Inevitably, this time of the year rolls along all too soon. Before I know it, it’s time to get together with friends and family to celebrate the season, and I’m left wondering where the year went. I suppose that’s a sign of a great year – when you’re busy enough that things seem to fly by. For me, 2016 was a particularly interesting year. January was off to a rough start as I recovered use of my left arm, but the year’s events progressed in nearly perfect fashion to help get me back on the bike, and back feeling healthy.
Just having a crash-free and healthy 2017 will be enough for me, but that wouldn’t make much of a wish list. Fortunately, there was no shortage of great products, incredible experiences, and riding with friends all over the world this year.
There were a lot of great experiences this year that I was fortunate enough to take part it, but one stood out. Combining incredible riding with one of the most iconic races in cycling, getting to experience the abridged version of Paris Roubaix is something I’ll always remember. Just riding on the infamous cobble sectors alone is enough to make any cyclist drool, but combining it with a roll out from the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen in Oudenaarde, Belgium and finishing the ride with a few laps of the actual Velodrome de Roubaix was incredible. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was there to ride a new $10,000 Specialized Roubaix with perfect weather. While this was part of a press launch, there are plenty of cycling tourism outfits that offer trips with similar itineraries so you can get the full Roubaix experience.
I got a fever and the only prescription is more (titanium) cowbell. Whether it’s a resurgence in the material or just more titanium bikes are coming my way, I’m really digging all the titanium bikes I’ve ridden lately. Honorable mentions go out to the Litespeed T3 Disc and Foundry Flyover, but the Why Cycles R+ is the bike that has me rethinking what a “gravel” bike can be. The addition of the Lauf Grit fork adds even more versatility, and makes the bike truly capable of riding a lot of our tamer mountain bike trails. We might not have a lot of gravel nearby, but using the R+ to link up a number of smaller mountain bike trails on the road and exploring all the little dirt paths through the city has added new adventure to an area that was getting pretty commonplace.
I miss my downhill days. In high school and college, I spent a lot of time driving to Snowshoe, Seven Springs, and other east coast downhill parks to play with the big bikes. Eventually, I sold my last DH bike and moved on to Trail/AM riding because of the financial and time commitments that were required to get to places where a DH bike made sense. After riding the new Pivot Firebird at Whistler this year, I was immediately transported back to those early days – just on a much better bike. The Firebird is just as capable as any of my previous DH bikes, but it also is efficient enough that it can actually be pedaled somewhere. This was really apparent at trails like the Devil’s Racetrack in Knoxville where you have to climb up to the top, but then are rewarded on the way down if you have a bigger bike. The Firebird seems like the perfect big bike for someone looking for a DH capable rig, but who doesn’t want to be limited by a dual crown fork and non-pedal friendly design.
Close behind would be the Kona Hei Hei DL carbon or Hei Hei Trail, and the Otso Voytek. Choosing between the 27.5″ or 29″ Kona is like choosing your favorite child as they’re both incredible bikes and each one was hard to give up. The Otso Voytek is a new take on fat/plus design with a Q-factor that doesn’t leave you feeling like you just rode a horse. I need to throw on a suspension fork for the fat set up, and then it will be dialed.
I know, I know. It’s an e-bike. Blasphemy! Truthfully, I can’t get the idea out of my head that an e-cargo-ish bike would make me take my car a lot less when it comes to running errands around town. It’s not that I can’t ride a regular bike to do the same thing, but often I’m pressed for time and decide that I don’t have the time to get there and back on pedal power alone. Not to mention that pedaling a cargo bike with any significant load isn’t exactly fun. The chunky design of the benno Boost-E stuck in my head after seeing it at one of the tradeshows this fall, and I’d definitely like to see what effect it had on my ability to go by bike. It’s also available in a non-motorized version, the Carry On if you just can’t do the Bosch motor.
I’ve spent more time on Industry Nine’s wheels this year than anything else, and feel like they’re a worthy upgrade for any style of bike. In my experience they’re light, stiff, durable, and of course, available in a number of custom color configurations to match your ride. The fact that they’re mostly made in the U.S. (or in the case of the HED BAD wheels above, completely U.S. made) by a great group of people in Asheville, NC, is an added bonus.
While it doesn’t exist, I’d also be really happy with a Pike or Fox 34 level fat bike suspension fork. The Bluto is a great fork, but just like the Reba is a great fork, the Pike is better for aggressive riding. Another option is the ever popular wide range gearing. There are a lot of options at this point, from OneUp’s Shark, WTC GC cassette adapters, or even full cassettes like the new e*thirteen TRSr 9-46. Regardless of the method, adding wider range to your current drivetrain could make the ride a bit more enjoyable, especially if you want to keep 1x, but could use a bit more gearing.
