Editor’s Note: Every year, we compile our favorite items from the prior 12 months of riding and testing and present them as our picks for the best items to give and to get. It’s our version of an Editor’s Choice awards, without all the hoopla. Each of us has our own riding style, and mine is almost an equal mix of road and XC-to-trail mountain bike. Of course, most of that “road” riding is on semi-knobbed 33mm or wider tires and involves a good bit of dirt, gravel and grass. Based in Greensboro, NC, I’m only racing cyclocross for fun and “training” for it year ’round, while also lifting and generally trying to be a strong, fully functional human being. If that sounds like you, enjoy…
Another year, another amazing collection of trips, adventures and rides. And that’s what it’s all about, especially when we can enjoy them with friends and explore new places. I’ve realized that by simply paying attention to my local area, every ride can be an adventure. By nature, I need a reason to get out on the bike. I need to be going somewhere, or doing something. As a non-racer, that’s my motivation. So I started a local flavor Instagram account, which gets me out of the bike looking for more cool stuff around Greensboro, NC, to photograph. My hope is I can showcase all the little nooks and crannies of our city that often go overlooked, and help others find something new. Or at least start looking. Or maybe it’s just how I trick myself into stepping away from the computer for a ride. As the holidays fall around us, I’d encourage each of you to look around with fresh eyes. Find adventure in your everyday. And bring along a friend. What little trick could you add to your regular rides to see things in a new light?
Visiting the ruins of Macchu Pichu is pretty high on my bucket list, and combining that with a fully guided tour of the area, staying with locals, and exploring it all by bike on a mix of road and gravel makes it all the sweeter. Fortunately, Exodus Travels offers just such a trip starting at $3,715 for 13 days.
A guided mountain bike trip at Retallack Lodge in British Columbia, Canada, is a very close second, though, just not at this time of year! Too many friends have been here and raved about it, so if you’re more prone to vacation around MTB than road and gravel, their packages are more expensive per day (almost $500) but are run in three-day stints for those with regular jobs.
Road, Gravel or Cyclocross Bike
I’m torn here. The Ibis Hakka MX was only in our office for a short time, but it seemed to have so much potential. So, for now, my nod’s going to the Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey, because it just keeps proving itself as our 2017 World’s Funnest Bike build. The carbon frame is light, stiff and seems to be strong enough to hold up to my silliness…and the colorful graphics add to the fun. Framesets retail for $2,560.
Niner JET9 RDO. This year, I feel like I’m a little behind on mountain bikes. I also kinda feel like most brands were sorting out spec after having launched new Plus-ified versions over the past couple years, holding back on any big innovations save for the Polygon/Marin bikes using the NAILD suspension design. Also, Zach and Cory and Steve had all the mountain bike fun, attended all the launches, and went to all the killer trails.
Most of my time was aboard the latest version of the JET9, which launched last year but arrived for long term review this spring. At first, I was kinda pissed that they messed with a good thing. My prior generation JET9 is still one of my favorite bikes of all time, and it’s perfect for our local trails. But everyone wants a trail bike these days, and Niner’s in business to sell bikes, so they modified the JET into a longer, lower and slacker bike that sits almost where the original RIP9 did. Only better. I took this with me on our family’s summer trip and rode it in Banff, Park City and more, where it proved to be an all-around performer. The 130mm front and 120mm rear travel combined with 29×2.4 tires to handle anything I could throw at it, making it a great bike to take to almost any trail short of a full-on bike park.
Specialized Turbo Vado S. Because we have one in for review, but in a smaller size so Kristi could use it to run errands. What’s really happened is that my 11-year-old son co-opted it as his main bike and now almost refuses to ride a regular bike around town. The Vado S is, to me, the way e-bikes are headed – beautiful aesthetics, full integration, and smooth power transition from launch. You can even customize the assist settings via smartphone app. It’s wicked fast, and I want one in my size, too.
Yuba Spicy Curry. I’ve pined for an cargo e-bike in the past, and as of last week, we finally got one in for long term review.Finally. I’m super stoked. Now that my kids have gotten a little too heavy for me to pedal them on the back of my non-motorized Boda Boda, this lets us skip the daily car trip to and from school. And it’s way more fun! What’s extra nice is that the Spicy Curry has upgraded to a fully integrated Bosch e-Drive system since we first saw it back in 2015. So far, it’s proven very capable on store runs and kid deliveries, and we haven’t even fully decorated it with the appropriate accessories yet!
Easton EC90 SL Powermeter Cranks & EC70 AX Handlebar. Easton’s almost getting a clean sweep of my component picks for 2017. I wholeheartedly agree with Zach and Steve’s selection of the SRAM Eagle GX group as the bargain deal of the year because it’s amazing, and amazingly cheap. But they’ve got that covered, and I feel like Easton needs a little shout out for bringing a serious contender to the gravel market with their widely flared EC70 AX handlebar. It’s light, comfortable, and works perfectly for the intended application.
I had Easton’s standard EC90 SL crankset on my list last year, but the addition of a powermeter version ups the game by providing the one metric that really makes my cycling efforts more meaningful. And enjoyable. At least now I know I’m giving it all I’ve got, even if I’m only going 12mph into that headwind!
