If you are new to the world of cycling and you have paid a visit to the Cycle Centre you may have been more than a little bewildered by all the accessories that are available. From tools to pumps, footwear to shades, locks to gloves, jackets to bags. The list goes on and that’s before you start exploring the limitless wonders of upgrades for your actual bike. Suffice to say there is always something you don’t have and something you probably want. I know this to be the case for myself every time I walk in to the Cycle Centre! However, I’m pretty sure that one thing that has never been on my “I need/want that” list is a pair of socks, even ones aimed at cyclists. So imagine my delight at receiving a paid of Oxford Chillout socks to test. Ironically, for such a simple garment they are quite difficult to test properly when you think about it. Fortunately, I’ve been testing a couple of different bikes for the Cycle Centre recently so I was able to try out the socks in some fairly extreme conditions.
First impressions: They look like a cross between a shrunken lycra legging and a moccasin style bootie. Trying them on revealed a worrying amount of internal seams that could only be described as ‘potentially uncomfortable’. Unlike a modern hiking sock that has just one seam over the toes the Oxford Chillouts are made from several separate sections of multilayered modern fabrics. Whilst this may have performance benefits when it comes to keeping out the weather, I wasn’t sure at this stage whether it would be at the expense of my comfort. I’m a dad and nearly forty, comfortable feet are now quite high on my priority list. Do bare in mind that these are designed for cycling and a foot on a pedal moves in a very different way to a foot on the ground. The socks are mostly black, but there is an unsettling amount of power-ranger style red detailing that didn’t sit too well with me, at least not when worn with blue jeans.
Post test impressions: I wore the Chillouts during a snowy mountain bike ride and an extremely cold road ride. Curiously, my experiences differed significantly on those rides. On the first, on which I was riding through snow, ice and semi frozen mud-holes, the Chillout sock were fantastic. My feet were warm and dry through out. On the road ride, we covered more than twice the distance at double the average speed. Before we were even at the half way mark I wasn’t sure I still had ten toes. By the end of the ride I was half expecting to see signs of frostbite. Why such a dramatic difference? Well, I put it down to two things. On the mountain bike ride I wore a pair of modern Salamon hiking boots, for obvious reasons, that were waterproof and insulated. On the road ride, my feet were already a bit cold when we started and I only had on a pair of light weight Karrimor trail shoes (that I may have done up too tight thus effecting blood circulation). Personally, I was not expecting the Chillouts to apparently fail to do their job based on past performances but clearly, it is still important what footwear you have on over the top, how warm your feet are to start and whether there is any blood flowing round your extremities.
I did notice that my feet, on all occasions, never got sweaty. Now, I’m fortunate in that I don’t suffer from the affliction of sweaty feet normally but would expect to notice a vaguely soggy sock after period of prolonged sporting activity. The Oxford Chillouts appear to be very good at wicking moisture away from the skin whilst preventing it getting in. Also, contrary to first impressions, I suffered no ill effects or discomfort from the internal seams and overall construction. I’ve not attempted to walk any great distance wearing them, to put the assumption that they may not be as comfortable as a hiking sock, to the test.
Value for money: s.r.p: £15.99. A good quality hiking or skiing sock would cost somewhere in the vicinity of this so I don’t consider the price to be over the top. They certainly aren’t a bargain but if you suffer from wet or chilly feet during your cycling exploits then these may very well be a sensible investment. 3.5 out of 5
Design/Style: The fabric technology in this sock is quite impressive and they do work well providing you don’t do anything stupid with the footwear you put over them. The style is obviously subjective but I felt a lot less stupid wearing these socks when I had cycling gear on the rest of my body. Perhaps this was down to the fact that I know no one looks at my feet when I have lycra leggings on? The only real complaint I have about the Oxford Chillouts is that they are a little too short. I would have liked them to be about an inch and a half further up my leg. I think this would have helped with insulation. 4 out of 5
Overall opinion: Can one get excited about a pair of socks? On reflection, no probably not. However, if I’m heading out for a bike ride, on road or off, and the weather is looking a bit unfriendly then the first bit of technical clothing out of the drawer is my Oxford Chillouts. Recommended. 4 out of 5.
Written by Henry Aarvold, family bike guy.