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by James Huang
December 3, 2016
Photography by James Huang
Cycling media outlets are invariably littered with all sorts of gift ideas for your Lycra-clad loved ones around this time of year. But we like to do things a little differently at CyclingTips, so our editors have decided to instead share with you the items that we reach for ourselves. Purchase them for others if you wish — or keep them for yourself — but either way, rest assured that all of it is truly near and dear to our own hearts. U.S. Editor James Huang starts things off with this post, with others to follow from our entire editorial staff.
I’ve been an “Oakley guy” for most of my cycling history, all the way back to the first pair of M-Frames I bought over twenty years ago. After switching over to Smith Optics Pivlock Arena Max as my go-to glasses last year, in 2016 I was back to my old faithful.
The Oakley Radar EV’s tabbed upper profile noticeably expands the field of view up the road — especially with my slighter flatter nose — and stays out of sight for all but the most extreme riding positions. The stout fit stays put no matter what, too, while nevertheless remaining comfortable for hours on end.
What really brought me back, though, was Oakley’s awesome Prizm lens technology, which enhances desirable hues by filtering out selected light wavelengths even more specifically than usual. This not only boosts contrast over more conventional lens tints — from Oakley or otherwise — but it also simply makes the world look fantastic. Somehow, the same tint works for ultra-bright Colorado sunshine and overcast days alike, which means one fewer decision I need to make when getting ready for a ride.
RRP: US$190 / AU$270 / £145
I was as skeptical as anyone when lace-up shoes became trendy. Giro’s Empire range changed my view on how well laces could work for modern cycling shoes, but it was Specialized’s S-Works Sub6 shoes that changed my perspective on how well they could fit.
At least for me, the key features were the more generous toe box compared to what you usually get in high-end cycling shoes (Bont notwithstanding), a ridiculously snug heel cup, the ample arch support you always get with Specialized shoes, and a supple upper material that somehow always manages to feel just right. I’ve never needed to pull over mid-ride to adjust the laces, either. The Sub6 shoes are also wickedly light, extremely well ventilated, and super stiff underfoot. I’m a big fan of the understated aesthetics, too.
RRP: US$325 / AU$499 / £250
The best pieces of technology are complex on the inside, but simple to use on the outside. In my opinion, no GPS cycling computer embodies that philosophy better than the Wahoo Fitness ELEMNT.
Its packed feature set — a large and highly legible LCD screen, customizable fields, navigation, wireless data transfers, ANT+/BTLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) connectivity, etc. — can go head-to-head with big-name players such as Garmin, but it’s how all of that is configured that really won me over. Nearly everything is set up using an accompanying smartphone app with an interface that’s far more user-friendly and easier to navigate than a handful of tiny buttons. Regular over-the-air firmware updates have continued to add more functions at no additional charge, too.
Best of all, my test unit has been fantastically stable with no frozen screens, lock-ups, or paralyzing bugs to disrupt its use — unlike the two bricked Garmin Edge computers currently sitting on the corner of my desk as sad reminders of how technology can go wrong.
RRP: US$330 / AU$499 / £250
I’m not sure I can recall a time when I was so doubtful about a saddle’s comfort based on appearances, but so pleasantly surprised when I actually sat on the thing. Such was my experience for Specialized’s rather funny-looking S-Works Power saddle.
The clipped nose definitely takes some getting used to, but the reality is that few riders will ever miss it. Otherwise, the broad and flat rear section, and the carefully tuned cutout, somehow manage to utterly disappear beneath you. Just plant your butt in a comfy spot, and you can happily stay there for hours on end — and the more aggressive your position, the more impressive the level of comfort.
Bicycle saddles are notoriously personal items, but this one seems more universally loved than most. Count me among the devotees.
RRP: US$300 / AU$350 / £200
I don’t know if it’s because I now have a little one at home that is inexplicably always happy to see me, or the fact that all too many riders have been run down by motorists lately, but either way, these days I’m hyper-focused on my own safety whenever I head out the door for a road ride. While I can’t do anything to make the drivers around me more skilled or attentive, I can at least do whatever I can to make myself a little more visible.
To that end, you’d be hard pressed to see me on the road without a Bontrager Flare R rear LED flasher blinking away. It’s one of the brightest I’ve ever encountered, yet still has sufficient battery life to run all day; the lithium-ion battery is easily recharged via an included micro-USB cable. The mount holds fast, too, and is easy to transfer from one bike to another. It’s also been impervious to rain, snow, and road spray so far.
