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Without question, my riding has changed dramatically over the past couple of years — fewer long rides, less road riding, more gravel, more mountain biking, more Zwifting, more commuting. As I’ve gotten older and become a parent, I pay less attention to things like shedding grams, or what’s most aerodynamic. I just want gear that works, that makes for a comfortable, hassle-free ride, and that fits properly. Everything in this top-10 list fits that description — or at least it does in my eyes.
Living at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies makes for an interesting cycling experience — we get all four seasons here, sometimes in the same day. Where I ride, the need to layer appropriately is paramount. Get it wrong and you can end up overdressed and swimming in sweat, or underdressed and miserable. Getting it right is equal parts art form and science. So I suppose it’s no surprise that half the pieces I chose for this top-10 list are apparel.
Perhaps what is surprising is that I chose two nutrition products. Nutrition preferences are highly subjective of course, but after years spent experimenting with different products, I’m happy to share what works for me. The same goes for everything on this list.
Thomson Elite dropper post
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t enjoy working on my bikes — I enjoy riding them. I put a lot of stock into gear that works reliably and consistently, and I’m willing to pay a fair price for it.
I can’t think of a better example of something that was worth every penny more than my Thomson Elite dropper post. I put it on my Santa Cruz Tallboy in 2014, and haven’t done a thing to it since. That struck me on a recent ride, particularly given how much I’ve heard friends complain about needing to service or replace their dropper posts.
The Thomson Elite uses a more reliable mechanical device to activate the post, rather than a hydraulic system that’s more prone to failure. It’s smooth. It’s infinitely adjustable. There’s no bleeding required; it’s plug and play. And it just works.
The Thomson Elite is not the lightest dropper post on the market, and it’s not the cheapest, but it is the best.
Price: US$450 / AU$622 / £350 / €422
Skratch Labs Matcha Green Tea and Lemon Hydration Drink Mix
I’ll admit I was a little reluctant to try a green tea endurance drink mix — this is a bike ride, not lunch at a tea house! That said, I like caffeine, and so a friend recommended this mix. And he was right.
The green tea and lemon flavor is surprisingly good — it’s mild, not too sweet. One scoop of powder is good for 16 fluid ounces of liquid, and contains about 16mg of naturally occurring caffeine from the matcha tea. By comparison, an 8oz cup of coffee has 70-100mg of caffeine, so the Skratch mix doesn’t deliver a lot, just a gentle nudge (unless you make your mix double strength, of course.)
All Skratch mixes are non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and kosher. Each scoop also provides 80 calories, 380mg of sodium, and 19g of sugar.
Price: US$19.50 / AU$29.50 / £15 / €TBC for 20 scoops
Schwalbe G-One Allround tires, 700x35c
I can’t say I’ve tested a wide spectrum of gravel tires. Then again, I can’t say that I’ve really wanted to after spending time on Schwalbe’s G-One Allround tires. They came stock on the Trek Checkpoint I’ve ridden all year — one of very few non-Bontrager tires to come stock on a Trek bike — and I can’t get over how much I’ve enjoyed them.
The traction the tiny dots of tread provide is superb, and they roll incredibly well on pavement. But what strikes me most is the comfort level, which I attribute to their supple casing. Get the pressure right and it’s like you’re floating on a fast-rolling, grippy marshmallow; they’re just incredibly comfortable, truly a joy to ride.
And yes, I chose this tire for my top-10 list before I learned that my colleagues James Huang, Dave Everett, and Matt Wikstrom had all included the same tire in theirs as well. But I’m not surprised to see them land on so many lists — these tires are special.
Price: US$84 / AU$110 / £69 / €60
Pearl Izumi Summit AmFib Lite pants
These Pearl Izumi pants are categorized as a mountain-bike piece, and I’m sure they’re great for fat biking over a pair of winter tights, but they also work well for commuting in cold conditions.
They’re constructed with Pearl’s AmFIB Lite softshell fabric on the front, for wind and water protection, and thermal fleece fabric on the back, for warmth and breathability. The waist is adjustable, and there are three external pockets: two zippered hand pockets and one zippered cargo pocket. They’re light and reasonably priced, and also deserving of about the best feedback I can offer. If I were to design a pair of versatile cold-weather cycling pants, these would be them.
Price: U$150 / AU$TBC / £130 / €150
Cashew Cookie Larabar
Say hello to my little friend, the Cashew Cookie Larabar, which consists solely of cashews and dates. There’s an incredible amount of flavor in this bar, considering they’re made with just two ingredients with no added sugars. Each bar delivers 220 calories, 5mg of sodium, 12g of fat, and 15g of sugar. It’s a perfect snack for fighting off sugar cravings. It’s also kosher, vegan, non-GMO, soy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free.
Price: US$20 /AU$38 / £n/a / €n/a for a box of 16 bars
Kitsbow Haskell Short V2
When I was a younger man growing up on the coast of California, I spent an inordinate amount of time at the beach — in the water, on the sand, at a local taqueria. My friends and I also used to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the quest for the perfect pair of board shorts, something that was durable, quick-drying, fit well, and looked good — something you could basically live in all summer long.
