We'll be putting all of this gear through its paces over the coming weeks and months so stay tuned for full reviews.
New road bike gear
Challenge Gravel Grinder tyres
The new Challenge Gravel Grinder borrows its tread pattern from the cyclocross-specific Chicane but with a harder and tougher rubber compound to better withstand those races' more demanding conditions. Unlike the Chicane's more supple tubular or open tubular construction, our 38mm-wide Gravel Grinder samples instead use a more durable vulcanised construction based on a 120TPI nylon casing, armored with a puncture-resistant belt beneath the tread and a layer of rubber on the sidewalls to ward off casing slices.
For those willing to sacrifice durability for lower rolling resistance and a softer ride, Challenge also offers the Gravel Grinder in 36mm-wide open tubular and tubular versions. The actual weight of our vulcanised 38mm-wide sample is 378g.
US$47.99 / £TBD / €37
Hutchinson road and cyclocross tyres
Hutchinson has bulked up its Fusion 3 Road Tubeless road tyre this season, with a new 25mm-wide version. Although it's just slightly heavier than the 23mm variant at 305g, Hutchinson claims the wider model boasts dramatically lower rolling resistance. In addition, the additional volume should provide a smoother ride and better traction while also allowing for lower operating pressures.
Also arriving from Hutchinson are some of company's latest tubeless-ready cyclocross clincher tyre. The Toro is aimed at looser and/or wetter conditions where its tall knobs and open spacing can dig into the ground. The revamped Pirahna2, on the other hand, boasts a pared-down center section and a raised shoulder tread with tight spacing intended for dry courses or sticky mud.
Both are offered in UCI-legal 32mm widths built on 127TPI nylon casings with stretch-resistant carbon beads. Actual weight for our Toro sample is 311g, while the Pirahna2 comes in at a surprisingly heavier 345g; tack on a few extra grams for the required sealant.
- Fusion 3 Road Tubeless: US$99.99 / £TBD
- Toro Tubeless Protect'air Max, Pirahna2 Tubeless Protect'air Max: US$89 / £TBD
Squirt Barrier Balm
Squirt is best known for its outstanding wax-based chain lubricant but the company is now branching out into chamois cream with its new Barrier Balm. Fortified with moisturizing dimethicone and soothing melaleuca, the – go figure – wax-based Barrier Balm is said to "form a long lasting microfilm barrier that protects against chafing, chemical irritation, fissures, and saddle sores".
US$20.95 / £12.99 / €14.90 / AU$22.95
Sometimes all you need is a way to get the rear wheel off the ground for a quick run-through of your drivetrain. The Topeak FlashStand is just that, using a padded hook that goes around your down tube and a rubber-lined platform to support the bottom bracket shell, all propped up with a pair of sturdy aluminium legs.
The FlashStand is designed to be highly portable too, folding up to a tidy 19 x 8 x 5cm (8 x 3 x 2in) and weighing just 503g. The length of the legs adjusts to accommodate various bike sizes and types but Topeak still recommends a maximum 14kg (31lb) weight limit.
US$44.95 / £28.99 / €35
Zipp SL-70 Aero road bar and SLSprint stem
Zipp recently debuted the sleek new SL-70 Aero carbon road bar and we've now gotten one in hand for a long-term test. Zipp tosses out some heady claims for the UCI-legal bar: 6.4 watts of energy savings when traveling at 48km/h (30mph) and 30 percent greater stiffness than the previous VukaSprint, all at an actual weight of just 236g for our 40cm (center-to-center) sample.
Granted, that claimed energy reduction will be far less significant for everyday riders but there's still a lot to garner interest in Zipp's new bar. There's a modest 128mm of drop and 70mm of reach, plus the revamped bend is designed to help cant levers slightly upward so that you can leave the bar relatively level. The internal routing is well done, too, with exit ports that are cleverly positioned so that the housing pops right out.
Zipp also sent us a matching SLSprint moulded carbon stem. While its shape isn't exactly aero-inspired, the big cross-section and sturdy four-bolt faceplate suggest that it's very stiff despite an actual weight of 168g for our 100mm long sample.
- Zipp SL-70 Aero bar: US$350 / £266 / €300 / AU$414
- Zipp SLSprint stem: US$250 / £190 / €222 / AU$296
New mountain bike gear
Garmin Fenix 2 GPS watch
Despite the numerous options for GPS computers and associated mounts, sometimes you just don't want a screen looking back at you when you're on the trail. Enter the Garmin Fenix 2, which essentially packs roughly the same functionality of the company's higher-end Edge computers but in a smaller and tougher watch.
In addition to the usual distance, speed, and timer functions, key features include a 3.1cm-diameter backlit monochrome LCD screen with user-configurable screens, a barometric altimeter, digital compass, Garmin's handy Virtual Partner pacer, auto lap and pause, and compatibility with various ANT+ wireless devices such as speed/cadence sensors, heart rate monitors and power meters.
