Holiday Gear Guide: Bike Gear

Bike Gear (and Everything Else)

TRP Spyre Mechanical Disc Brakes, $90 per caliper, including rotor

I’ve already written fairly extensively about TRP’s Spyre mechanical disc brakes, but I’m happy to repeat it: these are the best mechanical disc brakes I’ve ever used. Granted, I haven’t ridden the high-dollar (and incredibly good-looking) Klampers from Paul Components, but the Spyres leave nothing to be desired as far as I can see. I’ve run them with dropbar levers and found the unique twin-piston design to deliver a feel that’s darn-near hydraulic in both power and modulation. 

The price for those pistons is a big ol’ arm that reaches to both sides of the brake and cuts into clearance (an issue Patrick O’Grady considered in his review of the Novara Mazama last year), but no re-dishing was required for my fork/wheel combination, and the Spyres have resisted trouble of any sort through a full season of riding. 

I’m no Luddite when it comes to brakes — I think Shimano’s mid- to upper-end hydraulic disc brakes for road and mountain bikes are nothing short of spectacular, and I find the worries about reliability and serviceability overblown (I can go years without a bleed or tune) but there’s something to be said for a cable-actuated brake in certain applications, especially when they’re practically as good as their hydraulic brethren. –AS

GU Stroopwafel, $23–$24

Over the course of the year, we receive a dozen or so random packages of “energy” from makers around the world. From quinoa-based bars (sorry, I have a quinoa allergy) to liquid … something, we run through plenty of options for calories on the bike. Like most people, I tour mostly for an excuse to eat ice cream, but when the situation demands quick calories, I’m now reaching for GU’s Stroopwafels. Sometimes when I’m running late, that situation is called breakfast.

The Dutch waffle is nothing new — hell, Delta Air Lines serves them if you fly in the morning — and Honey Stinger made the waffle-style “energy bar” a fixture in the sporting world, but for whatever reason GU’s version seems to perfectly mesh with my palate. The syrup waffles have become my go-to food for race-day mornings and the option I stockpile for bigger rides when I know breaking one out at the top of a climb will inspire envy among my riding buddies as they choke down some unspeakable gel.

GU advertises the amino acids, sodium, and, for some flavors, caffeine, but it’s their straight-up recommendation that the little waffle warms perfectly on the rim of a coffee cup that speaks to me: yeah, it’s an energy bar, but it’s the kind of energy bar I’d eat on a Tuesday. –AS

Topeak NanoTorqBox DX, $75

I regard torque specifications with the same derision I usually reserve for reality TV and vegetables, but then again, my mechanic skills are, shall we say, lacking. In fact, twisting bars, slipping seatposts, and the occasional AWOL chainring bolt have become my hallmark during weekly rides with colleagues. It is, I admit, a weakness. 

But here’s the thing: torque wrenches are bonkers expensive, and even with modern carbon parts, I’ve never been seriously bitten by just ballparking torque by using the time-tested lazy man’s method of “feel.” 

Topeak, though, was kind enough to send a sample of their idiot-proof Nano TorqSockets that are preset for the three most common requirements on cockpit parts (4, 5, and 6Nm). You simply slap the correct socket on the end of a 5mm hex wrench, use the bit required for the task, and tighten until the socket clicks. Easy.

Now, I didn’t have access to any sort of calibration machine so I can’t vouch for the precision of Topeak’s sockets, but assuming they’re right on, the small form factor of the set, slick storage box, and appropriate-for-almost-any-repair selection of bits meant this stayed near the front of my workbench all year and goaded even a cut-rate shade-tree mechanic such as myself into a smidgen of precision. –AS

Specialized Airnet Helmet, $150

Nothing fancy here, just a light, breathable, reasonably stylish helmet. Why then, with that seemingly simple list of qualifications, has such a lid proven so elusive to me? Part of the problem is my dome, which is both large and oddly shaped, rendering whole swaths of the helmet industrial complex incompatible with my cranium. But the other part is that when it comes to head protection, it feels like you have three options: ride in a mountain bike helmet with a ton of coverage but mediocre breathability (my usual go-to); look like you’re lining up for the Tour in an absurdly expensive, zillion-vented road helmet; or look like a normal, albeit extremely sweaty person in a “brain bucket” skate-style helmet that breathes about as well as Saran wrap. 

