Ten products I loved in 2017: Matt Wikstrom
In the next instalment of the products our editors loved in 2017, Australian tech editor, Matt Wikstrom, shares his picks. Remember, this is the gear we reach for when we’re not testing other products; the stuff that we love for personal reasons.
Fizik Aliante Gamma Saddle
I have been using the Aliante Gamma for over 10 years. It’s a reasonably narrow saddle with a generous dip that was originally created for MTB. The shell of the Gamma features “Twin Flex technology”, the product of two layers of carbon fibre, that creates a compliant saddle that never feels rubbery under load.
Interestingly, every time I’ve retired an Aliante Gamma, it’s because the shell has cracked. As a result, the saddle starts to sag, but it takes at least a few years to get to that stage.
I was worried that the Aliante Gamma was going to be discontinued when Fizik revised the Aliante for 2015, but I’m pleased to see that it still holds a place in the current catalogue. Nevertheless, since the new shape doesn’t suit me quite as well, I’ve started a small stockpile of Gamma reserves because I can’t imagine myself using anything else.
Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres
I started using tubeless tyres on the road about five years ago, and looking back, they seemed to usher in new enthusiasm for riding on unpaved roads. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but I certainly found myself becoming more adventurous when I started using tubeless tyres.
The quality of tubeless tyres has generally improved in the last five years, especially in terms of matching the suppleness and feel of traditional clinchers. Schwalbe is one of the few tyre manufacturers to fully embrace tubeless tyres. After a slow start, the company seemed to hit upon a magic formula when it came up with the Pro One.
Light, supple, and fast, the Pro One works beautifully on paved roads. The tread seems to resist cuts really well, and overall, the casing is quite robust. I’ve never been left wanting for grip, either, regardless of whether the roads are dry or wet.
The Pro One performs quite well on unpaved roads, too, so long as the surface isn’t too gnarly. The only punctures I’ve suffered when using the Pro One were cuts in the sidewall from rock-strewn tracks where I really should have been using much larger tyres (tubeless or otherwise).
I’m currently using 23C Pro Ones in combination with HED’s Belgium Plus rims, which produces a wide contact patch (the tyres measure 26mm at 60psi) with a low profile that makes the bike feel both sure-footed and agile. I’m tempted to go for the 25C when my current set wears out, however I won’t have to make that decision for at least a few months.
DT Swiss 240s hubs
DT’s 240s hubs don’t really need an introduction. After all, these hubs have been on the market for 20 years, and while there have been some refinements (e.g. the recent introduction of a model with straight-pull flanges), it has remained largely unchanged since its introduction.
The 240s still looks like a hub from the mid-‘90s thanks to its pragmatic styling. Buyers only get a choice of one colour, black, so they won’t win the hearts of all shoppers. However the 240s is truly bombproof, and in my case, the hubs have outlived four sets of rims. This was my hope when I first bought them, so I’m well pleased with my decision.
There are two aspects to the 240s that I’ve come to prize above all else: first, the bearings are buried quite deeply in the hub shell, making them extremely weatherproof; and second, tool-free servicing means I can have them apart to clean and inspect in just a few moments. This last point means that I’ve always got time for a quick service on the hubs, even when they don’t really need it.
FSA Energy compact alloy handlebars
When I was putting together my Baum Corretto, I went to the trouble of auditioning a few different handlebars for the build, yet I ended up using the same compact model from FSA as I had been since 2008.
Once dubbed the Wing Pro, there are alloy and carbon versions of this bar in FSA’s catalogue, all offering the same 80mm of reach and 125mm of drop. The drops flare a little too, so a 440mm bar actually measures ~420mm at the levers.
I’ve always been pragmatic when it comes to handlebars because they will always strike the ground during a crash, so I’d rather keep the price of replacement low. Hence, I’ve opted for the Energy version, FSA’s highest quality alloy bar. For those on a tight budget, there is a Gossamer model at roughly two-thirds the price of the Energy.
The flat tops of the Energy compact bar are a pleasure to hold onto but it is the shape of the drops that I enjoy most. They have a gentle slope that reaches well behind the tops so I can hold onto them in a couple of different positions. Every so often I will come across a set of bars on a bike that I’m reviewing that takes my fancy but it never lasts as long as my appreciation for FSA’s compact bars.
Rema Tip Top tube repair kit
Most cyclists either will or they won’t. I fall into the latter category and will repair my inner tubes multiple times before I’m prepared to consign them to the bin. To my mind, there is no argument for tossing a punctured tube when the cost of a repair kit is so very low.
I’ve been relying on Rema Tip Top’s repair kits for a very long time. Not only are they well priced, the patches are supple and reliable, and there is a choice of different kits to suit different tube sizes. It’s also possible to buy the patches on their own to make the most of the tube of glue that is supplied with each kit.
If there is a trick to using a puncture repair kit then it is this: be patient when waiting for the glue to dry (and always allow for extra time when working in the cold). This is almost impossible to do on the side of the road, which is why I carry at least one spare tube when I’m on the bike. Once I’m home, I can apply the glue and busy myself with another task until the tube is ready for patching.
