'Tis the season for dreaming about future trips, idly scrolling through forum threads, and maybe breaking out that fat bike when the white stuff falls. For the staff of Adventure Cyclist, it's also time for garage tinkering, re-configuring, and lining up gear and bikes to test for our readers in 2018. With that in mind, we've gathered some of our favorites from 2017 — presented here in ascending order of price from $1 to nearly $700 — to offer a few ideas for the cyclists on your list to kick off 2018 in style.
You may remember SPAM from your childhood camping trips or from your survivalist neighbor’s bomb shelter. I know SPAM as the secret ingredient to my mom’s mac and cheese casserole. Either way you slice it, SPAM is still SPAM. It’s a compact, high-calorie food that will survive a nuclear holocaust. It has a hammy flavor to it. It’s pink. And you know what? It’s still good, no-nonsense camping fare.
I like chopping it up and mixing it with rice, but, as ever, SPAM is highly adaptable. You can fry it up with eggs, stick it between two slices of bread, or even throw it into a tortilla for a SPAMuritto. Best of all, the Single packets are small and thin enough that you’ll lose them in the dark crevasses of your panniers only to find them again decades later and discover they’re still perfectly good to eat. –DM
Nothing fancy here, just a classic, classy bell for your bike. The flat-disc design looks good on a stem or bars, the attachment is a simple band, and the tone is more hat-tip than honk. It’s probably not loud enough to pierce be-earbudded joggers enjoying a Spinal Tap homage, but otherwise it’s a no-nonsense bit of kit that strikes just the right chord (I’m sorry) for a stocking stuffer. –AS
When cycling in low-light conditions, being as visible as possible could mean the difference between a car passing you safely or giving you a friendly nudge with its bumper.
Brilliant Reflective strips use 3M Scotchlite material to, well, reflect light. That’s what all reflectors do, right? According to Brilliant, typical reflectors — like the ones you take off your new bike as soon as you wheel it out of the shop — are visible only to about 100 feet. Brilliant claims that their strips, however, are the brightest out there and can be seen from 700 feet away.
Aside from being bright, Brilliant’s strips are handy because you can put them on just about anything. I used the stick-on strips (iron-on strips are also available) on a couple of my helmets, and I placed them such that they reflect both to the rear and the sides, to maximize my 360-degree visibility.
I wasn’t able to confirm Brilliant’s claims in this review, but I can attest that the strips are awfully bright and will definitely get a driver’s attention (assuming their eyes are on the road and not a phone). Reflectors will never take the place of good lights when it comes to nighttime visibility, but augmenting your lighting with Brilliant strips will do well to make you too bright to ignore. –DM
Sold as a pair, Hiplok’s Z-Loks are overgrown, reusable zip ties that act as a quick deterrent to would-be bike thieves. You can use them separately or in tandem to increase the length. Because they’re so small and lightweight, they’re perfect for times when you run into a grocery store or restaurant during a bicycle tour. They’re also handy for securing your helmet to your bike or as a backup strap. –NL
We’re not awarding any kind of product of the year, but if we were, this would be short-listed. I picked up one of these clever bells in the spring and now curse myself whenever I forget to switch it to new bars when I swap bikes. In bear country and on multiuse trails, it is practically mandatory.
Rather than ringing the Timber Bell, you flip a switch to turn it on or off, and let the movement of the handlebars do the rest. When on, the bell jangles clearly (and pretty darn loudly), and when off it goes silent thanks to a cable that retracts the clapper.
Of course, that means smooth tarmac won’t provide much of a ring at all, and I’ve even found smooth sections of fast singletrack can’t illicit much noise from the Timber Bell, but a gentle wiggle of the bars can act like a striker of sorts. On rougher trails, flipping the lever to “on” will warn other trail users — of both the human and ursine variety — of your approach.
