Geared Up: Mid-Summer Picks

Yakima FullSwing ($499)

If you ask me, the bike rack war has been won and hitch-mounted racks have come out on top, so the only question left to ask is which hitch-mounted style is best for you. For families looking to haul a bunch of bikes on the back of their SUV or truck (a 2-inch receiver hitch is required so small cars are out) and still access the back of their rig can do no better than the Yakima FullSwing.

Built like an Abrams tank — and only weighing slightly less at 56 lbs. — the FullSwing takes four bikes on its rubber-coated arms and secures them first with a variety of adjustable ratcheting strap points and then with a built in cable lock to keep crooks from making off with the family wheels. The straps, which Yakima calls ZipStrips, are easy to clamp down and release with the touch of a lever. Unlike systems I’ve used in the past (even other Yakima systems) these straps aren’t attached at either end so they ratchet on both sides of the loop. While this is undeniably convenient, it’s also an undeniably quick way to lose some straps. I left them ratcheted in one side just to avoid the inevitable glovebox search that was sure to come.

The FullSwing’s party piece is the rack’s ability to swing away from the back of the vehicle on a burly hinge system, first moving the bikes away, then pivoting the load so it’s parallel to the vehicle and not blocking access to the back. As a truck owner, I’m more likely to go over than through to access the contents of the bed, but it was convenient to be able to drop the tailgate for a quick fix or post-ride shoe change without having to remove the rack.

The solid build quality, locking receiver mount, and obligatory bottle opener featured across Yakima’s line are all present here and the black and red color scheme looks slick against most paint jobs, if that sort of thing matters to you.

The FullSwing does have an achilles heel, though, and it’s apparent as soon as you try to load up a bike of the non-diamond frame variety. I couldn’t make either of my full-suspension mountain bikes work well on the rack without either using the rear shock as a contact point or loading up the frame so awkwardly that I was worried a pothole would drop my front wheel into the road. Yakima’s TubeTop adaptor, which grasps straight across from the seatpost to the stem to provide convenient mounting points, would solve the problem, but I’d rather buy one of the brand’s tray-style systems to make frame shape moot. In fact, that’s exactly what I did, and find the company’s new TwoTimer rack ($299) perfect for my mostly mountain bike hauling.

Spot Trace ($120, plus service subscription)

Touring cyclists are no strangers to GPS technology, but the tiny Trace from Spot doesn’t display waypoints, track speed or cadence, or point the way to the nearest ice cream stop. Instead, this little tracker is designed as anti-theft protection to keep tabs on your belongings. Marketed primarily for motorized transport from boats to snowmobiles and even heavy equipment like bulldozers, I was initially skeptical that this little puck would be a worthy addition to my pannier. But my mind was pretty quickly changed once I realized that once powered on, set up and stashed under an emergency raincoat in the bottom of my bag it was practically invisible — and so would likely remain for thieves absconding with my ride.

For the Trace to function you have to pay for Spot’s tracking service, which runs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year, but what that gets you is the ability to track the Trace every 2.5, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes and set up customizable alerts such as movement alerts. 

I set my account to ping me with an email any time the bike was on the move and could also updates via Spot’s free smartphone app, which had a detailed history of each check-in. Truth be told, 99 percent of the time this isn’t especially useful and I admit I came to find the emails informing me every time I left the office pretty annoying. But if one of those emails announcing that movement was detected arrived while I was still sitting at my desk? Well, all of a sudden it seems like quite a bargain.

I’m not sure I’d buy and maintain service for the Trace for my everyday life, but if I were heading out on an extended tour I’d strongly consider bringing it along just in case your bike wandered off while you were stopped for a breather. You’d at least have a head start on working with law enforcement to recover it.

DeMarchi Heritage Polo (€120)

Oh man, are DeMarchi jerseys good looking. Positively dripping with Italian style, it’s hard to even glance at one without pulling an espresso shot and shouting into your cell phone. Of course those are just lazy stereotypes, but forgive me one more: Italians are some trim folks. They must be, because one too many scoops of gelato and DeMarchi’s slim fit will have you looking a bit too much like a 10-pound italian sausage in a five-pound casing. 

But damned if you won’t be one stylish over-stuffed sausage. The cotton, polo-style Heritage series jersey I tested looked fantastic on and off the bike, was comfortable for casual riding, and had me craving a fancy road bike deserving of such a well-dressed pilot.

I’m a big fan of light wool jerseys in the summer when some synthetic fibers start to feel a little clingy in the sweaty heat of mid-riding season, and I was initially skeptical about a cotton jersey. But I must say, the airy fabric — light a lightweight version of a knit polo — vented well and a little sweat soaked up quickly and provided some cooling versus that synthetic feel against the skin. That said, any hint of coolness in the air would quickly have me scampering for another — almost certainly less stylish — top for any serious riding.

