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Gosh, has it really been a year since I last wrote one of these?
As expected, 2019 was the year of disc-equipped racing bikes, gravel bikes that blur the line with what an MTB does better, and the if-it-doesn’t-have-a-motor-or-connect-to-a-TV-it’s-dirt movement. However, amongst the obvious industry-led trends, there are also a number of products that stood out to me as being genuinely interesting and valuable.
Some of these products are not at all new, but it was during the past 12-months that I was reminded of their value in my cycling life. As a tech editor, I typically like to raise awareness of products that I see becoming a part of my daily cycling life, and that will likely remain so into the future. Proof of that can be found in my 2016, 2017 and 2018 most loved products, in which nearly all items remain things I use and strongly recommend to this day.
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tyres
Continental’s new Grand Prix 5000 tyres are only marginally better than their predecessor, the 4000s II, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Dependable grip, competitive rolling speed, reasonable puncture resistance – the GP4000s II had it all, and the GP5000s simply built on that platform.
However, the GP5000s also introduced Continental to the tubeless road world, and with that, I found myself a new favourite tyre. I was previously using Schwalbe Pro Ones, and I liked everything about them except for the regular cuts (and yells from people behind who were being sprayed by sealant) on a regular basis. I haven’t experienced a single cut or sealant spray since trying out the GP5000 TLs.
Some stiff competition has entered the market since Continental launched these new tyres. Schwalbe has overhauled its Pro One, Hutchison has got its Fusion 5, Maxxis has thrown its orange hat into the ring with the HighRoad and most recently, Specialized has made some big claims with its Turbo Rapid Air. I now have a number of those tyres at hand, and I apologise to the respective brands for singing praise about Continental without having put time on theirs. Perhaps I’ll have a new favourite road tyre in 2020, but right now, I can comfortably recommend the GP5000 TL (and regular GP5000 clincher version).
Price: US$95 / AU$110
Pedro’s Pig Juice and Degreaser 13
My own bikes don’t see much, if any, degreaser these days; not since I switched most of them over to submersion wax. However, I typically don’t bother with the waxing preparation process for test bikes or my mountain bikes, and that’s where a good degreaser comes in handy.
I recently tested a bunch of degreasers, and have tried many more over the years, but Pedro’s is one of the few that stood out as something that I’d happily recommend over the multitude of options out there. It’s relatively friendly to dolphins, snails and your neighbour’s lawn, all while still kicking stubborn grease in the arse.
I’ve listed two products here simply because having both is a welcome luxury. The Pig Juice is a ready-to-use mix that’s perfect for putting into a chain cleaner device. The Degreaser 13 is like honey in its viscosity, and I’ve found it wonderfully economical for degreasing cogs — it hangs on nicely and awaits a good brushing.
Price: Pig Juice is from US$8 / AU$TBC, Degreaser-13 starts from US$9.50/TBC
7Mesh Oro jacket
I’ve always shied away from riding in the rain wherever it can be helped. You don’t have as much traction, it’s not great for the wear components of your bike, you’re not as visible, people drive like muppets, and your risk of getting a puncture is that much greater (and no one wants to fix a puncture when they’re cold and wet). But that all said, I still occasionally find a use for a rain jacket.
Now, I admit that my lack of enthusiasm for the rain means I’m no expert in rain jackets. However, I have plenty of experience in feeling weirdly hot and sweaty, yet cold and wet at the same time. That was until I got a Goretex ShakeDry jacket, or more specifically, the amazingly minimal 7Mesh Oro (the photo above shows the jacket far from its most compact form).
Earlier this year a product launch meant hours riding in consistent rain, up extended climbs and down cold descents, and ended in a biblical-like downpour in a fast-moving pack. Upon returning to the hotel I was amazed to find my jersey still dry, free of sweat and water. If only everything else I was wearing that day handled the cold and wet so well.
I now have my hands on Rapha’s new ProTeam Shakedry which is a more complex, slightly bulkier and marginally heavier jacket compared to the Oro. Early signs are that I prefer the more generous fit of the 7Mesh, but the typical Rapha details are hard to ignore.
Either way, Shakedry, you’re silly expensive and hard to see in the dark, but I still love you.
Price: US$300 / Approx AU$435
Fumpa electric inflator
This Australian-made electric bicycle pump nearly made it into my top picks a few years back, but a few quirks (and overlooked features) saw it drop out of my top ten list. For 2019 Fumpa overhauled that original model, adding USB charging, a battery capacity check, more power, and a nicer form factor.
The Fumpa has since become my go-to for accurately checking tyre pressure (verified as being good to the closest psi) and topping it up in one hit. That pressure precision is a big deal to me, especially on mountain and gravel bikes. Its compact size (tiny Topeak mini tool shown for scale) also makes it my first choice to chuck into my gear bag whenever driving somewhere for a ride or trip away.
Admittedly it’s still not perfect. It’s not at all quiet to use (I still use a floor pump when I need to sneak out for a ride), I find myself charging it more than I’d ideally like, and it does cost as much as a really good floor pump. However, despite those issues, I’d still happily buy another if airport security decided they wanted one, too.
Price: US$139 / AU$189
Grove R.A.D gravel bike
The R.A.D is a versatile and fast-handling gravel bike from an Australian consumer-direct start-up, Grove. What I really loved about the Grove R.A.D is how it reminded me that living by the N+1 mantra rarely brings additional happiness and that some modern bikes are perfectly capable of doing the task of multiple bikes.
