We’re fully in the swing of things with our end of the year wrap ups, tied into a bit of a gift guide. (Zach started us off, followed by Tyler.) For me it’s happily been a year with a bit more traveling to ride mountain bikes than I’ve done in recent years, a bit of back to my roots. But even then, it seems that I’ve ended up back where I started riding skinny tires around in circles playing in the mud and rain of cross as the year ticks away.
For 2015 I’ve written about a lot of new gear, and we have even more on test to come out in the next couple of months either as we look to survive the winter or are hopeful of the return of spring. So as the year winds down I’ll leave it with a selection of greatest hits from this year and a look forward of what we’ll be riding in 2016. Pretty much all of our categories make it easy to pick something high end, and there is plenty of that from us for sure. But I’ll try to look at something more affordable from each group that might be reasonable enough to get wrapped up for a special someone on your holiday gift list. From all of us here at Bikerumor in Europe, we wish you a Happy Kerstperiode and plenty of good riding in the new year!
Outside of a few recent muddy cyclocross races that were truly a slip-sliding blast in that slightly painful kind of way, my standout cycling event of 2015 was probably riding the Pass’Portes du Soleil back and forth across the French and Swiss borders. The event gives you one day to complete the 80km loop, taking 15 lifts to bomb down and across the Alps linking 9 resort towns in France and Switzerland. Along the way there are food and beer refueling stations, plus plenty of actual climbing too (it isn’t all downhill.) The event trails themselves aren’t always the best each resort has to offer, but it’s hard to beat so much linked big mountain riding. Plus, you are bound to meet some interesting riders and find some great offshoots along the way. When I did it this past summer I ended up out on the mountains for just over 9 hours riding 113km, because along the way I spotted some excellent DH trails and singletrack that I couldn’t resist doubling back to hit. It was definitely a memorable day on the bike.
Even though I ride the most distance each year on road rides, my mountain biking background comes out strong whenever I throw a leg over any bike. Outside of my commute to and from the office, I could probably count on one hand the number of road rides I’ve been on in the last year that didn’t include at least a segment or two of dirt and gravel. I’m of the thought that road riding should be an adventure, and even on my trips to the Alps to do proper high mountain climbs, I end up seeking out alternative dirt road passes and gravel roads that link it all together.
Road riding then for me is about versatility, so more and better road disc bikes with clearance for wider fat rubber is right up my alley. I really just saw this bike for the first time less than a month ago in London, but the £8000 Boardman SLR Endurance Signature strikes me as the ideal direction for amateur road bikes to be headed (although thankfully there are versions down to £2300 at least.) With the Boardmans fresh in my mind I wouldn’t hesitate to pick out the matching ti SLR Titanium for those who would rather have a metal bike for the ages.
Probably the best way to get a better ride on mixed surfaces short of buying a new bike is through wheel and tire swaps. For an affordable upgrade and the benefits of road tubeless, I’d put a 350£ Mason x Hunt 4 Season Disc Brake wheelset at the top of my short list. Hunt Bike Wheels do something fairly unique is selling wheelsets already set up tubeless with tires and sealant pre-installed eliminating all of the hassle, and the Schwalbe One Pro tires they spec are solid performers in 23, 25 & 28mm sizes for just 100£ more. For an even lower cost upgrade a set of 27mm wide, but supple clinchers like the Challenge Paris-Roubaix paired with latex tubes deliver an exceptional ride quality, low rolling resistance, and a surprising resistance to both pinch flats and punctures.
Looking to the mountain, I was pretty psyched riding the e:i Auto shock system that Lapierre puts on their premier mountain bikes. Its automatic and completely invisible performance always had the shock in the perfect mode, with its combination of pedaling, inclination and bump input sensors. Mostly locked for extended climbing, a bit stiffer for the flats, and fully open for any descending at all. While it was great on the XC/Trail Zesty platform, I can only imagine that it will be awesome on the Spicy Enduro bike. I’ll be seeing if we can get ahold of one in the new year to thrash it and report back.
AX Lightness introduced an innovative set of light carbon Enduro wheels (just 1642g actual built into DT 240 hubs) with a fairly original T-shaped profile at Eurobike this year. At 2500€ the E 27.5 C wheelset ain’t cheap, but AX talks about them being significantly more durable than most premium Enduro wheels on the market. At the top of the sport, if you look at the EWS, it’s pretty common to see riders finish a race on bashed up rims that will get replaced before the next round. AX’s E 27.5 C uses a super wide 6mm and rounded hookless bead that is designed to flex. This AX claims results in a wheel that can handle much more abuse that pretty much anything else out there. We plan to see if that claims stands up, with a set on test.
Ok, so those may be smaller than a bike, but not really more affordable. How about some mountain tires. There are new European tires this year from Mitas (previously Rubena) and Vittoria. The 50€ Mitas XC and Enduro tires get a new flexible but durable Textra sidewall reinforcement. I like the look of the meaty Kratos for a rougher and soft conditions. We got a set of Vittoria’s XC Mezcal which will get some more trail testing in the start of 2016. The $70 TNT tubeless ready tire has a fast rolling center tread with aggressive side lugs, and a unique sidewall reinforcement layer that protect against rock and rim strikes. It also uses Vittoria’s revolutionary new Graphene+ rubber tech that claims better braking traction at the same time as lower rolling resistance, and its 4 rubber compound promises grip and durability.
