Building on Zach’s Holiday Wish List is my own, and I’ve even added the category of “Other Bikes” because, like so many of us, I’m fairly well stocked on road and mountain bikes. Of course I have room for more, but more of the same doesn’t bring the same increase in happiness or utility that should be derived from something so wonderful as the bicycle.
And like Zach’s list, much of this represents a “Best Of” list of things I’ve ridden or, at a minimum, seen in person and used or covered. Kind of like an Editor’s Choice listing, but less pretentious.
Once I aged out of expecting anything from my parents or Santa under the tree, the things I really want have morphed from actual things to experiences. And since I spend most of my days thinking hard about running this little (*cough* world’s largest) cycling tech blog business, managing (some great!) people and trying to start a couple other businesses with friends (I really should know better by now), the last thing I want to do on vacation is think, plan and manage. But I still want to ride. So my experiential choice would be to hop on one of H+I Adventures’ mountain bike tours. They have rides across the globe and for all skill levels, and the prices are on the right side of affordable considering the food and lodging that’s included. All you’ve got to do is get yourself there. There are tons of other (more expensive) options worth checking out if road or a mixed activities suit you better, and here’s a few links (A, B, C, D).
Road / Gravel / Cyclocross Bike
With the gravel category jumping on the scene, there are a lot of bikes new and old that are suddenly suited to tackle anything from your Sunday morning group ride to an all day backroad adventure to some casual ‘cross racing. And I’ve got a couple of those. What I really want is a purpose built, fast as hell cyclocross race rocket. And I may have just found it in the Norco Threshold SL. It’s already carried me to my best race finish in years, it’s light and it’s gloriously efficient. Yes, that means it’s a little rough, but speed comes at a price, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Let’s hear it for specialization!
Similarly, the new Parlee Chebacco (left) is a purpose built gravel road bike. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else and was built specifically to tackle a popular dirt road around Parlee’s Massachusetts headquarters. It’s the production brother to the full custom Z1 Zero XD, which means it’s much more affordable their their top of the line. But, if our experience with their road bikes is any indication, the performance is still top notch. We’ll be getting one of these in for long term review soon.
If I did have to pick a bike to do most things, it’d be the Van Dessel WTF. It’s the antithesis of the other two shown here in that it can be a road bike, light touring bike, mountain bike or gravel bike. Oddly, about the only thing I wouldn’t want to build it up as is a cyclocross bike. Why? The split top tube is a bit wide for really aggressive riding, and it’s a bit heavy for racing. But it’s wickedly fun for everything non-competitive. Check out the complete build of this project bike here, here and here.
One more worth mentioning: The Scapin Etika RC road bike is super light, super fast and impressively solid under my 190lb person even when built up with ridiculously light Xentis carbon clinchers. Stage Race Distribution handles these Italian and Austrian brands for North America and lent me a bike that I’m very reluctant to send back. Full review coming soon.
This is a tough year to be wanting a new mountain bike. There are so many standards in a state of flux that it makes it hard to commit real dollars to anything without some small fear of it being instantly obsolete. The inverse argument is that the best bike in the world is the one you’re riding, but still. That’s why my top pick for riding into the new year is the new Niner RKT9. Yes, I’m a big Niner fan and have picked them as my top choice before, but putting that aside, this bike gets a lot of things right. Things that’ll stay right for years to come. First, it’s Boosted front and rear. Second, it’s very light. And finally, it’s just about the perfect bike for the type of riding I do most on local and regional XC trails around Greensboro, Wilkesboro (NC), Ocala (FL) and Roanoke (VA).
Ignore the changing standards and the Marin Attack Trail (left) has been serving me well. I borrowed one for a product launch and brought it home with me for a long term review. When something like the Niner RKT is under gunned (like Pisgah, if you’re riding it for what it’s worth), I’m bringing this bike along. It’s a 150mm travel 27.5″ bike that’s been soaking up enduro wins around the world thanks to smooth suspension and room for meaty tires. The alloy bikes are a little on the heavy side, but they offer full carbon frames, too.
New is good and all, but to be honest, I’m still riding my four-year-old Niner JET9 and loving it. What brings me more joy is getting my kids on better bikes so they enjoy the experience more. And this year, my daughter hopped aboard the Trailcraft Pineridge 24 and hasn’t looked back. Trek, Specialized, Commencal and other big brands have all jumped in with higher quality, lighter bikes for kids this year, but I do enjoy supporting the little guys and Trailcraft has a singular focus on making high performance bikes for the little ones. And this season really is about giving, right?