SafeCatch Tuna (from $21 for a 6 pack)

A can of tuna might not be the lightest item in a pannier, but the protein packed into that little tin is a tempting proposition when you’re looking to refuel quickly. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it decidedly does not taste like an energy bar. Alas, the mighty tuna could be poisoning you. The big fish often contain high levels of mercury — an occupational hazard of being up high in the ocean’s food chain. And though the FDA does demand certain mercury levels not be exceeded, if you want to be on the extra safe side, SafeCatch tuna promises their canned tuna meets requirements 10 times stricter than the FDA’s. How do they accomplish this level of purity? They test every single fish. Every. Single. Fish. Tester of individual fish is not a job I’d be signing up for, but it’s an undeniable level of commitment. 

I can’t say mercury levels are something I’ve ever been extremely concerned with — though when tins of tuna were a mainstay of my college diet, perhaps I should have been — but for pregnant women, kids, and even athletes looking to live as clean as possible, I can understand the impulse. There’s no denying the tuna was tasty and it was nice to enjoy some sea poultry without feeling like there was a poultry farm behind it. But like GMO-free, grass-fed, free-range meat or wild-harvested whatever, it comes at a cost. In this case, it’s $3.50 a can for the company’s “Elite” wild skipjack and $4.50 a can for the wild albacore variety, which is at least a buck or two more than the standard stuff in your grocery store. Is it worth it? Hard to say, but I’ll definitely give it a long look next time I’m walking down that particular aisle.

DZR Mechanic ($99)

One of the benefits of cycling’s increased popularity is that products designed for cyclists  become more numerous. Take shoes. I remember when there were very few options, but now that's changed. DRZ makes a bunch of styles and one is the Mechanic, basically a casual sneaker-style shoe that is comfortable in many environments. While it looks like a non-cycling shoe, it behaves like a cyclist would expect. It provides a stiff platform through DZR's variable flex shank so your toes and sole don't flex too much, which causes fatigue. It's SPD compatible but performs just as well on flat pedals like the Grand Cru Sabot Pedals (read about them here: Other features include sturdy nylon side panels, natural gum rubber outsole, and a perforated vegan toe cap that allows for a nice cooling breeze to blow through when pedaling. The vegan part means all materials to build the Mechanic are synthetic so no animal products are used. The Mechanic weighs in at a nifty 15.5 oz.

Clement XC LXV ($50)

Continuing the plethora of product theme, there are also more tire options than ever. There used to be very few 700c or 29er tires aimed at those of us who like to ride off pavement.  While the XC LXV is designed for racing on hard pack terrain, due to its lightweight nature (19.4 oz.), high volume supple casing, and low knobs and center tread that roll nicely, it makes for an excellent off-road touring or bikepacker tire. Other features include foldability and puncture protection. Add soft rubber to the mix and the XC LXV meets all the specifications for off roaders.

Enevu Cube ($30)

Since human sight is very poor in low light conditions, we've created more ways produce artificial light than just about anything else. The Enevu Cube is a cool little light that will make a bike traveler’s camping experience a bit easier. Weighing in at just under 3.5 oz. with cube dimensions of 2.05 in., the Enevu provides three light settings (1, 20, and 100 lumens) as well as a color-changing mode and a locked-color mode. The detachable diffuser cap performs its task well and a hanging hook hidden in the battery cover allows for the Cube to be suspended, handy for reading in your tent. The highest setting (three-hour burn time) will accommodate a stroll or tent setup in the dark, the medium setting (11-hour burn time) is adequate for reading, and the low setting (100 hour burn time) provides enough light for finding items or packing, and it’s not squint-inducing. The ANSI color burn times are about double the regular white light. Holding the power button for six seconds will put the Cube into emergency flash mode in which it will flash once every three seconds. Clicking once will advance the Cube through brighter settings while double clicking reverses the pattern. The Cube operates on three AAA batteries.

Showers Pass Torch Socks ($15.95-$17.95)

If you ride at night, you might want to consider slipping on a pair of Showers Pass Torch socks. Made of a combination of wool, acrylic, polyester, lycra, and spandex, the Torch features a 3M Scotchlite reflective Showers Pass logo just above the ankle. The sock itself is padded at the toe, heel, and balls of the feet and offers compression at the arch and Achilles tendon area. Other features include minimal fabric at the tongue zone and an extra flat toe seems minimize pressure points. The Torch comes in crew and ankle height.

Timbuk2 Especial Medio Cycling Laptop Backpack ($179)

If you carry a lot of stuff around with you when riding, the Especial Medio Cycling Laptop Backpack could be for you. It’s super expandable, highly water resistant, and very durable. It’s features are many, but pockets first: a large internal pocket with a waterproof liner offers a compartment for a 15-inch laptop; dual stretch side pockets for U-locks or water bottles; a dual front pocket (which is really two separate pockets), the outer of which features a zippered compartment for quick-grab items, but not as quick as the ones that will be stored in the zippered pocket at the top of the main compartment. Oh, and did I mention the two mesh pockets inside the main compartment? 

Other features include a tail-light loop, a Backbender flexible cooling panel for ventilation, straps that feature high-density foam for comfort and ventilation, routing for a headphone cord or a hydration hose, external compression straps, reflective panels, and straps across the waist, mid section, and chest for excellent stability. The list could go on but I'm getting cramps from typing too many words. To get a better understanding of the versatile bag, check out the video online.