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In the next instalment of the products our editors loved in 2018, Australian tech editor, Matt Wikstrom, shares his picks. Some of this stuff came across his desk for review, while others, he’s been using for years. In every case, he shares the reasons for his devotion to each of them.
Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset
2018 ushered in Shimano’s next iteration for its Ultegra groupset, and it has proven to be a good one. R8000 inherited many of the innovations developed for Dura-Ace R9100, as well as its aesthetics, to become a little darker and more angular than R6800. And for the first time, there are four versions of the groupset to choose from as rim- and disc-brakes are matched to mechanical and electronic derailleurs.
In practical terms, I have to agree with my colleague David Rome that R8000 does not do much to shift the needle, but that’s because the R6800 was already very good (in both its mechanical and Di2 guises). The refinements do add up, though, especially for the disc-brake groups, which had been hobbling along with piecemeal additions for the levers and brakes before this update. In this regard, I count the ST-R8070 Dual Control Di2/hydraulic lever as perhaps the biggest triumph, which manages to match the ergonomics of the Di2 rim-brake lever.
Shimano learned long ago how to bring the best of Dura-Ace to a much lower price point, which is why Ultegra has been a real crowd-pleaser for many years. R8000 simply adheres to this successful formula, which should delight every mid-level shopper. They won’t have to look far to find a bike with R8000, but there is one temptation that is worth considering: if the money is there, then I highly recommend the Di2 version (R8050).
Price: R8000 (rim brakes), US$1,094 / AU$1,499 / £1,099 / €900; R8050 (rim brakes), US$1,871 / AU$2,072 / £1,789 / €1,533
Of all the bikes that I reviewed this year, the one that stood out was Chapter2’s Rere. It was light, fast, easy to ride, and it looked fantastic. Strictly speaking, it’s a race bike, but anyone that is a latent hoon is likely to be enthralled by this bike. I certainly was, to the point where it helped me realise that a large part of my attraction for cycling rests with the sheer joy of riding a bike fast.
Price:US$2,699 / AU$3,630 / £2,227 / €2,513
Schwalbe G-One Allround tubeless tyres
When I encountered Schwalbe’s G-One Allround tyres for the first time two years ago, I was immediately impressed with how well they performed on mixed surfaces. The tiny low-profile knobs rolled smoothly over paved surfaces, yet provided a surprising amount of grip on gravelly terrain. Indeed, the G-One Allround was a near-perfect match for the dusty and rocky limestone base that forms the unpaved roads and trails in my neighbourhood.
The G-One Allround is available in a few different sizes, but the important thing to take notice of is the distinction between Performance and Evolution versions of this tyre. Both share the same versatile tread, however the former requires a tube, while the latter can be used tubeless. Back in 2016, I was using the Performance version, and the only thing that held it back was its susceptibility to pinch-flats at low pressures (<40psi).
Needless to say, the Evolution version is the wisest choice for gravel riding. I’ve been using this tyre in a 700 x 38c size for the bulk of my gravel riding over the last twelve months without any issues (or catastrophic slide-outs). I’ve found that 30psi is well suited to off-road riding, while 40psi is a better choice for the road, so I split the difference and use 35psi. I can make the transition from paved to unpaved terrain with plenty of confidence at that pressure, though some care is required around rocks, because the light, supple casing won’t resist cuts.
Price: US$80 / AU$110 / £69 / €60
Stan’s NoTubes Race sealant
I started using Stan’s Race sealant a several months ago, and I’m glad I made the change. Up until then, the company’s standard formula had been my tubeless sealant of choice without complaint because it was easy to use, and reliable, too, both in terms of sealing a tubeless tyre, and plugging punctures.
In the past, any puncture of my tubeless tyres was accompanied by a squirt of sealant before it was plugged. It would end up on my bike, shoes, and/or legs, leaving me in no doubt as to what had just happened. There was rarely, if ever, a noticeable change in tyre pressure so the only drawback was that the sealant was a little difficult to clean off the bike.
Stan’s Race sealant is designed to seal bigger punctures at a faster rate, and while I haven’t formally tested its capabilities, I watched just how quickly it can act after pulling a nail from my tyre a month or two ago. I had picked it up without a sound or a squirt of sealant, so I was quite surprised when I discovered it while waiting at a set of traffic lights.
I hesitated for a moment before I pulled the nail, pondering where the spray might go, but there was nothing to fear. A tiny lava-like droplet was all that emerged, which slowed and then hardened before my eyes. I plucked the small tag from the tyre a few days later and that was the end of the matter.
According to Stan’s, Race sealant cannot be injected into the tyre via the valve, because it will instantly seal it. I’ve always poured sealant into an open tyre, so I can’t count this as any kind of demand. A recent check of my tyres revealed that there is still plenty of fluid sloshing around in them, however some clogging of the valves may have occurred, since they are slow to release air. Thus, a little extra effort may be required to clean up the valves from time to time, but that’s a minor quibble compared to how well this stuff seems to work.
Price: US$39 / AU$50 / £32 / €TBC
Boa IP1 dial
Boa’s IP1 dial has been around for a few years, but I’m still impressed with just how well this little device works for closing a shoe. For the uninitiated, it ratchets in both directions for increasing and decreasing tension on the foot, while pulling up on it unlocks the spool to allow a quick exit from the shoe. As such, it’s simple to use, and in my hands, it has been extremely reliable. The IP1 dials on my shoes have not missed a beat in four years of almost daily use despite regular exposure to rain and dust.