Feedback Sports Velo Wall Post
Feedback Sports markets its Velo Wall Post as a storage solution, however I find it also makes for a very handy work stand. Sure, it won’t hold the bike steady like a true work stand, but it’s not nearly as expensive, and it doesn’t take up as much room. And for simple jobs like cleaning the bike, running the gears, or removing the wheels, it’s ideal.
I’ve been able to carry out cable changes, re-align derailleur hangers, bleed brakes, and even true wheels while the bike has been hooked by its saddle on the Velo Wall Post. The only time a bike has ever been at risk of falling off the post was when it was fitted with a saddle that had a very short nose.
The arm of this nifty storage device/work stand is lined with rubber strips and it folds up when not in use. The latter was the main attraction for me because I didn’t want to run the risk of a family member gouging an eye or getting coat-hangered by it when moving around our garage. In this regard, I’m happy to report that nobody has been injured, and after a couple of years of regular use, the Velo Wall Post is still going strong.
Clément LCV clincher tyres
I was impressed with Clément’s LCV clinchers when I reviewed them about a year ago, and since then, they’ve ended up on many of the wheels that come in for review. In the first instance, it was a matter of necessity, but as time passed, I started reaching for them in favour of any others.
It’s the suppleness of the LCV’s that I really savour. That, and the way the tyres sing, especially when paired with latex tubes. These tyres run on the small side of their nominal sizing, so I’d recommend 25C as a good starting point for those considering a set.
Finally, it’s worth noting that after licensing the Clément name from Pirelli for the last seven years, Donnelly Sports will apply its own name to all of the tyres in its current catalogue. Importantly, the model names will remain unchanged so the LCV will live on while the future for Clément remains unclear.
MAAP Base collection
I reviewed MAAP’s Base bibshorts, winter long sleeve jersey and thermal vest in September last year, and each article has remained a firm favourite since then. The bibshorts have proven to be versatile all-rounders (except in cold conditions) and only show signs of minor wear-and-tear after more than a year of regular use.
The long-sleeved jersey and the vest have truly won my heart. The sure fit and plush comfort that each garment offers is superb, and while they offer some insulation against chilly conditions, I wouldn’t recommend either for truly cold weather. For me and the mild winter that has just passed on the west coast of Australia, they were perfect.
With all of that said, MAAP’s prices are still a hurdle, especially for the bibshorts. There are plenty of more affordable options that can match the performance of the Base bibshort (e.g. Sportful’s BodyFit Classic bibshort), so I would always buy them first. But the long sleeve jersey — that’s a garment I’d pay to have at least one more of in my wardrobe.
Price: bibshorts, AUD$310 (~US$239/€205/£180); long-sleeved jersey, AUD$235 (~US$180/€155/£136); thermal vest AUD$230 (~US$178/€152/£134).
Stelbel SB/03 frameset
If it wasn’t clear from my review just a few months ago, Stelbel’s SB/03 won my heart like no other bike that I’ve reviewed. Perhaps that’s simply because I’ve long held a bias for steel as a framebuilding material, but I believe that the SB/03 proves that the material has more to offer than simply romance and nostalgia.
The magic was in the ride quality of the bike. The balance of feedback and sensations was perfect, like the ideal mix for your favourite song. As a result, the SB/03 was consistently a joy to ride, and it seemed to shine at its brightest on long outings. When combined with its classy, self-assured styling, the result is thoroughly satisfying.
As you can imagine, I was reluctant to send the SB/03 back to Italy. But at the same time, I’m also buoyed by the prospect of placing an order for one of my own, especially after seeing Stelbel’s Campari Red. Yes, there is a lead time that might extend to several months, but the price is an absolute bargain for a custom-built frameset.
Price: €2,100 (~AUD$3,100/US$2,450/£1,845) (excluding VAT).
While my experience with GravelPlus is limited to just one encounter, namely 3T’s Exploro, I see real merit in the thinking behind bikes (not all of which wear the GravelPlus moniker) that are built around two wheels sizes (i.e. 700c and 650b/27.5inch). At the very least it acknowledges there is more to consider when taking a road bike onto unpaved roads/trails than simply leaving the bitumen behind.
Of course, there comes a point when the most prudent choice for riding off-road is an off-road bike. And for a bike like the Exploro where the frameset costs just as much as a decent MTB, the whole notion starts to look a little ridiculous. That there is a new and growing market for gravel-specific suspension forks only seems to add to the spectacle (for some reason, I can’t shake the image of a monster truck).
For me, it’s my immediate environment that really dictates the appeal of this concept. While there are a handful of groomed trails that can be tamed with 25C tyres, the rest of my options are rugged and littered with rocks that will open up anything less than a 35C tyre with the ease of a surgeon. So when I think about a bike with disc brakes that is versatile enough to tackle the unpaved roads in my part of the world, I think about a GravelPlus bike.