I try not to get caught in the dark while riding, but it happens, so I usually carry a headlamp for camp and a bike light or two for emergencies. The Silva Trail Speed 4XT is both a bike light and a headlamp and has three modes for 80, 600, and 1200 lumens. It has a USB-rechargeable external battery, with burn times of two to 20 hours. While it’s pricey, it paid for itself in flexibility, reliability, and brightness on its first tour.
The compact light uses Silva’s “intelligent light system,” which throws a beam optimized for how your eyes see in the dark by combining a long-reach spotlight and a close-illumination floodlight. It eliminates the wobbly, vertiginous tunnel-vision sensation I sometimes get when I ride with a headlamp. Tilting the light down makes the beam wider, and tilting it up makes the light reach farther for better vision when you’re cruising. On my head, the lamp’s buckles were easy to adjust and the backplate supported the strap-mounted battery so it didn’t bobble around. Next time I might leave that plate home, however, and keep the battery in my pocket or pack. Without the backplate, the headband fit on a helmet. It also mounts on a handlebar with an included bracket. The only thing I didn’t like about this lamp is having to keep track of its extra parts. –Berne Broudy
7Mesh calls these shorts a “dirty love letter to enduro mountain biking.” I call them one of the most comfortable pairs of shorts I’ve worn for road, gravel, or mountain biking, or for just hanging out. The Slab is made from a four-way stretch material with a yoga-style waistband enhanced by a stretch elastic belt in front. The buckle is small enough that I never felt it, even while riding in the drops, but the belt let me adjust these shorts for a comfortable fit all the time.
7Mesh gave the Slab a clever gusset for full freedom of movement. Instead of a standard gusset design — an extra triangle of fabric in the crotch where seams can cause pressure points — 7Mesh ultrasonically welded the legs of these shorts to a bikini of the same material, moving seams to the sides. The seams are welded, not sewn, including hems, so they stretch in all directions and aren’t lumpy. They’re long enough to wear with kneepads if you’re a mountain biker, but not so long that they got hung up touring. They’re also super quick drying. After a swim, these shorts dried immediately and didn’t stretch out. A welded zipper pocket on the right thigh is the only extra. It was big enough to hold an iPhone 11 Max Pro and a snack. I just wish the women’s shorts came in a color other than black or charcoal. Men get charcoal and Grateful Red. –BB
Twelve ounces? Sixteen even? Please. When the heat is on, Soma’s Further bottle offers a massive 38 ounces of liquid refreshment. And what’s the price for this capacity? Well, a paltry 12 bucks. But also kind of a goofy-looking super-tall bottle.
The Further is basically a standard bottle with some extra volume above the waist that secures the bottle in a regular cage. That makes for a top-heavy design compared to a standard bottle, but I had no issues with security in the cage, even over some rougher terrain. I can imagine, however, that a full bottle on prolonged rough roads (or in a stretched-out cage) could separate a rider from their refreshment.
My only issue with the Further was the top was easy to cross-thread and thus leak. If I was extra careful, it wasn’t a problem, but the interface wasn’t quite as eyes-closed-able as most. But if you’re headed for warmer, drier, or less-supported rides, the Further could be just the ticket. –Alex Strickland
In the time of pandemic, you might be spending some extra time in your own workshop. If you can’t stand the thought of reorganizing your pegboard, you might consider upgrading the tools hanging on it. And make no mistake, the sliding T-handle Torx set from Park Tool is an upgrade. Do you need them? You do not. But you might want them.
Park also makes a blue-handled version for hex wrenches that include a “Strip Gripper” twisted hex head on each T-handle to remove stripped bolts.
But about these T-handles — the anodized “speed spinner” sleeve makes it possible to quickly spin bolts in and out without changing grip, they’ve got a weight that immediately communicates “shop-quality tool,” and the included holder is simple in all the right ways.
Now, I’m not sure I need Torx wrenches from T6 to T40 (I seem to only use T25 and T30), whereas I use a full range of hex wrenches, but when a Torx application comes up, these are among the best you can use on your bike. –AS
The Giro Republic R Knit shoes feature Giro’s Xnetic knit upper that arrived a couple of years ago to much fanfare. Unlike real or synthetic leather, which has to be cut and sewn or otherwise bonded together — a process that produces a fair bit of waste — knit materials like Xnetic produce much less waste and are highly tunable. They can be made to stretch, to breathe, to provide support — the sky’s the limit. At least that’s how it’s marketed.
Unlike many cycling shoes that require a break-in period for the stiff uppers to soften and conform to your feet, the Republics are ready to go right out of the box. The Xnetic knit material, combined with old-fashioned laces, truly provides “sock-like comfort,” although it’s more like a thick, supportive sock. These are very comfortable shoes indeed. The outsole is moderately stiff, which I found to be a good balance between pedaling support and walkability. The sole is a grippy, textured rubber that’s sufficient for walking on dirt or gravel surfaces, but the Republic isn’t a hike-a-bike mountain shoe. The two-bolt cleats are recessed enough that I could walk around in a convenience store without the clickety clack of my SPDs.
Giro claims the Xnetic uppers are treated with DWR to repel water. Sure, maybe a light sprinkling. Waterproof the Republics are not, but they sure are breathable! These are by far the airiest cycling shoes I’ve ever worn, which is a boon for hot feet. During long rides in hot weather, I never got the usual swamp foot or painful hot spots I sometimes suffer with other shoes. I would never argue that $150 isn’t a lot of money for a pair of shoes, but for this level of comfort, I’d say the value prospect is high.
The Republics have been my go-to road and gravel shoe since I pulled them out of the box, and I expect them to stay that way. It helps that Giros tend to suit my feet. I wear a size 42 and found the Republics to be true to size. If you have wider feet, check out the Republic R Knit HV (high volume). –Dan Meyer