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Another year has flown by and, with it, the usual flurry of high-tech new offerings. Many a disc-equipped aero bike has hit the market, but they’ve been countered by old-school touring rigs. Geeky-large saddle and handlebar bags have somehow become cool again, and cross-country mountain bikes are back in vogue – as long as you call them flat-bar gravel bikes.
Below are 10 items that greatly impressed tech writer Dave Rome over the past 12 months, and in some cases, far longer than that. These aren’t just distilled from what’s been reviewed in 2017, though; rather, our “Ten Products” series covers products that our editors would buy (and often have bought) themselves. Case in point: all 10 items on Dave’s list from last year are still in use.
Shimano Dura-Ace PD-R9100 pedals
When I reviewed these Dura-Ace pedals earlier in the year, their performance didn’t surprise me one bit. I’m a long-time user of Shimano SPD-SL pedals, and the R9100s took everything I already loved in the system and made them a little slimmer and a little lighter.
Hands down, there’s no other pedal on the market that balances weight, performance, walkability, reliability, and durability so well. Yes, plenty of options have it beat for individual characteristics, but add it all together and Shimano wins for me.
Price: US$280 / AU$370 / £225 / €TBC
Abbey Bike Tools Crombie
This cassette tool isn’t new at all. In fact, I gave it an Editor’s Choice award for a previous publication back in 2014. However, it remains one of the few tools that continues to impress me, despite its simple function.
Exactly how much do I appreciate this product? Well, I’ve now bought three of them over the years. I started with the original single-sided Shimano tool, the one I continue to use the most. Afterward, I got the dual-sided SL version to keep in my travel kit. And then more recently, I purchased the dual-sided 12mm thru-axle version to sit alongside the original Shimano version.
Out of the three, the single-sided Shimano version remains my favourite for its purity of purpose: it does one thing only, but does it extremely well. The dual-sided ones require a second more thought, and when you’re working on your own bike, who’s got time for that?
Price: US$40-55 / AU$62-76 / £TBC / €TBC
Velotoze toe covers
There’s no other way to describe these: they’re effectively just thick latex condoms designed to fit cycling shoes. But given they’re designed to keep your toes dry, they’re quite perfect.
The original VeloToze covers used a similar design, but extended up over your shoe and sock. While that remains a pretty handy product, it’s often overkill for riding around Sydney. Also, they’re a bit of a pain to get on and off.
The VeloToze toe covers fix that latter issue. They slip over the toes and cleats far more easily, blocking the front vents of your shoes and keeping your toes just that little bit warmer.
They’re just the right thing for taking the edge off the wind and are relatively cheap, but expect to replace them on a semi-regular basis if you do any kind of walking on your toes in them.
Price: US$13 / AU$20 / £10 / €17
Smoove chain lube
It might be too early to call this one, but after a couple months of use, I’m pretty impressed with this South African chain lube.
A new kid on the block compared to veteran chain lube Squirt – also from South Africa – Smoove is slowly growing with little more than word of mouth. And the fact that it’s disrupting a market where Squirt originated from should be telling.
I first crossed paths with the name when covering the Absa Cape Epic a few years back. At the time, a local mechanic told me it was his secret weapon and out-performed Squirt in trying conditions.
While I’ve yet to see any supporting lab data, I can attest to it doing exactly as its name suggests. My shifting has never been smoother, my drivetrain is muted, and the durability is extremely impressive. Add to that the dry, clean running with only a little build-up and it gets on this list.
That all said, Jason Smith of Friction Facts (owned by CeramicSpeed) has previously suggested that quieter running lubes are actually often slower, and I do have a feeling this one isn’t the very fastest thing going. Unfortunately, Smith hasn’t tested this lube as of yet to confirm my suspicions.
Price: US$15 / AU$25 / £14 / €TBC
FastCap Kaizen Foam
Kaizen is basically just layered high-density foam. Trace around the tools with a sharp knife and rip away the material to a specific depth, and you’re left with a perfectly cozy cradle for your tools. It’s a popular material with aerospace mechanics, where accounting for missing tools is a critical part of the job.
Kaizen foam is best used within tool chests or travel cases where there’s enough room available for a single layer of tools. If you like to keep tools in your vehicle, you can even create small tool pallets that slip under a car seat. Just be warned that it does take up more space than having the tools just tossed into a bag or tool roll.
Admittedly, Kaizen offers little more than vanity for most home mechanics. Still, it keeps your tools organised, protected, and accounted for, and for a self-professed tool nerd like myself, its functional appeal alone justifies its inclusion here. But for some mechanics, like John Hall, the personal wrench of champion World Cup downhiller Aaron Gwin, it borders on art.
American readers can find Kaizen quite readily, but if you’re in Australia, the best purchase place I’ve found is a woodworking store called Timbecon.
Price: US$11-22 / AU$18-40 / £TBC / €TBC
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29
Ask me what bike I’ve had the most fun with over the past 12 months and I’ll admit it doesn’t have drop bars.
The Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29 continues to blow me away with its seemingly limitless capabilities. And I’m not just saying that because I bought it.
