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by Iain Treloar
December 12, 2018
A year-end tradition at CyclingTips, these lists allow our editors to highlight the products they loved the most in the year. Here, our production editor Iain Treloar shares his shining lights of 2018.
The Schwalbe G-Ones are getting a lot of love in the lists of my fellow editors, and with good reason: they’re supple, grippy, seat easily and roll quickly. And, actually, I kinda love them too. But for tyres of that ilk, there’s another that deserves a mention.
The Panaracer Gravel King comes in a wide array of sizes and a number of tread patterns – the standard Gravel King is basically a file-tread road slick; the SK has square knobs and a more aggressive shoulder, and is well-suited to a wide variety of conditions; the Mud is more aggressive again. The SK in a 700×35 – which measures up closer to 37-38mm – is, for my riding conditions, the pick of the litter. It fills a very similar niche to the Schwalbe G-One All-Round, but in my use has been far ahead when it comes to durability. I don’t know what secret sauce Panaracer use with their casing, but it’s shrugged off absolutely everything I can throw at it in the last 18 months. No flats, no cuts, and almost no wear – it just keeps going.
As well as being longer lasting than the G-One, the Panaracer Gravel King SK does pretty much everything its rival does so well. It’s fast, comfortable and grippy on a range of surfaces (unless it gets too sloppy). My number one criteria for tyres can be boiled down to this: I want something that performs well for as long as possible. There’s no gravel tyre I’ve encountered that trumps the Panaracer in this regard, and few in any other metric either.
Sweeping statement: not enough people care about their quick release skewers. I used to be the same, putting up with creaks and sticky levers for far too long. That changed last Christmas, when my partner bought me a pair of Paul’s skewers, which have been making me feel tiny flashes of joy every time I use them ever since.
Using an internal cam, they’re silky smooth to operate and protected from the elements, gliding open and shut with ease. They don’t creak, ever. They’re absolutely rock solid. And they’re very, very pretty, with jewel-like orange anodising (on which point I’m both vain enough and honest enough to admit that’s why they ended up on my Christmas list in the first place). If you’re squarely focused on absolute performance, you won’t be impressed with their heft, and they’re certainly not a budget option. But to me, they’re perfect.
Price: From US$71 (per end)
Another one that falls into the expensive, beautiful, US-made and functionally perfect category, the SpurCycle bell landed on some lists last year and it won’t surprise anyone who’s used one that it’s still superb in 2018. It oozes quality, has a clear chime-like tone which resonates for ages, and in my testing is roughly 400%* more effective at clearing a path through the pedestrian hordes than the crappy bells I’ve got on my other bikes.
*statistic has 80% likelihood of being fabricated
Price: From US$49
As I spend more time riding on gravel, I find my desire to get fully kitted up in lycra waning. And as I go further down this path, I look for items of clothing that perform well on the bike while still looking ‘normal’ off it.
One of my favourite garments in this vein are Rapha’s excellent Randonnee shorts, which I’ve been using for the last couple of years. But with changing life priorities, I find it increasingly difficult to justify dropping $155 on a pair of shorts – even excellent ones – which is where Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo’s Kando shorts come in. Made of a similarly stretchy synthetic fabric, the Kandos are light, unrestrictive and look tailored rather than enduro.
Granted, they’re not quite as good as the Rapha Randonnees– I miss having zipped pockets, for instance – but they are otherwise very similar in function and style, and they only cost me $20 on sale. For that, I’m happy to put up with second best.
If time travel’s ever invented, don’t go back to the version of myself about three years ago and upset them by telling them this, but here goes: I had a light-bulb moment this year about top-tube bags. Having written on-bike storage off as a little dorky – and stuffing my jersey pockets full until they sagged and swayed – something clicked when I read this bar bag review by my colleague Dave Rome. And when another colleague loaned me this Specialized top-tube bag, I started experimenting. It took only about 2km for me to grasp what I’d been missing.
For most of my longer rides these days, I don’t go without that top-tube bag. I run it upside down, because it gets in the way of my knees on the top. Inside goes all the stuff that I would’ve normally filled jersey pockets with – a mini pump, keys, phone, clothes, snacks – freeing my torso up for easier movement and opening up my clothing choices, which increasingly lean away from lycra. It’s just a silly little bag, sure, but it plays a surprisingly large role in the shift my riding’s going through.
Disclaimer: I reckon a good bar bag will work even better for me. It’s on my Christmas list, but for now, I can’t offer any first-hand comment on it.
If you hadn’t picked up the gravel-heavy vibe yet on this list, I’ve got a bit of complicated relationship with road cycling. It’s not the surface, it’s the company. There have been enough close calls to put the fear into me on the 200km a week I spend commuting on the road that when I want to enjoy cycling, it tends to be as far away from cars as possible. I’ve had a stream of quite nice road bikes, most recently a Moots Vamoots CR, but even the joy of that amazing machine was eventually lost to me. In the end, I just saw thousands of dollars tied up in a beautiful pursuit that I was falling out of love with.
