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Gravel Gear

The Mid South gear test: Inclement weather, ultimate stoke

I did three group rides in the snow and slush on Friday and then raced the 50 miler on Saturday. Here are some gear highlights.

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There are a few reasons to skip The Mid South, and most of them have to do with weather. The race is technically held during winter, it often rains in Oklahoma during this time of year, and when it does, the clay roads become enemy to bicycles.

But — there are far more reasons TO travel to Stillwater the second weekend in March than not to. Notably, all things Bobby Wintle (hugs, stoke, love, etc), all types of people on all types of bikes, an interesting cultural landscape, and guaranteed good times despite the weather.

2022 delivered on both the weather front and the awesome front: it snowed the Thursday before the race, Friday’s temps were frigid and the roads got briefly muddy, and race day dawned chilly, clear, and dry.

For me, the entire weekend was a time to test the foul weather gear that normally does not get tested. Because I do not normally ride in foul weather.

The things we do for The Mid South.

Velocio Women’s Zero Bib Tight, $299

I debated wearing bib shorts with leg warmers on race day, but I am glad I did not. It was in the 20s at the start line, and although it warmed up throughout the day, it was a very gradual thaw. These bib tights are Velocio’s warmest and are recommended for rides below freezing. The front panels are made of a stretchy windproof softshell, while the back of the tights feature a different, breathable material. The tights move well, breathe well, and crucially, feature Velocio’s signature pee-friendly design which is always important, but even moreso when you could literally freeze your tush off going to the bathroom.

Mid South mud on Velocio bibs and booties. (Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Velocio Zero+ Bootie, $99

One of my biggest gripes about riding in inclement weather is cold feet. I’ve tried all the socks and all the booties (haven’t tried insulated shoes, so don’t @ me) and nothing seems to keep the chill out. Now, I can eat my words. The Velocio Zero+ Bootie looks like it’s made with neoprene but it’s actually constructed with a windproof and water-resistant four-layer soft-shell. My feet stayed dry and warm (!) on the frigid Friday before the race, and on race day when it was chilly but warming, I didn’t overheat. Another bonus of this bootie is that I can zip it all the way to the top, ie. the lower part of my calf muscle isn’t an impediment. I’ve found that many booties are tight and hard to zip all the way up, and I wonder if it’s because they’re designed for men’s lengthier lower legs.

One warning about this bootie — and perhaps about booties in general — after spending a few hours in between rides walking around in them (wearing Specialized S-Works Recon MTB shoes), I wore through the bottom. While these are bomber for the elements, they can’t withstand the friction of walking. I’m not sure how to solve this problem because I think the snugness and shoe-hugging nature of the bootie has a lot to do with keeping my feet warm and dry.

:woman-shrugging::skin-tone-3:

The bane of booties — how to be both snug and immutable to the pressure of walking.

GU Rocktane Salted Lime gels, price varies

I’m not a huge sport ‘food’ fan, but I am a huge GU fan. The sports nutrition company from NorCal is always coming up with flavors that make sucking on a packet of, well, goo, not so demoralizing. The Salted Lime flavor is brand new and was developed with Western States ultra runners in mind. Sometimes our only choices with this kind of sports nutrition are sweet or salty — the salted lime is a zesty happy medium. This gel is caffeinated and contains hits of sodium and amino acids.

Ergon SR Pro Carbon Women Saddle, $199

I rode a Specialized Crux at The Mid South but swapped the stock Power saddle for the Ergon SR Pro Carbon. I’m a big fan of Ergon saddles and their meticulous German engineering, and I also appreciate women’s-specific design when it comes to touchpoints. My SR Pro Carbon was a size S/M, and if you’re not sure which size fits you, Ergon has a great online saddle and size selector tool. I always say that the best saddle is the one you don’t notice, and thus I have zero commentary about this perch — for my three and half hour ride (and afterward), my sit bones did not utter a single word — and that’s the ultimate complement. (Sidenote: would also use without chamois/with jorts).

The SR Pro Carbon is Ergon’s top of the line women’s specific road, gravel, and ‘cross saddle, and it feels like it, too. (Photo: Betsy Welch)

Specialized Women’s Trail Alpha Jacket, $179-$225

There is an art to layering, and nothing feels as good as getting it right. This jacket was an indispensable layer both during Friday’s below freezing group rides and on Saturday’s inching-toward-above-freezing race day. The Polartec Alpha insulation is soft and toasty and somehow also breathable. The Nylon/Spandex exterior shell fabric also breathes well, so in cold temps this jacket does not get clammy. I like this ‘Trail’ version because it has hand pockets on each side and doesn’t scream cycling apparel, but the Specialized Alpha Jacket also comes in the ‘Prime Series’ version that features a traditional three-pocket panel across the back.

Skida Snow Tour, $22

This is my, ‘do I really have to ride my bike?’ face. (Photo: Brad Kaminski)

Between ski races and bike races and other events in between, I have accumulated quite the collection of neck gaiters, or ‘buffs.’ They’re a handy accessory almost all year long, so I’m not complaining. But when it’s very cold out, I almost always reach for a Skida Snow Tour — the tour is the Vermont brand’s version of a very lightly insulated neck gaiter. The inner layer is a soft brushed thermal, and the outer features one of founder Corrine Prevot’s delightful whimsical designs. I also love that my Skida Tours brighten up what is often a lot of black on the bike.

Julbo Rush Reactiv, $229

I made a commitment to do three group rides the day before The Mid South, and the weather made this very, very challenging. It was cold, not sunny, and the roads were wet, icy, and muddy. But, as mentioned, my gear was amazing, including my favorite not-sunny sunnies, the Julbo Rush Reactiv. Fashion-wise, the Rush is very good-looking, ie perfectly oversized on my smallish oval face. Function-wise, the Rush is phenomenal. The sunglasses are vented so they never fog up (even when I have a neck gaiter pulled up over my nose and mouth), and the Reactiv photochromic lens work their magic with the changing light of the day. These are my go-to sunglasses for early morning nordic skis and now, grey and cold Mid South gravel races.

Topeak Shuttle Cage XE, $63

Bottle cages are an important yet underrated accessory in gravel. There’s no bigger bummer than losing a bottle on a rough section and then having the mental debate of, ‘should I stop and go back and get it?’ These Topeak cages are now gravel-vetted. I didn’t lose any bottles at The Mid South or on the day before, and I never even worried — the fit of the Shuttle Cage XE is tight on any bottle shape. For the weight weenies out there I suppose it’s important to note that these cages are made with Torayca Japan T700 and T300 advanced carbon fiber and each cage weighs less than an ounce (22g/0.78oz).

Also, full disclosure — Topeak sent these cages to me, and when I looked up the price I balked. I would not pay $126 for a pair of bottle cages unless they also came with a bottle of añejo tequila.

Super lightweight and super tight. (Photo: Betsy Welch)