Editor’s Note: Every year, we compile our favorite items from the prior 12 months of riding and Reporting. Some we’ve actually used, others – well, we’d like to. Think of it as an editor’s choice, a best of, or simply what got each of us excited over the course of the year. For me, it’s all about variety. I’m into almost every facet of cycling, though I certainly have my favorites. If you or your favorite cyclist has to have one of everything in the garage, read on…
The fact that I get to experience so many amazing adventures as part of “work” is not lost on me. I’ve been lucky enough to have a ton of amazing experiences this year, so if I were to recommend one that would be accessible to a lot of people, riding down from the summit of Pike’s Peak would certainly qualify as a memorable experience. I’d never ridden a bike on a fourteener summit before, and the combination of the scenery, the terrain, and the technical challenge made it a ride to remember. If you go, you’ll probably want a shuttle to the top, and a local guide would be a good idea. We rode down Barr DH with a few connections for a 14.3 mile ride with almost no climbing – but a good amount of hike-a-bike near the top.
Road, Gravel, or Cyclocross Bike
For me, this category is pretty easy this year. Gravel bikes have all but replaced my need for road or CX bikes, and I’m quite happy to take any excuse to get off the busy streets. I love the fact that many of the newest gravel bikes are fast, efficient, and as comfortable as some of the best road bikes, yet more capable than most CX bikes in terms of tire clearance, dropper post capabilities, braze ons, and more.
OPEN U.P.P.E.R. If money is no object, the OPEN U.P.P.E.R. is hard to top. Massive tire clearance, insanely light, a stiff yet compliant frame, and killer looks. I feel fortunate to have had a few months with one while traveling through some incredible landscapes like Joshua Tree National Park. This is definitely the gravel bike for the roadie in your life as it pedals just as efficiently as a road bike, yet offers gobs of traction to ride technical sections you probably shouldn’t. OPEN doesn’t sell completes, so you’ll have to purchase a frameset and build it yourself, but that will give you some time to recover from the $4,500 price tag.
Lauf True Grit Race Edition. If you like the idea of the OPEN, but want something a little more off-road capable, then you should look into the Lauf True Grit. Not only is the True Grit Race Edition complete build just $490 more than the U.P.P.E.R. frameset at $4,990 (certain paint colors like the red above are an additional $400), but it also includes their new Grit SL suspension fork which smooths out the ride without adding much weight. Complete with a nearly perfect part spec, the True Grit would make an awesome gift – if you can find one. The 2017 production sold out quickly, and bikes ordered now will ship January 2018.
This category is a lot harder for me to narrow down. As usual, there have been a ton of new bikes introduced and each one seems a little better than the last. The term “mountain bike” itself has also changed dramatically over the past few years to cover a wider spectrum of bicycles than ever. Whether full suspension, plus, fat, or other, there seems to be a bike for everyone.
Mondraker Foxy Carbon RR SL. Mondraker has been around for a while now, but they’ve only just recently begun distribution to the U.S. With that came a press event where I was able to test the new Foxy Carbon RR SL, and it’s a bike I’d really like to ride again. The geometry and build is worthy of riding down from the top of Pike’s Peak, but the weight is borderline XC racer. The price is also top of the line, but there are a number of other builds with smaller price tags.
Kona Process 153 CR. I’ve always had a soft spot for Kona bikes, and their latest version of the carbon Process keeps that streak alive. The bike seems like it’s built to be as durable as any aluminum bike you’ll find (maybe more so), and the confidence it inspires is unreal. It’s not built to be the lightest, but what you give up in grams you will easily make back in gravity capabilities.
A Pivot. Any Pivot. Seriously, Pivot bikes have gotten so good recently, that you can pick almost any bike out of their line up and it will put a smile on your face. Personally, I’d be torn between the new Mach 5.5 or the new Mach 6. They’re very similar in numbers, but are still completely different bikes. Go 5.5 if you consider yourself more of a trail rider, or 6 if “enduro” is more your style.
Raleigh Redux iE. I know, I know, e-bikes… we won’t get into a debate about the intricacies of e-MTB access, but I’m not afraid to say that there is a time and place for e-bikes. For me, that’s as an urban commuter which motivates me to use the bike to run errands rather than jump in the car. Since receiving the Raleigh, the frequency which I drive my car has dropped dramatically. I’m able to knock out a trip to the store in just slightly more time than it would take to drive, and I’m out riding a bike, so I’m happy. The Redux iE is an approachable e-bike with an integrated battery and silent Brose drive system that is also not too expensive at $2,699. Admittedly, this is the first e-bike I’ve ever had in for review, but the Redux iE seems to work well for what it is.
SRAM GX Eagle. Obviously, I’d like an X01 or XX1 Eagle group if cost wasn’t an issue, but drivetrains are expensive. Once you start figuring in replacement cost of cassettes, chainrings, and chains, you realize just how costly it can be in the long run. After a full season of riding X01 Eagle on the Santa Cruz Bronson, I’m sold on the whole package. And now that GX eagle exists, there’s a 1×12 wide range drivetrain that might actually be affordable as a gift. For the cassette, chain, derailleur, and shifter, you’re looking at $395 with another $120-170 if you want to go with the GX Eagle branded crankset. That Steve also included this in his list only reinforces our recommendation.
