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Our survey of the products our editors love continues with the next installment from Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom. If you haven’t been following this series, this is the stuff that our editors choose to use and/or the products that have impressed them throughout the year. Check out the links at the bottom of the piece for earlier installments.
Park Tool 3-way hex wrenches
I started using Park’s 3-way hex wrenches in the mid-90s and immediately appreciated the efficiency of the design. At the time, there was just one version on offer, with 4/5/6mm hex keys, and it was all that was needed to attend to most of the bolts on a road bike. It was, and remains, the perfect tool for quick assembly and checking over a bike.
The number of different bolt-heads on a bike has grown in recent years, and so has the number of versions of the 3-way tool in Park’s catalogue. I’d recommend the AWS-1 (4/5/6mm hex) and AWS-3 (2/2.5/3mm hex) for most mechanics. The biggest disadvantage for 3-way tools is they won’t work in confined areas (e.g. rear brake bridge, front derailleur mount) or fit into a jersey pocket, so they will never substitute for a good set of hex keys (such as PB Swiss Tools favoured by David Rome).
Road ID Wrist Band
When I think about the products that I use and love, there are some I’m quite reliant upon but there’s only a handful that I take with me on every single ride. My Road ID wrist band is one of those products and I’ve been using it for several years.
What is all the more remarkable about it is that I had nothing to do with the decision to start wearing a Road ID. It was my wife that brought the wrist band to me, a birthday gift I believe, because she wanted a little extra peace of mind. I can be out on the bike for several hours at a time, and while it won’t do anything to ward off an accident, it’s a ready source of information including a phone number for my wife.
I’ve developed a pretty good tan line on my wrist thanks to the Road ID. I’ve replaced the actual band a few times, and with the Velcro wearing on my current band, I’m due for a new one soon. I’m thinking of upgrading to the Elite ID because it has a watch clasp that is less likely to catch the fleece lining of jackets and arm warmers than the Velcro of my current band.
Price: US$20-40 (~AUD$27-55)
NFS Ultimate Bicycle Chainlube & Morgan Blue Competition Campa Grease
I’m often asked what lubricants I use and/or recommend. In truth, anything, even cooking spray, is better than nothing at all. Nevertheless, I have my preferred brands that I endeavour to keep on hand. Importantly, there isn’t one lube or grease that will serve every purpose so a few different products is really necessary to attend to every part of the bike.
After years of using dry chain lubes, NFS (NixFrixShun) lured me back to the wet side and I’ve been using it ever since. In short, it’s very easy to set-and-forget and while some might worry about the extra grit that it attracts, it’s not a problem. That’s because there’s no need for anything but a sparing amount and its much easier to clean up than the waxy deposits that tend to accrue with dry lube.
Morgan Blue’s Competition Campa grease found its way onto my workbench about a year ago and it’s held its place ever since with ease. I avoid brightly coloured grease since there’s a risk it will stain the finish on some bikes, but the off-white Competition Campa means it’s still obvious when cleaning up the bike after a service.
I make a habit of using an excess of grease when packing bearings for extra weather-resistance. In this regard, Competition Campa is not especially thick, so it doesn’t create a lot of drag when used in this way. I use it routinely for all bearings, but it’s not light enough to suit freehub pawls. This is where NFS chain lube can come in handy, especially for Mavic freehubs that depend upon a mineral oil.
Bont Vaypor S Shoes
I’ve been using Bont’s Vaypor S shoes ever since I reviewed them last year. Like a few of the other products listed here, it’s a product that I use for every ride (unless I have a pair of shoes to review) and I’ve arrived at a point where it’s hard to contemplate using anything else.
I chronicled my early experience with the Vaypor S in my review. In short, they didn’t immediately impress me, but my opinion changed dramatically over the course of a couple of weeks. Judging from the comments on that review, Bont’s shoes have a polarising effect on riders, though I don’t understand why.
For those that are wondering about the longevity of the shoes, they have proven to be very robust and hard-wearing. The carbon outsole has a collection of scrapes from walking in the shoes, and there are a few small spots where the upper has started to separate from the sole, requiring only a bit of glue as a remedy.
Importantly, there’s been no change in the quality of the fit. The uppers and outsoles seem completely unaffected by thousands of kilometres I’ve already travelled. Better yet, where once I dreaded wet shoes that ended up smelling damp for weeks on end, I’ve found Bont’s shoes remain completely odourless no matter how often my feet get wet.
Price: AUD$480 (~US$350)
Cobra9 Pro Orthotics
When I was a teenager riding BMX bikes and skateboards, I sprained my right ankle multiple times, leading to a rubbery joint that started to affect my road cycling some years ago. A pair of orthotics was eventually prescribed, which lead me to Cobra9.
The appeal was immediate, not because the company was making use of carbon fibre, or that the orthotics were featherweights. Quite simply, it was the fact that they were purpose-built to suit the needs of cyclists and cycling shoes. My Cobra9 orthotics have been unfailing in the support they’ve provided for over three years and I’ve never had a problem fitting them into a pair of cycling shoes.
This is not a product that many cyclists will ever need, but as something that I use on every ride and find indispensable, it’s earned a place in the top ten products I love.
