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by Sarah Lukas
November 28, 2019
In 2019, I found myself back on the bike after a season of injury, with zero plans of training and racing. This made for a surprisingly different experience on the bike, one that was both as confusing and challenging as it is exciting and freeing.
My mentality changed from the arrogance of “needing” to have certain things in order to race properly, to now feeling like I don’t really need anything. In the middle is my more practical self that seeks out functionality above all.
My favorite products of the year are the ones that I never knew I needed and the ones I hope never wear out. The first time I used all of these I immediately fell in love. A part of me feels like I want them to be my secrets, but I also hope you find something in here that you haven’t tried yet.
Coffee is a staple for me. I love the process of making espresso. Adjusting the grind, weighing the grounds, performing the perfect tamp, watching the beautiful extraction process, tasting, starting all over because you fudged up the grind. It’s very cathartic. I guess that’s why when I travel, it can be one part of my routine I really miss.
While I have my selection of brewing methods including a Chemex, AeroPress, French press, stovetop espresso maker, none of them are suitable for travel. It’s difficult to find a coffee setup that can also pull good espresso on-the-go. Low and behold, the Wacaco Nanopresso, a portable espresso machine that I discovered this past year that pulls a shot just as well as I could on the office Breville.
Wacaco, based in Hong Kong, began in 2012 after the founder, Hugo Cailleton, was tired of drinking disappointing espresso while traveling. Preach it, Hugo. This wasn’t a completely new venture for Hugo, as he holds a master’s degree in industrial design and has been involved in the manufacturing of home espresso machines previously. Thus, the Wacaco Minipresso was born. Since then, the Nanopresso has joined the Wacaco family as the newest model, which requires 15% less force to pump and is my current choice for brewing my morning fuel.
The process is quite easy. I pre-grind my coffee before I travel and fill it in a travel jar with its designated coffee scoop. From there, all you need is drinking water and a way to heat it up. At that point, pour the hot water into the water tank, fill and tamp the grounds using the adorably small tamper in the filter basket, piece it all together and begin to pressurize the device by using your hands to pump it. After about six to seven pumps, the pressure has built up and the espresso begins to pull on each additional pump leaving you with a shot adorned with a layer of crema. I use the add-on Nanopresso Barista Kit to pull double shots, instead of the standard single, which also helps when I make lattes at home. It produces up to 18 bars of pressure, comes with a handy travel case, a small plastic cup, and only weighs 336 grams.
Price: US$79 / AU$119 / £62 / €73
I’m not the flashiest person, and I don’t like to draw attention to myself (good or bad) as my introverted tendencies emerge. I do, however, enjoy a piece of flair to spice up life. A little pop of colour here, a little bit of glitter there. Handmade in Breckenridge, Colorado, my Blue Howlite Spike earrings are eye-catching danglers that are lightweight enough to wear while hiking or riding, and stylish enough to make heads turn (mostly because riding in dangling earrings sounds crazy). I got my first pair when I attended a VIDA mountain bike clinic and they gave them to each attendee. Now that’s some good swag.
This particular set is my favourite and hang at about 3” in length. They are made with brass metal, but are also offered in other colors, shapes, and metals like 14K gold and sterling silver. The spikes tuck nicely against my helmet straps without getting caught or bothering me when I’m riding, but there are smaller options that are less dangly than these. On occasion, I fall asleep with them on and wake up with no snagging issues, except that one time I was stuck to the body pillow for a few minutes.
Having been a Sidi snob for the past ten years, it was finally time to venture out into the wild and get my feet into some new kicks for gravel and mountain biking. Given my race background, I prefer a stiff sole for maximum power transfer (especially for my rides to Tim Horton’s). Bontrager’s Cambion mountain shoe has rivaled my Sidis in comfort and stiffness, plus the Boa dial and velcro strap is the perfect combination for adjusting to the shape of my feet.
I typically wear a size 41 in women’s, but needed to size down to a 40 for this fit. The toe box is roomy for the winter when I need to pile on the wool socks, or for those with wider feet, but vented for those hot summer days. I opted for the azure color, but Bontrager offers the Cambions in grey camo/viper red if you want to be even brighter than that, or full black for a more subtle look.
