Ten products I loved in 2019: Neal Rogers
When thinking of the cycling products I most loved in 2019, I had to compartmentalize between what I used most often and what I truly loved.
If I simply wanted to acknowledge the technology that most consistently provides me happiness, it would probably be Shimano’s Ultegra mechanical group set, which I run on both my road and gravel bikes. Or perhaps the Schwalbe G-One Allround gravel tires, which I included on my list last year and enjoyed just as much in 2019. Or Strava, which plays its own special role during and after every one of my rides.
Instead, I focused on the pieces of kit that I gravitate toward when it’s time to get rolling; those pieces I most look forward to using, and feel most excited about recommending. Getting ready for a ride is a ritual — filling the bottles, putting on the sunscreen, checking the forecast and selecting the apparel — and the anticipation builds when you have just the right tools for the job. There’s a special, unique feeling at the end of the ride when you realize you nailed it with your equipment choices.
I hope my recommendation of these 10 products helps spread that excitement or anticipation, or helps other cyclists select the right tool for the job.
Bontrager XXX Mountain Bike Shoes
Let’s get this out of the way up front — shoe preference is very subjective. There are dozens of quality cycling shoe manufacturers in the marketplace, and often what makes a particular shoe work for one user but not another comes down to the lasts the manufacturers use as they design the shoe. I have wide feet with low arches, so shoes built around a narrow last don’t tend to work for me. I might be able to wear them for a 90-minute ride, but anything longer will end in discomfort.
Bontrager shoes, built around the Wisconsin brand’s stabilizing inForm Pro last, have worked for years on my wide feet. The latest version of their flagship XXX Mountain Bike Shoe was designed with cross-country and cyclocross racing in mind, but it’s equally comfortable on all-day trail and gravel rides. It’s the best of both worlds, applicable to a variety of disciplines.
Dual IP1 Boa dials allow for precise micro-adjustments to customize your fit, while an asymmetrical tongue wraps from the inside to the outside of the forefoot, supporting the forefoot arch by hugging the foot for comfort and control. In a word, it benefits riders with feet like mine. The upper is quite adjustable thanks to neoprene flex zones around the tongue and the back of the shoe. They’re also extremely stiff and light, thanks to the OCLV carbon outsole, while external heel cups and a no-slip heel lining keep the foot locked into place.
They’re well ventilated for breathability, yet also durable; Bontrager’s amusingly named “GnarGuard” coating protects your US$400 investment against toe-box abrasions. Size range is from 36 to 48, in half sizes from 38.5 through 45.5, and they’re available in three colorways — black, navy/pink, and white/azure.
Price: US$400 / AU$550
Woom 1 Plus balance bike
No, I don’t personally ride this bike. But I do smile every time my daughter does, because it’s a well-designed balance bike with several key details specific to smaller riders.
For starters, The Woom 1 Plus is light, just 9.5 pounds (4.3kg), due in part to its aluminum frame, rather than the steel frame other brands use. Weight is a significant consideration in kid’s bikes; just imagine learning to handle a bike that’s a third of your body weight.
The saddle has a scoop to it, designed for standing and scooting, and it’s fastened by a quick-release clamp, an important consideration for fast-growing bodies. The optional grippy wooden “surfboard” provides a perfect platform for little feet when gliding. The steering limiter, which attaches from the back of the fork to the bottom of the down tube, prevents the handlebar from overturning. The 14-inch wheels are mated with knobby rubber Kenda tires; no hard plastic tires that are common on other balance bikes. It even has ergonomic hand grips and color-coded front and rear mini V-brakes.
Pedaling models come with short cranks and a low bottom bracket; in the US they’re also required to come with coaster brakes. (US Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations stipulate that any bike with a maximum seat height of 25 inches must be sold with a coaster brake.) Woom offers a $19 freewheel conversion kit — an entire replacement wheel with new tire and tube installed — and none of this is an issue for European or Canadian customers.
Woom offers seven models spanning from 18 months to 14 years old and ranging in price from $199 to $529. Each is available in five colors; they also offer well-designed matching gloves and helmets. Woom also recently launched an off-road line, with three models spanning from age six to 14, all under $700.
Out of the box, the Woom 1 Plus took about five minutes to assemble; removing the packing material took longer than assembly. The 1 Plus costs $269, and before anyone tries to make the argument that’s too much to pay for a kid’s bike, keep in mind there are plenty of bib shorts on the market that cost more. It’s important to me that my child enjoys cycling as much as possible, so I see it as an investment into a future we can continue to enjoy together.
If you’re thinking of buying a kids’ bike, Woom is absolutely worth a look.
