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by Caley Fretz
November 16, 2017
Photography by Caley Fretz
We’ve already shared the year’s favorite products from James Huang, Matt Wikstrom, and David Rome, and our annual series now continues on with a round of products from the newest member of CyclingTips, Caley Fretz. An accomplished rider both on-road and off, he spends most of his saddle time these days somewhere in-between, with a dose of paved speed, a lot of dirt fun, and gear that helps him ride seamlessly between the two.
Plus coffee, of course.
My go-to mixed-surface tire is this lovely setup from the company formerly known as Clement and now known as Donnelly, thanks to some brand licensing issues with Pirelli. Long story. But the important point is that if your rides are often 50/50 pavement/not pavement, like mine, this is a perfect tire.
The 50% road part is important. I want to be able to keep up with buddies on road tires. The Strada lets me do that while providing off-pavement confidence so that I don’t have to pick my way daintily across dirt and gravel.
It’s tubeless. It has a slick center tread so it rolls fast. The tread on the sides grabs on to dirt well enough, but doesn’t slow you down. It has a puncture-resistant belt under the tread. It’s 32mm-wide, perfect for almost-road rides. I haven’t found anything better for mixed surfaces.
Price: US$50 / AU$65 / £38
Whatever you call them — bum bags, hip packs, or fanny packs, if you’re American like me — you need one. These things grabbed a foothold in mountain bike circles a few years ago and are slowly making their way into more adventurous drop-bar scenes. Why? Because they are super functional. You can put all sorts of stuff in there. A jacket, a tube, a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, a camera, a tiny single-shot of bourbon; the sky’s the limit.
Better yet, a hip pack opens up all sorts of casual ride clothing possibilities. A good one allows you to carry all your stuff without wearing a road jersey with pockets or a big, sweaty hydration pack. This is why mountain bikers love them. The same reasoning applies to drop-bar bikes. Lots of my rides these days are a mixed bag of pavement and dirt, so aerodynamically-tuned Lycra just feels silly. I often head out in tailored baggies and a comfy Merino wool T-shirt, putting everything I’d normally stash in my back pockets into the Supreme bag.
I don’t think you should buy flights to Taipei and take a taxi to the Ningxia night market then walk down the left side for about 40 meters until you see the jovial young man with a plastic garbage bag full of (totally legit) Supreme bags. But I do think you should consider riding with something similar.
The most evolved example of the species that I’ve tried out is from Hunter. It’s the perfect size, designed to fit four 12oz cans of LaCroix hipster juice (or beer, or whatever), and stays put on your bum.
Price: UA$75 / AU$100 / £57
Okay, I don’t actually need one of these, as I’ve lived here in Boulder for years. But every time I travel to ride somewhere else I wish Zach Lee, the map’s creator, would make one for that place, too.
The map combines the design language of a London Tube map with a ski resort map. Rather than include every squiggle in Boulder’s numerous mountain roads, which is pretty useless information for a route-finding cyclist, Lee focused on how the roads connect and how difficult they are to ride. He color-graded each road similar to a ski resort, from hard to easy, and used the space freed up by the lack of squiggles to add useful information like where to find food and water. The map is oriented to the west, rather than to the north, because that’s how Boulder cyclists think. West is mountains; east is plains. We orient ourselves to the mountains.
Lee sells the maps in a waterproof pocket size, but if you’re a fan of the design work, as I am, you can also get a big wall-size poster and two pocket-size maps in a bundle. He has discussed extending the concept to other locations. I hope he does.
Price: US$10 / AU$13 / £7 (pocket size); US$55 / AU$72 / £41
Every once in a while I convince myself to branch out and try a new mountain bike tire. It almost inevitably ends in disaster.
What do I go back to? My trusty High Rollers. Or perhaps a Maxxis Minion. I’ve learned not to stray.
Here in rocky Colorado and even rockier Utah, where I do most of my riding, sidewall cuts are the great nemesis. Nothing seems to last longer while also providing the predictable, versatile traction I want. The 3C Max Terra compound is ridiculously sticky but doesn’t wear out in a month or two like many other sticky tires I’ve tried. They last me longer than any other trail tire I’ve ridden.
