Editor’s Note: Every year, we compile our favorite items from the last 12 months of riding & reporting. Some we’ve used, others – well, we’d like to. Think of it as an Editor’s Choice, a best of, or simply what excited us through the year. Cory is our ‘cross guy. As a mountain biker riding road bikes off-road for decades, cyclocross has always been his do-it-all solution. But this year has been a good one for gravel too. So besides proper trail riding, our full European correspondent finally gets to go bikepacking on proper tires and bikes ready for his shenanigans. If you like getting skinnies dirty, this gift guide is for you…
Autumn seemed to hit me abruptly in the face this year. It jumped from beautiful sunny riding to cold dreary commutes so quickly that it took me by surprise. But I guess that’s my signal of another year coming to an end. And a reminder to review all of the things that would make it on my own holiday gift ideas wish list.
So as the days in 2017 tick away, I’ll leave you with my highlights from the year. Plus suggestions for great new gear for yourself (or your favorite cyclists) and how to get out on the bike with those closest to you.
This year I’ve been able to fully embrace how my passion for endurance mountain biking and cyclocross can mix together into off-road touring. For the most part, with skilled technical handling, a fat-tired ‘cross or gravel bike can take on pretty much any type of terrain. And now with so many good options out there for lightweight frame, handlebar & saddle bags, it’s easier than ever to head out on multi-day, mixed-surface bikepacking adventures. The first of these quick trips in 2017 was a three-day ride taking in asphalt, gravel & singletrack, and hitting three European capitals from Bratislava to Vienna to Prague. Easy-peasy.
It was such a good time of long days exploring routes on the go and great on-the-bike camaraderie. We immediately began talking about the next trip before we had even made it home. Since then, there have been shorter trips. Some along the excellent s24o (sub 24 hour overnighter) concept – up to slightly longer four day trips. But the experience I really hold dear this year has been these extended weekend trips with friends. It doesn’t require that much planning or too much commitment. But there are plenty of opportunities for a long 3-day weekend that pretty much anyone can manage. Our latest Czech Switzerland ride got named Brohemian Radsody soon after we were under way. A little bit of adventure and unexpected obstacles built new friendships and solidified old ones.
This is still mostly uncharted territory, so it’s pretty much up to you to get some friends together and plan your own trip. The XPDTN3.club concept helped kick us into gear at the end of last year. And our Bratislava-Vienna-Prague ride will get included there (when I get out from under a mountain of gear news & reviews.) XPDTN3.club offers a great and expanding resource for this type of adventure, and maybe the impetus for your own trip with friends as well. As for the holiday wish list, pack up some bikepacking bags and hand draw some IOUs for a long weekend of riding adventure.
Road, Gravel, or Cyclocross Bike
Festka Gravel One custom carbon road or gravel road bike. I’ve pretty much been lusting after a custom-made carbon gravel bike for years. I don’t really need a gravel bike with 40mm tires for off-road & trail riding, as I’m pretty happy with CX & XC bikes for that, depending on the terrain. But I want a road bike that can fit large volume road tires in the 27-30mm range. So I can enjoy speed and comfort whether the roads are smooth or rough. And always be capable to take the dirt road detour when it pops up in my peripheral vision.
The Festka Gravel One is made by hand in Prague (conveniently, where we have Bikerumor’s EU HQ), and built of carbon tubing crafted entirely in the Czech Republic as well, with some amazing looking weaves and layup. Fully custom carbon doesn’t come cheap with framesets starting around $4,900/4,500€. But it means I can get the quick handling road geometry that I want, the thru-axles & flat mount discs that I need, the ability to run a 35mm tire with some knobs when I want more adventure, and routing for any groupset, even for the less common, but perfect for me – mechanical shifting hydraulic disc brake setup that means never having to charge my bike. Oh yeah and custom, shiny paint never hurts either, right?
Bombtrack Audax steel fat tire road plus bike. A good alt-road bike doesn’t need to threaten the ten grand threshold to be fun, or even to be fast-riding & dirt-capable these days. The WTB Horizon tires convinced me earlier in the year of the versatility and excellent ride character of a tubeless 650b RoadPlus setup. Now Bombtrack has completely revised their steel do-it-all Audax road bike into an affordable plus-sized gem. It looks great, it rides great, and at $2,530/2,200€ complete, it will make great in-roads into hard & mixed surface riding for mountain bikers, or even a chance for roadies to shed the shackles of smooth asphalt.
BMC Speedfox Trailsync-ed trail/all-mountain bike. On to proper trail riding. There’s been so much talk about plus-sized tires and e-MTBs this year. But I am more of a purist when it comes to mountain biking. I get the concept behind the other options. But when I disappear into the forests I want a light full suspension bike, just a bit more burly to handle technical trail riding.