On Missoula’s trails, I can report a distinct difference in trail interactions with hikers and others when I have the Timber mounted up versus days it was left at home. People are generally nicer and often mention the bell specifically. I’m not saying it’s a miracle worker for trail relations, but I am saying it’s been excellent PR. I like it so much that I recommended it for Adventure Cycling’s own Cyclosource store, where you’ll see it beginning next spring. –AS
Join Adventure Cycling or renew your membership now and you can give a Holiday Gift Membership for just $22.50, half off our regular rate! When you give a Holiday Gift Membership, we'll send a gift card and packet in your name.You'll be giving a subscription to Adventure Cyclist magazine, member discounts on maps, access to more than 100 guided tours, and supporting bicycle travel around the country. –AS
Espro’s Coffee and Tea Press is great for work and travel, as well as for bike trips when you aren’t counting grams. It can be used to make French Press or pour-over coffee, and to steep loose-leaf tea. The stainless steel container is double walled and vacuum insulated. It holds 15 ounces as a travel mug or can make up to 10 ounces of coffee. After several months of use, it shows no signs of wear and keeps liquids nice and hot for several hours. –NL
I haven’t carried a U-lock since the great ballpoint pen scandal of a decade ago. They’re heavy and awkward, and while they provide high levels of security (post-pen, anyway), I find that the locks I reach for are smaller and lighter — keeping-honest-people-honest locks rather than thwarting motivated thieves.
But the Carlito has me singing a slightly different tune. It looks every bit the bomber bit of security, but then you pick it up and … there’s very little there. The Carlito is made of aluminum, not steel, and as such weighs in safely under a pound. You wouldn’t have any idea, either, unless you actually handle the thing, making it a strong visual deterrent and still providing medium-level security. But hey, if someone was going to saw through the thing anyway, I feel like the battle’s already been lost. For a touring cyclist looking to keep their load light but carry a little more than a featherweight cable lock, it’s a game changer. –AS
If you or someone in your family likes to explore areas without safe water sources, packing a water filter brings added security. Katadyn’s BeFree 1.0L soft bottle is lightweight and packs down when not in use. Unlike chemical treatments that take time to purify, the BeFree gives you clean water instantly. You can also use it to refill all your bottles before heading off for more miles. Available in 3.0L and 0.6L versions as well. –NL
Typical waterproof gloves are bulky and limit dexterity. Not so with the Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Knit Gloves. These lightweight gloves have three bonded layers to keep your hands warm and dry. Silicone printing on the palm helps with grip, and we like the bright colors too. The Crosspoint Gloves are a perfect stocking stuffer for the runner, hiker, or cyclist in your family. –NL
As a rider who avoids wearing a backpack whenever possible, I’m a big fan of anything that keeps the essentials on the bike and off my sweaty back.
To enable my packless riding, the Ninja TC Road bottle cage carries a multitool, two tire levers, and, naturally, a bottle. The levers are durable plastic, and the tool, which can perform the basic functions, is housed in a sealed box that rotates for easy opening. (If you want a more comprehensive tool, and you can do without the levers, check out the Ninja TC Mountain.) I spent an entire season with the Ninja, and it worked flawlessly but for one minor niggle: depending on your bottle’s shape, you may have to push it out of the way to get the tool case open.
If you like the idea of the Ninja, Topeak offers many other options for smuggling the necessities on your bike. You can have a bottle cage with a spare-tube pouch, a cage with mounts for co2 canisters, a pump that slips inside your seatpost, and even a two-part chain tool that fits in both ends of your handlebar. –DM
Named for Jobst Brandt, one of Tom Ritchey’s close friends and personal mentors, the Alpine JB tire is a tubeless-ready 700c x 35mm tire that’s great for cyclists who regularly mix tarmac, dirt, and gravel. Its 120tpi casing is wonderfully supple, and the inverse tread provides excellent traction without large knobs to slow you through fast sections. To keep sharp objects at bay, the tire uses Ritchey’s Stronghold Casing protection. –NL
My personal cycling style is neither enduro-bro nor hipster enough to sport a hip pack on the regular, but Portland’s North St. Bags’ Pioneer 12 offers a hip pack versatile enough for any shape, even squares. The 12-liter bag is big enough for a tube, tools, a light layer, and maybe a snack, or thanks to a wraparound zipper that lets it open flat, it can hold a dopp kit’s worth of toiletries. Waterproof zippers and DWR-treated Cordura fabric make it resistant to all but the most torrential weather, and since each bag is made to order, color choices run the gamut.