I’ve long admired Giro’s Aspect helmet as a casual-looking, well-ventilated helmet that leaves the people under it looking like something less than dorky. But for a variety of reasons, I’d never quite been able to pull the trigger on a $150 helmet that I liked primarily for its looks. I’m not ashamed to admit my vanity, but nor will I shy from my reputation as a cheapskate. So this summer when Specialized gave me an Airnet helmet, I figured I’d like its Aspect-like style but would probably still default to my usual options. Wrong-o. I wear the Airnet on my daily commute and on longer road rides, and I’ve carted it to Spain for a tour. Why? Because it’s fantastic.  It has all manner of vents and channels for ventilation, a removable visor (a feature I’ve grown to find indispensible, and one of the reasons I’ve always reached for MTB helmets in the past), comfortable fit, and, crucially, an attractive shape. It’s still a helmet, so Milan isn’t asking me up onto a runway, but that’s never been the point. I just want to look reasonably good and keep my head in a single piece. The Airnet’s not cheap, but for me it’s just right, and when this one is retired from service I won’t balk at buying another. –AS

SiS GO Isotonic gels, $9–$12 for a six-pack

On long rides, packing a few doses of surefire calories is a good idea. SiS gels deliver 90 calories in an isotonic form, a solution that doesn’t require a drink of water afterwards. This helps your body absorb them easily, and in our experience it does so without upsetting your stomach. Offered in several flavors, some with caffeine, SiS gels are a convenient way to get in some quick calories. You pay a bit extra if you want the caffeine hit, and while sports nutrition products are rarely cheap, they can be a great way to ensure you finish your ride with energy to spare. –NL

CatEye Rapid X lights, $75 per pair

I am increasingly a fan of daytime running lights on any bike that sees road traffic. There is simply no reason not to run them: lights are cheaper than ever, feature USB recharging, and some are even quite fetching in their appearance. A favorite set of mine has to be CatEye’s Rapid X front and rear lights. They sell individually or as a set and don’t look out of place even on fancy carbon-fiber racing bikes. They also mount without tools, making recharging easy, and feature several flashing modes as well as a steady beam. –NL

Coros LINX Smart Helmet, $200 

Covering your ears while cycling is a bad idea for many reasons, but if you like to listen to music while riding, the LINX is worth checking out. The LINX uses bone conduction technology, which allows music to reach the bones of the listener’s middle ear without covering them. The “speakers” sit just below your ear and snug up against your skull between the mandible and zygomatic bone.
In addition the LINX offers other features including a wireless remote, phone call access, and the ability to hear ride data and navigation information, and you can also add a walkie-talkie accessory to communicate with other cyclists wearing LINX helmets. Most of these features are available through an iOS or Android app.
But my focus was on the music-listening experience. The sound itself is pretty darn good. I was very skeptical about this system before I tried it, but I became convinced of its effectiveness within minutes of my first ride. The helmet itself is pretty standard in most regards but is a bit longer in the back to accommodate the sound system. –MD

Acre Hauser 14L Hydration Pack, $215

Almost 10 years ago, I bought a CamelBak M.U.L.E. for long runs and for mountain biking, and thus began my difficult relationship with hydration packs. On the one hand, such packs offer water, snack, and tool storage that is hard to beat. On the other, any pack, regardless of how “breathable” the back panel is, is going to make your back sweat profusely, and suspending all that weight from the shoulders is uncomfortable. I switched to one of them newfangled fanny packs this year to much success in terms of comfort and breathability. But for longer rides, the fanny pack isn’t enough. Enter the Acre Hauser. The waterproof Hauser can be had in 10L and 14L sizes and includes a large main compartment with a roll-top closure, three zippered pockets, and a tool roll. The shoulder straps and removable waist straps are highly adjustable, which, combined with a thick foam padding on the back panel — Ariaprene™ hexagonal perforated foam, according to Acre — makes for an awfully comfy pack. I used it for several long rides and hikes, including a few all-day epics in the backcountry, and even loaded to the brim with food, tools, layers, emergency supplies, and a 3L water bladder, I never felt the usual shoulder and upper-back strain I’ve experience with other packs. This alone makes the Hauser a triumph, so the high style of the pack’s design is just icing. There are a few flaws, though. Unlike brands like CamelBack, Osprey, and Platypus, who all include their own proprietary bladders and have nifty sleeves for them, the Hauser makes do with a generic Velcro strap in its bladder pocket that may or may not work well with your bladder (my 3L CamelBak bladder played nicely with it). Another issue is with fit. The Hauser is a tallish thing, more so when stuffed, and during steep mountain bike descents I’d feel the roll top hit the back of my helmet. The final issue with the Hauser — and probably the most disconcerting — is its price. It ain’t cheap. $215 is a lot to ask for a backpack. The Acre Hauser is, however, waterproof, durable, supremely comfortable, and made in the U.S. More affordable packs are often none of those things. –DM

