Ten products I loved in 2018: Caley Fretz
Oh, it’s my turn? Okay. Let’s do this.
In this equipment-centric sport, picking ten beloved products from an entire year of riding is like holding a mirror up to yourself. What kind of rider am I? What do I value within the world of cycling these days? In aggregate, the products below are an answer.
I’m fond of dirt and travel and I really like candy, apparently.
650b for gravel
If you squint your eyes just right while staring at my gravel bike it looks a lot like a mountain bike from 1985, except with better brakes and drop bars. And for a lot of my riding, that’s just perfect.
I love 650b. I love it to an unreasonable degree. Whenever I get back on a groad bike with 700c wheels I feel a sense of loss, like something’s been taken from me. That something, I think, is fun.
There are lots of good 650b tires out there. I’m running a Donnelly Xplor MSO 650×50 on the front and a Donnelly Strada USH 650×50 rear at the moment. Both are basically slicks, by mountain bike standards. And since they’re mountain bike sizes, that seems like the standard by which they should be measured. Pumped up to the right pressure, rolling resistance feels identical to a 700x40mm or so. Maybe even faster, on bad surfaces. I’m serious. I know it looks like that’s impossible, but it’s not.
I can also personally recommend WTB’s Byway in 650x47mm.
These fat tires roll just as fast, but they’re so much more versatile. I can pop onto singletrack, bomb around unknown corners, hit little jumps. I can do five-hour rides in the mountains that include road climbs, singletrack descents, and hours of dirt roads. I can ride just about anywhere.
Yes, I’ve re-invented a 1985 mountain bike, put drop bars on it like John Tomac, and added brakes that actually work. Turns out Tomac was onto something.
Overlander, by Rupert Guinness
I’ll admit bias here — Rupert is a good friend and my co-host during our daily Tour de France podcasts — but I would recommend Overlander even if I’d never met the man. Ostensibly the story of a ride across Australia, Overlander goes far deeper. I won’t ruin it for you, just pick one up and enjoy.
Specialized S-Works Turbo Hell of the North
This is the best road tire I’ve ridden in a long time, but that’s because I have a pretty narrow definition of what makes a good road tire.
Specialized made Hell of the North tubulars for its sponsored riders in the spring classics. They are basically 28mm Turbo Cottons with a thicker puncture belt and tread that wraps a bit further down the casing for added protection. The Turbo Cotton is a great race tire, but it’s delicate. The Hell of the North version, as you can probably guess, is much less delicate.
The Hell of the North still has that smooth, fast road feel people love from the Turbo Cottons. The added rubber hasn’t ruined that. In fact, the burlier construction makes little perceptible difference to speed (these are still race tires after all) but makes the Hell of the North’s impressively durable. I’ve ridden these on nasty, sharp gravel that would shred most race tires and they came out unscathed.
So it feels like a race tire, but when the going gets rough it doesn’t act like one. And that’s my definition of a good road tire.
Bag of watermelon flavored knockoff Twizzlers
You could buy fancy, expensive ride food. Or for the price of one energy bar you could buy an entire bag of these things.
People knock the Twizzlers candy sticking out of my back pocket until I pull one out at hour four of a five hour day and hand over a sweet, slightly salty, utterly delicious tube of sugar. Then they finally grasp the depths of my nutritional genius.
Price: About $2
Mavic Allroad insulated vest
Layers are king around here. That’s why big, thick winter jackets are useless. If you can’t take it off and stash it in a pocket, it’s just going make you sweaty on the way up and freezing cold on the way down. You’ll end up worse off.
A thick, insulated vest, on the other hand, is amazing. Unzip it and it flaps around behind you — no overheating. Zip it up and it keeps your core warm for the way down.
Honestly, any insulated vest does the trick. The Patagonia piece you hike in? Yep, give it a try. But if you want something made for riding, with a slightly shorter front and longer tail, Mavic’s Allroad insulated vest is just about perfect.