I’ve ridden it on everything from downhill shuttle runs at a ski resort to cross country slogs and everything in between. This bike is forever re-opening my confidence on the mountain bike, and as a result, making me a better rider overall.
My 2017 version came with a Shimano XT 2×11 drivetrain, which I converted to 1×11 with a handful of parts from Wolf Tooth Components, including a cassette range expander, Drop Stop 1x-specific chainring, and chain guide. I then added Wolf Tooth’s ReMote lever for the dropper seatpost, another item I can’t recommend enough. I swapped the saddle and grips, and then I also had some special attention given to the Fox fork which was full of stiction when new. This included bushing re-sizing and a few other custom touches courtesy of the guys at MTBSuspensionCentre in Sydney.
Despite its mostly stock setup, it continues to prove to me that it’s better than I am. If you love mountain biking but find yourself timid on more technical trails, get yourself a bike like this.
Price (2018 version): US$5,000 / AU$6,000 / £4,300 / €5,000
Park Tool Oversized Storage Hooks
My list of favorite products from 2017 includes a blue hook?! Yep, I selected a blue hook. And frankly, I believe these storage hooks, for hanging bikes vertically by a wheel, are crazily underrated.
Park Tool offers them in three sizes, with the larger two sizes being the only two you need to bother looking at. And unless you own a fat bike or something else with similarly huge wheels and tires, the middle sized Oversized Hook (Model #471) is likely to be your pick. It’ll fit most deep-dish carbon road rims, 2.5inch-wide MTB rubber, and anything in between. For size reference, it’s pictured above next to the regular bicycle hooks found at hardware stores.
The hooks are made of steel and built to last. The blue coating has proven plenty durable, and won’t scratch your rims, either. Park offers the hook with machine or self-tapping threads depending on how you intend to mount them, but I’ve only used the wood version, mounting them into a standard 2×4 and then using masonry plugs to secure the assembly into brick. They’re simple, relatively cheap, and with no moving parts, will last a very long time.
The only downside is that they’re relatively hard to find in stores.
Price: US$6 / AU$13 / £6 / €TBC
WTB TCS AL tubeless valves
No matter how much I fight it, I’m still a weight weenie at heart. I still use my scales whenever I get a new part, and I still look at ways to (sensibly) massage grams away.
Alloy tubeless valves are one such item that should be on the upgrade list for anyone running tubeless tyres. Tubeless valves often eventually clog or wear out, anyway, so it’s a good time to opt for a cheap upgrade.
A pair of WTB’s TCS AL tubeless valves will save 8-10g compared to standard brass valves, and at a minimum cost. Unlike some carbon valve stems I recently tried (which may or may not have snapped on the first installation), these otherwise have no real disadvantages.
There are a number of brands out there offering such a product, and while I’m sure many of them are the same, most of my experience is with these. WTB conveniently sell them in packs of two, and as a side perk, they’re available in multiple colours.
Price: US$25 / AU$TBC / £23 / €25
Bellroy Phone Case – 1 Card
This one didn’t immediately spring to mind as a top pick for cycling, and yet it joins me on every ride. And if I’m honest, it’s the combination of the iPhone 7’s improved sealing and this case’s ability to hold a credit card that gets it selected.
While credit cards will likely be dead in a few years, for now it’s always a good idea having one on hand in case you need emergency mid-ride or post-ride sustenance.
In the past, I’d grab my trusted zip-lock bag before each ride, find my wallet, grab some cash or a card, find my phone, and then bag it up. If I ever stopped to pull out my phone, I’d nervously ensure the other contents didn’t fall out.
With this case, my trusty credit card is always with my phone. And when I go for a ride, all I grab is the phone. Sure, if I get caught in a downpour, the lack of proper sealing on the case isn’t ideal, but the iPhone 7’s factory-applied internal coating is hopefully up to it.
The case adds just 4mm of depth (including the credit card) and 30 grams to my iPhone 7. Sure it doesn’t offer bomb-proof protection, but I appreciate its convenience and everyday style.
Price: US$55 / AU$75 / £TBC / €TBC
Hayes Feel’R disc caliper alignment tool
I’ve had this tool for years, and I now find myself using it more on disc-equipped road bikes than I ever did on mountain bikes.
This tool combines two equal-thickness feeler gauges that are profiled to fit neatly against a disc rotor. Using it is simple: loosen the caliper bolts slightly, flip the feeler gauges out from the holder, sandwich the rotor in between them, and slide the whole assembly in between the brake pads. Squeeze the brake lever, carefully tighten the caliper bolts, and you should be all set.
Granted, the process isn’t successful all the time, but the Feel’R is still the first tool I reach for as soon as I need a buffer with auto-alignment issues.
As an alternative to the Hayes, both SuperB and PRO offer tools that borrow the concept. The PRO version is provided in the Toolbox XL I tested previously, or with the company’s disc truing tool.
Hot tip: while thicker, business cards from your last job also make pretty handy disc brake spacing tools, too.
Price: US$15 / AU$50 / £14 / €20 (no, the Australian price is not a typo, and no, it’s not worth that much)