I haven't really gotten the miles in to put gear through the wringer like I did last year, but some gear has still had a chance to shine.
The standout of this edition is the pair of Specialized leg warmers I bought late last winter. These replace a set of Nike ones. Compared to the Nikes, the Specialized have a more contoured and comfortable fit, a more comfortable, durable and effective top hem and much heavier duty zippers. The fabric feels really soft against your skin, and you really don't notice that you're wearing them. Except you're not cold. When my Pearl Izumi knee warmers and Castelli arm warmers wear out, I will replace them with their Specialized counterparts. Price is on par with other offerings. 4 out of 4 Wagon Wheels for these suckers.
All of the jerseys, outerwear and bibs that I wear at this point are team gear from Voler. I like Voler's stuff, particularly their zippers. The jersey zippers have a new, metal zipper pull that's a downgrade from the previous plastic in that it's too big and rattles around, but the zipper maintains excellent functionality. Sure one handed operation under all conditions. The vests and thermal jackets retain plastic zipper pulls and have a convenient double zipper. They're great. Since most of you are stuck in team gear and won't have a choice over which brand that is, I won't rate it, but I like Voler a lot.
I've become a bit of a devotee of the technical undershirt, the standout of which is the Under Armour Cold Gear mock turtleneck. Combined with a short sleeve jersey and wind vest, you have the only really effective answer to the dreaded 40 degree ride start heating up to the high 50's during the ride. The Cold Gear top is pretty warm but when you unzip the jersey it allows you to effectively regulate temperature on the warm side of the ride. The only shortcomings are that the fabric is a bit rough and I remember it being pretty expensive when I bought it. 3 of 4 Wagon Wheels for the Under Armour Cold Gear mock turtle.
Back to Specialized, I haven't had as much luck with their tires. They ride great but the durability is an issue. I have yet to get more than a couple thousand miles out of a pair. The Michelin Pro series is a bit more expensive but except for one very premature sidewall blowout due to undetermined cause, I've had really good luck with them. They ride really well and last well. This being the winter edition of product reviews, I will be giving a shout out to the Continental Gatorskin. I've had one of these outlast a rim. They aren't too supple, but beat the heck out of the Bontrager "durable" tires I've tried for ride quality. They also corner way better than Maxxis Detonators, with which I've had some scary moments through the turns. You could probably fire a nail gun at the Gatorskins and get a flat, but short of that they don't flat. It doesn't matter what they cost because they last forever. 4 Wagon Wheels.
As much as I love my new DT hubs, and they are freaking sweet, I had a bad experience with a DT 1.1 Rim. A little research shows that I am not alone in having eyelets pull out. I'd probably take another chance with them because they were ridden quite hard (I take care of my stuff but absolutely don't baby it) and for some reason I like them more than their Mavic Open Pro equivalent. They ride nicely, stay true and are reasonably light. 2 of 4 Wagon Wheels.
I get cold feet. When I was younger I used to sail all winter in small boats and it caused some chronic coldness issues with my hands and feet. Until it gets below freezing, the Defeet overshoes work just great. They are kind of a pain to put on, although nothing at all like the epic pitched battles I've had with the Pearl Izumi shiny aero booties I have, and don't really last more than 2 seasons. On the other hand, they perform their intended purpose and are cheap to replace. 3 Wagon Wheels.
Below freezing, I use a pair of Bellwether booties that I got from the closeout bin at HTO 2 winters ago. I've had to do all sorts of patching on the bottoms to keep them running, but man are they warm. Assuming I can find their equivalent when the current pair are reduced to patches connected to patches, I'll definitely get them. 3.5 of 4 Wagon Wheels.
The Tacx Tao bottle cage is an outstanding choice in any weather. They don't make the outside of your bottles all ganky, are light, look cool and are easy to use on the bike. Most importantly, they NEVER drop your bottles unintentionally, even at Poolesville. They're a couple of bucks more than the standard crap ones but about 20% of the price of the fancy carbon bottles grenade launchers. A lot of ProTour teams use them, which isn't normally something I take too much note of, but on an object like this, where they could literally use any product out there, it tells me something. 4 of 4.
My fitness is currently not rating too many Wagon Wheels. I can do the normal stuff fine and for a long time, but when things get hot I melt. The short answer there is that it's October. We are still closer to Jeff Cup '08 than Jeff Cup '09, or at least just about, and my recovery is still very much underway, so it's quite far from a concern just yet. It's pretty annoying to have to dig somewhat deep on group rides, though. These things should be easy.
Okay, off to try and write myself into a new job. Pessimism over the short to medium term future of contracting grows, which I'm realizing is just a good opportunity to go in a slightly different direction. It's going to be tricky.