Magura MT Trail Brakes. This is a bit use specific, but these are the best brakes that I’ve found for fat bike use. They are hardly affected by the cold, the pads and rotors have been surprisingly durable in harsh slush, salt water, and generally terrible conditions, they work well with bulky gloves, the carbon levers don’t get cold, and they’re impressively light. I’ve been through plenty of crashes with my set, and so far so good. The only negative I’ve found is that the front caliper doesn’t play nice with the Lauf Carbonara fat bike fork and has to run a 200mm rotor for the caliper to clear the fork leg. Otherwise, they’ve been nearly perfect.
Lithic Hiili Fork/Boyd Jocassee carbon wheels/WTB Byway tires. Got a “gravel” bike that could use a little more clearance up front? Maybe a stiffer axle? That was the situation I found myself in with my Volagi Viaje. The frame was plenty capable, but the fork was holding it back. After dropping in the Lithic Hiili and adding 650b x 47mm WTB Byway tires on Boyd Jocassee wheels, it’s like a completely new bike and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.
Clothing & Gear
Race Face Agent Winter Short. Winter shorts are a bit of an oxymoron, but once you ride them you’ll understand. The shorts are water resistant, heavy enough to provide a barrier from the cold air, and gusseted at the openings with draw cords to keep out the gunk. Water proof zippers finish it off for a short that is perfect for cold, wet, and sloppy days in the woods while allowing more agility and flexibility to layering than a pair of pants.
Ketl Longsleeve Jersey. I was initially hoping to try out their short sleeve jersey, but when Ketl sent out their long sleeve jersey instead, I was glad they did. It’s the perfect weight for those shoulder season days where you need a long sleeve jersey, but not a full on winter jersey. Add in a three button collar and sharp looks with a not-so-steep price tag, and you have a winner.
Club Ride Airliner Mesh Bib. Club Ride probably doesn’t get enough credit for their InnerWear liners, which is a shame. It doesn’t have rear pockets which keeps me from riding it as much, but when I’m wearing a hydration pack, I don’t really want pockets in the rear. They rank among the most comfortable, breathable bib liners I own, and they’re not terribly expensive at $79.95.
LAKE MX 332. Calling something “gravel” is getting to be a bit of a running joke, but the riding does provide some unique requirements. For shoes, they should be as efficient as the best XC kicks, yet comfortable enough for all day in the saddle. They also need to be durable enough for plenty of hike-a-bike action, and they ideally should be light like a road shoe. Lake has gotten really close to the perfect combination with their MX 332, and as a result it’s my go-to for all-road adventures. Retail is around $259.
Specialized 2FO Cliplite. These shoes have been in the rotation for a few seasons now, and for good reason. They’re super comfortable, look more like normal shoes, and they are great to pedal in. Slick mud is not their friend, but otherwise, these kicks are awesome.
Velotoze. Not shoes, but shoe covers. Most shoe covers are terrible. They don’t fit, they’re bulky, or they flat out don’t keep your feet dry. Velotoze fit like a glove (a rubber glove), and are the best thing out there to keep your feet dry. They aren’t super durable, but they’re so cheap, it’s easy to pick up a new pair and stash them in your gear bag for that time you really need them.
Off the Bike
Mpow Bluetooth Receiver. I spend a lot of time in the car when headed to events, so a good mix of music and podcasts is critical. And when your phone loses the headphone jack (thanks, Apple), and your car is old enough that it doesn’t have a Bluetooth connection, you have to search out other options. This little device is one of those things I drug my feet on for an eternity. When I finally bit the bullet and ordered the $23 device, I wondered why it took so long. Connection from your phone to the car is hassle free, and the sound quality doesn’t seem to be affected. Run the wires under the dashboard, and you’ll hardly even know it’s there.
Camp Chef Jerky Rack. We’ve covered my new found love for all things smoker, including beef jerky, so I’d love a rack to make smoking smaller items a little easier. I don’t think I’ll need the three tiered version, but a single rack would make living the smoke life even simpler. Still need the smoker, too? If ever there were a reason to take advantage of free Prime shipping, that would be it.
Three Small Things
Enduro Bites Beta Red. Beta Red is one of those nutrition products that seems like a scam, but after using it before our ascent on Pike’s Peak, I’m convinced it works as claimed. Typically, I struggle above 10k feet since I live at sea level. Enduro Bites claims that Beta Red offers improved aerobic efficiency and improved endurance. After a bit of tingling shortly after drinking a bottle, we got up to 14k feet and I felt better than ever at anywhere close to that elevation. I wouldn’t use it on a regular basis, but for big events or days where you’ll be at much higher elevation than you’re used to, it may be worth a shot. It’s available in 2-, 20- and 30-serving pouches.
SOG PowerAssist Multi-Tool. I’m not a knife freak, but I did really like this SOG multi-tool when I had it. It was stolen out of my car, but up until that point it proved to be super sharp, and some of the best pliers in a multi-tool I’ve seen. And the street price is highly competitive for something with 16 tools made of 420 stainless steel.
Silca Seat Roll Premio. Classy, easy to use, and not insanely expensive. That’s all you really need to know about one of the best seat rolls available.
More than anything, I’m hoping for an injury free 2018 and more time with family and friends. Happy holidays everyone, thanks for reading!