Oru Case airport ninja bike bag
I’ve flown just over 75,000 miles this year and brought a bike along for almost every one of them. How many bike fees have I paid?
American carriers are horrible to cyclists. United, for example, charges over $200 each way to fly with your bike on an international flight. Others aren’t much better. I’ve saved around $2000 this year on bike fees thanks to the compact Oru case. That pays for the case four times over.
Oru cases do require a bit more mechanical aptitude, as you’ll have to remove your fork. For bigger sizes (or bikes with long wheelbases, like a 56cm gravel bike) you may have to take off the cranks as well. But I’ll happily do quite a bit of wrenching to save $400 per trip.
Airlines suck, as a general rule. Don’t let them take your money.
Velocio Signature shorts
I have a bucket of bib shorts. It lives under the bed. When the laundry is done and the bucket is full and I have before me the full breadth of bib short options available to a hard hitting bike stuff journalist like myself, I always pick up these same Velocio shorts.
They’re the most comfortable shorts I own. Legs are the right length, straps are good and wide, leg grippers don’t bite, chamois is perfectly placed and not too thick or too thin.
Actually, Velocio makes a really nice insulated vest, too. It’s called the Recon, it’s very warm, but it’s also quite expensive ($260usd).
Yanco handlebar bag
Last year was the year of the bum bag. This year is the year of the handlebar bag. To be honest, each has its uses, benefits and drawbacks. But if I had to pick just one, it would be the handlebar bag.
This Yanco is just the right size. It will fit a small camera (forget Strava, if you didn’t Instagram it it definitely didn’t happen), food, a light jacket — whatever you need. It’s roughly equivalent in space to 1.5 big, stretchy rear pockets.
Price: made to order
Smartmotion Pacer ebike
This isn’t actually mine. It’s my wife’s. She rides it to work, 17 miles (27km) each way. She used to do that on her road bike sometimes, but it took well over an hour and she’d arrive sweaty, with no showers available. Then she’d have to ride against our usual Western winds all the way home at the end of the day. Brutal.
On her ebike it takes 40 minutes regardless of wind and she can do it in jeans.
We picked up this Smartmotion from our neighbor, who runs a shop called Front Range Cargo Bikes (shameless plug, Ryan’s a good neighbor) here in Boulder. It has brake lights, built-in running lights, a nifty LED screen, great battery life, good brakes, and it goes fast without much effort. That was the key. For us, carrying capacity took a backseat to speed. The goal was to keep her commute short and easy and get her out of the car.
She put 1500 miles (2400km) on that ebike in the three months after we got it. That’s about 50 hours that wasn’t spent in cars. And that alone makes it one of my favorite products of the year.
Note the Bar Mitts currently mounted up to the handlebars. They may look dorky, but wow do they work. A thin glove liner is all that’s needed even in temperatures below freezing.
A truck with a tent on the roof
Okay, this isn’t a bicycle. But I’m not recommending the vehicle so much as a mindset.
We put together a little video from Rebecca’s Private Idaho this year that involved us flying to Idaho (avoiding cars, actually) and riding the event. The point of that video was that getting away from your home roads, into unfamiliar areas that force exploration, is a great way to keep the riding fire alive.
The truck does something similar. I know I just talked about how great ebikes are precisely because they aren’t cars, but the right vehicle can do some good. It can take you to Moab, Utah for example, to ride the Whole Enchilada with your dad. Or it can four-wheel high into the mountains. You can put a tent on the roof (ours is a Tepui, and it’s great) and a little kitchen in the back and make it a house on wheels. It’s a mobile basecamp. It can take you to trails, roads, and places you’ve never been.
This vehicle has encouraged and enabled us to ride in new and interesting locations, and for that, I think it’s pretty great.
Another option: Find a friend with a truck. That works almost as well and is far cheaper.
Price: About three Specialized S-Works Venges