Price: US$269 / EU€239
Wahoo ELMNT ROAM GPS bike computer
In 2015 Wahoo launched the Elemnt GPS bike computer, an upstart challenger to Garmin’s long-running reign of supremacy in the marketplace. The Elemnt offered simplicity, largely through its brilliant companion smartphone app, and reliability, particularly when pairing with ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy devices. In a word, it just worked. Some of the features, such as generating navigation on the fly, required a smartphone, but hey, who doesn’t bring their smartphone on a ride?
Two years later came the Elemnt Bolt, a sleek, more aerodynamic version with the same smartphone app, customizable fields and wireless data transfer. And in 2019, we now have the Elemnt Roam, which incorporates all of those technologies while breaking ground as the first Wahoo bike computer with a color screen. The Roam is a fair bit larger than the Bolt, with a 2.7-inch screen rather than a 2.2-inch screen; it’s heavier as well, at 93 grams versus 62 grams. It’s also more expensive, US$380 instead of $250.
In addition to the larger, color screen, that price difference also provides significant hardware updates, such as a battery rated to 17 hours of use and an ambient light sensor, meaning the screen backlight and LED lights automatically adjust based on lighting conditions. But what sets the Roam apart from others in the Elemnt range is its navigation features.
The Roam delivers on-device directions, rather than through the smartphone; it will route you to your starting point, re-route you when you come off track, and allow you to re-trace your route backwards. The “Take me to” feature allows you to select a point on the map, or enter an address, for on-demand navigation. It’s also the only model in the line that allows you to save locations directly to the device.
One of my favorite features is the sync with Strava Live Segments, providing progress status so that you can chase PRs in real time. There are about a hundred other features the Roam shares with others in the Elemnt range that I haven’t explored: Workouts from TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan are fully integrated; it connects to Wahoo Kickr Smart Trainers and allows you to control the trainer in Level Mode and ERG Mode; it can also integrate with bikes equipped with electronic shifting, displaying a visual and numerical indication of front and rear gears and the shifting batteries.
Most of these features aren’t unique to Wahoo’s computers, but I would argue that their user interface is by far the most intuitive. Any of the Elemnt GPS bike computers are a solid choice, but if you’re looking for a large, color screen, the Roam is the one for you.
Price: US$380 / AU$600 / EU€350
Castelli Gabba ROS
I admit it, I’m a sucker for Castelli’s foul-weather apparel. I included the water-resistant Nanoflex+ arm and leg warmers in my top-10 list in 2016. Last year, I included the Italian brand’s utilitarian Perfetto Vest. This time around, it’s the Gabba ROS — the fourth iteration of their windproof, water-resistant jersey that changed the game a decade ago.
While most identify the Gabba as a wet-weather piece of kit, the reality is that it works well in cold and dry conditions while also providing a high level of water protection. It’s ideal for cool, windy days, but if you happen to get caught out in the rain, you’ll stay dry inside — hence the ROS (Rain or Shine) designation.
The updated model features the new three-layer Infinium Windstopper fabric from Gore-Tex — an ultra-thin protective membrane is laminated onto the inside of a lightweight textile while the outer fibers are given Gore’s durable water repellent (DWR) treatment. The three layers work together to keep the wind and rain out while allowing moisture from sweat vapor to escape. Front-facing Infinium 205 fabric is water resistant with two-way stretch and a brush of fleece inside, while the lighter rear-facing Infinium 203 has four-way stretch, but is not insulated.
The new Gabba features two rear pockets (easier to access with gloved hands) with a pump sleeve, a dropped tail with reflective panel, waterproof tape across the shoulder and sleeve seams for extra rain protection, and comes in five colorways for men, and four for women. Black Gabbas have reflective seam taping for front reflectivity, and just look pretty damn cool.
The Gabba is not a jacket — it should almost always be paired with a base layer and arm warmers — but it is a stretchy and breathable, water-resistant and windproof jersey for a wide range of conditions. Ten years after its debut, the fourth iteration is as essential a piece of kit as ever.
Price: US$200 / EU€180
Velocio Recon Vest
Is this a performance piece, a commuter piece, or an off-the-bike piece? The short answer is yes. Call Velocio’s Recon Vest a crossover piece, equally at home paired with Lycra or denim.
I love the utility of a vest, but I can’t deal with big, puffy vests that feel like a flotation device. Fit on the Recon is snug, but not quite race cut; Velocio calls it “streamlined,” which is about right. There are no traditional external rear pockets, but there is a discreet right-side rear pocket that’ll hold your iPhone in place.
The front panel of the windproof shell is lined with fuzzy Polartec High Loft insulation; the back is made of a stretchy micro fleece that provides insulation as well as breathability. The reflective stripe across the chest looks good, and provides after-hours visibility. The Recon is light, but doesn’t quite pack down small enough to stuff into a jersey pocket; once you’re out the door, it’s staying on until the trip is over.