These are not cross-country tires. The ramped center knobs roll (relatively) quick considering the tire’s girth, but the reason why the High Roller and Minion lineups have been favorites in the trail bike/enduro world for years isn’t speed; it’s because their solid sidewalls and big, stiff side knobs hold onto the earth when in full lean.
Price: US$50 / AU$65 / £38
I’ve only had this one for a few weeks, but it’s already become a favorite. A winter jacket with built-in lights? Sign me up.
The cut is sleek and tailored — “You look pro,” Taylor Phinney said to me in a coffee shop the other day — and the stretchy material is a good weight for temperatures down to about 30°F (-1°C), depending on how you layer underneath it. It fits more like a jersey than a jacket, which I like.
The white front lights and red rear lights are bright, can be set to solid or blink modes (with run times of 10-72 hours, respectively) and provide peace of mind as light fades in the evening. It is pricey, though.
Price: US$350 / AU$430 / £250£
I can’t decide if the best trail bike I’ve ever ridden is the Yeti SB5 I owned last year or the Yeti SB4.5 I bought this year. It depends where you ride, really. But you can’t go wrong with either.
I set my SB4.5 up with meaty tires (see the bit about the High Rollers, though the WTBs in the photo above aren’t bad), which match my riding style better than the silly Maxxis Icon cross-country tires that Yeti supplies stock. With the right rubber, this bike can handle just about anything. It climbs almost as well as an XC bike but blows bikes with 30mm more rear travel out of the water on the way down. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but I like it.
Price: US$6400 / AU$TBC / £TBC
Earlier this week here in Boulder, the temperature started at just 28°F (-2°C) at 8am, but climbed to 63°F (17°C) by 1pm. These gloves are my solution to unpredictable weather, huge temperature swings, and long descents.
The glove itself is relatively thin, comfortable in temperatures from about 45-60°F (7-15°C). But it has a trick up its sleeve, literally. A little pouch on the back of the hand contains a wind- and waterproof cover that covers your four fingers. It extends the usable range of the glove a fair margin and is perfect for those days when the weather might change or you’ll be descending.
The cover makes it a bit awkward to shift and brake, but it’s not intended to be used all day. It’s just to get you down the last descent or home as the sun sets without freezing your hands off.
Price: US$35 / AU$46 / £26
Last year, I landed on a sharp rock spike near the top of the Whole Enchilada in Moab and put a hole the size of my pinky fingernail into the center of my tread. Sealant went everywhere. The hole was too big to be closed by liquid alone. I stuck three Dynaplugs in the wound, re-inflated the tire, and went on my way. I was still riding the tire three months later without issue.
Dynaplugs are viscoelastic rubber plugs designed to fill holes in tubeless tires that are too big for sealant alone. They won’t cure huge sidewall gashes, but work fantastically well on cuts and larger tread punctures. If you ride tubeless mountain bike or gravel tires, you need these in your repair kit.
Each sticky rubber plug is attached to a brass head. Using the applicator, push the brass head and its rubber tail through the hole in your tire. Assuming you have sealant left in the tire (always remember to refill your sealant every once in a while!), the tire will seal up and you can continue riding without having to install a tube.
The Dynaplug Micro is smaller than a 20g CO2 cartridge and has saved me numerous times. I never leave home on tubeless tires without it.
Price: US$54 / AU$71 / £41£
Trying to explain why a saddle is good is sort of like reviewing music. We can talk about its parts and features, but at the end of the day it has to touch you in the right places.
This one has a cutout, and is pretty narrow, but is otherwise relatively traditional. Timeless, even. It fits my bum and we live in harmony.
Price: US$89 / AU$117 / £67
Nothing on this page is more vital to my daily life than this polka dot mug, which I gave myself last summer after stealing a Strava KOM somewhere in the Pyrenees.
This mug has few features of note. It is laterally stiff and also vertically stiff. It is not in any way compliant. However, I find it quite comfortable thanks to the coffee I put inside it. Without coffee, I get a headache, which is not comfortable.
I bought it in one of the start villages of the Tour de France, but you can pick up the same one on the Tour’s Boutique site.
Price: US$12 / AU$15 / £9