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Northwave's Balaclava is just the ticket for sub zero winter riding, fits unobtrusively beneath helmets and seems menacing enough to temper the aggression of oncoming 4x4s. However, the allure of looking like a cross between a Marvel comics' superhero and a gallows executioner can wane on social outings and, for heaven's sake, remove it before nipping into the bank.
This is a far cry from the woollen types granny used to knit in those halcyon days before such headwear became synonymous with heists and short wheelbase Ford Transits. This is a one-size fits all design made from a polyester/elastane mix similar to that of winter tights. Bold Northwave Scotchlite graphics chase around the skull with more traditional graphics dotted around the neck for nocturnal safety. Four eyelets at the front improve breathability while flat seams lie soft against the skin. Finding suitably chill conditions meant waiting until 2am, awakening the Univega from its slumber and creeping the garage door close so as not to incur the neighbours' wrath.
Accompanied by a stiff crosswind, it wasn't long before the fabric's protective qualities came into their own, the extended neck gaitor cut long enough to nestle beneath jersey collars, providing a chill-cheating seal without restricting crucial over the shoulder glances. Speaking of safety, while the Univega remained bedecked in lights, I shunned my usual reflective jackets in favour of black to test the reflectives' prowess and most approaching traffic acknowledged me from 250 or maybe 300 yards when emerging from side roads. Your hearing remains unaffected and cuts out the intrusive 'whistling' in your ears on long, blustery descents. Breathability is generally ok, although things quickly turn clammy during sustained conversation.
This balaclava dries pretty quickly and it is largely unaffected by light to moderate rain and drizzle. However, when the mercury teeters above 5°C, the materials can't compete and things turn distinctly soggy - to the point where my hair was left drenched and matted against my scalp. That said, successive outings didn't induce any nasty niffs and it joins the machine wash at 30° when appropriate.
Worthy addition to the winter road, touring or MTB wardrobe when temperatures/windchill turn spiteful
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Make and model: Northwave Balaclava
Size tested: One size
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Northwave seems to regard this as self-explanatory. It's a single size balaclava designed to protect the rider from bracing winds and plummeting temperatures.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
"Main material: Gauzed elastic fabric
Tech: Ergonomic neck fit, holes on nose and mouth for perspiration"
Brilliant when the air temperature dips to around zero but distinctly sweaty in milder coditions.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Northwave balaclava performs suberbly, making commuting, training or touring bearable on the coldest days. However, less sophisticated fabrics can leave the rider feeling distinctly "boiled in the bag" should temperatures suddenly rise by a few degrees.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tailored, fit, blissfully comfortable in freezing conditions without restricting rider vision, hearing or dexterity.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Can become rather sweaty in all but the coolest weather –�in which case, you can take it off, obviously.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Age: 38 Height: 1m 81 Weight: 70 kilos
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)