Curve Boulder SL and Pro SL Socks
Socks are socks. Only if you're buying six packs of white cotton tubes. If you ride regularly, you probably have a decent idea of what works for you. We like thin socks with no padding. Ideally, the foot is meshy, at least on top, and fits really snugly. We prefer shorter cuffs to longer.
Materials, we're much less particular about. Our preference is generally wool blends for cooler days, synthetics on hot days. In between, we can go either way. Some synthetics feel too plasticky to be comfortable, at least when putting them on, but there is a broad ground where we can like many, many different blends, weaves, cuts.
Curve is not a new player to the clothing game. They've been flying under the radar for years, taking advantage of their Boulder home base and proximity to professional riders to test and develop products and they're been largely unknown outside the Boulder fraternity and the pro teams that utilize their services. While they've been a club and team supplier for years Curve is slowly making their brand known to the wider cycling public by making a concerted effort to highlight clothing that everyone needs, namely base layers and socks.
It's the socks where we dipped our toes into their world. We tested out the Curve Boulder SL Sock and the Pro SL Competition Sock. The Boulder SL is their "cold weather racing sock," with a Merino wool and polypropylene blend, where the Pro SL is a warm-weather sock, made of polypro. We've had these pairs five months, both with heavy initial use and then part of our regular rotation.
The socks we got came in Black. Black socks are certainly popular, but does little to highlight one of the socks' defining feature, an impressive array of weaves. It's a pity not to highlight the technical side of the socks, as a mere visual inspection strongly suggests that lots of thinking and design when into these foot covers.
Both socks have nylon-reinforced toes and heels, the reinforced heel panels reach to the tops of shoes or higher, there's a tighter band across the arch of the foot that is ribbed on top and dense on the bottom, the cuff is doubled over, and the overall height of the cuff from the ground is 14cm. The socks seem thinner on the section over the top of the foot, though the Pro uses a mesh weave where the Boulder uses a ribbed weave with mesh on the sides. The polypro yarn used in both socks is infused with Bio NG anti-bacterial treatment. It's silver-infused, being put into the material before it is spun into yarn. It works to limit the stank of the socks from being sweaty in a closed environment.
Reinforced toes and heels are so common these days; it's easy to forget this wasn't always the case. At the same time, not all are created equal; finding out will be the day you're disappointed. We didn't make a point of walking in these socks, so we can't tell how they'll hold up when you have to walk your bike from your crash to the parking lot. But we have worn out several pair socks in the area between the doubled-over cuff and the reinforced heel, so we're happy that Curve has figured out a way to extend the reinforced area higher. Five months is not long enough to see if this makes a difference; the tell will be in a few years.
We used to think the band around the mid-foot was a silly idea. Then we had socks get a bit twisted and folded under our arch. Not painfully uncomfortable, but we were fairly aware all the same. We now like this feature. Don't need it on all our socks, but if a sock we like has it, we're even more convinced to get it.
The socks were first put in service in the spring. Some days were cool, some warm, some hot, and, now that we've ridden them through summer, we have a good sense of how both work.
We started with the Boulder SL socks first. The sock is made from a yarn that's a 50-50 Merino/polypro blend. It's advertised as a cool and cold weather sock, and we were hoping it was a bit warmer than our synthetic socks. They are. We don't need a sock that's much warmer, as then they'll be too warm under booties. The bigger thing to us is that the wool socks are no thicker than the Pro SL socks. We've never understood why some companies prefer to make their winter socks thicker when most of us are still using the same feet and sticking those feet in the same shoes. Shoes that fit well with thin socks in the summer aren't going to fit as well with thicker socks in the winter.
Interestingly, because of reduced stretch thanks to the Merino content, Curve makes a right and left sock. They are so marked just inside the cuffs. We rode them on their proper feet and reversed and didn't notice a difference. Indeed, the guy at Curve told us there isn't much difference, just that with the wool and the mesh on top of the foot, having a slight difference in the angle of the toe boxes makes them fit a little better.
The socks worked well in the cold, worked well in the rain, stayed in place when we went cover-free in the rain, the black hid dirt well. All of that was pretty much expected.
What was good and a bit unexpected is how well they work in the heat. Because they're so thin, they felt no warmer than any other sock on hot days, and we wore them into 90-degree Fahrenheit summer afternoons.
The Pro SL Sock is Curve's warm- and hot-weather sock. Polypro has always been great at wicking; its Achilles heel has always been odor creation. The sock is pretty dry overall, and feels good on days in the 60s and above, and it was never odoriferous. On the hottest days, the sock, even in our humid summer, felt reasonably dry, possibly a bit dryer than our CoolMax socks, but the difference wasn't dramatic. If you're a heavy foot-sweater in winter, it could be your solution as well.
Curve recommends washing with warm or cold water, and then air-drying. On the good side, both come out of a machine wash fairly dry, kind of like how our Craft base layers come out of the wash, and can finish air-drying quickly in many climates. We found the Pro SL's in particular were fast to air dry. The Curve guy says that air-drying is easier on yarns and will increase the useful lives of his socks. Besides, his socks are a bit of an investment compared to others and you might as well maximize the investment by taking care of them.
We understand his position. By that measure we should probably be air-drying all our cycling clothes. But because we live in a humid environment, with others, and don't have a room dedicated to drying our cycling clothes, we machine dry most of our cycling clothes on low heat. He's probably right and we're spending money to reduce the life of our clothes, but we've found low heat does the job and our clothes seem to do pretty well overall.
After having these Curve socks as part of our life for the past several months, we're surprised to report that the Boulder SL sock is the one we preferred not only in cool weather, but in hot as well. Part of it is fit, we think. The Boulder stretches less and feels more snug overall, a feeling we like. It also works well in the heat. But there's something about the texture of the socks as well. Can't explain it, but even though the Pro SL works well, wicking like few in the heat, washing easily and drying quickly, the texture is one we don't like feeling against our skin, whereas the texture of the Boulder SL we like. It's a personal preference, but in terms of performance, we found ourself going for the nominally cold-weather sock for pretty much any condition. Socks aren't socks.