My favorite part about this hip pack, however, is that it doesn’t have to be that at all. Optional handlebar straps ($12) turn the Pioneer into a sleek handlebar bag, which is the configuration I’ve used 90 percent of the time. As part of a touring system or simply as an option for everyday cycling, the Pioneer offers a ton of versatility in a high-quality, USA-made package. –AS
Pogies are a winter cyclist’s best friend. Wolf Tooth’s Singletrack pogies are substantially thinner than most and are adjustable for variable weather. With the cuffs unzipped and folded open, your hands breathe better and come out much easier to brace for impact or to adjust your riding scarf. Zip the cuffs back up for better heat retention in colder weather. They also have nifty quick-release bar plugs so you can take them on or off in seconds. You can even get a second set of bar plugs and easily swap the pogies from one bike to another.
I used the Singletrack pogies from fall to spring, and they did a wonderful job of keeping my hands warm even while wearing thin gloves. My digits only got cold on a couple of particularly freezing fat bike rides on a flat course where it was hard to get my body temperature up. Another benefit of the Wolf Tooth pogies is their durability. After a season of abuse — including charging through a brush-filled trail where an errant branch poked a hole in a coworker’s neoprene pogies — the Singletracks still look brand new.
If I lived in a colder climate or mainly rode flat routes where I wouldn’t have a chance to warm up, I’d look at thicker pogies. But for cold shoulder-season rides and winter fatbiking on singletrack, the Singletrack pogies are the business. –DM
I have a soft spot for the oxymoronically named “performance flannel” shirts. Last year I tested a pair from Kitsbow and Western Rise, and for both style and flexibility they’ve moved to the top of my cold-weather rotation (plenty of opportunity for such here in Montana). I’ve long been a fan of Club Ride’s casual look so it made sense that the brand would move into the flannel world. Their new Gravity model attempts to thread the needle between technical and casual.
First off, it’s the heaviest of the three and the stiffest. Out of the box I was worried this would be uncomfortable, but so far the cut and fit have trumped any drawbacks from the fabric weight as far as how the shirt lays. On a bike ... it’s toasty. And a slow-burning fall hasn’t provided the cold conditions in which the Gravity would thrive (namely, on fat bikes). But the trim-cut sleeves, reflective piping, and great off-the-bike looks have kept it on my back as I wait for the snow, and underarm vents help counteract the mild air temps on less strenuous commutes. –AS
I initially scoffed at the idea of a pump with Bluetooth connectivity, but Silca’s Tattico Bluetooth uses their iGauge smartphone app to measure tire pressure with a high degree of accuracy. As a bonus, Silca claims that the Bluetooth internals are more robust than any mechanical gauge. We also love the extendable hose and small, locking pump head. The build quality is top notch, as we’ve come to expect from Silca’s recent reboot. –NL
NEMO Tensor Insulated 20R Mummy Sleeping Pad, $150 (currently out of stock)
We reviewed NEMO’s Tensor Insulated pad in the October/November issue, but it’s become such a solid favorite that it bears attention here. Comfortable into freezing temps for this reviewer, it packs small and still weighs less than a pound. NEMO also offers its Tensor line in rectangular shapes if you prefer a slightly larger footprint underneath as you slumber. –NL
For years now, whether on a long tour, competing in a triathlon, or simply going for a post-work ride, I’ve reached for what the manufacturers would call “lifestyle” sunglasses. Give me that classic aviator or Ray-Ban style over the sci-fi shields that might provide a slight advantage in performance but look silly as soon as you dismount. In fact, I’ve owned a number of Smith glasses that leaned far more toward bar stool than dropbar.
The Attacks, though, might have converted me. First of all, they’re easy to convert. A major advantage of “performance” glasses has long been lens interchangeability, but the mechanisms usually required contortions of either fingers or expensive frames — neither a great feeling. The Attacks have a dead-simple magnetic closure on each earpiece that releases easily and snaps reassuringly shut to switch lenses in seconds with no fear of contorting yourself right out of a few hundred dollars by breaking something. The nose piece snaps in and out slightly less easily, but the biggest risk there is smudging the lens in the process.