Fast-forward to a different life as a Colorado mountain biker, and the same quest exists, only for a pair of trail shorts that allow movement, are durable, and look good on and off the bike. The Kitsbow Haskell Short V2 is that pair of shorts. The woven nylon Kitsbow uses feels like it could fend off a pack of wild dogs, yet has the perfect amount of stretch. They’re not loose, but not tight, either; the “tailored casual” fit is just right. There are six pockets: two traditional front pockets, two secure-snap rear pockets, a zip cargo pocket, and a deep key pocket.
I’ve got a drawer full of a half-dozen pairs of mountain-bike shorts, but I always reach for this same pair of Kitsbow Haskell shorts. They’re comfortable, stylish, and built to last. I could live in these all summer long.
Price: US$148 / AU$TBC / £84 / €TBC
Gore Wear C7 Gore-Tex ShakeDry Stretch Jacket
Every once in a while a piece of gear like Gore Wear’s ShakeDry Stretch Jacket crosses your path. Although it’s extremely expensive, it’s also unbelievably well executed. It forces you to question how much quality gear truly impacts your cycling experience, and just what that quality is worth.
I know I’d have a hard time justifying spending US$370 for a jacket. I know I’d also have a hard time asking for a US$370 jacket as a gift. That said, the exorbitant price is equalled by the excellence of Gore’s innovative ShakeDry material. It’s waterproof, windproof, extremely breathable, and extremely lightweight.
The same could be said for other ShakeDry jackets, but the stretch material on this Gore Wear version under the arms, on the upper back, and above the hips minimize chafing, reduces noise, and allows for a more aerodynamic fit than other models.
Would it be an overstatement to say this might just be the single most advanced and versatile piece of cycling outerwear ever made? Perhaps, but it certainly belongs on a very short list. It’s the cycling jacket to end all cycling jackets — and it’s priced accordingly.
Price: US$370 / AU$485 / £280 / €330
Giro Aether MIPS helmet
It’s elegant. It rotates. It’s pricey. It’s the Giro Aether MIPS helmet, which looks a bit like the Synthe, but with a totally different MIPS system under the hood.
The Aether MIPS utilizes something Giro and MIPS developed in partnership over the past three years, which they call MIPS Spherical — two separate layers of foam held together with an elastomer attachment that rotate independently of a rider’s head. Giro claims MIPS Spherical is its best integration of MIPS yet in terms of comfort, ventilation, and aerodynamics.
The review sample provided to media at a product launch in June is a luminous matte black/blue pearl that has to be seen in sunlight to be fully appreciated. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I’d suggest it’s as stylish a cycling helmet as I’ve ever worn.
It’s also as expensive as any road helmet on the market. As I wrote in June, potential customers have to ask themselves a variation of the same question they’ve been faced with for years: What is protecting your brain worth to you? And how do you put a price on it?
It’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, but I can say this: the Aether is the best road helmet I’ve ever worn.
Price: US$325 / AU$475 / £260 / €300
Castelli Perfetto vest
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t relish riding in wet conditions. But man, does it feel nice to know you have the right piece of kit for the occasion.
Castelli’s Perfetto line is the lightweight cousin of its acclaimed foul-weather Gabba, intended for warmer wet conditions. It breathes better than the Gabba because it doesn’t have the water resistant membrane the Gabba utilizes. In short, the Perfetto is ideal for spring and fall conditions; the Gabba is for straight-up cold and crappy.
The Perfetto uses Gore Windstopper X-Lite Plus on the front and Castelli’s excellent Nano Flex Light on the back. At 192g, it’s light enough to pack into a jersey pocket if it turns out you’re overdressed. I love the wind flap that covers the zipper. I appreciate that it’s got two rear pockets (which should be standard for all vests as far as I’m concerned.) I even think the reflective trim manages to look like a stylish accent.
At US$130, the Perfetto vest is a reasonably priced piece of gear that would have a well-deserved position in any cyclist’s wardrobe. It also comes in nine — nine! — different color options. Unless you live in the desert, you should own one.
Price: US$130 / AU$210 / £110 / €120
7mesh Freeflow jacket
PolarTec’s Alpha insulation found its way into a wide spectrum of cycling apparel brands in 2018, including Rapha, Kitsbow, and 7mesh. Originally developed for the U.S. Army Special Forces, which demanded an advanced insulating material in combat uniforms, PolarTec’s Alpha insulation is warm, breathable, and incredibly light.
This fall, 7mesh’s Freeflow Alpha-insulated jacket quickly became my favorite go-to piece both on and off the bike. It’s ideal for cool days, as a standalone piece, or for cold days, as a layer underneath a shell. Honestly, I also wear it around the house; at just 157 grams, it’s so light you forget it’s on. That lightness comes with a bit of a caveat: you wouldn’t want to crash wearing this, as I suspect it would shred to pieces.
There’s a nice side pocket for small items, like a key, credit card, or cash, but it’s certainly nothing like a conventional jersey or jacket with deep pockets. I also dig the elastic sleeve cuffs, which keep the warmth in and the cold air out, and feel nice around your wrists.
Note: The Freeflow is a current-season item, but it’s late arriving from the factory and won’t appear on the 7mesh site until it’s in stock.
Price: US$250 / AU$TBC / £180 / €200