Naturally, the Fenix 2's form factor makes it an easy choice for multisport athletes as well, and the included HRM-Run chest strap in our sample bundle not only measures heart rate but running cadence, vertical oscillation, and how much time your foot is on the ground during each step. The steel case's 5 ATM waterproof rating means your data should be safe while swimming down to 50m below the surface too – although best of luck to you in getting satellite reception down there!
- Garmin Fenix 2 bundle with HRM-Run chest strap: US$449.99 / £389.99 / €449.00
- Garmin Fenix 2, watch only: US$399.99 / £359.99 / €399.00 / AU$499.00
POC Index DH gloves
POC's gravity-inspired Index DH gloves are highlighted by dense, lightweight moulded foam padding situated over the outer three knuckles. Like similar materials from d3o and G-Form, the VPD 2.0 material will stay flexible in normal use but will stiffen up under impact for greater protection – just the thing if you inadvertently decide to punch a rock on the trail.
Additional silicone rubber pads are used on the palm to help cushion hard landings.
POC builds the Index DH with synthetic suede on the palms and fingers while the entire back is covered with tough-feeling woven nylon. Silicone dots on the fingertips work with smartphone touchscreens, too.
US$65 / £57.50 / €70 / AU$80
RaceFace SixC 35 handlebar, Atlas stem, Atlas pedals
RaceFace is one of the latest companies to join the growing legion of 35mm-diameter handlebar and stem advocates with the debut of its SixC 35 handlebars and matching Atlas 35 stem. According to RaceFace, the slight increase in size from the usual 31.8mm diameter to 35mm allows our SixC 35 10mm carbon handlebar to weigh just 215g while offering a generous 800mm width, all with no sacrifice in strength or stiffness.
If the 10mm rise doesn't suit you, RaceFace offers the SixC in 20mm and 30mm versions, too.
RaceFace also sent along the new Atlas 35 stem to match, built with forged-and-machined 6061-T6 aluminium and covered with slick laser-etched graphics inspired by the trails near RaceFace's headquarters in British Columbia, Canada. As with the oversized bar, RaceFace claims the move to a 35mm clamp diameter makes the Atlas 35 stem stiffer than the standard Atlas stem but also lighter. Actual weight for our 50mm-long sample is just 158g. 35mm and 65mm-long extensions are also available.
Rounding out our box of kit are RaceFace's new Atlas flat pedals, whose 6061-T6 aluminium bodies boast an enormous 101 x 114cm platform area, a slight concave shape, and slim profile that's just 12mm thick at its narrowest point. Each pedal's 20 traction pins are angled for increased grip and fed in from below, too, so you'll still be able to easily remove them even if the points are ground down.
The actual weight for our Atlas pedal samples is 350g per pair and they're offered in black, blue, red, or green.
- RaceFace SixC 35 carbon bar: US$229.99 / £129.00 / €165.49 / AU$239.49
- RaceFace Atlas 35 stem: US$137.99 / £79.95 / €102.49 / AU$148.49
- RaceFace Atlas pedals: US$241.49 / £139.95 / €174.49 / AU$259.99
Shimano drivetrain tools
Shimano is of course best known for its enormous range of bicycle componentry but the company also manufactures a diverse range of associated tools.
Included in our mix is the TL-FC63 T-wrench with 5mm Allen and dual T25 Torx heads for removing stubborn chainring bolts; the TL-CR42 stainless steel chain checker to help indicate when your chain is worn; the burly TL-CN34 chain rivet tool with a replaceable pin for use with 6-11speed drivetrains; and the TL-FC34 bottom bracket cup remover that works with Shimano's most recent downsized threaded cups.
If things really go awry on your ride, we also have the TL-RD11 rear derailleur hanger alignment tool with an extendable arm to accommodate various wheel sizes and a graduated indicator that shows exactly how much work you have to do to get things straightened out.
Specialized 650b / 27.5in tyres
After a long delay, Specialized recently dipped its toe into the mid-sized waters with 650b/27.5in versions of four of its most popular treads, and we've now got three of them on hand.
The XC-oriented 650b x 2.0in S-Works Fast Trak features a tightly spaced, low-height center tread for low rolling resistance paired with a slightly more open shoulder tread for cornering grip. Actual weight for our sample is 502g.
The more versatile 650b x 2.1in Ground Control, on the other hand, uses medium knob heights, more open spacing, and beefier shoulder knobs to help bite in looser surfaces while retaining ramped center blocks to keep things rolling quickly – not to mention a tougher 'Control'-level casing that should hold up better in rocky conditions. Actual weight for our sample is 608g.
Finally, there's the decidedly more aggressive 650b x 2.3in Purgatory Control with full-height knobs, a very open pattern, and heavily reinforced shoulder tread to help drive through corners. Actual weight is 708g.
Add a few grams to all of the above weights to allow for the required sealant when running tubeless.
- Specialized S-Works Fast Trak 650b x 2in: US$65 / £N/A
- Specialized Ground Control 650b x 2.1in: US$55 / £30
- Specialized Purgatory Control 650b x 2.3in: US$55 / £N/A