Specialized S-Works Power Saddle. I borrowed a bike from Matt at Alchemy, and he had this saddle. Then we got the Sage PDXCX in for review with this saddle. Consider those third party, unsolicited recommendations. Now consider this a third strong recommendation. Saddles are very personal, but there’s something about this wide-but-short seat that puts you in a great position for hammering without sacrificing comfort on longer, more casual or endurance-oriented rides. I’d put this on all of my road and cyclocross bikes in a heartbeat.
Clothing & Gear
Provis PixElite Jacket. Because it improves my visibility to drivers, particularly at dusk and dawn when they’re using their headlights and might be particularly distracted. We’ve tested the ProVis commuter jacket and it’s simply amazing. The PixElite is almost as bright, but in a more performance-oriented cut. On a chilly mid-50’s morning with no base layer, it lets a little cool air in, but by the time I got moving for real (and the sun came out), it was just right. For colder days, simply pair with a short- or long-sleeve base layer as appropriate. Four pockets (two are zippered) keep the essentials at hand, and long sleeves provide ample wrist coverage even for us tall guys. Retail is $180.
Defeet Artist Series Cycling Socks. Because by introducing fresh talent to their design catalog, Defeet is putting out some of the best looking cycling socks. Add in the fact that they’re made right here in North Carolina and you’ve got a winner. Between the variety of colors and designs, you’re likely to find something that matches your favorite kit.
Northwave Extreme RR Road Shoes. Sitting at the top of their road bike lineup, the Northwave Extreme RR uses an ultralight construction with a single dial with an offset, nearly full length cable, pulling the upper across the top of your foot to reduce pressure points. The shoes come in at just 281g on our scale for a size 47, relying on their thinnest but stiffest carbon sole and a very thin, non-stretch synthetic upper to save weight. Despite that race-readiness, they’ve been comfortable on all day epic road rides.
Altra HiiT XT Cross Training Shoes. Funny thing about Altra shoes, once you start wearing them, you start realizing how many others are wearing them. They’re still a small brand, but are growing their line beyond the original running-centric models. There are even a few new casual styles, but the ones I’ve been wearing most for non-bike training and lifting are their HiiT XT cross trainers. Designed with Crossfit in mind, they works great for any weight work. There’s definitely more arch support in them than their running shoes, but they maintain the Zero Lift, perfectly flat sole that keeps your legs and feet in the safest position.
Off The Bike
Traxxas Slash 1/16 4×4 R/C Truck. Because it’s the right mix of portable size, crazy power and affordability. We got one in for review, and it’s awesome. So what I’m really wishing for under the tree isn’t one for myself, but some for my kids and friends and neighbors so we can race them. Because everyone knows R/C cars are more fun when you can race them!
Yeti Hopper 30 Cooler. Because several friends have them and they’re awesome. Not only are they tough, but they’re thickly insulated, so they keep stuff colder for longer, without forming condensation on the outside. The zipper, handles and everything on it is overbuilt, making the upfront investment worthwhile because it’ll last years longer than lesser coolers. And compared to soft side coolers with walls 1/3 as thick, this one actually keeps stuff cold for days.
And they hold 30lbs of ice or 20 12oz cans – plenty for post-cross race refreshments. Yes, it’s expensive, but compared to Yeti’s even-more-expensive hardsided coolers, this one collapses to fit in your pantry, making storage much easier. It includes a shoulder strap, and comes in Gray, too. (As a friendly holiday gesture, our friends at Field & Stream provided this one for review and are offering free shipping on any order over $49 through the end of December.)
Three Small Things
Niterider Solas 150 tail light. Because I ride with a tail light on almost every ride, day or night, and I really like the blink patterns on this one. It offers two pulsing/blinking modes, and two solid modes, with the dimmest of those being perfect for group rides where you don’t want to annoy everyone else by blinding them. $50 might seem like a lot for a tail light when you can find blinkies super cheap on Amazon, but this one’s 150 lumens are bright enough to be seen in broad daylight, and the nuanced blink/pulse patterns help get drivers’ attention. And that’s priceless. There’s also a 100 lumen model for $40, which you can find bundled with a headlight for $129.
Independent Fabrication Porsche T-Shirt. Because owner Gary Smith is rebuilding a vintage Porsche and making a titanium roof rack for it. Knowing why they made this shirt design elevates an already cool tee to the level of awesome. Grab one for $25.
CarboRocket’s Rocket Red. Because it seems to work, which is not always easy to tell with a supplement. Based largely on beet juice and the proven effects that ingredient has in improving blood flow to muscles, I’ve used it for both pre-race prep during cyclocross season and before big rides with fast groups. I’ve even used it for post ride recovery, pairing that with massage and stretching to help flush more blood into the muscles. For me, it’s worked well in all those cases, and the bonus ingredients like Tart Cherry, Pomegranate and L-Citrulline are just that, a healthy bonus. Retail is $44 for 30 servings.
Happy Holidays and best wishes for a great year’s end!