The Recon Vest comes in three colors — charcoal, fire red, and dark olive — and in six sizes, from XS to XXL. The women’s version comes in the same three colors and four sizes, from SM to XL.
Price: US$259 / EU€239 / AU$289
Osprey Seral lumbar pack
For years I’ve used a hydration pack when mountain biking, and for years I’ve ended rides with a sweaty back. I always justified that by the amount of gear I was able to bring along, but 2019 was the year I reconsidered that approach. With a 1.5-liter (50 fl oz) reservoir, it’s not necessary to bring a water bottle, opening up the bottle cage for a storage vessel filled with inner tube, multi-tool, and CO2 cartridge. That leaves room in a lumbar pack for things like keys, phone, mini pump, sunscreen, and snacks.
There are plenty of lumbar packs on the market, but I like the Osprey Seral for its hose magnet, which attaches to the bite valve for easy access and attachment to the mesh hip belt. The ErgoPull waist strap is comfortable and wraps tightly around the hips for stability; it doesn’t bounce around, even on technical terrain. Side compression straps pull the pack close to the body, while the lumbar panel — the part that sits against the lower back — is soft and well ventilated. Side hip-belt packs offer easy-access storage, while the main compartment fits just about anything you’ll need other than a jacket.
The Seral lumbar pack comes in three colors — black, red, and slate blue.
Price: US$85 / AU$100
Giro Imperial road shoes
Historically, I’ve had trouble wearing Giro’s shoes because of my wide feet and their narrow fit. Not so with the ultralight Imperial road shoes, which utilize Giro’s Synchwire stitch-less mesh upper, fastened down by a pair of Boa IP1 dials.
The combination makes for an infinitely adjustable and comfortable shoe. They’re light and stiff thanks to the Easton EC90 SLX2 carbon fiber outsole, with a claimed weight of just 215 grams in size 42.5. They fit like slippers but look like Darth Vader’s special TIE Fighter.
A nice touch: Giro’s adjustable SuperNatural Fit footbed system, which allows you to customize for low, medium, or high arch support rather than go out and spend more money on insoles. The Imperial is available in sizes 39 through 48, with half sizing from 42.5 through 45.5, in three colors — black, red, or white.
Price: US$425 / AU$500
Pearl Izumi Merino Thermal long sleeve base layer
There’s nothing fancy about this Merino wool long sleeve base layer from Pearl Izumi. So why have I fallen in love with it?
In a word — its weight. It’s Pearl’s heaviest base layer, made of a 65% polyester, 35% Merino wool fabric. The polyester sits on the skin while the wool is external for optimal moisture wicking and thermal regulation. Thumb loops keep the sleeves in place as you pull on a jersey, though it’s warm enough that it might be all you need under a windproof shell.
Fit is just right — snug, but not suffocating. And because it’s Merino wool, it doesn’t need to be washed after a light use, which is nice because I often wear it off the bike on cold days. It’s available in four sizes, small through extra large, and one charcoal color, which Pearl refers to as Phantom.
Price: US$110 / AU$150
Oakley Radarlock Path
Oakley’s Radarlock Path model is far from new. The Radar has been around since 2006, and the Radarlock, with its interchangeable lens system, has been around since 2012. But in an era where cycling sunglasses seem to be growing larger and larger, and as I’ve grown older and older, the Radarlock Path continues to be my favorite. Call me a traditionalist.
The Radarlock is no longer available in a stock design; it’s still available in a custom build, which will set you back anywhere from $250 to $300, depending on lens options.
Replacing the Radarlock Path is the Radar EV Path, Pitch, and Advancer, which differ in shape from each other and from the original Radar Path— and make me appreciate my years-old shades even more.
Price: US $250-300 / AU$465-500
Eliel Classic Laguna Seca bib shorts
A fair bit of hype preceded this pair of bib shorts from Eliel, a smallish custom manufacturer out of San Diego, California. “They’re better than Assos,” their marketing team told me. “They’re the best bib shorts you’ll ever wear.” I may have even been told that they’d change my life.
They didn’t change my life, but they are fantastic. The fabric is imported from Italy, then laser cut and flat-lock stitched in California. The thick chamois comes from Italian manufacturer CyTech and remains comfortable well into a five-hour ride. Leg length is dialed and held in place with a light leg gripper, while mesh bib straps provide a bit of ventilation. No tugging, no chafing, just a comfortable and classic bib short at a reasonable price.
The Classic Laguna Seca bib short is available in six colors and five sizes, ranging from small to XXL.
Price: US $200