Ten products I loved in 2018: James Huang
Another lap around the sun has brought me some of the usual gifts — a little more grey hair, a little less fitness, a lot more grumpiness — but also a rash of cycling products that really got me legitimately excited. A few of these items are easy picks given their high-performance and/or innovative nature, but others are so small that they almost be insignificant were it not for the oversized impact they’ve had on me. A few weren’t even new to me in 2018, but rather only revealed their true virtue over the long haul.
Either way, these are all products I choose to ride myself when given the opportunity, and have even bought with my own money in several instances, too. Ultimately, that’s the highest endorsement I can give.
Enve SES AR 4.5 Disc wheelset
It’s now been two years since I reviewed the Enve SES AR 4.5 Disc wheelset, and I’m still blown away every time I get on them (Enve has kindly allowed me to hold on to them for reference purposes). I’m even more blown away by the fact that no other company has mimicked the idea yet. People are already on the wide-tire bandwagon at this point, after all, and it only makes sense to make wider wheels to match, no?
The inner width is unusually wide at a whopping 25mm across — about 5mm wider than the norm for road wheels — and the 31mm external width is designed to maintain a smooth aero profile when matched with 28-30mm tires. That kind of air volume lends an ultra-pillowy ride quality along with copious amounts of grip, and all without any sacrifice in aerodynamic performance or rolling resistance. They’re even light at just 1,519g per pair.
Simply put, these wheels have made every road bike I’ve installed them on better. At this point, Enve is going to have to personally send someone to my house to pry them out of my cold, dead hands. If there’s something better out there, I haven’t ridden them yet.
Price: US$2,700 / AU$4,100 / £2,400 / €TBC
Trust Performance Message suspension fork
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t logged enough time on the new Trust Performance Message suspension fork to decide if it’s really better than top-end telescopic forks. But between my preview test rides back in August and a couple of rides now on local trails, I do at least have enough time on it to conclude that it represents a genuine revolution in mountain bike front suspension.
The massive carbon fiber structure delivers a huge boost in steering precision (even over the bulbous Fox 36 I normally ride), the cartridge bearing-equipped linkage design yields a level of small-bump suppleness that no other fork I’ve ridden can match, and the effect the unique axle path has on steering geometry has to be ridden to be believed.
Does the Message’s performance justify its lofty price tag? To be fair, no one’s ever going to make a valid value argument here no matter how good this thing is. But I was a wholehearted devotee to linkage-type suspension forks years ago, and I’m super excited to see the idea return to the fore, especially at this level of execution.
Price: US$2,700 (international pricing TBC)
Redshift ShockStop stem
I didn’t want to like this thing as much as I did. In fact, I’d even put off installing the review sample that company co-founder Stephen Anhert handed off to me one day at the Interbike trade show. But I eventually relented, and man, am I glad I did.
I personally don’t have much need for a suspension stem on my road bike (Colorado tarmac is pretty good), but the ShockStop is a game-changer for gravel and mixed terrain. The added comfort is nice to have, but what I really cherish is the enhanced control and front-wheel traction the 20mm of travel provides when things get bumpy. In those situations, it’s not the extra 100g or so of extra weight that I’m thinking about, but rather how much faster I’m able to go.
Would I prefer that this were a little lighter? Sure. A little better-looking? Absolutely. But my hands have no complaints, and that’s arguably all that matters.
Price: US$140 (international pricing TBC)
Velocio Radiator jersey
When people think of weather in Colorado, they usually think of cold, snowy winters. While we do get our fair share of chilly days, the summers can also be blazing hot with ridiculously intense sunshine. And on those days this year, I found myself wishing more than once that I had a closet full of Velocio’s Radiator jerseys. I’m a huge fan of the more openly cut neck, the snug-fitting body, and the longer sleeves. But what makes this jersey special is the Polartec Delta fabric.
Unlike most hot-weather fabrics, Polartec Delta isn’t meant to aggressively wick all of your sweat off to the outside of the garment. Instead, it supposedly holds just a bit of it so as to enhance your body’s natural evaporative cooling process — sort of like a built-in mister. I initially wrote off Polartec’s claims as yet another marketing gimmick, but after comparing this with a bunch of other high-end, hot-weather jerseys this summer, I was sold.
The styling is refreshingly clean and simple, too, and it’s even reasonably priced, all things considered.
Price: US$139 / AU$154 / £109 / €125
Gore C5 Gore-Tex ShakeDry 1985 insulated ShakeDry jacket
I’ve already made it clear that I’m hugely impressed with Gore’s ShakeDry outerwear fabric. It’s supremely wind- and waterproof, incredibly packable, and phenomenally breathable. It’s expensive, a bit fragile, and only made in a very limited palette of darker colors, but it really is incredible stuff. Gore recently introduced an insulated version for wintertime riding, and I’ve worn it on nearly every cold-weather ride since.
The exterior of the jacket features the same ShakeDry material as the shells I’ve worn before, but inside is a thin layer of Polartec Alpha insulation that I’ve found to be shockingly warm given the minimal volume and mass. Even down to the freezing mark, I can comfortably just wear a lightweight jersey or heavier long-sleeve base layer underneath and be perfectly cozy. More importantly, I don’t have to worry about getting soaked from within when charging up a climb, and then getting chilled on the way back down.
