With 2012 drawing to a close, the BikeRadar staff have been listing our favorite riding goodies from the last year. Tech experts James Huang and Ben Delaney have already given their opinions, and now it's Josh Patterson's turn...
The products that generally pique my interest are those that offer a significant leap forward in technology, as well as those that offer a high degree of performance for the price. So, without further ado, here are my top five products of 2012.
1. SRAM XX1
Like James, I spent a significant amount of time aboard SRAM’s dedicated 1x11 group this year. I even visited SRAM’s drivetrain development center in Schweinfurt, Germany, to get the back story on the development of the new drivetrain.
After spending several days aboard the group I came away impressed. Shifting performance was impressive - even under load - and the drivetrain remains eerily silent while rumbling through rock gardens.
XX1 isn't for every rider, and it's unlikely to replace 2x and 3x systems altogether. For me, a lighter drivetrain with fewer moving parts is very appealing, as are the potential benefits a dedicated 1x option could bring to frame design: shorter chainstays for 29ers and a main pivot location optimized for a narrower range of chain rings.
I find it refreshing to see true innovation, rather than just the addition of another cog to a cassette. There’s also the potential for this new drivetrain to make it off the singletrack and onto the road, or at least the cyclocross course. Several SRAM-sponsored 'cross racers are rumored to be testing a CX-specific version of XX1.
NoTubes has a well-deserved reputation for creating performance-oriented wheelsets at prices that are within the reach of the average cyclist. The Iron Cross is no exception. The US$595 / £425 hoops are light, relatively stiff and use the company's patented tubeless system to lock the bead in place.
Tubeless cyclocross setups have been hit and miss, but as the Iron Cross demonstrates, the technology is getting better every season. In my opinion, a successful recipe for a reliable tubeless cyclocross setup starts with rims with an internal width of 19-21mm, a rim design that locks the tire’s bead into place, and the use of tubeless-ready cyclocross tires (the selection is limited but growing).
Pairing the Iron Cross wheels with tubeless-ready cyclocross tires such as Vittoria’s Cross Evo XG Pros, I was able to run the same pressures I run in tubulars (24psi front / 25psi rear) without burping air or folding the sidewalls. The ride quality isn't as supple as with high-end tubulars, but the difference is negligible for most weekend warriors (myself included) who might be better off swapping tires rather than investing in a quiver of wheelsets.
The Chakra Plus proves inexpensive but doesn't necessarily equal cheap - this US$55 / £50 helmet can go toe-to-toe with brain buckets that cost twice as much. The lid is comfortable, well ventilated and features in-mold construction and a dial closure system - what’s not to like?
If you're looking for a pair of gloves that's short on features and long on durability, Giro’s DNDs should suit your needs. There’s no padding, just a thin but tough layer of synthetic leather on the palm. I’ve been wearing this pair for two seasons and it's still going strong.
This all-arounder won me over for its ability to perform well over a wide range of conditions. At 865g, the Hans Dampf is a bit portly, but the sidewalls are durable, the tread pattern is effective, and it's tubeless ready. It's no XC race tire but it's perfect for trail and all-mountain riding.
The round profile and evenly spaced knobs make for a tire that handles predictably at all lean angles - there's never a feeling a vagueness when transitioning from one row of knobs to the next. The Hans Dampf works great upfront or in the rear, and hooks up in both wet and dry conditions. This may be the best all-conditions tire out there.