As we enter the standard January drought conditions here in the Southwest, it is finally time to get out on the trails again. We have to enjoy the brisk temperatures and warm sun as we prepare our legs for next month’s 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. This has allowed us to spend a little time on the trail/road/snow in our fancy new US-made socks and arm warmers from Swiftwick. Jump past the break to see how things are shaping up.
It is immediately clear when handling the Pursiuit socks and Performance Sleeve arm warmers that you have purchased a high quality textile product, but everything feels good when it comes off of the shelf. The true test, I believe in a performance fabric is its ability to hold up under use and washing. As a man with easily irritated skin, all of my cycling clothing gets washed after each use. This includes every base layer, sock, jersey, shorts, arm warmers and leg covering. I have had many a set of arm or leg warmer lose their ability to stay put on my bony arms and oversized thighs after half a winter’s use and washing. So when I got my hands on the Swiftwick arm warmers I was ready for some sketchy repositioning of the warmers mid pedal stroke (cause who has time to stop and adjust clothing). This was only further reinforced by the fact that the Swiftwick Performance Sleeves don’t have a rubber strip around the upper cuff. Little did I know that the 200 needle count Olefin (a.k.a. polyolefine, closely related to polyethylene) fibers had enough structure and elasticity to stay put on my arms, with only minimal repositioning of the warmers needed while mountain biking.
The $25 Swiftwick Performance Sleeves have proven to be a good choice for mountain biking in temperatures from the low 40s to mid 50s (°F). Anything lower than the 40s the sleeves don’t trap enough air to keep the elbows from knocking and above 50 who needs to cover the skin. However, I have found that the Swiftwick Sleeves don’t handle road riding well. The higher speeds with more cold wind tend to whip right through the warmers, whisking all of my warmth away. To contend with this weakness, I have been using the sleeves to add a little warmth to my wind breakers and long sleeve jerseys serving as more of a base layer. The sleeves have demonstrated that they serve this role well as they rarely bunch up or tangle with my outer layers. I especially like the compression wrist cuff as it keeps the sleeve/glove interface clean and wrist skin covered. In terms of durability the Swiftwick Sleeves, are still staying up on my cyclist-sized arms and have yet to develop fabric “pills” or fray in anyway, even after some encounters with desert plants (the kind with pointy parts that tend to rip technical fabrics at high speeds).
This brings me to the socks. I have been described as a sock whore by the ones closet to my feet. I believe that if my feet are warm and comfortable the rest of my body will be ready to ride. Personally, I have found that a merino wool sock keeps the tips of my toes the happiest. However, with my incessant washing of clothing many of my wool socks get retired to the bottom of the dresser drawer as they lose their shape and bunch up either in the arch or ball of the foot.
Swiftwick’s Pursuit merino socks have proven to be able to contend with most of my winter riding needs as well as provided comfort in my downhill ski boots. Swiftwick socks come in a variety of lengths and textile types; from below the ankle up to the knee and synthetic and natural fibers. I have been riding a 200 needle count Pursuit Seven merino mid calf pair ($20), and a 144 needle count Pursuit Twelve knee high pair ($30).
The Pursuit merino socks are very similar to many of the mid weight wool socks I already own. A lighter version of the 200 needle four inch Pursuit Merinos reviewed by Chris here (thanks to the Sevens’ 1in double-layer cuff rather than the Fours’ 4in of double-thickness wool), the Sevens 200-needle merino offer more warmth and foot coddling than the Pursuit Twelves with light compression and lack of sock slippage. So far, the Swiftwicks are holding up very well and have been comfortable from freezing well up into the 50s- as time progresses I will update you on how the wool handles my consistent abuse, as I use my winter days to prepare for 24 hrs in Old P.