I do wish there was more color on it for visibility purposes, along with better storage options out back. But aside from those minor complaints, this one is a keeper.
Price: US$350 / AU$520 / £320 / €350
Schwalbe G-One Allround tires
I’ve ridden an awful lot of tires over the years, but I haven’t found any that are as good at just about everything than the Schwalbe G-One Allround — specifically, in the 700x35c size.
On paper, this tire doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The moderately supple casing and generous array of tiny tread dots should make for heaps of rolling resistance, and it’s hardly a lightweight at 400g apiece. But it feels fast on tarmac and offers a wonderfully cushy ride nonetheless, and grips far better on dirt than appearances would suggest. It also sets up tubeless reliably and easily, and at least on my local roads, has proven impressively durable as well.
I’m sure there are options out there that are faster-rolling, lighter, grippier, or whatever. But at least for the riding that I generally do day-in and day-out, these things are absolutely perfect.
Price: US$84 (international pricing TBC)
Bontrager Blendr accessory mounts
This is one of those things I’ve taken for granted, but forgotten that most people don’t even know exists — except for the fact that countless people have asked me about them this year every time they’ve seen them on my bike.
I’m a huge proponent of daytime running lights, but not of things cluttering up my bike. Bontrager’s Flare series of lights was already one of my favorites, and the company’s range of clever Blendr integrated mounts only further cements that position further in my book.
The full Blendr system is designed around a specific collection of stems, but the front light mounts are all also meant to work with GoPro-style finned mounts. When you combine one of those adapters with the underside mounts that K-Edge, Bar Fly, and others offer for their out-front computer mounts, what you get is a sleek setup that combines your computer and front light all in one. Oncoming traffic still gets an eye-full of my front blinker, but from the saddle, it’s all out of sight, out of mind, just as it should be.
Bell Sixer MIPS helmet
One of my favorite products from last year was the Bell Zephyr/Z20 road helmet. While the ventilation, fit, and (seemingly) protection were all outstanding, it was Bell’s clever sweat management that really won me over. And so I was thrilled to see the company incorporate that remarkably effective tabbed browpad into the Sixer off-road helmet last year so I no longer had to deal with sweat in my eyes on the trail, either.
Just like with the Zephyr/Z20, the Sixer uses a neat dual-layer construction with two shells and two different foam densities, with the thicknesses of the foam strategically modified depending on how likely your head is to hit the ground there. There’s generous rear coverage, too, plus excellent ventilation, a nicely indexed adjustable visor, a comfy and secure retention system, and a fully covered lower edge so that the helmet will stay new-looking for longer.
There’s even a removable light/camera mount up top (which is awesome for my Tuesday night MTB/fat bike group ride), and if you prefer goggles, there’s also a rubber patch on the back to keep the strap in place.
And have I mentioned yet that Bell offers this in 17 different color combinations?
Price: US$150 / AU$250 / £150 / €170
POC Index DH gloves
I’ve been wearing full-fingered mountain bike gloves since the early 1990s, when Answer first brought some of its moto line over to the MTB world. And in that time, I’ve found a few that were really good, and a lot that were either just so-so or were just plain awful. A few years ago, though, I found the POC Index DH — and that’s pretty much all I’ve worn since.
POC markets these for downhill riding, but they’re sufficiently lightweight and breathable that I use them year-round for everything. There’s a fair bit of padding on the outer three first knuckles and outer two second knuckles to ward off trees and rocks, but because the padding is rate-dependent (meaning it stays soft and pliable in normal use, but stiffens up upon impact), it doesn’t affect dexterity or flexibility. As is my preference, there’s also pretty much no padding on the palms, and the fit is just oh-so-perfect: snug enough so they don’t move around, but cut just right so that there’s no restriction in movement, either.
Best of all, these things have been practically bulletproof. The little silicone rubber appliqués on the fingertips eventually wear off, but the palm and finger material is seemingly made of iron, and I have a few pairs that are running on three or four seasons that still look almost new (even after a few crashes).
POC has discontinued this particular model, but there are updated versions available if and when my current stock wears out. At the current rate, though, I’ll never need them.
Price: US$70 / AU$TBC / £70 / €80 (current Resistance Pro DH model)
Handlebar Mustache winter socks
I’d previously been a diehard devotee of wool socks when the mercury drops, but the incredible warmth provided by Handlebar Mustache’s synthetic winter socks converted me earlier this year.
Company co-founder Brett Richard is proudly vegan, so wool just wasn’t an option for him. Instead, Handlebar Mustache’s winter socks are made of hollow Thermolite synthetic fibers, which not only do a great job of trapping warm air next to your feet, but also feel impressively cozy and hold up better over time than wool. The wide range of fun colors and patterns is a big plus, too, as is the fact that the company donates one pair to local homeless shelters for every two sold at retail.
Price: US$23 (international pricing based on current exchange rates)