Even better, at $60 it’s fairly priced for what you get. I’ve recommended this to countless friends, and rest a bit easier knowing that they’ll hopefully stand a better chance of making it back home to their loved ones, too.
RRP: US$60 / AU$75 / £45
Rule no.31 of Velominati’s “The Rules” declares that, “Spare tubes, multi-tools and repair kits should be stored in jersey pockets.”
I, for one, prefer to reserve my jersey pockets for more often-used items like extra layers and food, tucking essential repair items into my trusty Silca Seat Roll saddle pack.
Silca’s Seat Roll is its own take on the traditional tool roll, improving on the classic with a durable waxed duck canvas material and an extra strap that runs lengthwise to keep the package considerably more tidy. The single mounting strap holds exceedingly tight, too, with no strap around the seatpost to abrade your shorts.
Sadly, Silca has discontinued my favorite saddle pack in favor of the fancier Seat Roll Premio, which retains the old Seat Roll’s basic layout, but with a Boa ratcheting cable system instead of the simple nylon strap used here. I’m sure I’ll like that one, too, but this one somehow just seems a little more special. Feel free to search for one on eBay — but keep in mind that you’ll likely end up bidding against me.
Regardless of what sort of ride I’m doing, or what kind of bike I’m on, there’s always one universal constant: Skratch Labs’ Exercise Hydration Mix. The simpler and more natural ingredients are much easier on my stomach than the weird chemical and additives loaded into traditional drink mixes, and the freeze-dried fruit powders that Skratch uses as flavoring are pleasantly light and familiar. No matter how much of the stuff I drink during a ride, I never feel bloated or weighed down.
Skratch arguably started the “real food” trend in exercise nutrition when it first opened its doors in 2012, and four years later, others have followed. If I had to pick, the caffeinated Matcha Green Tea flavor is my favorite (although I seem to be impervious to the effects of caffeine, so I’m mostly just in it for the taste).
RRP: US$20 / AU$30 / £14 (20-serving bag)
Squirt chain lubricant is notably devoid of fancy buzzwords, instead comprising a simple emulsion of water and wax — essentially an easier-to-apply version of the old paraffin wax treatment commonly used decades ago without the associated hassles. Provided you take the time to first start with a completely clean chain stripped of any stock metal treatments or oils, Squirt soaks in and stays put, lasting an impressively long time even in very dry or wet conditions — and all the while remaining surprisingly clean.
Independent third-party testing has confirmed that Squirt is one of the very best in terms of reducing friction, too.
RRP: US$8 / AU$11 / £7 (120mL bottle)
Cables and housing play a critical role in the performance of any cable-actuated brake — be it rim or disc. Especially under hard braking, it’s critical that the force you apply with your hands is faithfully transferred to the other end. But standard spiral-wound brake housing compresses lengthwise, producing a squishy feel at the lever and reduced power at the caliper.
Yokozuna Reaction is built more like derailleur housing with a core of steel wires running primarily lengthwise, but also reinforced with an additional spiral wrap on the outside to keep the wires from blowing outward under pressure. It’s a simple idea, but one that produces a remarkable improvement in power and lever feel, especially on bikes that use full-length housing.
One might rightfully wonder why I would bother to talk about improving cable actuated brake performance when the tsunami of hydraulic discs has already started to reach shore. Hydraulic disc brakes do work better, but conventional rim brakes still work very well for the majority of users out there, and they’ll continue to vastly outnumber hydraulic discs for years to come. If the lure of better braking beckons, but your budget can’t handle a full upgrade, then this stuff might just be the stopgap measure you didn’t even realize you needed.
RRP: US$46 / AU$TBC / £50
Carbon bottle cages are a dime a dozen, with seemingly every company offering at least one. Arundel Bicycle Company was one of the first on the scene, however, releasing the Dave-O back in 2001. The simple design still looks good 15 years later, and most importantly, it’s still one the best in terms of function. Wispy-light at just 30g, its rock-solid grip reliably holds bottles even on Belgian cobblestones and rough trails.
My first experience with the Dave-O started even before 2001 with a set of handmade prototypes, and they’re still going strong. To date, I have yet to lose a bottle, and they still look as good as new.
RRP: US$60 / AU$60 / £40