Where the Attacks really shine, though, is the lenses. Smith has been touting its “Chromapop” technology for a few years, but this was my first experience with the supposedly more vibrant lenses. It’s no lie — features are defined, colors are bright, and the optics are first-rate. The “Contrast Rose” lens in particular is a favorite for mixed light conditions. –AS
Far from a stocking stuffer, Praxis’s Lyft crank is a significant upgrade for any mountain bike. Designed for 1x drivetrains only, the Lyft uses a 30mm spindle for stiffness and a SRAM-compatible, direct-mount chainring. It’s lightweight but up to the task of hard use. A set of crankarm protectors slip over the ends before pedal installation to help beef them up without adding real heft. The accompanying compatible bottom bracket will run between $45 and $75 depending on your bike’s dimensions. –NL
Of the many, many new species of bicycles to come to market the past few years, the “gravel” bike may be the most versatile. Road, dirt, gravel (naturally), bikepacking, touring, cyclocross racing, and even light-duty mountain biking are all within the gravel bike’s purview — assuming you have the right tires and wheels.
To test my theory in gravel versatility, I chose a set of Stan’s Crest wheels — which are marketed for 29er mountain bikes — to see how they’d fare on my Salsa Warbird. Stan’s Grail or Iron Cross wheels are more common for this application, but I wanted a wider rim to take advantage of low-pressure, high-volume tubeless tires. With a 23mm internal rim width, the Crest wheels provided a nice platform for the 42mm Specialized Sawtooth and 37mm WTB Riddler tires I used during the test period. Even with a significantly wider rim, they’re much lighter than my Warbird’s stock wheels.
The Stan’s wheels are nothing too fancy, and the better for it: they arrived taped and with tubeless valves, and feature 32 triple-butted J-bend spokes, Sapim aluminum nipples, and Stan’s own Neo hubs with three freehub bearings and quick 10-degree engagement. The freehub is on the loud side, which I like. Six bolts keep the rotors in place, and thru-axles — 100 x 15mm front and 142 x 12mm rear — lend confidence in rough terrain. Even riding loaded (the bike, not me) on dirt and singletrack, the wheels never flexed, pinged, or went out of true. A visit to my local shop’s truing stand after a couple hundred miles confirmed their durability.
After several months of hard use riding everything from glass-smooth bitumen to rocky singletrack, the Crest wheels proved themselves as a sturdy and lightweight option for the discerning gravelist. –DM
Our favorite gifts from Cyclosource
What happens when you give a bunch of magazine nerds the run of the place? You get a list of our favorite gear from Adventure Cycling’s own Cyclosource store that leans heavily toward print. Whether you love maps, books, or just want to know what day it is for the next 12 months, these gift ideas should tide you over until riding season and beyond.
As our most-loved columnist, you can never go wrong with Willie Weir. His unique take on adventure — between the white lines and between his ears — is captured in Travels With Willie, a collection of his columns by the same name for Adventure Cyclist.
If Bicycle Route 66 is “The Mother Road,” the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail is the paterfamilias of domestic bicycle touring. Follow along from the earliest crossers to Bikecentennial in 1976 to the riders of today — and tomorrow — in America’s Bicycle Route, our comprehensive look at the route that started it all.
Sometimes all you need is a little guidance to get out the door. Look no further than Falcon’s Illustrated Guide to Bike Touring and Bikepacking by Justin Lichter and Justin Kline.
You may have already heard that 2018 is the 20th anniversary of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. But did you know we’re releasing new maps for the iconic route too? That means that for a limited time you can buy a set of the current maps at half price so you can start planning right away. You’ll also receive a coupon to buy the new maps at half price when they’re released in the spring — two sets for the price of one!
Thinking about visiting us in Missoula? You won’t want to miss the great riding, hiking, and more in the outdoor paradise Adventure Cycling calls home. Luckily our very own Jamie Robertson and his wife Amelia run Cairn Cartographics, which produces beautiful maps of our own backyard. Grab a copy and get out there!
On the Wall
Stuff a stocking with inspiration and memories whether you’ve ridden the TransAm or spend your days dreaming about it. Our poster-size map of the route is a beautifully rendered illustration of our original route.
2018 is almost here, so you’d better grab the annual Adventure Cycling Association calendar so you can experience gorgeous photos of bicycle travel for another year. Featuring submissions from our Bicycle Travel Photo Contest and our iconic black-and-white portraits, this is a must-have for any cyclist on your list!