Price: AUD$499 (~US$365)
Red White Bibshorts
I had my first experience with RedWhite’s bibshorts last year when I reviewed “the BIBS”, a simple no-frills garment designed for all-day riding. That was followed by a look at their next creation, a race-oriented version of the BIBS that was dubbed “the RACE”. In both instances, the shorts were easy to like and offered plenty of comfort.
Twelve months on, and I’m still reaching for both pairs of bibshorts. I find that the surest test for the appeal of any garment is how many times I’ll reach for it in preference of everything else in my clothing collection. By that measure alone, RedWhite’s bibshorts are a clear favourite, and with no obvious signs of wear, I expect that will continue for some time to come.
Price: US$160 (~AUD$217) with free worldwide shipping
Busyman Bicycles leather bar tape
It’s been a few years since I first reviewed Busyman Bicycles’ bespoke leather handlebar tape, and in that time, my appreciation for this product has only grown. I was already impressed by it, but now I consider it indispensable for the special bike in any road cyclist’s life.
There is no strong argument for bar tape like this. The price is high compared to standard tape and there is a lengthy waiting period of around five months. It will also disappoint riders that prefer thick, spongy tape, and they will discover that it’s more difficult to install.
Nevertheless, there is an aura about this tape that invites closer inspection. Perhaps it’s the air of exclusivity and a whiff of extravagance. However there is no dismissing the attention to detail and the precision of the craftsmanship. When Mick Peel, the man behind Busyman, focuses all of his skill on creating tape to suit your bike, the outcome is sublime and well worth the price (and wait).
Price: AUD$120-210 (~US$90-150)
Swissstop rim brake pads
Swissstop is, unsurprisingly, a Swiss company devoted to brake pads with a history that goes all the way back to 1970. That alone is a strong measure of the company’s dedication and devotion to braking; that it also enjoys a solid reputation that has been growing in recent years is almost enough to make its products a must-have.
I started using Swissstop’s green GHP alloy rim pads about five years ago after becoming frustrated with stock pads that performed poorly in the wet. I was immediately impressed; the pads offered plenty of stopping power, wet or dry, resisted all sorts of grit, and had a very long lifespan. I haven’t had any experience with the company’s newest alloy rim compound, BXP, however the company rates it as its best wet-weather pad.
Swissstop’s carbon rim pads are also excellent. Some may be familiar with the Yellow King, the first carbon rim pad to really stand out on the basis of its performance. The Black Prince managed to improve on that formula, both in terms of power and heat generation, making them the pad of choice for any rider free to use non-proprietary brake pads with their carbon rims.
There is one important thing to note when shopping for Swissstop brake pads: the company uses a clunky nomenclature — FlashPro versus RacePro — to distinguish pads that fit Shimano/SRAM carriers (FlashPro) from those designed for Campagnolo carriers (RacePro). At least the compatibility of the pads is listed on the packaging so it’s normally easy to double-check this.
Price: 4-pack of pad inserts, AUD$45-83/US$30-55/€19-35.
Speedplay Zero pedals
In my experience, there are just a few topics of conversation that will ignite a coffee shop debate, and pedal choice is one of them. Having used all of the major brands, I’ve found there’s not much difference in the utility of each system, but there’s two major points in which Speedplay’s Zero pedals trumps the others.
First, Speedplay’s cleats offer more adjustment than any other system; and second, the Zero offers dual-sided entry. Of the two, it is the latter that makes Speedplay pedals very user-friendly. As for the extra adjustment, it’s the only pedal system that can compensate for poorly positioned cleat holes thanks to Speedplay’s unique cleat extender baseplate.
I’ve found that Speedplay’s Zero pedals are quite robust and hard-wearing but the cleats have a few weaknesses. Up until the introduction of its “Walkable” cleats, the screw heads holding the cleats in place were easily clogged with debris or damaged by walking. Adjusting the fore-aft position of the cleat remains a tedious chore because the entire cleat has to be removed before the position of the baseplate can be altered. And then there is the price of new cleats, which is very high when compared to other systems.
Be that as it may, I’ve been using Speedplay Zero pedals for almost a decade now, long enough to wear out a couple pairs of pedals. The bearings are hard wearing so it’s the bodies that suffer with use; in time, the cleats start to rock from side-to-side where once the fit was sure and firm.
Wolf Tooth Ultralight stem cap with integrated spacer
I discovered this clever stem cap during the final stages of assembling my Baum Corretto. Dissatisfied with the way that conventional stem caps interface with fork spacers, I was hoping for an integrated solution where the cap flowed smoothly into a spacer for the top of the fork steerer.
It might seem like an inconsequential thing, but there’s no way to overlook an untidy stem cap while riding a bike. The slam-that-stem and chop-the-top crowd might complain about any kind of extension above the stem, but to my mind, it’s the best way to avoid the damage that a stem can do to the top of a carbon fork steerer (the clamp can pinch the tube and ruin the steerer).
Wolf Tooth’s design is one of few commercially available stem caps that have an integrated spacer. It is clean, simple, and very easy to use. The company offers three sizes for the spacer — 5, 10, and 15mm — that will fit any 1.125-inch fork steerer. Originally available in a choice of black or red, Wolf Tooth has started increasing the number of colours to improve the appeal of this elegant product.