand name and mark, or maybe that’s the distinguishing feature of the road version?
The boots have a wire boa closure, the first pair of shoes I’ve owned that uses this system. I have to admit that, despite my initial scepticism, I find these really excellent. They’re simple to use and adjust, and it’s really easy to dial in a good fit. Most importantly the reels and wires seem super-durable. Two strong, practical, reflective nylon loops on the rear help pull the boots on and off.
Around the ankle cuff, the rubberised Suprell-Tech gives way to a padded, neoprene cuff with a Velcro style strap-fastener. This is, if you’ll pardon the analogy, is the Achilles heel of the shoes and the only possible way I’ve found for water to get in, either because the strap isn’t tight enough, or in an extreme and very prolonged deluge, when it simply soaks through your tights and seeps down inside the boots.
(For this reason, in extreme conditions, Crazy Legs – who might not actually be a crazy as his name suggests – often uses tights with stirrups on that he can wear outside his (Shimano?) winter boots.)
If I had one criticism of the Diadora boots, it would be that the ankle cuff could have been a little deeper, reach higher up the calf and afford just a little more protection. (I think the Diadora boots are perhaps the shortest of those available.)
Aside from this, the boots are, to all intents and purposes, watertight – to a much, much more impressive degree than any shoe, overshoe and waterproof sock combination that I’ve ever tried. On a number of occasions when riding through flooded roads, with the water lapping around my wheel hubs, I’ve escaped with completely dry feet and I’ve now joined the ranks of other, smug boot-wearers, who laugh at our miserable fellow cyclists with their water-logged shoes, cold and wet soggy socks and incipient trench foot.
According to the blurb, the inside of the Polarex shoes are lined with Diadora’s Diatex waterproof membrane and a soft, thermal lining for insulation. This inside lining has a fuzzy, fleecy feel that’s warm and comfortable and seems to provide a good degree of insulation.
I seldom wear more than a single pair of thermal socks with the boots, even in temperatures down to, or below freezing. While my toes can occasionally get cold, especially on longer rides, it’s never that debilitating, frozen feeling when everything becomes painfully numb and you scream like a little girl in the shower afterwards, as the blood comes boiling back into your frozen extremities. (Don’t deny it, we’ve all been there.)
Now, having tried winter boots I would struggle to go back to shoes and overshoes. They really did exceed all my expectations, and I consider them money very well spent. I also don’t think the price is too off-putting, especially if you take into account the cost of a decent pair of (still inferior) overshoes, which I used to continuously find myself replacing, as they never seem to last more than a year or two.
As for the Diadora Polarex version of a winter boot, should my current pair ever need replacing, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the same again. Luckily, as I mentioned previously, my current pair still look as good as new and I can’t help but feel they’re going to keep my feet dry and toasty for a good while yet.