I’d summarise the Grove R.A.D as being a classy aluminium cyclocross racer with tyre clearance and mounts for handling any gravel adventure. And while I’d still want a dedicated bike if I were racing road, the Grove R.A.D does the task of general tarmac riding without fuss.
More importantly, this bike doesn’t cost an absolute fortune and a clever parts selection means you’re unlikely to want to spend more than the initial asking price. Yes the Grove R.A.D isn’t alone in this category, and the fact it’s not designed for a front derailleur will surely annoy some, but in my opinion, it’s a prime example of a modern do-it-all drop handlebar bike done well. And while I no longer have my hands on it, I keep thinking it’s a bike I’d happily own.
Price: US$NA / In Australia prices start from AU$2,599
Shimano Quick Link Pliers
Shimano’s new 11 (and 12) speed chains often now include a quick connecting link, and as pointed out in a specific article about quick links, they also happen to be a bear to lock and unlock. That’s where a good set of quick link pliers come in, but as that article points out, there aren’t too many options for pliers that give you a mechanical advantage for closing Shimano’s links.
That’s where the Shimano Quick Link Pliers (TL-CN10) won me over. The clever design can open and close all common quick links, and will save you from having to stomp on the pedal to lock the Shimano SM-CN900 link into place. The design of these pliers is not exclusive to Shimano – and SuperB (the likely manufacturer of these) offer a similar version for far less.
Price: From US$43 / AU$50
Arundel Mandible cage
Not a new product by any stretch, but Arundel’s Mandible cages continue to constantly impress me. They’re light, stylish, easy to use, and most importantly, they have never forced me to turn around to retrieve a dropped bottle. That last element is a big one as I’ve had many other hugely popular cages shoot bottles out, while the Mandible holds them like a toddler holds a lollipop.
Yes, these cages are expensive, there’s no hiding that. But they’re also the type of cage that you’ll want to move from bike to bike, and for that, I think they offer great value.
Price: US$75 / AU$95
Ottolock Hex Band & ABUS Bordo Lite pocket locks
Earlier in the year I tested a handful of pocket-sized locks with the intention of finding the best lock for riding adventures where you don’t know the park-up scenario. From that test I found myself two specific locks I like to use, and most of the time it’s to secure my commuter e-bike. As a result, I no longer have any anxiety about how to secure my bike on errands without the need for a bulky lock.
The Ottolock HexBand is a newer and more secure version of the original Ottolock. Unfortunately, like the original, this one also has a poor reputation from a YouTube video showing how easily it can be beaten, but in my opinion, that test is a little misleading. I indeed cut this lock myself but found bolt cutters, side cutters and even a hacksaw – all the most common hand tools of bike thieves – failed to make it through. Yes, good tin snips will make quick work of it, but that’s also a very specific hand tool that’s quite useless on almost every other lock on the market.
With that in mind, I still believe the Ottolock Hexband is the benchmark where carrying size, weight, locking length, and security are considered. The non-marring and flexible design provide plenty of options for how you can lock a bike, and the combination lock means there’s no key to worry about.
That said, for a little more security I do prefer to use the ABUS Bordo Lite (or better yet, a combination of it and the Ottolock). This lock uses links of steel-reinforced plastic plates and folds up wonderfully small. I do find my 60cm version to be on the shorter side, but I can still link it through the frame, rear wheel and a nearby pole or fence. As noted in my review though, its 423g weight is a bit much for a jersey pocket, but it’s perfectly suited to throwing into a musette bag.
Price: US$75 / AU$TBC (Ottolock Hexband), US$60 / AU$100 (Abus Bordo Lite)
Good Torx Keys: Wera, Wiha and PB Swiss
Hey, it wouldn’t be a top ten list from me without at least two tools. I’ve long used quality Torx keys, but a friend who followed my advice to buy a quality T25 wrench recently came back to me stating that “I now understand how the Torx interface works, and it’s not shit”. If you’re constantly stripping Torx bolts, then you need better tools.
When it comes to Torx I can confidently recommend three companies: PB Swiss, Wiha and Wera. My personal favourite is PB Swiss, but I do wish they offered a wider selection of shapes and sizes. I’ve also had equally good success with the other two brands, and both are typically cheaper and easier to source than PB Swiss.
And sorry to say it, avoid Bondhus, Park Tool and almost every other budget option in this segment — the fit just isn’t there. You’re unlikely to ever use much beyond the T10, T25 and T30 sizes, and thankfully my three suggested brands all sell individual sizes, so it is possible to buy quality without a huge investment.
Price: Variable, expect to pay at least US$30 / AU$50 for complete sets.
OneUP EDC mini pump and multitool
Of all the 45 mini pumps that I recently tested, the OneUP EDC is the only one that I kept on my bike. There are many great mini pumps but the OneUp EDC is the only option that manages to hide a complete multi-tool within it, and somehow still remains completely rattle-free.
The pump itself is kept simple and is super effective for use on large volume tyres (MTB and gravel). It also happens to be perfectly sealed from dirt, and hides an integrated Co2 inflator, too, while the EDC multi-tool has all the common things needed for emergency repairs and adjustments. It’s the same multi-tool that OneUp sells for threading into a fork steerer tube, but in this scenario, the pump does the duty without any mechanical ability (or tools) required.
I have this pump mounted beneath the bottle cage on my trail mountain bike. Close to it is a Backcountry research strap that holds a spare tube and a Dynaplug Racer plug kit. That means I can happily ride pack free on the majority of my rides without having to skimp on the spares I’m carrying (in fact, I’m now better equipped for emergency repairs than before).
Price: US$59 / AU$86 (pump only)