Price: US$225 / AU$349 / £199 / €229
My hands have been the victim of many cold, Northern Wisconsin winters, which have resulted in awful circulation. Finding gloves that can keep my fingers toasty, but are thin enough so I can properly shift and brake, is quite a challenge. As I type this, my fingers are like frozen fish sticks. I have had to bail on rides, ask to stop so I can do a quick set of jumping jacks, and then cry from the pain as my fingers thaw. Giro’s Women’s Cascade winter gloves, which are also available in a men’s/unisex version, have alleviated many of these issues for the wet fall in Squamish, BC.
Made with a Power Wool lining, Polartec Windbloc shell, and fleece-lined AX Suede – plus a DWR treatment on the whole thing – I have been using the Cascade gloves starting around 0-10 degrees Celsius (32-50°F) for the past two months and they have exceeded expectations. For riders with normal circulation, these would be perfect for even colder temps, and you may even end up with sweaty palms for anything on the warmer end of the spectrum. The thumb is soft for wiping a dripping nose, and they are touchscreen-compatible. I do wish the cuff went a little higher up my wrist, but these have been finger savers for me this fall. I don’t think they will make it through winter, as I will probably need to opt for something much thicker.
Price: US$50 / Approx AU$73 / €45
Saddles are one of those products in the industry that I feel should generally be designed with anatomy in mind. There are a lot of different things going on down there and we all just want to be comfortable. When Ergon released the SR and SM Women’s saddle in May 2018, I was transitioning out of racing and into a more relaxed pace of riding. My saddle needs quickly changed and I found myself in the hunt for a new saddle, something with less of an aggressive race design. Even having been in the industry and racing for almost 20 years, I wasn’t sure where to start until I attended a local product launch in Boulder hosted by Ergon. I learned that after much of the Canyon-SRAM women’s racing team and female colleagues within Ergon weren’t having much luck finding a saddle that suited them, they began designing one that focused more on the sit bones, and away from the more sensitive lady areas.
They developed two model lines. The SM model is geared more towards trail and mountain biking, while the SR model has a design geared towards road, with a curved shape near the back for better comfort when sitting in a more rotated, aero position.
When I was racing, I preferred a saddle like the Specialized Romin, which rotated my pelvis forward in a more aggressive riding posture. I still like to make my legs burn a bit, and the SR saddle still has enough shape to support me in that more rotated angle. I now run the SR on three of my bikes (gravel, road, mountain), and it has been the easiest transition for me in finding a new saddle. The weight distribution across my sit bones keeps me from having too much pressure on one point, and what Ergon calls the “large relief channel” protects the more sensitive lady bits.
The SM and SR saddles are also offered as a Sport Gel model with gel inserts, for a little added comfort.
SR Pro Women Price: US$129 / €129 (including VAT)
Sport Gel Price: US$89 / €90 (including VAT)
I don’t like carrying much on me while I ride (who does?), but I also like to be prepared in case I find myself in an apocalyptic situation. In order to have the best of both worlds, I need to be smart about the items I choose. It is clear that Topeak likes to design things that you didn’t even know you needed. If I could only carry one tool along with me, especially when traveling, this one would be it. Topeak’s Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX+ is a wallet-size mini-ratcheting wrench and includes an extender arm, an adjustable TorqBit torque wrench (2-6 Nm), and 11 total bits (seven different Allen bits, three Torx bits, and one Phillips screwdriver bit), and some tire levers, all wrapped in its own little case. Their updated version – designated with the + – now includes a chain tool and the updated adjustable TorqBit. The chain tool was definitely the missing link for me. (See what I did there?)
The Ratchet Rocket Lite NTX+ has a bit holder on the end of the handle, which can be used in place of the ratchet. The extender arm attaches to either end, allowing for extra leverage and clearance in some pretty tight spaces. I find this most useful when I’m installing bottle cages. Nothing tests my patience more, and this tool keeps me feeling calm. All of this wrapped into one is a tech editor’s dream tool, especially having the TorqBit for on-the-fly adjustments.
Price: US$80 / AU$104 / £65 / €70
I entered my 30s in 2019 and I am no stranger to aches and pains [You just wait until you hit your 40s, Lukas! – Ed.]. I started mountain bike racing when I was 12 and I never really learned about the proper ways to take care of my body until the last couple of years. Years of improper bike fits, injuries, and slouched posture have already taken their toll on me. My back and neck tend to carry a lot of tension, giving me nasty headaches and constant pain.