The 120mm 29er BMC Speedfox debuted this summer with a Trailsync-ed integrated dropper seatpost that linked with the rear shock platform. Drop the seat and the suspension automatically opens fully for cush descending. Pop the seat back up and the shock gets platform compression support. Don’t think of it as a lockout, the shock remains active even with the seat up. But we rode the bike a bit this summer and the ride was excellent. No more forgetting to lock or unlock your rear shock. It was just always in the right mode for efficient pedaling and smile-inducing descents.
That full carbon X01 Eagle bike I rode isn’t cheap at $7,500. But there is also a $4,300 frame kit option. And the Trailsync setup is still available down to the $4,300 complete Speedfox 02 Three. That bike mates an alloy rear end to the carbon main frame and an SLX drivetrain.
Focus Project Y Adventure gravel e-bike. I don’t actually need an e-bike for my normal type of riding. And for the most part we can save them for e-Bikerumor.com.
But with that said, I want to try out the Focus Project Y dropbar cross or gravel bikes. They are surprisingly lightweight, have a more limited power-assist than most eMTBs thanks to their Fazua drive systems. And they could be a lot of fun for crossing mountains if the battery life is up for it. It’s not really fair to include the Project Y Adventure as it isn’t actually available yet. The only Fazua-powered e-bike Focus has released so far has been the carbon XC Raven². But there are others like Pinarello who are putting the same setup into a road bike.
Riese & Muller Load full-suspension, dual battery e-cargo bike. Powered gravel trips dreams aside, where I’m more likely to actually use an e-bike is in the city. The Riese & Muller Load is a full-suspension, dual battery e-cargo bike. This is where e-bike systems are crushing it! Helping to move otherwise heavy bikes around the city, and making a realistic argument for #onelesscar. With two young kids, their schools, groceries and Prague’s sole respectable burrito joint all in easy riding distance, the only thing that’s kept me from satisfying this craving is the 5,000€ price tag. That, and I don’t have anywhere to store this thing – outside of fighting it up a few flights of stairs to my 3rd story city apartment. Maybe Anna has the right idea with the smaller folding option…
Campagnolo H11 hydraulic road disc brake groupset. The long-awaited Campagnolo H11 road disc brake groupset finally arrived this spring, and was promptly available just a few weeks later. The gruppo offers some of the best ergonomics, braking power & modulation, and feel of any road bike disc grouuset on the market. And you can get it from top-tier Super Record EPS electronic shifting down to the all-aluminum and more affordable Potenza. Looking at my road bike wish this year, you can find me in the middle. Loving the ideal of a carbon Chorus mechanical gruppo with hydraulic disc brakes.
Pirelli P Zero Velo clincher road race tires. Pirelli made their reentry to the cycling market this year with a three-tire PZero Velo range of clinchers. With silica nanotech in the rubber, the new tires are really interesting, promising a level of performance on par with the best on the market. And with pricing of under <50€ per tire they offer a solid value against other premium race tires. We’ve tried them for a bit and rode away impressed. I think when your road tires wear out at the end of the season, these deserve a good look. Especially if you are in one of the EU markets where you can easily order them direct from Pirelli.
Clothing & Gear
Dissent 133 layered winter glove system. Ok, it’s cold now. And it’s wet. The two hardest things to keep warm and dry are my hands and my feet. The folks at The Rider Firm (who happen to be the same team behind Hunt wheels) previewed their new Dissent 133 Layered Glove System a couple of months back. If you didn’t get in on the pre-order then, the gloves that were slated for delivery in 2017 were all sold out. Act now and you may still get your hands in a set maybe by the end of January to keep fingers warm in the second half of winter’s cold. Then put a “coming soon” note in the box and wrap it up.
Rapha Pro Team Shadow bib shorts. Curiously, I’m sort of repeating something off of my Wish List from last year. I actually suggested buying Rapha Shadow leg warmers because pretty much any time that I need to wear leg warmers, I also need a good degree of water protection as well.
But now I’m going to call out more the crazy expensive $385/335€ Rapha Pro Team Shadow Bib shorts. I’m not going to lie. That photo above was not the only time I went swimming with a bike this summer. It actually was maybe only 1 out of 5 times on that day alone in Iceland riding with Lauf.
Within the course of two months this summer, I rode in heavy & continuous cold rain in Iceland, northern Poland, Limburg, our EU home in the Czech Republic & Belgium. While everyone I ride with seemed to enjoy summer, I managed to hop from one bizarre European weather event to the next.
Now those crazy (maybe stupid) expensive bib shorts literally saved my butt on several occasions. I rode for several hours at a time in temperatures down to 2 or 3°C (~35º to 37ºF). Even in dry temps up to around 15°C (59ºF). I crossed innumerable glacial melt streams, even did some snowy cyclocross racing last winter. And I was always comfortable. Sure the bibs eventually got wet. But packing these means I never worried about the weather, and was always happy to ride. They are the most versatile bib shorts I’ve worn, and I’ve already ordered a second pair.
