December 2016 Product Picks: Smith Optics, Bontrager, Edco 3ax, Bar Fly, Fix-It Sticks, Tacx, and Wind-Blox

by James Huang

December 7, 2016

Photography by James Huang

In this month’s edition of Product Picks, U.S. technical editor James Huang provides his feedback on Smith Optics’ latest lens technology, some budget-minded footwear from Bontrager, a novel pedal concept from Edco 3ax, Bar Fly’s latest two-in-one gadget, Fix-It Sticks’ innovative take on the lowly multi-tool, Tacx’s stylish water bottle and cage, and a neat idea from Wind-Blox to keep wind noise at bay.

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Wind-Blox Pro wind noise blocker

by James Huang

The rumbling of wind noise is something most of us take as an unavoidable companion while riding — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Wind-Blox are small add-ons that wrap around your helmet straps in front of your ears. The idea here is to basically divert turbulent air outward past your ears, similar to holding a finger up against your head. This reduces background noise and allows you to better hear more important events like upcoming traffic, the conversation with your riding buddies, or the fellow racer behind you who just upshifted in preparation for an imminent attack.

Wind-Blox offers two types of wind blockers, and I’ve opted here to review the Pro version, which covers more of the helmet strap, but doesn’t stick out as far from your head.

Our Take:

Several companies have tried to lessen the din of wind rushing past your ears, but not many have succeeded. I was already very familiar with Cat Ears, having sampled them for the first time a few years ago. They work remarkably well (you never knew how much noise you were dealing with until it’s suddenly almost gone), but I never stopped being self-conscious of their goofy appearance. Let’s just say they wouldn’t look out of place at a convention of Elvis impersonators.

So it was with more than a little optimism that I set out with the Wind-Blox Pro blockers, which are undeniably sleeker and more in keeping with modern roadie aesthetics. They go on easily, fit with most of the helmets I tried, and are pleasantly inconspicuous to onlookers.

Wind Blox work by - as the name suggests - blocking air from passing directly over your ears, thus reducing wind noise while riding. The effect is similar to what you'd get by holding a finger up against your head.

Wind-Blox work by – as the name suggests – blocking air from passing directly over your ears, thus reducing wind noise while riding. The effect is similar to what you’d get by holding a finger up against your head.

That said, they don’t work as well as Cat Ears.

Wind noise with the Wind-Blox Pro blockers is substantially reduced as compared to not using them at all, but it’s not as dramatic a difference as I had hoped — like donning a set of medium-quality noise-cancelling headphones on the plane instead of stuffing a set of really good earplugs in there. That said, they do work, and are certainly better than not having them at all.

I’d like to see shorter versions offered, though, as the generous length doesn’t play well with some helmet strap designs — in particular, ones with fixed splitters that don’t allow for any length adjustment on the sides. Helmets with shorter side straps will likely require you to slide the Wind-Blox wind blockers all the way to the base of the helmet shell, where they interfere with how sunglasses fit on your head. It’s perhaps worth noting that none of the people in the company’s marketing imagery are wearing eyewear of any sort.

When judged in absolute terms, Wind Blox may not work as well as Cat Ears, but their markedly improved appearance shouldn’t be discounted. Being able to hear your surroundings is an advantage in a competitive environment, but it’s also a safety factor — and if a more subdued appearance means the difference between wearing something like and not wearing it at all, it’s hard to find fault there.

Price: US$18 / AU$TBC / £11