Welcome to another edition of First Look Friday – your weekly in-depth look at the most delectable bike tech to land at BikeRadar HQ (which is located in my increasingly cluttered living-room for today).
This week we have new sunnies from 100%, posh hex and Torx keys from Park, a new tyre from Hutchinson and a trendy bar bag from Altura.
If that isn’t quite enough, the BikeRadar team has been cranking out oodles of cracking new content to keep you entertained during these odd times.
At the tail-end of last week we reported on the riding we’ve been doing during lockdown, covering everything from indoor self-flagellating to fashionable fixed gear gravel exploring.
We also highlighted the excellent documentary on keirin racing that is currently showing on BCC iPlayer in the UK.
If real-life racing is simply too stimulating, you can also catch the Digital Swiss 5 – an esport version of the cancelled Tour de Suisse that is being held on Rouvy – until this Sunday.
Or, if you’re anything like Matthew, you won’t bother watching any eracing and, instead, turn your interests to fixing household appliances or curating the perfect sourdough starter.
We’ve also gone back to basics this week, looking at how you use the gears on your road bike, answering your basic ebike questions and helping you choose the right size bike for your child.
Altura Vortex 2 handlebar bag
Bikepacking luggage on a fixed gear gravel bike – have we reached a new peak of on-bike trendiness? Jack Luke / Immediate Media
Bikepacking handlebar rolls are, usually, a simple harness that holds a dry sack secure.
The Altura Vortex 2 is a different take on the concept and functions more like a traditional handlebar bag, albeit far larger than your typical sandwich satchel.
Picnic blanket-packing is totally a thing, right? Jack Luke / Immediate Media
At 10 litres, the Vortex 2 should be voluminous enough to swallow most sleeping bags, and a small separate pouch on the front of the bag should help keep smaller frequently-required items at hand. The bag is fully waterproof with fully sealed seams and a roll-top closure.
Placing the roll-top on the top of the bag (rather than on the sides as with a typical stuff sack) should also make retrieving larger items easier.
The bag comes with standoffs to help clear cables and levers. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
The bag attaches via two straps on the handlebar, and a third supporting strap wraps around the head tube or steerer. Foam standoffs are included with the bag to ensure it can clear cables, brake levers and so on.
For the bag nerds among you, the overall concept and shape of the bag is reminiscent of the Ron’s Bikes/Swift Industries Fabio’s Chest, which has won wide acclaim among the most Instagram-savvy members of the bikepacking community.
If you need to portage a load more stuff, a matching seatpack and frame bag is also available.
For those that prefer to refer to bikepacking as ‘touring’ (touring is kind of like bikepacking with less pour-over coffee and beard wax), a neat looking set of panniers is also available in the same style.
You’ll instantly transform into a go-fast kinda person with these rad shades. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
The Hypercraft is 100%’s newest frameless multisport sunglasses design. With a super-angular minimalist design, you feel and look just like Robocop as soon as you put these bad boys on.
The frames are constructed using 100%’s Ultra Carbon technology. This sees carbon fibres weaved throughout the nylon frame to make, what the brand claims, is the strongest and lightest frame possible.
These particular sunnies weigh in at just 23g. Picking a sample at random, a pair of Scott Shield shades – which have a considerably more chunky frame and legs than the Hypercraft – weigh 34g.
11g hardly sounds worth writing home about, but it presents a 38 per cent saving over the Scott shades, which is definitely noticeable – albeit marginally – when you’re wearing them.
The Hypercraft is available in four different colours, ranging from plain ol’ matte black to a truly lairy blue – sorry, make that “Matte Metallic Into the Fade Blue Topaz” – option.
Prices start at £139.99 rising to £179.99 depending on your spec options. International pricing is TBC.
Hutchinson Kraken Racing Lab XC tyres
The tan wall Kraken tyre looks cracking! Immediate Media
The other big French tyre brand, Hutchinson, has created a brand new tyre for cross-country and light trail applications.
The tread pattern is similar to Hutchinson’s no-compromise XC race tyre, the Skeleton. However, while the Skeleton is only available in a very old-school 2.15in width, the Kraken comes in at a claimed 2.3in.
That slightly larger volume nods towards the more technical focus of modern XC racing, as well as the Kraken’s more trail-friendly intentions. Not to mention the fact that larger tyres are simply faster off road.
Despite this, Hutchinson still recommends using the Skeleton on the rear, with the Kraken up front, for some conditions. Personally, we’d always rather have a bigger tyre front and rear unless the course was glass-like in smoothness.
The Kraken sports a moderately aggressive tread for an XC tyre, with tightly spaced and short centre-tread, but more pronounced and widely spaced shoulder blocks for cornering bite.
There are two casing options. XC racers will want the super-light, 127 TPI (threads per inch) version, which weighs a claimed 700g. While heavier or more trail-focused riders should be better served by the tyre we have, which is the Hardskin-reinforced version.
This uses a coarser thread count (66 TPI) and is claimed to weigh 800g, though ours weighs just 751g on our scales.
Interestingly, there is a lot of manufacturing variability in the weight of tyres, so it’s normal for tyres to weigh considerably more or less than advertised – often by enough to negate the difference between carbon and high-end alloy wheels if you get a heavy tyre!
For this reason, it’s common for pro teams to weigh a batch of tyres and race on the lightest.
The tan wall tyre is only available with the Hardskin casing, so if you want the lighter casing you’ll have to put up with black sidewalls. A true modern-day tragedy.
Park Tools THH-1 and THT-1 T-handle Torx and hex keys
It’s impossible to look at these and not want to immediately pick them up. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
We first saw these exceptionally lovely premium hex and Torx keys from Park Tools back in January at iceBike – a time when we were still allowed to leave the house for such frivolous joys as travelling to sunny Milton Keynes to look at bike bits. Heady days indeed.
Available in both hex (THH-1) and Torx (THT-1) variants and spanning sizes 2mm through 10mm, and T6 through T40 respectively, these are guaranteed to take pride of place on any workshop shadow board.
The free-spinning collar is a delight to fiddle with. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
A free-spinning anodised collar sits near the head of each key, allowing you to smoothly make fine adjustments.
Helpful functionality aside, the collars are also an absolute joy to fondle as a delightful shiny plaything.
The twisted head is great for removing stuck bolts. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
Each hex key also features a Strip-Gripper twisted head for removing oversized or rounded bolts.
We’ve used similar designs on other keys and have found them to be remarkably effective, and much less traumatic than taking a set of mole grips to a bolt head.
True luxury. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
Each key is engraved with its size and then lined with paint. This extra touch elevates the keys to the next plane of loveliness and makes them feel super-duper premium.
On that note, at £110 a set (including wall-mounted holder), these certainly aren’t cheap, but they still feel like relatively good value for money in the often astronomically-priced world of high-end tools.
If you’re after a premium gift for a cyclist in your life (or just a gift to yourself), we reckon these will really tweak their bolts of desire.