Yep, it’s that time of year once again. While we debated about doing a more categorical gift guide this year, offering ideas for mountain bikers, roadies, commuters, etc., truth be told, we started that discussion a little late. So, we’re sticking with our usual format of individual wish lists where each of us picks our favorite things from the past year. Things we think would make great gifts, but also sort of an unofficial Editor’s Choice. Most of the stuff you’ll see in our lists over the next couple weeks are things we’ve actually tested and used and can recommend in good faith. But, inevitably, there’ll be a few that we simply lust after. And while the focus of Bikerumor is the products and gear, we were very fortunate to have been included on several events this year that focused more on the experience than the parts, and its no surprise that those are the ones we remember most fondly. So, once again, we’ll start with an experience before diving into the products…
Riding in Iceland. If Bergur’s video wasn’t enough to make you want to go, maybe the pic above will, too. And I’ve got a feature coming up highlighting my trip there with the Lauf guys to test their GRIT gravel fork. The riding is awesome, but the team at Lauf is what made the past two trips there incredible. It’s like a guy’s weekend that includes great riding, a little adventure, amazing scenery and lots of beer. Good Lord, so much beer. I’m fortunate in that all of the planning was done for me, but there are companies like Made In Mountains and Ice Bike Adventures (both recommended by locals) that’ll help you plan something incredible. So grab some friends, drop the excuses and just go make memories.
This one’s easy this year. When one thing instantly pops into your head, or when something becomes the bike you grab for almost every ride, then you know it’s worthy of a special mention. Lately, the Cannondale Slate is that bike for me. It’s purpose built for fun, as bikes should be. I’m in the middle of a long term test with this one. I’ll still grab my mountain bike or road bike when the situation warrants, but for everything in between, this is the bike I’m riding most days. The suspension makes a world of difference on dirt paths and around town, the big tires have gobs of grip and smooth the ride further, and it’s basically just a really, really fun bike to ride.
For mountain bikes, I’m torn between two extremes. I really enjoyed the Norco Revolver I rode at Cyclofest. XC might be waning in popularity, but if your local trails seem purpose built for it, nothing will be faster than a bike purpose built for speed. Everything about its 100mm of travel felt right. This is the second year in a row I’ve included a Norco in my wish list, perhaps they’re onto something. I’d certainly get more daily use out of this one, but…
At the other end of the extreme is the new Pivot Firebird, a 170mm 27.5″ freak of nature gravity bike that goes beyond enduro in terms of downhill capability but climbs as good as any short travel full suspension bike. We ripped them through Arkansas and Tennessee on the way home from Interbike (more on that trip coming soon), during which we earned all of our turns up switchbacked mountains. Using the firmer settings on the rear shock helped a bit, but the DW Link design kept all that travel tight when pedaling up. Point it down and the long top tube keeps weight back, and the big Fox 36 fork tamed rocks, drops, jumps and more. If your terrain is more vertical and you have to climb to descend, the Firebird rewards your efforts without punishing you on the way up. So good.
This is the second time I’ve included a Yuba in my annual list, too. Barring something full custom, this would be a sweet replacement for my Boda Boda. The new Yuba Sweet Curry is basically their motorized Spicy Curry e-bike version, but without the motor. That means 300lb of cargo capacity and less weight, but it still works with all of the usual accessories like racks, baskets, fenders and kid-hauling parts. Of course, I’d like the motorized version, too, but this one’s $1,800 less ($2,199 MSRP) and I can add a motor later. Only problem? It doesn’t ship until February.
SRAM Eagle. No question. I already didn’t want a 2x by on my bikes anymore but felt like the one I take to the mountains could still benefit. Now, it’s all 1x for me. It’s everything that was good about XX1 made better, plus a massive 50T cog to help me scoot up the hills (or crawl), but it’s still better than walking or grinding along and killing myself). If you’ve been hiding under a rock, get the full tech story on Eagle here and first ride and actual weights here.
A close second is Easton’s new crankset. I’m a huge fan of Race Face’s ultralight Next SL mountain bike cranks and direct mount rings, so I’m stoked to see sister brand Easton take that to the road. I’ve been racing my long term test set in cyclocross and had zero issues with flex or chain management. The arms are just a bit wide at the spindle, which rubs my shoe, but it’s minimal, causing more aesthetic damage than any real harm. But worth thinking about if you ride heels in. Check the actual weights and first impressions here, and stay tuned for a long term review (spoiler alert, they’re fantastic).
The other piece of gear I’m geeking out about is Blackburn’s Outpost bike packing bag collection. Mine’s here, fully packed (on that Cannondale Slate) and has been out for a test run. Full bike packing trip is happening later this month, but even before all that I’m impressed with the apparent quality of the gear. There are some quirks to the design, and the installation instructions are piss poor, but still…just look at them. Bad ass. Also available in black. The complete collection runs $350, but individual bags go from $50 to $130, making it possible to talk loved ones into making it happen piece by piece.
Lastly, the new Feedback Sports tool kits are a solid collection of high quality tools that pack in a modern assortment of fixes for model bike woes. At the top of my wish list would be the Team Edition kit (shown, $249), but they also have a travel sized kit ($129) and really sweet T-Handle allen and torx set (also $129). Pricey? Perhaps. But if you need one good kit that probably has everything you’ll need at home and on the road, it’s way more expensive to piece it all together separately.