When I downgraded from that bike, I went with a Ritchey Road Logic. It cost about a third the price, has a touch more tyre clearance, looks cool and does everything I want of it. This is the second Road Logic I’ve owned, and the 2018 version’s better than its predecessor: clearance for 30mm tyres, a slightly higher stack and a longer wheelbase give it a more cruisy ride character that flatters the ride and suits what I’m after to a tee. On the right day, on this bike, I remember everything that I love about road cycling, and sometimes even more.
Price: US$1,179 (frameset)
For all that bike rack manufacturers try to sell you on the simplicity of their products, they’re really a bit of a faff by the time you’ve deciphered what rails, racks, footplates and hitch you need. Or you could bypass all of that and just use suction.
There are plenty of people who haven’t used SeaSuckers that are nervous about the idea of them, but that’s all in the perception. They work simply and beautifully. My rack and the bike on it have survived two-day-long road trips and crazy winds without complaint. And when you’re done with using it, it takes about three seconds to pop the rack off the roof, saving you from the wind-drag and noise of more conventional roof racks. And finally: the SeaSucker is small enough and light enough that you can bring it with you when travelling, allowing you to use it on the roof of rental cars.
For my occasional use on a silly little car filled with the infrastructure associated with a toddler, the Talon is just about ideal.
Knog’s products aren’t always home runs, but the PWR Road front light most certainly is. The genius behind it lies in its modular set-up. The battery pack is removable and the light heads are interchangeable, so you can use the battery as a power-bank for charging other devices or swap in a brighter head for off-road use. Add to that an impressive battery life and punchy 600 lumen output, along with a mount that slings the light tidily under the bar beneath a Garmin, and you’ve got an impressive combination of selling features. After having tolerated low output, terrible brackets or mediocre battery life on all my other headlights prior to this one, the PWR Road was a revelation.
[Scene: garage, interior, sunny winter day. Father tinkers with a bike. Daughter potters about side of stage, waiting for an opportunity to help pump up tyres, etcetera.]
Q: What do you want for your birthday?
Q: What kind of bike?
A: Purple bike.
And with that firm directive, I embarked on the most important bike purchase of my life. A very important second birthday was a few months away, and I had a mission: find a purple balance bike for my kid.
Having worked in bike shops for about a decade, I knew the basics of balance bikes but only in the kind of abstract way that you have when you’re in your teens or twenties and having children of your own seems a fathomless eternity away. In 2018, with the studious diligence and mild terror of a first time father, I took a deep breath and dove into research.
My first dumb revelation was that kids don’t weigh much – a 4kg balance bike to a toddler would be the equivalent of an adult trying to control a 25kg bruiser without pedals. In a stroke, that ruled out half the market. Second: bikes are important to me, so I wanted my daughter’s first experience with one to be as pleasant as possible – no penny pinching. Third: it needed to be a purple bike.
We ended up with a Cruzee. She loves it, even if she doesn’t quite get it yet; I know this because she has tantrums when we put it back in the garage, and she got stunned into indignant silence that one time a boy at the park borrowed it, and when we got home she ever so gently put a tiny red sticker off-centre of the middle of the handlebar to claim it as hers.
Has there been a more talked about bike in 2018 than the Canyon Grail? The German brand’s first foray into gravel blew up the internet with its zany handlebar and concept-bike appearance. There was outright derision. There were memes. I’ve no idea how well the Grail sold – I suspect it wasn’t racing off the shelves – but at the very least it got people talking.
Now let me let you in on a little secret from someone who’s spent five months on one: it’s actually pretty good.
I don’t ask much from the bikes I ride, but at the same time I ask the world. I want them to get the hell out of the way. I want them not to be an obstacle in my pursuit of whatever it is that I need from riding on that particular day, whether that’s getting to work or disappearing off into the wide blue yonder. I want a bike to be perfectly functional to the point of invisibility, to let me go deep and then deeper still.
The Canyon Grail does that. I think a bunch of folks want to anthropomorphise it as some eccentric, vaguely unhinged mad scientist of a thing, but truthfully, it just rides like a nice gravel bike. It’s got the best rear-end comfort I’ve experienced outside of a Domane, which is all the more amazing seeing as there are no mechanical contraptions to make it so. It’s quick, and it’s light. And those handlebars? They’re visually jarring, and I don’t know if the up-top comfort Canyon claim is enough to justify a complete redesign of a cockpit, but I will say that the position in the drops is the best I’ve encountered on any bike. Now that this bike’s gone back to Canyon, I genuinely miss it.
If you expect great things of a product, half of its battle is already won. The measure of how good the Grail is, is that I came in a sceptic but ended up a fan regardless.
Price: From US$2,299/AU$3,199