Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Socks!

Well-worn and weathered - From left to right: Castelli, Gizmo, Pearl Izumi, DeFeet

Unless you do Triathlons, you wear socks when you ride a bicycle.  Socks are a cycling accessory which are not usually given any thought, yet they are vital to your riding experience.  They come in various colors, sizes and materials, yet, which socks are correct for you are not on most riders’ radar.  Traditionally, this is accomplished purely by size, color, cuff height and price.  However, choosing the correct cycling socks is so much more.

So, just what is the purpose of cycling socks, and what materials should one look for in a quality pair?  Well, in addition to comfort and the elimination of chafing, moisture transfer is probably the biggest benefit of wearing socks.  And, not all socks accomplish these goals in a similar fashion.  This is where material and construction comes into play.  Allow me to elaborate.

Cuff height: I used to exclusively own and wear short-cuff socks, as I figured less was more in the comfort and cooling department.  Boy was I wrong.  See, there is a reason professional racers wear very tall socks.  They have a very noticeable, supportive-compression feel, thus they are a lot more comfortable, especially on longer rides.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive to wearing shorter socks, however, once you try the tall variety, I doubt you will ever go back to the shorties.

Colors and design: Why all of the stupid, useless, childish sayings on socks these days?  Yes, we know “Doper’s Suck,” and no, we don’t think your socks truly believe “I’m with awesome.”  Come on, how about a decent, comfortable, durable sock, taller than our ankles in basic, solid colors?  White is nice, but like cycling shoes, they are a major pain in the ass to keep clean.  Why can’t we get some adult choices here?

Complaints about cycling socks: The outright difficulty in finding taller cuffs, and when I do, why are they designed solely for winter use?  I will also admit to not trying something “Just because the Pro’s do,” however, taller socks are a lot more comfortable to me.  The hard part is finding some taller than 9 centimeters (whatever happened to inches?).  Oh sure, some manufacturers make 13cm socks, but the majority are made for cold weather riding, plus they cost $18.00-$20.00 USD a pair.  Sorry, I am not paying that price.  We’re talking socks here, people, not Louboutin shoes.  

Pearl Izumi Elite Tall sock with my favorite Fizik shoes

Here are my impressions of a few brands you may have heard of. 

Castelli touts their socks are being “60% Meryl Skinlife Anti-Bacterial Fabric,” plus Poliammide, Lycra and Elastico (Eccellente!).  I don’t know what all of those terms mean, but they sure do sound pretty impressive (sarcasm alert).  I have a pair of their Rosso Corsa socks in my rotation now, and so far, I am pretty impressed with them.  They are thinner than most competing socks, and I will have to be patient to see how their durability works out.  I have also been using Pearl Izumi’s Elite Tall Sock, which is also quite comfy, durable, but a whole lot thicker than the Castelli Rosso Corsa.  Pearl lists their sock as being made from “Elite Transfer Yarns,” which is marketing speak for Polyester, Nylon, and Spandex.  Another staple of my sock rotation are DeFeet Levitator Lites, which they tout as being made from Coolmax, Nylon, and Lycra.  They are Castelli thin, comfortable, and a bitch to keep clean (I have two white pairs).  One brand that has really impressed me are a pair I received from Road Bike Action Magazine’s in-house Pro, Neil Shirley.  I had never heard of GizmoPerformance Socks before, and they are made from Coolmax, Nylon and spandex.  These have become a pair I find myself using more often than not, and I will procure a few more of these for my sock rotation.  Since they are the most comfortable socks I have been using, that goes to show even if manufacturer’s use similar materials, they do not achieve similar results.
 
To sew this all up (pun most certainly intended), if you have shopped for cycling socks long enough, you will indeed discover there are a few oddities to the process.  First, one manufacturer’s size is not like another manufacturer’s sizing.  Also, the descriptions of cuff height’s are all over the place.  Why no common measurement system here?  I mean, does the cuff height get measured from the bottom of the foot or from the ankle?  If it is the ankle, how is that done?  Is it from my ankle joint, or what, being I don’t know where an ankle officially starts or stops.  And, as for color choices, darker colors are not a sin.  White is nice, but just try keeping them clean for any longer than five minutes.  And finally, just because they say “Cycling” on the package does not mean a pair must be north of $18.00 USD in the cost department.

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