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by Neal Rogers
December 15, 2016
Photography by Neal Rogers
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. Below are 10 products U.S. Editor Neal Rogers reached for in 2016.
It’s hard for me to believe that just a few years ago I used no data-collecting devices on my bikes — not even a simple handlebar computer to measure distance or speed. That all changed significantly in 2011 when I got a power meter and signed up for Strava in the same month.
Along with reaching milestones and comparing times on Strava, I run a power meter on several bikes, both for real-time feedback and to (try to) reach new goals. Hitting a new PR on a local 30-minute climb is pretty simple in theory — figured out your functional threshold power (FTP), and then from bottom to top, try not to go below (or above) that number.
You’ll need a power meter (and head unit) for that, and a Stages Power crank arguably provides the best bang for your buck. It’s a fraction of the cost of a spider-based SRM, depending on the model, and weighs less (and costs less) than a hub-based PowerTap — while still maintaining a +/- 2% claimed accuracy. Because Stages mostly uses original manufacturers’ cranks, there’s usually no aesthetic difference between what’s on your bike and one equipped with a strain gage. Yes, you must be okay with the single-sided power measurement with Stages; most likely, you will be.
Best of all, installation and use couldn’t be easier; it’s quite literally plug and play. Syncing up the data via Bluetooth, and the tool-free replacement of the CR2032 battery after 200 hours of use, is easy; holding that FTP for 30 minutes is a bit harder.
RRP: Prices vary, depending on crank; US$580 / AUD$771 / £458 for Shimano Ultegra 6800
Riding a bike takes you to wonderful places in the most efficient manner known to man, but it also takes its toll on your drivetrain, which invariably gets sticky and messy. In fact, that’s true with life in general — things get sticky and messy. For my bikes, and most anything else that gets sticky, I reach for Pedro’s Oranj Peelz citrus-based solvent. As a degreaser, it’s powerful and penetrating, cutting through grease and grime, yet because it’s biodegradable and water soluble, it doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re radioactive after using it. The stuff works, and hey, it even smells good.
RRP: US$15 for a 16oz bottle
When you regularly ride in the elements, it’s bizarre how focused you can become on the relative weights of layers such as gloves, socks, and baselayers. Too thick and you may end up sweating even while you can see your breath; too thin and you’re pegging it in the 11-tooth the whole way home, trying to generate heat. Just as I have a go-to glove for each temperature range, I also have a go-to baselayer, and between November and April, it’s usually Pearl Izumi’s Transfer Wool Short Sleeve, which combines Merino wool and moisture-wicking polyester; wool in the front, mesh in the back. It fits perfectly, breathes well, and keeps me warm without overheating. I own a lot of baselayers, but this is the one I reach for first, and most often.
RRP: US$80 / €70
I know, I know — it’s hard to get excited about arm warmers. That is, until you’ve used Castelli’s Nanoflex +, made of the same lightweight waterproof and breathable material as its Gabba and Perfetto tops, the jerseys every team in the peloton used at the snowy 2013 Milan-San Remo, and continued to do so until their apparel sponsors delivered an equivalent version. Until you’ve ridden comfortably in the rain, watching drops of water bead up and bounce off your arms and legs, you just can’t fully grasp what a difference it makes.
The latest Nanoflex+ model once again uses a DWR surface treatment and underlying silicone nanofibers for water resistance, but a new Nano Light fabric on the back of the knee and inside of the elbow. Castelli says this eliminates any issues with seam placement, although I never had any issues with the earlier version.
I questioned whether I should include the arm warmers or leg warmers in this round up. But while the arm warmers are handy in all conditions — it doesn’t need to be wet to call for arm warmers — on days where the Nanoflex fabric is needed on your arms, you’ll probably be wanting it on your legs as well.
How much do I love my Nanoflex warmers? A few years ago I lost a Nanoflex arm warmer riding on the cobblestone roads of the Tour of Flanders. I ordered a new pair, from the airport, on the way home.
RRP: US$45 / €36 for Arm Warmers, US$70 / €62 for Leg Warmers
Every story is only as good as its characters, and Fat Tire Flyer: Repack and the Birth of Mountain Biking — the “true, complete, and extraordinary tale of the invention of mountain biking” — is filled with larger-than-life characters. The 260-page coffee-table book was compiled by Charlie Kelly, co-founder of the MountainBikes company with Gary Fisher, organizer of the original Repack races on Mount Tamalpais, in Marin County, California, and chronicler of the sport in the magazine that inspired the name for the book.
The men and women who invented mountain biking in the 1970s were a renegade crew of bike racers and hippies who partied with the Grateful Dead and roamed the redwood forests in the shadow of Mt. Tam. Someone got the idea to ride a one-speed, coaster-brake Schwinn down a trail in the woods. Someone else said they could do it faster. A stopwatch was involved, underground races were organized, and soon pioneers like Kelly, Fisher, Otis Guy, and Joe Breeze were scouring junkyards for balloon-tired “clunkers.”