Two pieces stood out for me this year, both of which came in handy riding around Prague following Eurobike. The rain came and went, as did the wind, but the Gore-tex Active Cycling Jacket and the 7Mesh Revo Short were in for the long haul. The jacket debuted earlier this year as Gore’s lightest-ever waterproof piece, and it lives up to that claim. It’s ultra light, packs into a jersey pocket with ease and blocks both wind and water. What makes it special is that the waterproof membrane is the outer layer, so there’s not any extra fabric, and water just beads and rolls right off since there’s nothing for it to soak into. It’s also reasonably breathable and not too hot. But it is expensive at $300.
The 7Mesh Revo shorts are also expensive at $225, but they’re amazing. The cut, fit and shaping are superb for road or mountain biking. In particular, the knees are longer in the front and slightly scalloped to move with you. The crotch is gusseted to remove seams from directly under you, and a higher rear waist protects against spray. They’re made entire of Gore-tex fabric, and on my test rides the only moisture that got to my chamois was sweat. They have an adjustable cinch band and belt loops, use whichever you like, and a normal snap and zipper fly. Reflective bits all around and drain holes in the full size pockets round ’em out.
I have to give an honorable mention to the Alpinestars Metis bibshort, too. On our road trip home from Interbike I wore them four days in a row. Gross, I know, but it was all in the name of product testing. And they’re awesome. Oh, and those commuter pants I just reviewed. Also awesome.
Three weeks ago, two amazing new cycling shoes showed up for me to review: The Giro Factor Techlace and Specialized S-Works 6 MTB. So what the hell am I doing listing a running shoe here? Simple: It’s a game changer. More specifically, Altra as a brand is a game changer. And, honestly, I haven’t ridden those new cycling shoes enough yet to make an informed recommendation (first impressions are pretty good, though). I’m listing the Altra Superior 2.0 trail running shoe because it performed flawlessly in the Asheville Spartan Super obstacle course race earlier this year. I first discovered Altra when I noticed a friend’s pair and their foot-shaped last and wide toe box. Then I noticed they had zero heel lift. So I ordered a pair of Lone Peaks, which are more heavily cushioned, to wear around the trade shows and my life was changed. They’re about all I wear now. This summer, I met with Altra at Outdoor PressCamp and got the full low down (which is conveniently recapped on their website) and was sold. I like to consider myself a well rounded person, doing a little parkour and ninja warrior stuff here and there, an OCR or two each year, and lifting. If you fancy yourself the same, definitely check out Altra. (And those Superior 2.0 happen to be on closeout at the moment, if you’re interested. Seriously, they drained quickly and kept traction in the mud despite the lack of spikes. They even come with a removable rock plate insert for rougher trails.).
THREE SMALL THINGS
I guess this one’s not so small, or cheap ($319), but the Camp Chef Big Gas Grill is awesome. It’s portable, and you can get a carrying case (additional) for it that makes it easy to transport. The top grill section is included but is its own piece, so you could also just take that and use over a camp fire, too. The base uses three oversized burners fueled by a standard propane tank. The grill covers just two of them, leaving a third open for boiling water or whatever. A flip out cover provides a shelf. We used it several times to feed 50+ people at our Interbike party, and again on the last night of the show to feed a few friends. It’s also been used to make pancakes and eggs (on the additional cast iron griddle, not included) and cook some big fat steaks. If you’re willing to put it all away each night, it could even serve as your main home grill, I just wouldn’t leave it exposed to the elements all the time.
The Rolflex foam roller is unlike any other. It’s kind of like The Stick, except you can make yourself cry with it. The secret is that one side locks to two halves together, letting you adjust the internal width to fit different body parts, then squeeze the other side as you roll it over muscles. The green roller is firm and can really (really!) dig into muscles in very acute ways, which has done a good job of loosening some knots and sore spots in my calves. At $60, it’s on par with other specialty massage pieces, and it’s lightweight and travels easily. There’s a full range of tutorial videos on their website to target different muscles, some using just one half of the device.
Okay, so this is two things, but they kinda go together. Lifestraw’s stainless steel water filtration straw and Camelbak’s stainless steel insulated Chute water bottle match up nicely. Go for the 40oz Chute ($38; a 20oz is also available for $28) and chug two a day and you’ll feel pretty darn hydrated. It keeps water very cold for 24+ hours, and there’s only minimal plastic contact at the lid. I used the Lifestraw on a camping trip to take sips as we hiked along the stream, reducing the load of water I needed to carry on my back. Its 2-stage filtration process removes bacteria and protozoa and reduces organic chemical matter and chlorine, which seems to have worked because neither my son or I got sick. Retail is $60, but you can get a plastic one for less than half that, which is also much lighter (good for bike packing).
All of these sweet products aside, it’s been the rides with friends (like in Prague, thanks Cory!) that were the highlight of my year. As always, more time for that and more opportunities to get everyone together to shred is what’s most appreciated. It’s hard to put that under a tree, but the next time a buddy asks you to go ride, saying yes is one of the best gifts anyone could give. It’s here that I would also like to mention that I’m eternally thankful that all of you continue to read Bikerumor. Tell a friend and share the goodness, it’s sure to make them happy, and it sure means the world to us.
Happy holidays to all!