Brooks Cambium C15 Carved, $160

I’ve tested and written about many saddles for Adventure Cyclist through the years. Most of them served their primary function well and comfortably, but without hesitation I can say that the Cambium C15 Carved by Brooks is the most enjoyable saddle I’ve used, including the Cambium C17 I reviewed in the December/January issue. I say enjoyable because from the moment I sat on it and pedaled away, I felt like I’d been using it for years. The vulcanized rubber body over a steel frame offers generous flexibility but is not squishy, and it’s dimensions just work for me — not too narrow and not too wide (283 x 140mm). The durable organic cotton covering keeps me from slipping around on the saddle even when wet, but the most important factor is the addition of an ergonomic cut-out, something I now consider a must-have feature.

The C15 Carved is made in Italy, and I hope it gets back to its home country someday with me aboard it. —MD

Blackburn Outpost Front World Touring Rack, $100

I’m a big fan of front racks with a platform. I find all kinds of uses for them depending on what kind of bike trip I’m on, and I always miss a platform if I’m using a rack without one. The Outpost Front World Touring rack features a platform that can easily be removed if you find you won’t need it. This is the kind of flexibility of design that defines the Outpost Front. Yes, it’s a durable rack constructed of aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum, but the fact that it’s flexible to accommodate so many types of bike frames is what makes it a rack for you to consider.

I attached it to my Co-Motion Divide and to my modified Cannondale T1000 touring bike. Both are 700c frames, and the Cannondale has been adapted heavily through the years and the fork is not the original. Both of these bikes have through-holes in the fork.

Space won’t permit me to describe the entire process for each bike, but, in short, I used many of the options offered by Blackburn’s Universal Fit System. It’s likely you would need to employ some of the these options as well, and in some cases cutting and filing the tubing might be involved, something I did not have to do. To avoid installation issues, it might be best to purchase the Rack Fit System Upper Mount Kit ($28) and the Rack Fit System Long Quick Release ($16).

It may seem like overkill but once you’ve got all of these parts and the options they allow, it’s likely the Outpost Front will fit just about any bike you use for bike travel from road touring to bikepacking. And once you’ve got it installed, you, like me, will be pretty happy with the results. —MD

Portland Design Works Bindle Rack, $88

PDW’s Bindle Rack is a seatpost-mounted platform rack that is super easy to install and will carry all kinds of items you typically take on a bike trip. At its base, it connects to your seatpost with a simple two-bolt clamp, and you then loop two nylon straps over your saddle rails to provide more support. These nylon straps don’t only supply support, they also help secure your gear by adjusting their length using standard locking buckle mechanisms. A third adjustable strap then secures the back end of your gear bag, roll up, or whatever else you’d like to carry, like a metal beer growler. Simple.

The Bindle accommodates seatposts of 22mm to 31.6mm. The platform is 5.25 x 13.5 inches and, including the rack’s metal-alloy frame, the total length is 17 inches. It weighs 13 ounces, and its carrying capacity recommendation is no more than 11.5 pounds.

If you don’t already have a cargo sack to use with a rack like the Bindle, PDW will package it with a Revelate Designs Terrapin Drybag for you for $118. —MD

North St. Bags Buckman, 13L: $29, 31L: $45

The North St. Bags Buckman is the kind of item that at first glance seems pretty mundane and unexceptional. I mean, it’s a nylon gear bag, right? Perhaps so, but the Buckman is one of those products that I can find so many uses for, I find myself cursing my stupidity when I’ve left it behind.

Constructed of waterproof X-Pac VX21 sailcloth and featuring bound internal seams, you can stuff anything in the Buckman from cycling gear to groceries. If you want to keep items from getting wet, or keep wet items from getting dry items wet, the Buckman is there for you. Peeling off your soaking wet riding gear before running some errands? Stuff them in the Buckman and away you go. Have panniers that aren’t waterproof? Stuff a Buckman inside one or two, and your gear will stay dry as a bone.

Made in Portland, Oregon, the Buckman is available in 13-liter or 31-liter sizes. Other features include reflective accents, a nylon grab handle, and a loop at the bottom so you can hang it upside down to dry. —MD