I really don’t know the first thing about packrafts, but I’m convinced I want one. Mostly because I live right next to a river with a bike trail that follows it. I have this idea in my head that I want to ride up stream, then put in with my bike on the raft and boat back down into town. I’m assuming something like the Aplacka Raft would do the trick.
I get to try out a lot of helmets, and as far as fit and ventilation is concerned, the Specialized Ambush ($180) really stands out. I do wish that it was available in a MIPS version or had some of the technologies that promise a safer helmet like those being pioneered by brands like Kali, but the Ambush fits so well that I still wear it a lot. Now that there is a Comp version ($120), a similar level of fit and performance is available at a more attainable price.
For additional protection and an equal level of fit, look no further than the Giro Switchblade ($250). Giro nailed the removable chin bar design, and the helmet is super comfy even for long days in the park.
The last piece of gear on the list is a smart trainer like the CycleOps Magnus ($599) and a subscription to Zwift ($10 per month). I’m by no means a fair weather cyclist – whether it’s beautiful and sunny, or a −10° wind chill, I’ll still find a way to get outside. But with a smart trainer and Zwift, I’ve been able to train smarter and get ready for tough rides in short periods of time (and to squeeze in a ride when I was unable to leave the house). Yes, riding outside is infinitely better than riding a trainer, but with programs like Zwift and a trainer that reacts to the environment, sitting inside for hours is actually bearable.
No question here. If we’re talking about clothing with a price-be-damned attitude, then the full suite of winter clothing from 45NRTH takes the cake. I’ll have a full write up on this soon, but after getting out for a brutally cold ride up in Minnesota with a −14° degree wind chill thanks to 40-50mph winds, I’m sold on the Naughtvind system’s performance. Combined with Sturmfist 4 or 5 gloves, the Wolvhammer or Wolfgar boots, and additional 45NRTH accessories, you have almost the perfect kit to brave the elements.
Other solid choices include the Gore Bike Wear Rescue windproof jacket I recently reviewed, as well as a number of road kits from Bontrager and Pactimo. Compared to just a few years ago, road kits are better than ever and companies like these are offering awesome performance at more affordable prices – so there’s no longer an excuse for showing up in those stretched out, saggy, smelly old kits.
On my recent trip up north, everything was warm – except my toes. Granted, I don’t ride in those conditions all that often, but I couldn’t help but think if I was in the 45NRTH Wolfgar instead of the Wolvhammer, I’d be better off. This wish list is probably the only place these boots have in my life since I don’t live in Minnesota or Alaska, but for those few times a year when they’re necessary, I have to say I’d like to try them.
More practical choices would include a number of “enduro” shoes like the Specialized 2FO Cliplite ($180) or Shimano ME7 ($200). Now, more than ever, shoes are being designed that are comfortable on and off the bike, and offer better protection for aggressive trail riding. Off the bike, I’m really digging my new Van’s Sk8-HI MTE ($85). Built with a Scotch Guarded water resistant outer, warm insulated inner, and more aggressive outsole. These are my new favorite winter casual shoes.
Three Small Things
Just when I thought I’d seen it all in flask design, along comes the Vargo Titanium Funnel Flask ($74.95). Not only is it titanium, which is awesome, but it has a genius integrated silicone funnel. When not in use, it’s folded down for easy sipping. But when it’s time to refill, it unfolds making spilled beverages a thing of the past. It also makes it easy to pour into other vessels. Pretty rad.
Lights seem like they could always be a good call when it comes to gifts. They’re relatively small, and in the case of the Bontrager Ion 100/Flare R combo, not too expensive at $69.99. These tiny lights are bright enough to be seen during the day, but small enough that you’ll never notice them on your bike, and fully USB rechargeable.
Finally, if you’re looking for a gift for your favorite cyclist, new tires are always an option. I replaced the tires on my Volagi Viaje with the new Michelin Power Protection+ and couldn’t be happier. They are a North American exclusive, so you may have trouble finding them in other parts of the world, but the 28mm rubber seems to offer all of the benefits of the Power line with added protection. So far, so good with zero flats, but they also offer an incredibly smooth ride that is worth it in itself.
While all of this gear is desirable, and will most likely improve your ride, above all I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2017. Enjoy the time with family and friends this holiday season, and we’ll keep the content flowing into the new year!