Shoppers won’t have to look far to find a shoe equipped with IP1 dials, however they tend to be a high-end feature for race-oriented models. Shimano, Fizik, Pearl Izumi, Bont, Scott, Giant, and Louis Garneau are amongst the brands that use them, with some interesting differences in how they are positioned.
Price: free with a variety of cycling shoes
Thomson Elite seatpost
I’ve been road cycling for three decades, and in that time, the one part of the bike that has consistently suffered with my use has been the seatpost. I don’t have a good explanation for this, though I have a habit of fiddling with the position of my saddle. This was especially true in the past when I was constantly experimenting with my position, however I remain sensitive to minor changes in the height, setback, and angle of the saddle.
As a result, I’ve come to prize function over form as far as any seatpost is concerned. The adjustment bolts should be easy to access, and ideally, it should be possible to make adjustments to the angle of the saddle while I’m out on a ride. At same time, the cradle should provide a firm and unrelenting hold on the saddle, even when the rear wheel takes a hard hit with all my weight in place.
This is where Thomson’s Elite (and Masterpiece) seatpost shines. The two-bolt cradle is robust yet highly adjustable with bolts that are easy to find, even when I’m using the saddle. This post doesn’t manage to separate saddle angle adjustment from setback like Moots’ outstanding Cinch post, but it is available in a far wider range of sizes and is considerably cheaper.
Price: US$100 / AU$135 / £80 / €99
Mr Sheen is an Australian icon, though our North American readers probably won’t recognise the brand, or the little bespectacled mascot that loves to sing about the merits of this cleaning product. I grew up during the ‘70s and ‘80s with Mr Sheen in the house, but it wasn’t until I started working in a bike shop during the late ‘90s that I ever used it to clean a bike.
This all-surface polish was a mainstay in the workshop, and one use was enough to convince me. It sprays on like a waxy foam that will dislodge a lot of grime while providing a bit of extra gloss for the finish of the frame. As such, Mr Sheen is perfect for a quick clean up of any bike, though it is not particularly effective on matte surfaces, including carbon. Metals, on the other hand, respond brilliantly.
Mr Sheen is cheap and can be found in most supermarkets in Australia so it’s not hard to keep the home workshop stocked with this stuff. Don’t be tempted by generic brands, though; at one point during my time as a mechanic, an attempt at cutting costs caused a small uproar in the workshop because the cheap stuff was simply terrible to use.
[Editor’s note: For our North American readers, Pledge furniture polish is very similar to Mr. Sheen – and you can get it in a fresh lemon scent, too.]
Fyxo ‘King Bright+ light
Fyxo’s ‘King Bright light is another product that has been on the market, in one form or another, for several years. I had my first experience with this light a few years ago, and it left a lasting impression. The lamp could punch a big hole in the dark for at least a few hours, the battery was easy to stow, and the price was extremely attractive.
I didn’t get to hold onto that light, but when a riding buddy recently suggested some nocturnal trail sorties, the ‘King Bright was the first light I thought of for the job. That was when I discovered that it had morphed into the ‘King Bright+ with an even brighter lamp, yet the price hadn’t changed, so it was an easy decision to make. A week later, I was tackling the trails in a corridor of bright light with a ‘king big grin on my face.
Price: US$65 / AU$89 / £51 / €57
It’s been almost three years since I took delivery of my Corretto and my satisfaction with it has only deepened. The fit, the finish, and the ride all continue to resonate with me in a way that no other bike has, and that’s despite the fact that it sports a whole host of seemingly outdated features such as rim brakes, round tubing, low profile alloy rims, and quick-release axles.
In fact, I’ve come to treasure those traditional touches, which I suspect might be enough to qualify me as a retro-grouch even though my bike was built in 2016. My devotion to these things is not a matter of nostalgia, though; in my mind, at least, they represent a triumph in function that outweigh trendier designs.
Such things are all a matter of personal experience and opinion, of course, but having worked on dozens of bikes with internally routed gear cables and straightened hundreds of misaligned alloy derailleur hangers, I know both add to the amount of time and effort required to maintain a bike. They can also interfere with its function, too, which is why I prefer to avoid them altogether.
Accommodating these sort of preferences is one of the true strengths of a custom-made frame and a custom-built bike. There is no such thing as a perfect bike, not in absolute terms, but a bike that meets the needs of an individual perfectly can be counted as such. That’s why I love my Baum, and it will remain that way unless my needs ever change.
Prova Custom Cycles
I have been following Mark Hester’s work at Prova for a couple of years now, and while I have yet to throw a leg over one of his bikes, I’m thoroughly impressed and quite in love with his steel bikes. He built his first frame in 2015, so he’s a relative newcomer to the profession, yet he managed to pick up two awards at this year’s Bespoked show. One went to his hardtail 29er, while the other was the peer award (which Prova shared with Demon Frameworks).
Hester is no novice when it comes to fabrication, though. He grew up in his father’s workshop watching him build race cars before completing a degree in mechanical engineering and a ten-year stint as an automotive engineer. He thrives on solving manufacturing challenges, which explains his innovative use of 3D-printed stainless steel parts for his frames, such as chainstay yokes, dropouts, and seat tube clusters.
There is more to Hester’s work than technical prowess. It is clear that he has a passion for the craft as well as the sport, which can be seen throughout his growing portfolio of work. We’ve featured three of his bikes in Bikes of the Bunch while his latest creation, the Speciale (pictured above), was a standout at the Handmade Bicycle Show Australia. I was tempted to place an order with Prova twelve months ago, and now I’m kicking myself, because his waiting list has grown and I can only see it getting longer.
Price: MTB frames from AU$3,500; road frames from AU$4,200.