I’ve got a Yuba Boda Boda and it’s awesome. And we’ve been reviewing a Haibike Xduro Trekking e-bike that is, without exaggeration, awesome. But if I could combine the two into an electric assist, heavy duty cargo bike? That’s the stuff my (publicly shareable) middle aged dreams are made of. Cargo bikes are awesome, and e-bikes in the city are awesome. E-cargo bikes for running errands, taking kids to school and just avoiding short car trips are doubly awesome and I want one. Like the Yuba Spicy Curry (shown) or El Mundo. Heck, I’d even settle for just sticking the BionX e-bike conversion kit on my Boda Boda and calling it a day, especially if its the latest D-Series hub motor because that thing’s stupid fast.
This should come as no surprise, but if I could pick any component to have sitting under the tree, it would be the new SRAM Red eTAP wireless group. If I have to explain, then, honestly, I’m not sure how you made it this far. This system reinvents how bicycle drivetrains should work and absolutely sets the bar for anything to come after. Don’t believe me? Just wait until you can ride it. And until they have the hydraulic disc brake levers ready because, let’s face it, disc brakes are the future.
Two other components that have really impressed me this year are Lauf’s Trail 29er fork (which they’ve already updated and improved) and Nox Composites’ Skyline hookless carbon rims. Both are on my Project XC Race Rocket bike, which is being passed around amongst several riders and garnering positive remarks.
Another thing I’m wishing for is Schwalbe’s tubeless-ready line of gravel and cyclocross tires…they just can’t come soon enough. Though, the Hutchinson’s are doing well for a dry, race-day tread, too.
The Bontrager Velocis and Lazer Z1 helmets are tied for lust factor. Both look good, fit great and are competitively light. The Bontrager, which I reviewed here, comes with a detachable visor, but not the kind you’d expect…it looks like a cycling cap’s visor and Velcros between the front pads and shell, lending a classic look without shielding your head from the air pouring in through its vents. The Lazer helmet used their Rollsys retention mech, which is great, and the Z1 fits me very well where several of Lazer’s other helmets don’t. Plus, those orange and blue colors are pretty sweet…
The other piece of gear I’m really liking for cyclocross is Handup’s gloves. They’re comfortable, fit snug without restricting dexterity and are equally adept at grabbing bars and beers (or whatever holiday cheer they’re offering on course…even bacon!)
When you have a closet full of similar items but you keep wearing the same ones, that’s when you know it’s something special. Such is the case with Mission Workshop’s Traverse mountain bike shorts. They’re purpose built, but the styling is suitable for rolling up to the café or Mexican restaurant after riding (even if the pockets aren’t). Like the rest of the MW gear I’ve got, it’s proven durable, well-constructed, comfortable and fits true to size. And like the rest of their gear, it ain’t cheap, but if you could only have one pair of shorts, these could be them. They fit over normal knee pads, move freely and shed water and mud quickly. They’re breathable and light, but substantial enough to work in mild winters, too.
For road bike clothing, I’ve been impressed with goods on both ends of the economic spectrum. For affordable kit that doesn’t act like it, Performance Bike’s Elite (shown, left) and Ultra bibshorts and jerseys (for men and women) use materials, features and construction of stuff costing 3x and 4x more. I’m local enough that they pay a visit twice a year to show off the goods, and good they are. And their new CHCB lifestyle and commuter gear is pretty sweet for casual wear on and off the bike.
On the very premium side of things, three brands have stood out recently: Cedar Cycling (shown, right), Search and State, and Lululemon. Yes, that Lululemon. Their kit is sweet, and it’s apparent they did their research. Full review on that coming. There is something special about the fit and feel of truly premium clothing, and these three live up to the hype their prices suggest. Honestly, there’s so much good stuff out there now. PedalED comes to mind (amazing!), Club Ride’s new surf inspired graphics, and Giro has stepped up their game quite a bit. I could go on and on…
I reviewed the 2014/15 Northwave Extreme XC mountain bike shoes and liked them a lot. For 2015/16, they made them even better by adding Michelin-developed rubber compounds and this sick urban camo color pattern. Is there anything wrong with the green ones I tested? Nope, I still use them more than a year after getting them in. Do I want these just because they look better? Hell yeah!
Three Small Things
Feedback Sports Flopstop handlebar holder is simply perfect. Park Tools are great, but their handlebar holder simply doesn’t work on a lot of modern bikes with thicker, more shapely top tubes and aero handlebars. Feedback’s does, and it’s rock solid. And it’s only $22. This is one thing every home mechanic should have.
Blackburn Design makes two of my favorite water bottle cages. The Camber carbon bottle cages come in at 30g and retail for $50 and are hands down the best cage I’ve used. Light, secure and darn good looking. A close second, and much more affordable is the $15, 41g Chicane stainless steel cage. Both come with a lifetime warranty.
I go through protein and recovery drinks far too quickly, and they’re expensive. So I’d love nothing more than a big fat supply of Ojio Sport’s plant-based protein shakes to feed my muscles after a hard ride. Their green energy drink is pretty good, too (Zach disagrees), and their liquid electrolyte blend makes plain water a little less boring without adding artificial sweeteners.
Happy holidays to all, and to all a good ride!