Each year, we put together our series of holiday gift guides disguised as our own wish lists. They’re also sort of like our version of an “Editor’s Choice” awards, only less formal. These are just the products we’ve seen and possibly tested this year that stood out in some way. Each of us have our own riding style, different terrain and unique preferences, but between us we represent a pretty good spread of the general cycling public. Each one is prefaced with a bit about us so you can see if your own style (or that of a favorite cyclist in your life) matches up.
I’m Tyler, and I like bikes. I ride road long and slow, XC mountain bike on flat-to-rolling singletrack with the occasional trip to the big mountains of Pisgah, NC, and my cyclocross bike sees use year ’round as a commuter, adventurer and generally fun bike to ride. I race only a few times a year, and only for fun, but I still like to see how well I can do and how far I can push myself and my equipment.
Gifts come and go, but experiences last a lifetime. So, topping our lists this year is the experience each of us would most like to have. For me, that’s a framebuilding class at Metal Guru. After meeting Vicious Cycles founder and Metal Guru owner Carl Schlemowitz at the Philly Bike Expo this year, his program stood out in that it brings in well known builders like Steve Bilenky and others to teach classes. Choose from steel welding or brazing and you’ll leave the 68-hour class with your own unique frame.
ROAD / GRAVEL / CYCLOCROSS BIKE
Honestly, my wants are equally split between the 2015 GT Grade and Jamis Renegade. I’ve ridden both and love both. The GT is a bit better looking and a bit sportier feeling, a bit lighter and a bit speedier. The Jamis is rock solid, has an incredibly burly frame that plows through everything, has rack and fender mounts, and a powerfully upright riding position with one of tallest stacks I’ve ever seen. Both are very comfortable on long rides over rough terrain. My inner speed demon leans toward the GT, but my practical side says the Jamis.
I’ve been riding the Niner JET 9 for three generations of their frame. From the 2nd gen alloy model to the first carbon one to the 2014 RDO. I’ve also test ridden the latest alloy model. I have three of them as personal bikes that I use to test all manner of parts, and they’ve been raced hard, ridden long and put away dirty. Sure, they have their quirks (cable routing being a notorious one), and there are some bikes that do some things better. But I’ve found the JET 9 to do virtually everything really well. And everyone that’s borrowed one from my fleet has come away impressed. It climbs fast, descends fast and will rip through the flats as fast as your legs and lungs will take you…yet it’s plenty nimble on slower days, like when I’m riding with my son. It’s not lost on me that I haven’t actually done a formal review of the JET yet, but consider this endorsement my vouch for the bike as the ultimate all-around XC bike regardless of which frame material it’s made of.
My component of choice would be something one-by. I’ve tested several of Absolute Black’s chainrings and been very impressed on both my cyclocross bike and my mountain bike. I’ve also been running OneUp’s RAD cage in an otherwise Shimano drivetrain and enjoyed the increased range it provides on the steep Blue Ridge ascents. Collectively, we’ve also tested 1x conversion parts from Wolf Tooth Components. Regardless of the brand you choose, there’s a reason why so many riders are dropping the front derailleur for ‘cross and MTB, and subbing in a narrow/wide chainring on your existing crankset with an oversized cassette cog or cluster in the rear is an economical way to test the waters.
Also on the list of items I’ve been using for years but never formally reviewed is the Kali Maraka XC helmet. I’ve had it for a couple years now (two of them, actually) and it’s still one of my go to lids between reviewing others. It’s light, comfortable and packed with impressive safety features. Plus the guys behind the brand are very cool and very passionate about what they’re doing. The Maraka comes in an XC version (shown) and a road version without the visor, which is surprisingly difficult to remove (it’s not actually meant to be removable). The rear straps do need to be held just right when putting it on, but it’s a small nitpick to an otherwise fantastic helmet. And if you have kids, their youth helmets are some of the best fitting and best looking kids helmets we’ve tried!
Despite talking to CD at virtually every tradeshow about Rapha’s clothing, it’s taken many years to actually acquire a set for my own use. And it was worth the wait. No, Rapha’s clothing isn’t just about marketing a lifestyle, it’s actually damn fine kit. I broke in the Pro Team (shown) and Lightweight/Super Lightweight jersey and bib shorts at the Baller’s Ride this summer. Was it smart to bring brand new, untested clothing to a 50+ mile ride designed to break spirits and wheels? Perhaps not, but it performed flawlessly, keeping all parts of me comfortable throughout the weekend. If you’re the type that prizes quality over quantity, that buys a couple nice things whose initial purchase price amortizes over years of enjoyment, then the Rapha lifestyle is calling.
Now that I have a few cool weather rides in the Giro Alpineduro riding boots, I’ve gotta say, they’re pretty slick. When I first put them on, they have the same snug, narrow fit of other Giro shoes, which worried me since I’d likely be wearing thicker socks with them. But, once on the bike, they feel amazing and warm enough for rides that dip into cooler weather. How cool? So far I’ve ridden them in the high 40’s and low 50’s (ºF) and they’ve been great. I’ll report back at the end of the week for colder, wetter rides. They’ve kept the water out through a few deep stream crossings and held securely on damp log bridge scrambles, too.
…and three small things
In a past life, I spent way too many hours sitting in a car. And now, I spend a fair amount of time sitting typing or in a bent over cycling position. Add it all up and tight hips, glutes, hamstrings and psoas muscles end up causing muscular imbalances and mis-fires all up and down the posterior chain and into the traps and lats. The solution has been the Trigger Point Therapy foam roller and massage ball/roller kit.
I still travel a lot, and with every trip I try to see if I can pack less than the time before. Wool underwear helps, because it’s easily washable and, when necessary can occasionally be worn multiple times between washings…or, um, so I’ve heard. I’ve used underwear and undershirts from WoolX and Icebreaker for years now and love both. I favor Icebreaker’s underwear just a bit, and they have more styles and colors to choose from. The WoolX t-shirts are longer, are a bit more fitted and stay tucked in better, particularly important since I’m 6’2″.
Lastly, Rapha’s shave cream is simply amazing. It smells amazing, works amazing and you only need the slightest bit of it, which helps take the sting out of the price a bit. I’ve managed to milk several months out of a single jar using it for both face and legs by being stingy.