BikeRadar's best gear of 2012 - part two

High tech, low fuss: Ben Delaney's favorite cycling gear of the year

BikeRadar now has nearly 11,000 products reviewed here on the site, in addition to thousands more of other bikes and gear covered in our news section. But what is the best? For me, the things I most enjoyed this year offered a simple user interface. Whether high-tech or high-touch, I like gear that improves my road riding experience — without having to fuss with it.

1.iPhone

A smartphone isn’t a cycling product; it’s multiple cycling products packed into a single case.

For short rides, I can share my route and times with my friends on Strava by pressing four buttons — start, stop, finish, save — all from the saddle. Lost? GPS maps are my way home. Or to the coffee shop. Beautiful sunset rides are shared with a snap and a Tweet. Waiting for a tardy friend to start the ride? Cyclingnews and The New York Times are in the palm of my hand.

I’ve heard that you can also use the thing as a telephone, too. Not that I’d ever call for a ride home, because I have a trusty…

2. Genuine Innovations Air Chuck Elite

Not too many years ago, I mocked riders who opted for CO₂ cartridges over a frame pump to fix flats. These days, of course, I couldn’t even tell you where my frame pump is, as my compact saddle bag holds two cartridges, a lever, a Cat's Tongue wipe, a safety pin (to pluck out stubborn debris) and the tiny little Air Chuck Elite.

To use it, you screw a cartridge in all the way to break the seal, then back it off to open the airflow to the spring-loaded head. Slide the head over a Presta stem, and press the body against the spring to blast air into your tire. Three seconds and you’re done. Just make sure your tube is not pinched by the tire anywhere before you inflate.

Lazy? Perhaps. But there’s no way I’m going back to a pump now. Note: the recyclable cartridges are available in bulk in many sports stores.

3. S-Works Road Shoes

Yes, they’re stiff. Yes, they’re light. But I keep coming back to the S-Works Road Shoes because they are perfectly comfortable mile after mile, hour after hour.

Despite being pretty worn after about two years of use and slid across the asphalt a couple of times, I’ve held onto these over other, newer shoes.

On the downside, the internal ratchet on the BOA lacing system wears out (in about a year in my experience), but it’s replaceable. Adjusting the fit is a breeze, with a simple twist on the knob.

The shoes have a slight cant, which Specialized claims makes many riders more efficient. I can’t prove or disprove that; I just know the S-Works Road Shoes are the most comfortable I’ve ever had. I can't wait to try the new version.

4. Assos f1.mille S5 Bib Shorts

Why would you pay $280/£170 for a pair of cycling shorts when you can get a pair for a third of that? Because they are 10 times better, that’s why.

While many companies are seemingly building complex chamois patterns for the visual impression, Assos sticks with the tried-and-true: two slender parallel pads for your sit bones rest underneath an incredible soft and wicking synthentic chamois. No ridges, no heat-pressed seams, no crazy graphics. Your rear end doesn’t care how something looks — only how it feels.

The rest of the piece follows similarly. The cut and fabric on the legs feel great; the upper bib features a tall mesh back and thick straps that stay in place with no constriction, binding or friction.

You can buy them in two leg lengths, too: old school, to match your tan line, or new school, closer to the knee.  

As with the S-Works shoes, I can ride all day in the Assos bibs and never think once about discomfort.

5. Oakley RadarLock XL Sunglasses

I have one problem with the RadarLock XL shades: they ruined my other pair of Radars.

Since Oakley rolled out the original Radar at the Amgen Tour of California in 2007, the Radars had been my favorite pair of sunglasses. Optics are crystal clear. The wide, curved coverage keeps your eyes from watering no matter the speed, and the absence of a lower or side frame is one of those no-going-back developments. (Full frame glasses now make me feel a little claustrophobic.) The adjustable nose and ear pieces are comfy, and the lens is easy to clean. Perfect, right?

Well, it was. The new RadarLock XL shade extend the top of the glass up by about a centimeter, which effectively removes the entire frame from your vision, no matter your head angle. Now when riding in the drops with the old Radars, I notice that I have to tilt my head back. Damn it.

6. Knog Blinder Light

In a rare instance of consensus, my whole family loves the Knog Blinder lights. They’re fun, functional and easy to use by kids and adults alike, with no tools, batteries or cables required.

The original Knog silicone lights’ stretchy attachment and bright colors made them a kids’ favorite. Now completely waterproof and rechargeable via a flipout USB tab, the Knogs have won mom’s approval. The four-LED light comes in a variety of styles, in front white and rear red, with all offering steady and multiple blinking modes. The end result is a very bright light that’s super easy to switch between bikes, whether going for a long ride ending in dusk or just rolling around the neighborhood.

7. Shimano Di2

Goodbye, maintenance.

With Shimano’s electronic Di2 shifting system, whether in Dura-Ace or Ultegra, cleaning, adjusting and replacing cables and housing is a thing of the past. Yes, you still have to clean and lube your chain, and the battery needs to be charged once or twice a year. But otherwise, it’s a zero-maintenance system.

I really gained appreciation for the ease of shifting, especially up to the big chainring, when riding with a broken left hand. Instead of a hard, long-throw lateral push, I just tapped a button. The same applies when pedaling hard; a simple button press and the chain is driven smoothly up onto the big ring. Try doing that on your current bike.

Chain rub is also a thing of the past with a front derailleur that auto-trims to account for rear derailleur movement and chain angle.

Bike riding is better when things work flawlessly, without fuss. In this regard, Di2 delivers.

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