There’s no denying that winter is here. I rode along frost covered bike paths again with freezing tears on my face to the Bikerumor EU HQ this morning. So it is time once again for my year’s end reflection and dreams of what cycling goodies I’d love to find wrapped up under my Festivus Pole. This year was really a rebirth of gravel for me (and the industry as a whole it seems). While I’ll always be a mountain biker at heart, and cyclocross is my favorite kind of racing, ever since I started riding a road bike about twenty years ago, I never could keep the bike on smooth, dry asphalt. Now after years of having to ride a cross bike with often heavy touring style tires (or getting really good & fast at fixing flats) there are tons of performance road bikes available that fit the plethora of high-end 28-30mm road tires that have given me the freedom to ride any road or track I come across. And with my general philosophy that if it has disc brakes, I can ride it like a mountain bike, there are so many great options to choose from.
So as the last days of the year tick away, I’ll leave this as a summary of what I’ve previewed in 2016 and what I hope to spend more time on in the new year. Much of that tends to be high-end gear that you won’t likely be buying for a riding buddy, but I’ve seen a number of cool things that fit in a more affordable price range, and could still make it to your holiday shopping list while delivering an improved riding experience.
Riding with friends and family is always something I look forward to, and looking back at the year some of the rides that stick in my head were a short weekend mountain biking trip with my wife & kids and a couple of quick road trips with some riding buddies. But one weekend that really jumps out was riding the amateur cyclosportive/gran fondo the day before the Tour of Flanders, then riding out to watch both the pro men & women race the next day. I’ve had a soft spot for the Northern Spring Classics ever since I rode the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix a decade ago, and this gave me the chance to combine a little work & pleasure…
See I told you I couldn’t resist. Yes, that’s me (on the left) acting like it’s cross season on a road bike. But there were more than 16,000 riders, and all but the first few got stuck walking in road shoes up the bergs. Besides the fact that I wasn’t interested in walking up 20% cobbled climbs with Speedplay cleats, I didn’t have the heart to walk the Koppenberg.
The fact that disc brake road bikes are bringing back ample tire clearance and race-oriented geometry is such a welcome change. The lines between Road, Gravel & Cross are getting blurred, and I can only say that I am truly happy with the prospects. The all new Orbea Orca OMR now comes in two versions sharing the same fast-moving race geometry. I particularly enjoyed riding the disc brake bike, and getting it off the smooth asphalt to explore a bit of its home Basque back roads. It seems like the kind of race bike I could get used to tooling around on everyday. This one, the M20ITEAM-D at $5,500 with Ultegra Di2 isn’t too easy on the bank account though.
If you want to go super light and cost is not object, the AX Lightness Vial Evo Gravel could possibly be your game. We saw the prototype at the end of the summer with a sub 6.8kg production weight with fat 2.1″ tires. Or at the other end of the price spectrum, the simple beauty of steel for road or ‘cross are hard to argue with in either the Tempest Disc or Hook 2, both new or updated from Bombtrack this year and pricing at more reasonable $1,690 or $2,230, respectively
On to proper trail riding on the mountain… 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 trail riding. I get the concept for other options, but when I disappear into the forests I want a light full suspension XC bike or something just a bit more burly to handle technical trail riding.
Focus has an all new XC racing platform this year called the O1E that I would love to get my hands on (and yeah it starts at $4000€ and goes up). Designed for fast cross country World Cup racing, it gets steep angles and 100mm of linkage driven single pivot travel that claims climbing efficiency and a bottomless travel feel, even on this short XC bike. I also rode the new Lapierre XR this summer, another carbon wonder bike which combines 100mm of their virtual pivot suspension with the automatic, electronically controlled e:i Auto shock setup which always allows for a plush ride but excellent climbing efficiency (and starts at prices around 3500€.)
For a trail bike something like the Cotic Rocket MAX is right up my alley. I’m more interested in the 29er build than the 27.5+ (but to each his own). 140mm of Reynolds steel front end & alloy swingarm, big-wheeled Enduro riding goodness means a bike that I could throw down the most technical trails I ride and never have to worry about damaging the bike, all from £2800 and up. Ride hard & put away wet.
A simple and relatively cheap idea that I stumbled upon this fall has been suspension mountain bike grips. I wouldn’t have ever thought that putting a little controlled movement between me and the bar would be a good idea, but the real rider testimonials seem to hold up. The Revolution grips are a simple idea, and at $110 for a set with a lot of adjustability and rebuild-ability built in, I think they might be worth trying out.
Last year I picked out a few tubular tire options for cyclocross racing as good buys. I still am of the opinion that nothing beats a tire you glued up yourself to race ‘cross, but after rolling a tire in a race a week ago (that I glued on in the Spring and hadn’t inspected recently, oops!) even I’m not adverse to giving CX tubeless another shot. And of course when it comes to gravel and all-around road riding, I’ve gone tubeless whenever tire and wheel allow.