If you race cyclocross, there is no substitution for a good set of wide tubulars. When the going gets rough, the ultra low tire pressures you can achieve mean picking up traction where you can’t imagine there would be any. For a carbon option, I’d recommend the Vision Metron 40 Disk Tubulars that we have on test now. At $2700/2100€ they don’t come cheap, but their wide 26mm rim offers a great tire bed for cross and a nice blunt nosed 40mm deep profile that does well in the wind, sand, or mud. Plus, they are a reasonable weight at 1575g. If you spend that much on a wheelset, you might as well add a set of handmade FMB tubulars. The FMBs can’t be beat on their supple performance, and their latex reinforced sidewalls and more durable tread makes them able to stand up to a few seasons of racing without issue (something that other ultra premium handmade European cross tubulars aren’t necessarily known for.)
Fo a lower cost option, try the $950 American Classic Aluminum Tubular Disc wheelset. We tested them for over a year on cross, gravel roads, and alpine climbs. With a 23.5 x 23.5mm rim profile they make a great all around wheel, and were equally happy with 27mm road tires and 33mm cyclocross rubber. Weighing in at 1561g for our set, they were even lighter than the Metrons. The American Classics pair well with a durable tubular that can stand up to more regular abuse and even some proper trail riding. We like the revamped Tufo Flexus Cubus mud tire that handles all types of soft or wet dirt. Their vulcanized construction without a normal inner tube makes them pretty much 100% pinch flat proof an their casing is durable enough to withstand a good bit of technical terrain. Then add in the fact that they can run a latex sealant to repair small punctures just like a tubeless tire, and they become even more versatile. If Tufo’s aren’t easily available, have a look at Clements, which use the same construction and sealant compatibility.
I’ve come to love Unior’s P-handled Torx and hex wrenches (Unior calls them T-handles) over the last few months. Both their short and long arms seem just the right length, and their plastic head fits nicely in my hand. The indentations on either side also make for a solid grip, which means less dropping of tools (I have reduced sensation in a couple of scarred finger tips, so it oddly makes a big difference.) I’ve only used them since maybe July, so I’ll have to rely on their good reputation that their well made tips will last a long time, but they’re nice enough that they’ve totally replaced my other hexes and Torxes for everyday jobs.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating… every cyclist deserves to own a pair of good thermal bib shorts. I put them on when temps drop to around 15°C/60°F and wear them until spring brings back warmer days. Rapha’s Pro Team Thermal Bib shorts make cool and cold winter riding so much more pleasurable for £190/220€/$290. Add in a set of good kneewarmers, and then when temps drop further legwarmers, and they are more versatile and often more comfortable than any tights. For a lower priced option Laché London sells a Kalas thermal short in varying limited edition colors for £100.
An alternate to a workhorse pair of shorts could be something more colorful. We love the new Hawaiian-inspired Alpine print kits from Maloja for 2016. I can’t say there is any piece on or off the bike that I wouldn’t mind having. And they’ve got both men and women covered with fitted XC gear as well as baggies.
Liv has a couple of new women’s shoes for 2016, but the Tesca mountain bike shoe is a standout. There aren’t many premium women’s shoes out there to start with, but these $320 kicks come with some sweet looking tech too. That fluoro yellow EXO Beam thing makes the sole super stiff longitudinally, but allows a bit of later flex for natural foot movement. Plus, that break in the tread behind the toe lets the front of the shoe flex for run-ups, while keeping the area under the cleat stiff for pedaling efficiency.
…and Three Small Things
Seriously, wool socks. How can everyone not be excited about merino socks?! It’s wintertime, I’m out riding in the cold and I want my toes to stay warm. I’m a pragmatist, I guess, so I’m not really too concerned how flashy they are. They’re probably going to be covered up by tights, shoe covers, or legwamers anyway. (Btw, what’s the deal with the socks over legwarmers thing? I see pros doing it all the time?! See above. Note, that isn’t me.) I like Isadore’s 17€ Merino Socks for their simplicity, relatively light weight, and thin heel and toe padding. They come in both a 4″ and 7″ cuff lengths (I’d choose the latter, because winter.)
Baselayers don’t get a lot written about them since they are mostly hidden from view and many really tend to not get rid of moisture all that well. But in the last few years there have been some excellent super light mesh options that do a great job at wicking sweat away from the skin and leaving you feeling totally dry. I like Craft’s Cool Mesh Superlight sleeveless version which works on its own in the heat of the summer and even pairs with a heavier wool insulation layer in the winter. Tyler also mentioned Pedal Ed in his Wish List, and their Ultralight Baselayer is excellent. I’ve been riding with it for a month or two, and it does a surprising job of staying dry even during intense cross racing where I know I am really sweating.
Lastly, how about a year of Strava Premium? Who amongst us doesn’t have a friend or significant other that pores over the data after their last big ride. For just $60 of the year, give them the power of more goals to work with, deeper analysis of data like power, and more analytics (I personally love the Fitness & Freshness tool in the training tab that gives me a pretty solid overview on training and resting without having to think too much or actually plan at all.)
The best gift of all is probably just to take someone riding and enjoy pedaling together (or maybe watching someone’s kids so they can go riding.)
In any case, happy riding for the rest of the year and let’s look forward to even more time on the bike in 2016.