Geared Up: Just in Time for the Holidays

GU Roctane energy drink mix

GU Roctane Energy Drink Mix, $30 for 12 servings

I’m a big fan of drink mixes, partly for the calories but mostly for the electrolytes. I like to stay hydrated in the hot Utah summers. I’ve tried a lot of different drink mixes and liked most of them, but what sets GU’s Roctane apart for me is the calorie content. My usual drink mix has 80 calories per serving. Roctane has a whopping 250! It’s like having a sandwich in my bottle! Okay, a liquid sandwich that tastes like grape and maybe has some caffeine. But seriously, I quickly discovered that the Roctane has a huge advantage over my other drink mixes when it comes to big, daylong rides: namely, I can pedal longer without having to stop for a snack because the drink mix is my snack. I’m a snacky dude, and I never complain about stopping to eat, but if you’re touring or bikepacking and are trying to put down serious miles with minimal stops, GU’s Roctane could be a huge help. It also makes for a perfect emergency food stash in case you find yourself bonking. GU sent me a few flavors to try, including some with caffeine (love me some caffeine), and I especially liked the strawberry hibiscus and lemon berry. The flavors are a little strong compared to some other drink mixes, which I liked just fine. Roctane is available in several flavors, including two without caffeine, and in 12- or 24-serving containers for $30 and $45, respectively, or as a pack of 10 individual servings for $32.50.  –Dan Meyer

pnw pebble tool

PNW Pebble Tool, $37

While some of us seek out long, remote bike tour routes that require packing tools and spare parts for every possible backcountry mishap, I’d wager that most of us spend the majority of our bike rides not too far from home or from modern conveniences (like bike shops). In my opinion, the multitool you bring in either scenario doesn’t have to be the same one. For day rides and close-to-civilization bike tours, you probably don’t need your multitool to have an integrated chain breaker or flathead screwdriver. PNW has stripped down all the noise to create one tiny multitool to rule them all. The Pebble Tool includes only tools that you need the most: 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm Hex, a Dynaplug tubeless bicycle tire repair accessory equipped with one tire plug, and a T25 Torx (hidden under the Dynaplug.) It weighs only 51 grams (that’s one-third the weight of the multitool I carry on remote excursions) and comes in four beautiful colors, making it the perfect stocking stuffer.  –Ally Mabry

evoc bikepacking bags

EVOC Bikepacking Bags

Top Tube Pack, $40

Frame Pack, $90

Seat Pack Boa L, $150

On a bike tour this past summer, a member of our group asserted her commitment to brand loyalty for the sake of functionality and, more so, aesthetics. As a person who is always mixing and matching based on what I need, what I have, and what I need to test, the concept was totally foreign to me. When I returned, however, EVOC emailed and asked if I wanted to test a collection of their gear. While I didn’t have the entire set (there’s also a handlebar roll and a multi frame pack, not tested), it did feel elegant and complete. That could have more to do with the bags themselves, though. They are svelte-looking, smaller than some other bikepacking bags I have but able to do the job for an overnight or weekend trip in nice weather. Which isn’t to say they can’t withstand a beating, though. I kept this kit on my hardtail and pushed it through the overgrown scrapings of a late summer trail on an underappreciated part of the mountain, through the fall rainstorms and first slushy commutes of winter, and they still look new (I tested the carbon grey). They also kept my gear totally dry (including the candy and pretzels in the top tube bag, protected thanks to the waterproof zipper) and were light enough that I didn’t notice the weight. The saddlebag is a bit small for camping, but I did manage to fit my ultralight hammock system for a quick overnight at a local favorite spot. What I loved about it was how sturdy it was — the dropper post–compatible BOA attachment system kept the bag close to the frame, and the structured front end kept the seatpost wedged on the bag to prevent bounce or sway. This system is great for people riding supported or doing a Warmshowers or inn-to-inn tour or enjoy all-day gravel grinds, and who want a lightweight, durable way to carry layers, tools, lunch, and more.  –Carolyne Whelan

pnw ozone trail jersey

PNW Ozone W Trail Jersey, $49

I’m a sucker for bike clothes disguised as street clothes, that’s no secret. PNW did a fantastic job of that with the Ozone Trail Jersey, which I often wear even when I’m not planning to go for a ride. A blend of 20 percent wool and 80 percent polyester, this shirt is soft, wicks sweat well, and doesn’t hold onto body odor. I’d call it an early-summer-weight T-shirt or the perfect base layer under a warmer long-sleeve garment. The only “tell” that this jersey is indeed a jersey is a series of small, nearly undetectable ventilation holes along the underarm/rib cage (the sweaty person in me really appreciates this). I typically wear a medium upper layer; the medium in the Ozone fits me well, if not on the tighter side. I would size up for a looser fit like the models on PNW’s website. That said, I don’t mind a tighter fit, so the medium is good for me. Along with the soft fabric, my favorite part of this jersey is the elongated sleeve, which hits about mid-bicep for me. The jersey comes in sizes that range from XS to XXL and are available in either “eclipse” charcoal grey or “alien,” which is an olive green. Men’s sizing is the same with additional colors of “crater” light grey and “helium” mid-blue.  –AM

