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I'm looking at options for new winter footwear and am split between buying new boots (must be look/3 bolt, which seems to constrain options somewhat) or buying covers, specifically the neoprene style which zips up the back and exposed ones' cleats through the bottom.

I'm weighing pros and cons and would like to get others' thoughts as to their own experience with boots vs. covers. Also, I have wide feet and would need boots that fit accordingly (like a Lake wide or Sidi Mega) - not asking for a product recommendation but this constrains options and is an important consideration for me.

Covers

Pros:

  • Cheaper than new boots

Cons:

  • They must be taken on and off
  • Aesthetically, they aren't pleasing
  • Durability is a question

New Boots

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Possibly more cold & water resistant
  • More aesthetically pleasing

Cons:

  • Cost
  • Possibility of hard break in
  • Possibility of worse fit than ones regular shoes
  • Limited options for Look compared to SPD
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    Where are you? Pacific Northwest winter is very different than winter in the midwest. I live in the midwest, and I prefer platform pedals with hiking boots and good socks to clipless for winter riding. – Batman Aug 28 '15 at 19:49
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    I don’t know how cold resistant winter cycling boots are but covers are only good down to about -5°C. They are great for rainy Fall/Spring and carrying around for trips. The Look road bike cleats will do badly in snow or mud so changing to MTB pedals over winter would be a good idea anyways. – Michael Aug 28 '15 at 20:09
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    Depends on the type of riding you are going to do. Are you going to stay in the saddle or are you going to the store? – paparazzo Aug 29 '15 at 1:07
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    @Batman I'm in the Midwest. – ebrohman Aug 29 '15 at 1:25
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    Whatever you wear your feet will get wet. What you want to do is keep them as warm as possible, even when wet. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 19 '15 at 11:53
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For pure road-riding: Neoprene covers over normal road-shoes are the best as long as you don't have to put a foot down too often. The cleats are prone to clogging in snowy conditions. But then you wouldn't certainly get on a bike. On the other hand, ankle hugging covers keep the rain running down the legs into the shoe, which could happen with insulated boots.

For cross-country riding or commuting: Specific insulated and waterproof (membrane-type) shoes with profiled soles for MTB-cleats and MTB-pedals are a very reliable solution. MTB-cleats and pedals by design cope better with adverse conditions like mud and snow. And the shoes are more wear resistant than covers if you need to walk longer distances and there is less trouble to put them on and take them off.

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My advice: when in doubt, focus on warmth and dryness. Covers keep the wind chill out of your shoes (down to a certain temperature) but not snow, slush, grey winter slop, freezing rain or that salty spray from your tires. Once your socks are wet the rest of your winter ride is misery unless it's a short ride.

I use Lake insulated winter cycling boots, which I bought several sizes too big to allow room for two layers of wool socks underneath. MBT cleats and pedals are designed to shed mud (or snow) so use them. Covers work well enough in dry conditions in late fall or early spring but for icebiking I don't think they make the cut.

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  • At temperatures where water is liquid you’ll be warm enough with thick socks even if water gets through the covers. – Michael Sep 19 '15 at 12:42
  • That's true except salt water (from snow melted by sand/salt trucks) has a much lower freezing point. Wind chill is another factor: water freezes at 32 degrees but cycling at 15 mph produces wind chill that's several degrees below freezing. nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/windchill.shtml – user22646 Sep 20 '15 at 0:36
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To me, it's not an either / or choice. I would be aiming to get both, over the longer term.

When planning to ride consistently through the winter there are also other considerations, some that help keep your feet drier and warmer (you may already be doing some or all)

  • The first thing is fit mud guards / fenders, or have a winter bike. Mud guards greatly reduce the amount of wheel spray that hits your feet and body. For example, for wet weather commuting I use my touring bike with mudguards.

  • It may seem obvious, but try to avoid deep puddles. Don't swerve violently because that can cause falls, but try to look ahead and go around the deepest parts.

  • It's wet weather riding. Ignore aesthetics. See rule #9.

  • Get the bike set up for the conditions. MTB pedals are generally better for such conditions, as others have said.

  • Boot covers do wear out. I consider them as consumables, and an extra layer of protection. Winter boot are also good, but an extra cost that can be deferred.

  • As an extra point please make sure you always use lights and wear bright clothing to make yourself as visible as possible.

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