I finally took the steps to self-healing the issues instead of just covering them up with pills or surgeries. I started going to Matt Smith, a physiotherapist at Revo in Boulder, Colorado, and we worked on a number of exercises and stretches for standard back maintenance. For at-home maintenance, Matt recommended using a SKLZ Dual Point Massager (or as I like to call them my “double balls”) as a part of my stretching routine, and they have brought so much relief to my life.
I have seen the double balls in a few different materials with varying firmness. People make their own using two lacrosse balls and taping them together, even. For US$15, I was happy to get mine all ready to use. My set is not as hard as a lacrosse ball, but still quite firm, which is what I would prefer to allow for a subtle give. The dip in the middle makes for a perfect fit as I lay on them in an effort to mobilize my spine more, and I can roll it up to my neck to help relieve my tension headaches. I bring my double balls with me on long car drives or on airplanes to put under my glutes when I am sitting, or even against my lower back to give a gentle massage. I hate leaving home without them.
Price: US$15 / AU$29 / £20 / £15
Having recently moved to Squamish from Boulder, Colorado, it has taken some time to get adjusted to the terrain. There isn’t much road riding to explore, but the trails and gravel roads are dreamy. I find myself eager for adventure here, but uncertain of routes due to the technicality of the trails. The Trailforks trail map app (say that ten times fast) has been one of my most-used tools all year, quite possibly used every day. There are tons of features being added all the time, and can be helpful in notifying riders if there are trees down, other obstructions, or safety issues.
Full disclosure: Trailforks sits under the same umbrella as CyclingTips and Pinkbike. But that’s not why I love it.
Users update trails by uploading GPS files, photos, comments, and trail reports, all so I can pull up almost any trail and learn more about it. Trailforks supports local trail associations through donating “Trail Karma” and also points out local shops in the area. This is incredibly helpful when I remember a trail I rode with friends three months ago, but don’t remember how to route to it.
Trailforks helps me plan my trail routes ahead of time, or even on the fly. Oh, that’s a red labeled trail and is called “A Trip to the Dentist to Repair Your Smile?” Hmm… I think I would rather take that blue over there called “Jolly Trolly With a View.” Ultimately, it allows me to explore trails and connect routes together, and feel pretty comfortable exploring on my own. The added feature of accessing specific emergency info plays an incredible role here. I can direct dial to 911 and share my location coordinates. I’m saving up some cash for the newest Garmin Edges which have the Trailforks app integrated right onto the device.
Gravel riding has been my primary riding discipline this fall, and my Velocio Recon Micromodal jersey has been a riding top that I can’t seem to wash fast enough for my next ride. Made from Micromodal Carbon fabric (86% modal / 12% elastane / 2% carbon), the Recon jersey is geared more towards summer riding and has no zipper for a very comfortable fit, but still has the standard three back pockets. What I found interesting was the fabric, in particular. It’s incredibly soft and comfortable thanks to the modal fabric, yet fits like a race jersey. Modal is similar to rayon and is made from the fibers of beech trees. This type of fabric is the kind you would want your bed sheets to be if you run hot; it’s moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, and very breathable.
What I really want, though, is a long-sleeve version.
Price: US$139 / AU$143 / £TBC / €119
When people think of Wisconsin, they think of beer, cheese, brats, the Packers, and snow. While I think of all those things when I think of my home state, when my industry part of my brain is turned on, I think of things like Hayes, Trek, Kaitie Keough (nee. Antonneau), and Saris. I have had Saris bike racks since I first started driving. There are a few factors that have led me to continue with their racks to this day, including the customer service that they have given me over the years. Having used a number of products from the Saris / CycleOps family, I have always felt they deliver quality. Plus, they offer a lifetime warranty.
I currently am using the SuperClamp EX hitch rack set up to carry four bikes of all shapes and sizes. The steel rack is a bit heavy at a claimed weight of 28.5 kg (63lb), but it folds up and tilts down for easy access to the back of my Jeep.
The rack is equipped with two locks that slide back into the rack when not in use, and the adjustable wheel trays allow for varying wheelbases. This has always been a favourite feature of mine as I carry a variety of bikes quite frequently. I don’t own a fat bike, but Saris does offer some larger wheel trays to accommodate you snow bunnies.
Price: US$900 / AU$700 / £n/a / €n/a