knog blinder link rear bike light

Knog Blinder Link Rear Bike Light, $60

Having a bright rear light on your bike is always a necessity, but it’s even more important during the winter, when the nights are longer and you’re more often commuting in the dark. Knog’s new Blinder Link is not only bright, it’s also attention-grabbing: it has eight modes with varying brightness and claimed run times, from Eco Flash putting out 30 lumens for 50-plus hours to High Flash at 100 lumens for seven hours. I toggled among the six different flash modes and found them all usefully illuminating and distracting. What’s more, the Blinder Link charges via USB and includes a nifty magnetic mount. It goes on and off the mount quickly and easily, and I never noticed it coming loose or falling off. And as bright at the Blinder Link is, it’s pretty slim and lightweight. If you park your bike outside a lot and worry about your accessories growing legs, the Blinder Link slips easily into a pocket. The one downside I can think of is that the Blinder Link is only available with one of two mounts, rack or saddle; there is no seatpost mount. I used the rack mount, and it worked great. The saddle mount attaches to your saddle rails and includes the same slide-on magnetic feature.  –DM

floyd's of leadville sleep formula cbd softgels

Floyd’s of Leadville Sleep Formula CBD SoftGels, $75 for 30

Let’s get this out of the way: CBD is a derivative of hemp. It doesn’t contain THC and is non-psychoactive. CBD is legal in all 50 states. That said, CBD is considered a supplement, not a medication, and is therefore not tested or approved by the FDA, just like the fish oil or ginkgo biloba you get from your local health food store. And just like all those other supplements, a lot of claims are made of the health benefits of CBD. But this isn’t a scientific study. I won’t try to prove or disprove any lofty claims about CBD; all I can do is report my experience with this particular product from Floyd’s of Leadville. 

I am a notoriously terrible sleeper. I’m actually pretty good at falling asleep (I once fell asleep leaning against a tank at an active machine gun range), but I’m awful at staying asleep during the night. And when it comes to camping, forget about it: I’m awake most of the night, even if my body is exhausted from pedaling a loaded bike all day. Because of all that, I’m always open to the idea of mild, non-prescription sleep aids, especially in a situation like camping where I know I need all the help I can get.

I’ve taken some Floyd’s softgels with me on the majority of my overnights in the last year, and I can say that taking one before going to bed has improved my sleep quality during the night. I’ve fallen asleep faster and stayed asleep for longer periods of time using the softgels, and I haven’t felt groggy or had a hard time getting up in the morning. I also haven’t had any side effects from the CBD softgels, although I did try taking two at a time once and had some pretty weird, vivid dreams (if you’ve ever taken anti-malarial pills, you’ll know what I’m talking about). I’ll stick to one at a time from now on, thank you very much. At $75 for a pack of 30 softgels, these CBD babies aren’t cheap, but they could make a great stocking stuffer for any poor sleeper in your life.  –DM

pro bikegear smart bottle cage system

PRO BikeGear Smart Bottle Cage System, $86–$125 

I’m a big fan of systems designed to house bike tools permanently on the bike. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I’ve wasted running around my house and garage looking for my hand pump or tire levers just before heading out on a big ride (spoiler: it’s many hours). Or even worse, all the times I’ve stranded myself with a mechanical because I gave up looking for the spare tube or multitool and decided to tempt fate. The PRO BikeGear Smart Bottle Cage System takes all the human error out of remembering the necessities by integrating them right into a bottle cage that lives on your bike. I kept this system on my mountain bike all summer long and was constantly grateful for it. 

There are a great number of mix-and-match options for this system, as you can buy every piece separately, and most pieces have optional upgrades (such as the multitool and hand pump). If you already have a favorite multitool, handpump, and/or set of tire levers, you can easily just buy the $20 PRO Smart Cage and the $25 PRO Storage Pouch and be on your way. I really enjoy the multitool and handpump that you can buy as part of this system, however I quickly reached for my Pedro tire levers after trying to use the PRO levers to change a skinny tire (one of which has been flung somewhere into my garden for eternity). Luckily, the Smart Cage tire lever holder is compatible with my beloved Pedros.

The bottle cage itself is rather adjustable both vertically, with two mounting positions, and sideways with the whole cage itself rotating left or right to accommodate easy bottle extraction when framebags are involved. There are little holders and elastic straps on either side of the cage to hold tire levers and handpump (or CO2 cartridge), and the multitool snaps into the back of the cage. The 0.3-liter capacity PRO Storage Pouch is designed to fit a spare tube and perhaps a small tubeless plug kit.  –AM

specialized fjallraven handlebar bag

Specialized/Fjällräven Handlebar Bag, $100

The handlebar bag seen here — produced as part of a collaboration between Specialized and Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven — is a pretty nifty piece of kit. At 10 liters, it’s a little bigger than the usual touring-specific handlebar bags from Ortlieb and Arkel, but if you ask me, it’s just the right size. I’ve stuffed it with snacks and my cooking kit, with spare gloves and layers for chilly rides, and even my 13-inch laptop (but barely). It’s incredibly useful on the bike: the lid opens away from you and can be opened and close one-handed, the mesh top pocket can hold a map section, and the side and internal pockets are great for holding snacks, gloves, your phone, or whatever else you might need to grab while in the saddle. Off the bike, the bag detaches from the rack with a couple of snaps, you attach the shoulder strap, and off you go. It’s comfortable to carry and goes back on the bike just as easily. 

