Winter boots tend to be a secondary purchase when you are sure you want to ride the whole year through. Many of us started in training shoes but although these may be cheap and conveniently available in the bottom of the wardrobe, the durability is much less than a purpose made shoe.Entry-level trail shoes tend to be much more efficient in energy transfer between foot and pedal but are usually a summer shoe. They will be longer lasting and might make you ride a bit quicker but you still get wet in the rain. Race orientated shoes are much better for riding but less so for walking, or going into the pub, and tend to be well ventilated with mesh sides and tops and definitely not waterproof.As an emergency or interim solution is the old plastic bags in the shoes trick used for many a year. Used in fact since before plastic bags had holes in to prevent accidental suffocation. Good for safety, bad for waterproofing. Even without holes, your feet still get wet from the sweat but luckily the smell disappears after only a few days.The next stage up is waterproof socks with the best known being Sealskinz. Waterproof and halfway to a Wellington so ideal for some but without a great comfort factor and the thermal version is better in the cold as wet shoes suck heat from your foot.The ideal solution is a winter boot. There are several key factors worth considering including the insulation level, weight and closure method.
A winter boot needs to be dry and warm and for those of us riding in the south not too warm. Further north this might not be the case when the ground is white. Although you need the water to stay on the outside, it does not mean that being breathable is unimportant so leather or a modern textile like Gore-tex is preferable.
Most versions will offer better foot and ankle protection than a shoe and better grip for slippery conditions. Optional toe studs are fairly common. The offset of this is the increased weight and the unfashionable clumpy look. Some may find the reduced flexibility of some versions restricting but most are durable and quite pedal friendly. Maintenance of the outer requires cleaning, drying and on some models the occasional wax. Cleats benefit from cleaning and greasing of the bolts unless you enjoy drilling them out in the spring.
Laces are most common on summer trail shoes, Velcro straps and ratchet closures for race-orientated shoes and full Velcro tops and wire closures appear in winter boots.
The most readily available boot is from Shimano with the original offering being more a waterproof shoe with a neoprene collar. Robust for the rocks, dry for puddles but only water resistant at the collar in driving rain or deeper puddles. Using a waterproof trouser over the top helped the water run off but your feet did not stay completely dry. For me It was not the perfect solution even when used in combination with waterproof socks. The updated version with the Goretex liner looks a better product.
As a side issue, the size of the toe box was somewhat compact, which can lead to cold feet if circulation is restricted. Seeking an improvement from existing Shimanos meant extra expense but comfort can be a worthwhile investment. Looking for an improved solution meant searching for reviews and user opinions. You need to use the internet for this if you want to find more than the rare magazine review. The offering from all manufacturers improves with each subsequent model and several new boots had been launched or were in the offing. The original Lake offering had an excellent all-round reputation with expense and a restricted toe box being the main criticisms from aficionados whereas some others had some mixed reviews or were too new for much trail experience. Last year the new Lakes were rare but listening to user feedback and an improved toe box made it an improved design. The high cost was off-putting but a small discount, after much searching, justified the risk.
Over last winter they provided perfect function with the wire closure being completely reliable. It is not the easiest release mechanism for cold fingers at the end of the ride but it allows easy micro adjustment and ensures complete waterproofing. Apart from cleaning and drying, the only maintenance was two waxings. By April they were too warm even in wet days in the south but until then they were used several times per week. Alternatives have different strengths and weaknesses with the Gaerne Eskimo being the closest rival in our group comparison.
If you need a reason for opting for the Lakes then for the younger rider choose a boot that can survive the Iditerod and you can be sure it will manage anything in the UK.
For the older rider the smell of the leather will take you back to football boots drying on old fashioned cast iron radiators in schoolrooms ready for dubbing and watching Jenny from the sixth form walking past in her hockey kit.