BikeRadar's best gear of 2012 - part one

New concepts and old favorites: James Huang's pick of this year's products

In the closing weeks of 2012, the BikeRadar staff will be listing our favorite riding goodies from the last year. We'll start with tech editor James Huang's list…

2012 brought out the usual array of test products and introductions, some of which missed their mark, others that were very good but still forgettable, and a select few that I found truly special. Some of my favorite items from the past year are new, but several are faithful standards that I found myself reaching for time and again.

1. Bont Vaypor road shoes

It's tough to argue with the concept of a road shoe with a whisper-thin, insanely rigid, and light carbon fiber bathtub sole mated with a fully heat moldable shape. This has always struck me as an ideal formula for comfort, support, and efficiency, at least in theory.

Molding the Vaypors is far from a one-shot deal. In fact, I think it took me about four or five times to get it just right. Now that I have, though, I can wear these for hours on end and they simply disappear around my feet – just as they should. The fact that they feel notably more efficient than many other shoes I've ridden in, and are admirably light, is simply icing on the cake.

2. Bontrager Race X Lite TLR road wheels

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of tubeless road tires and wide-format rims, so I was happy to see that Bontrager tossed its hat into the ring earlier this year with the Race X Lite TLR wheels

While not exactly aerodynamic, their impressive 1,438g weight and healthy 23mm rim width (17mm internal width) make for a fleet feel and a brilliantly smooth ride, especially paired with 25mm tires.

They've also been utterly maintenance-free in nearly six months of testing, thanks in part to a few milliliters of latex-based sealant and the bomber DT Swiss star ratchet rear hub internals – no flats, no truing, no bearing issues. In fact, I hardly ever have to add air.

3. Camelbak Volt LR hydration pack

Camelbak's latest addition to its lumbar-style packs fast became a staple this year, due to its comfortable and stable design, smart compartment layout, and surprisingly accommodating storage capacity. 

Barely bulkier or heavier than the Charge LR but nearly as versatile as the stalwart MULE, this has become my go-to trail option for anything short of an all-day slugfest in high alpine terrain or a day on the lifts.

4. Giro Monaco LF gloves

More than two years after they first showed up, my Giro Monaco LF gloves are only now starting to wear a little thin after regular use on the road, over barriers, and on the trail. 

The Pittards leather palm is supple and supremely grippy, the padding is dense yet suitably thin and very well articulated so as not to affect dexterity, and I've found the mesh back works across a wide range of temperatures, from nippy autumn mornings to the blazing heat of mid-summer.

They're a little pricey at US$45 / £25 a pair, but given how well they've held up (particularly given my utter negligence in caring for them properly) they seem like good value.

5. Health insurance

See here, and here. I rest my case.

6. Incredibell Original

A bell is one of my favorite things from 2012? Absolutely. With little exception, trails are becoming increasingly crowded, and access seems like an eternally tenuous privilege. 

If you've never used a bell on your mountain bike, you'd be amazed at the change in attitude you get from hikers as you approach. Whereas once I'd get an indifferent stare even after offering a friendly greeting, I now get big smiles.

Good luck finding me out on the trails without a bell these days – and, yes, that is a custom SRAM MatchMaker X mount you see in the picture.

7. Snap-On CDI Torque Preset T-Handle torque wrenches

I first reviewed these little guys in late 2011, but they've seen regular use since then. I still wish Snap-On had slapped on big 4Nm, 5Nm, and 6Nm markings on them but I eventually got used to the color coding. 

Save for that minor gripe, however, Snap-On's preset torque wrenches have been some of the handiest tools on my hopeless, cluttered workbench – comfortable to use, still accurate, and with a clever torque-limiting design that won't let you overtighten bolts no matter how hard you try.

8. Specialized Propero II helmet

The Specialized Prevail is a really, really good helmet. That the Propero II almost manages to match it on every level, but at the relatively bargain basement price of US$110 / £70, though, has made it one of my all-time favorites. 

Visually, it's a dead ringer, the difference in ventilation is almost indistinguishable, and while the single-density foam makes it a bit heavier I've found it more durable than the Prevail's more fragile dual-density construction.

9. SRAM XX1

Single-ring mountain bike drivetrains are hardly a novel concept, but the fact that SRAM built a dedicated flagship group around the idea is truly groundbreaking. XX1 doesn't just embrace the concept, it's married to it – you couldn't run multiple chainrings even if you wanted to. However, with the nearly 2x10-like range of the dedicated 10-42T 11-speed cassette, many riders will never feel the need.

Lighter, simpler to operate, and more reliable, this is an idea whose time has come, and it will only be a matter of time before bicycle companies take advantage of not having to design suspension systems around a front derailleur. 

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