About that rack: the handlebar bag doesn’t work without it, so you’ll have to spend another $100, which is a bummer. Why they don’t just bundle them together is a mystery to me. On the plus side, the rack is easy to install and makes for a rock-solid attachment for the bag. The rack works with 31.8mm handlebars in either drop or flat. And unlike the proprietary attachment systems for other handlebar bags, the Specialized rack is just as useful without the handlebar bag. You could strap a drybag or a tent to it! One neat little detail on the rack is the included safety cable, a smart redundancy to ensure that the rack never hits your front tire even if the clamps manage to slip on the handlebar (mine never did). An important thing to note is that Specialized does not recommend using the rack on a carbon handlebar. I did anyway, and my handlebar didn’t suffer any damage that I noticed. 

Two Benjamins for a handlebar bag (with the rack) is pretty pricey, but the Specialized/Fjällräven combo is an excellent piece of kit whether you’re touring across the country or commuting across town. And hey, it makes a great gift!  –DM

bontrager gr2 gravel shoe

Bontrager GR2 Gravel Shoe, $145

Shoes are a personal choice, but I have always found mountain bike shoes to be far more comfortable than road shoes, especially for bike tours. What do you do if you have to stop for a bathroom break or to grab a cup of coffee? A shoe with tread and a bit of flex (but not too much) goes a long way for the long days. Now that we live in a world of gravel, I am thankful that has transcended into footwear. I have pretty wide feet at the toes but narrow heels, and cycling shoes can be a bit restrictive to me, but these shoes are comfortable for mile after mile. Another bonus are the lace-ups, which I happen to love for the ability to adjust the roominess to where I need it while keeping it tight enough that my heel doesn’t slip around. The lace loop grabber makes it easy to tuck laces in and away from pesky chainrings, even when my fingers are frozen. Speaking of which, while these shoes are incredibly comfortable, they breathe very well, which has meant some frozen toes on shoulder-season days when the sun suddenly dipped and took the temps with it. For a summer cycling shoe, though, these are fantastic.  –CW

grand trunk evolution 20 down hammock

Grand Trunk Evolution 20 Down Hammock, $300

For the hammock camper in your life, consider the Grand Trunk Evolution 20 Down Hammock: an item I’d probably talk myself out of buying but am so grateful to have now. Most camping hammocks need to be modified with underquilts to be usable when temps start to drop — this hammock has protection from the cold built right in. Rated to be comfortable down to 20°F (I can confirm down to 25°F; it was real cozy), this hammock has an integrated baffled over/underquilt containing RDS Certified 650+ down that matches a sleeping bag–like enclosure on top. I had no problem heating up and staying warm once cocooned in this hammock. The top quilt zips all the way down the middle from both ends, which is useful when your feet need a little air or if two people are lying in the hammock (which is surprisingly roomy and comfortable!). There’s an opening for your head on one end that can cinch tighter to keep warm air in, and another zips all the way closed on the feet end. Grand Trunk’s own TrunkTech™ 40D Nylon Diamond RS 290 WR fabric is super soft and silky and breathes rather well for being weatherproof. Where the quilts connect to the hammock allowed for small drafts when the wind was blowing, but it only chilled me when it got down close to the 20°F rating. If I was going to be hammock camping in that kind of weather, I’d probably pack an additional sleeping bag liner for a little extra protection from the cold. I love this hammock because it eliminates the possibility of getting twisted up in your sleeping bag during the night, which has always been my least favorite thing about hammock camping — I tend to toss a lot in my sleep.

Packing into a 13-liter drybag (the same drybag I use for my 0°F sleeping bag, which fits nicely on some flat bars), and weighing 5.2 pounds, this singular piece gear can take the place of both tent and sleeping bag (and sleeping pad, unless you’re the type of camper who enjoys sleeping on one in a hammock). If you know there’s going to be rain or snow, I’d definitely recommend a tarp setup, but if it’s going to be a dry night, this is all you need. It’s also really comfortable to hang out in during the day. Grand Trunk’s tree-friendly hanging kit/straps, which are not included, offer a lot of options for hanging. I tested the Hammock Suspension Straps. Each strap is 10 feet long with 18 adjustment points, and a pair of straps weighs 12 ounces. For a lighter, simpler setup, check out Grand Trunk’s Tree Slings Hammock Hanging Kit. With the straps, the Evolution 20 Down Hammock has a weight capacity of up to 400 pounds.  –AM

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