Wide tubeless road wheels really look like the future of all-surface riding, and I’ve been benefitting from the fact that every complete clincher wheel that DT Swiss makes is tubeless ready. Their newest wide aero carbon ERC 1100 is certainly one I look forward to putting more time on next year. At ~$3100/2400€ they surely ain’t cheap, but based on my first couple of wet rides on them they seem to be up to the challenge of my type of road riding.
With the new crop of rims, you’ll need new wide tubeless road tires too. I’ve ridden Schwalbe’s updated road racing Pro One tires on those DT wheels above, and they come in 23-28mm for most types of riding. I’ve put more than a year of all around riding on the previous generation (the One) in 28mm and plan to buy myself a set of the new tires in the next few weeks. If you need something wider, the update to their fast but grippy 30mm G-One Speed also looks like a good option. Then if you need more bite, the affordable tubeless cross/gravel tires from Mitas look like a good option, although we haven’t tried them yet.
To make all these new gravel road tubeless wheel systems tick, you might need a good deep wheel tubeless compatible setup. While DT will ship your wheels with tubeless valves if you get them separately, most OEM wheels on new bikes often are delivered with tubes installed, even if they are tubeless ready. The likes of MilKit offer a road ready kit that works with the modern, deeper rim sections so you can get all the benefits of riding road tubeless on whatever surfaces you encounter.
If you are riding year round and want to survive the wet and cold months you need kit to stand up to the elements. While thermal and water resistant jerseys and shorts like those from Rapha’s Shadow kit make for a great addition to the four-season cyclists wardrobe, the Shadow Leg & Knee Warmers they just introduced this year are maybe the single piece(s) of clothing that I have been most excited about in recent memory. I know, excited by leg warmers sounds like I need to get out more. But hear me out. When the riding is super cold, good tights are the way to go, but for much of my spring and fall riding, the issue is being wet and cold. The Shadow warmers repel water and mud really well, don’t absorb any water, and add a decent amount of insulation. Whenever there are puddles on the ground, I’ve begun to reach for these things – long or short, depending on how cold it is, although I could probably alway get by with the full-length leg warmers if I had to choose.
Now when it is wet you need a proper waterproof jacket too. There have been a lot of high performance packable rain jackets recently. Gone are the days of clear plastic shells, that were more greenhouse (or smelly wet sauna) than wearable jacket. The two new ones that pop out in my mind most recently are the Sportful Stelvio and the Northwave Rainskin. Both pack down to the size of a water bottle, and both breath well.
Shimano introduced a lot of new shoes this year, and they look to pack a lot of value and performance. If you are looking for top-end and super shiny, there is plenty of that in their new S-Phyre range for both road and XC, and we’ve just started testing their more affordable MW5 winter mountain bike boots that so far have been excellent performers our cold start of winter. But it is actually their down-spec RT5 touring shoes that really caught my attention. They have a simple, classic look. They have a walkable reinforced nylon sole with reasonably tread blocks, and work with SPD style pedals. For those who want a simple shoe that can still stand up to a bit of gravel riding, or efficient around town use, or for those who don’t identify with the term roadie… these might be the ticket.
…and Three Small Things
On man, the guava bocadillos of Lucho Dillitos taste so good. They’ve got a sweet refreshing taste that I love on the bike, and they are as simple and natural as you could ask for in riding fuel. The fact that they now come in tasty Coffee & Raspberry flavors is the icing on top. They aren’t so easy for all of our readers to get ahold of yet, but they are very soon. I can wait and expect to be ordering new packs regularly.
It’s been a while since we wrote about waxed chains, but I’ve spent some time riding one of my bikes with only waxed chains this year. The performance benefit is probably there, but incremental enough that I haven’t bothered to try to quantify it. What I do see though is how clean the drivetrain has stayed through both dry & wet weather. There is a guy in Prague close to us that waxes chains and sells pre-waxed chains with Molten Speed Wax for a pretty reasonable cost, and I think I’m going to have to take another trip to see him sometime soon so more of my bikes will get to experience a clean drivetrain more often.
I seriously can’t make a list without including merino wool socks. I’ll never get tired of riding in nice fuzzy, warm merino. And to be honest for at least 3/4 of the year you’d find me wearing merino whether I am sitting at my desk, on the bike, or lounging around at home. In the last week I’ve worn Rapha Winter Socks and Merino Socks, Bontrager Race 5″ Thermal Wool Socks, Sock Guy Polka TurboWool socks, and Smartwool Diamond Jim socks to name the few I can remember. It’s hard to go wrong with something that transitions on and off the bike so well.
The best gift is usually just to take someone you care about for a ride. Whether that is spending a half hour pedaling slowly around the block with your kid, spending the weekend on bikes with your significant other, or cheering for a friend at a local race, everyone benefits when you go riding together. If that doesn’t work… buy someone a new chain and cassette, or some disc brake pads, or new bar tape. Everyone I know could benefit from a little refresh on their go-to bike.
Once again from us here at Bikerumor’s Europe office, we wish everyone a Happy Kerstperiode. Get some late season ‘cross racing in, enjoy the rest of the year, and here’s to more good riding in 2017!!