Northwave Extreme XCM GTX winter shoes. With hands and body covered in the above-mentioned items, I’m pretty much just thinking about keeping my toes warm until springtime. Northwave wasn’t happy with the performance compromises that come with stiff high-top uppers in most winter riding boots. So they developed a new “Say NO to winter boots, YES to winter shoes” concept that pairs a premium performance low-top upper construction borrowed from their Extreme road & mountain race shoes with a flexible, but still warm & waterproof tall neoprene cuff. At 280€ they aren’t cheap, but still a lot less than a premium carbon soled race shoe, while definitely stepping up winter performance. I certainly would be interested to give the Extreme XCM GTX winter shoes a try to see how they keep the winter weather out in real riding conditions.
Shimano MW5 insulated, waterproof winter boots. While Northwave is all ‘anti-winter boots‘, regular ole’ boots can still make some sense if done right. The Shimano MW5 winter boots aren’t exactly new. I think they actually hit the market right at the end of last year. But at just 160€, we’ve used them and they keep feet warm & dry for a really solid price. They aren’t as stiff as a carbon soled shoe, but in the winter most of my riding is off-road, lower speed, and tends to involve more hike-a-bike if for no other reason than I’m riding more slippery ice & snow covered trails.
Off the Bike
Showers Pass Refuge Waterproof Duffel Bag. This thing is an excellent choice for carting gear to and from cyclocross races or and other wet & nasty riding venue. The $190/164€ Refuge Duffel gets fully waterproof construction with water proof zips to keep all your gear inside dry, no matter the deluge outside. It also has two large, separate waterproof pockets on either side that make a good place to stash your wet & muddy shoes and nasty riding gear post race so they don’t get your clean & dry kit funky, too. Plus, that fold out waterproof matt to stand on to change clothes is a nice touch when there is often no place clean or dry to be found at a mucky race.
Silca Maratona Gear Bag. The new Silca Maratona gear bag also looks like a good race day bag. But really we see it more as a cyclist’s ideal airplane carry-on. At $180 it is about the same cost as the Refuge, but isn’t totally waterproof. Instead it gets a more boxy form factor more like a standard piece of travel luggage. Yet it still includes a separate shoe pocket, pockets to stash dirty riding gear, and enough internal organization to sort everything a cyclist would need for a quick weekend trip to go ride or race someplace new.
Three Small Things
DT Swiss Tubeless Tape & a MilKit tubeless road kit. Logistically, it’s hard to warehouse complete bikes and then deliver them to consumers tubeless without sealant drying out somewhere in the waiting/storage process. So, many riders are rolling on wheels with tubeless-ready rims and tires, yet aren’t benefiting from the decreased rolling resistance, added comfort, and flat protection you get when sealant is inside and tubes are in your jersey pocket. Buy some DT Swiss or Stan’s Tubeless Tape and a set of MilKit valves & their easy-to-use syringe to simplify the conversion. Or buy any other tubeless valves that your local bike shop says will work with your rims. Just go tubeless as soon as possible. Stop waiting. Thank me later.
Chimpanzee Gunpowder drink mix & Energy Chews. A lot of hydration and sports nutrition is made of overly processed sugars and either tastes like syrup or some fake lab created version of a fruit. The Chimpanzee Gunpowder energy drink doesn’t offer a lot of flavors, but it actually tastes like real fruit juice and packs some good natural energy. I especially dig the Grapefruit flavored drink mix, and their little Forest Fruit Energy Chews. You can get the drink mix in individual use and bulk packages, and the chews in a single serving size. Chimpanzee is mostly distributed in Europe, but there are even a few places to find them in North & South America too.
ShredXS Kids Gloves for tiny mountain bikers. I didn’t put this under the clothing heading because these aren’t for me. But they should be dropped on any young child you know with access to a bike. When I was a kid, I would routinely shred my palms and knuckles, and ended up riding in motorcycle gloves or even soccer goalie gloves. Neither fit well, but offered decent padding/protection. ShredXS out of northern Scotland are designed to fit well on young mountain bikers’ hands because they were designed and developed by actual kid mountain bikers. They are lightly padded, the smallest ones get giant openings that make them easy on & off, and are totally affordable at £18 (~$24/20€).
As always, the best gift is still a ride (no matter the weather!) Whether it is with family, friends, or the kid next door, go ride your bike. And maybe make another IOU to take some responsibility over for a spouse or partner, so they can get out on one more ride too.
From the Bikerumor Europe office, where we’re in the heart of winter & cyclocross riding, we wish you all a Happy Kerstperiode. And I sincerely hope you are able to enjoy time on the bike and with family & friends over the holidays and into the New Year!