Things got real when someone slapped a rear derailleur on a clunker, and before long, Breeze was welding the first off-road specific frames. A young Tom Ritchey took note, and started building MountainBike-branded frames for Kelly and Fisher. That brand would eventually become Fisher’s, while Ritchey would move on to form his own company. Specalized founder Mike Sinyard saw what was happening, and in 1982, the Stumpjumper became the first mass-produced mountain bike. An industry was born, and 14 years later, mountain biking was in the Olympics.
Kelly documents the inception, freewheeling early days, and rapid rise of mountain biking in Fat Tire Flyer, using vintage photos, drawings, and other memorabilia. It’s an absolute gold mine, and a must-have for any mountain biker.
RRP: US$30 / £26
My years-long relationship with these little glass bottles of goodness can be traced back to my first encounter with them, when a friend encouraged me to give one a try.
“Why would I want this, when I can just have a shot of espresso for half the price?” I asked. “Well, it’s easier on your stomach, it’s a gentler buzz, and you can stick it in your pocket to drink whenever you want it,” he answered.
He was right, and I haven’t looked back. With yerba maté, energy comes on mildly and exits the same way, without jitters or a crash. It doesn’t interfere with my sleep, digestion, or heartbeat, and it doesn’t send me running to the bathroom, either. The US$4 price is a bit steep, though not unheard of for an all-natural, organic product free of high fructose sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial colors or flavors. It’s what you’d pay for a cappuccino, and the stimulant benefit is far superior. (They can be bought a bit cheaper here, in bulk.)
Guayaki Organic Yerba Maté energy shots come in lime-tangerine, lemon, wild berry reishi, and chocolate raspberry. I prefer lime-tangerine; I actually quite like the taste.
RRP: US$48 for a 12-pack
Every cyclist has his or her own unique relationship with their helmet. Fit and fashion seem to be counted in equal measure, with price and protection usually taking on a supporting role.
Giro makes great claims about the Synthe’s aerodynamic profile and cooling properties. I’m not here to dispute them, but I like the Synthe because it fits perfectly, doesn’t look overly dorky, and adds MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) to Giro’s simple and effective Roc Loc Air fit system.
Yes, US$270 is a lot of money to spend on a helmet. But a helmet is something you’ll wear on every ride, and it could just save your life; it’s important that it fits well, looks sharp, and that you feel good about wearing it. For me, the Synthe MIPS ticks all of those boxes.
RRP: US$270 / €300
Every cyclist living in regions where the weather can rapidly change needs a shell jacket — that piece you pack in your jersey pocket for the descent back down the mountain, or “just in case.”
For some reason, there’s a proliferation of super light and flimsy shells on the market that don’t really cut the wind, while simultaneously flapping in your ear at speeds over 25mph. They’re better than nothing, but just barely.
Gore’s Xenon 2.0 is lightweight, but far from flimsy. No stranger to combating the elements, Gore’s Windstopper Active Shell technology lives up to its name with discernible wind-chill protection. Better yet, it’s ergonomically shaped, with articulated elastic sleeve cuffs, a long back, and a shaped collar that all fit just how you’d want them to. Reflective details on the front, back, and sides help with nighttime visibility, too.
For the moment, this US$200 jacket is on sale on Gore’s website for US$140.
RRP: US$200 (US$140 sale price) / £150
Beyond the delicious flavor, perfect size, and and reasonable price, one of my favorite things about RBars is that I have no recollection how or when I discovered them, or, really, anything about the company. I’ve never seen them in a bike shop, and I don’t know where they can be bought, other than on their website. It’s like an RBar dropped out of the sky and into my jersey pocket. What I do know is that the Prickly Pear Pecan bar is probably the best-tasting sports bar I’ve ever had, and one of the few that doesn’t leave me feeling bloated or gross.
I also know that every RBar flavor — they have six, total — has seven ingredients or less. There is no added sugar, and no brown rice syrup, glucose syrup, or corn syrup. My go-to flavor is made entirely of chopped dates, whole dried apricots, pecans, prickly pear powder, organic sunflower oil, and organic lemon oil. It’s also gluten free, vegan, non-GMO, and paleo approved.
RRP: US$17.50 for a 10-pack
If you’re like me, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your jeans — until you find the perfect pair. And then, one day, you realize you’ve worn the same jeans for a month straight, it’s time to do laundry, and you don’t want to wear any of your backup jeans.
DU/ER jeans were designed by cyclists, for cyclists, with the idea of infusing denim with the best features of technical performance apparel for someting more breathable and maneuverable. The result is DU/ER’s L2X fabric, which is lighter, stronger, and more flexible than traditional denim, while also managing temperature and wicking moisture to the surface. The “invisible seat gusset” — okay, the crotch — adds a nice bit of mobility for riding around town and getting on and off your bike. They’re comortable, and they look good.
Because I was born in the 70s, I went with the relaxed-fit cut, which provides a little more room in the quads for cyclists than the slim fit. No skinny jeans for this guy.