It has been yet another busy year in bike tech. Kicking off my year at Tour Down Under in Australia, it was SRAM's wireless shifting making its race debut that had everyone talking.
A few bike tests here and there later, and I landed in South Africa for the Cape Epic. The race opened my eyes to just how much bike destruction goes down, and the likes of Jaroslav Kulhavy’s ride offered plenty of insight into the special technical requirements of a world-class athlete.
Fast forward through to the trade show season, and I finally got to ride SRAM eTap. And now, we’re in December, and I’m left wondering where the year went as I plan to do it all again.
With that, below are nine products I used in 2015 that left a real impression on me – and are things I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others.
Canyon Ultimate CF SLX
Given the Canyon brand hasn’t easily been available in Australia previously, I'd spent little time on the German-engineered bikes. My first real taste was the new Ultimate CF SLX and even early impressions have me agreeing with all the fuss.
When I think of what I want out of a road bike, this one does it and more. It’s competitively super light, stiff under power, extremely comfortable in the saddle and has aero claims. That’s certainly a whole heap of praise, and makes me sound like I’ve copied and pasted my opinion straight out of any brand’s marketing propaganda – but this truly is a superbike, deserving of such a title.
With space for 28c rubber and a highly flexible seatpost, the Ultimate CF is potentially quite versatile. Sure, the integrated cockpit does pose a few challenges for those that like to fiddle with position, but at least it’s a good one and offers plenty of accessory mounting options.
That all said, the yet-to-be-released disc brake version is the one I really want to get my hands on.
SRAM Red eTap
Wireless shifting has arrived, just in case you hadn't heard, courtesy of SRAM's eTap system. My time on the new groupset has been limited, but the few hours spent showed me it’s certainly something to closely watch. The shifting action is unique, and takes a little time before it’s second nature – but it works and makes sense. Future trickle-down of this technology is surely to be met by newer, less set-in-their-ways riders with great success.
The ability to plug in additional remote ‘Blip’ shifters pretty much wherever you want them is simple and opens up further shifting possibilities. The batteries deliver sufficient usage time, and the ability to swap batteries between derailleurs is a nice touch. And then there’s the installation of the group – it’s quick!
While the front shifting is not as forceful as Shimano’s Di2, it gets the chain exactly to where it needs to go. There’s also no risk of accidently hitting the wrong shift button while wearing winter gloves.
Even if you’re not a fan of SRAM, eTap is something that is sure to shake up the market, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Shimano Di2 next.
Specialized Phenom saddle
Saddles are deeply personal items. It’s a fact you may have heard us reiterating in the past. That said, this is one saddle that really impressed me, and so got my first ever ‘perfect’ five-star score. Shape aside, the durable low-friction paneling means you’re free to glide across it, without being so slick you’re stuck trying to holding yourself up.
The mountain-bike orientated shape means no shorts snags, and laying the bike down leads to no scuffs either. The S-Works version is impressively light, with the also carbon-railed Pro version sitting at just 40g more. Saving more money again, the Expert version offers titanium rails.
For use on both my road and mountain bikes, I’ve now bought myself two Experts, and one Pro version – all in the 155mm width.
Giant Defy 1 Disc
We often get caught up testing the best of the best, which also happen to be the most expensive. New for 2016, this disc-equipped alloy Defy didn’t really surprise me in any way; it did exactly what it needed to do without fuss. No, it’s not the pinnacle of either comfort or speed, but that’s a sign of the price.
What you do get is a bombproof ride and respectable performance for relatively little money. It’s pretty versatile, and one that can easily handle a few back road adventures too. Though perhaps what I like best about this bike is that it's a sign of where recreational road bikes are going, and I like that direction.
OneUp Traction ring
No lies, I was a skeptic on this. I knew the claimed power benefits for ovalised chainrings on the road, but never liked the way they rode (or shifted). However, these mountain rings aren’t as exaggerated as the road offerings, and so go by without nearly as much effect on your pedal stroke. I worried that going between these oval rings, and standard round ones would mess with my pedal stroke – but it’s just not that noticeable to present an obvious issue.
So the claim is that these even out the dead spot in your pedal stroke, leading to improved traction when off road. Running an XTR M9000 version on a race hardtail for a few months now, I can attest it does make a difference. It’s most noticeable when riding out of the saddle, where it just feels smoother to pedal. But even when seated, the rear wheel seems to just bite into loose terrain more consistently.
For me, I still wouldn’t run ovalised rings with front shifting – the mechanic in me hates the idea. But if you're running a single-ring drivetrain, I suggest you give it a go.
Oakley Radar EV Path Prizm
I was already a fan of how the older Oakley Radars fit me, but the new EVs took it to another level with raised vision at the brow – something that’s specific to the demands of cycling.
The update to the frames alone was enough to make these my go-to eyewear, but the new discipline specific Prizm lens got them onto this list. For cyclists, there’s the choice between a road or mountain bike-specific lens, with each designed to improve contrast in specific conditions. For the road, it’s a darker lens that boosts awareness of street signs, white lines and poor surfacing. For off-road, the lighter shade lens does a great job of boosting light where shadows sit and defining where the trail features do, and don’t sit.
Following a first-look article earlier in the year, Cuore left us with a Gold Two-In-One skinsuit and then made a small batch of ‘Silver’ test kit for us to review. Without question, the Two-In-One is the most comfortable skinsuit I’ve ever worn; however, there are less expensive items from the custom brand that have me more impressed.
The Silver range is the Swiss brand’s second-tier stuff – not that you'd know it. With the exception of Assos bibs, this stuff is absolutely as good as anything else I’ve used.
The jersey is perfectly fitted, insanely breathable and with all the features you expect of a premium garmet. Meanwhile the bibs feature a generously padded chamois with ideal placement, a cut that just works and materials that do exactly what you want them to.
There are a few unusual touches, such as the outside stitching at the front of the chamois, but nothing that's caused any problems so far. If these early impressions continue, don't be surprised to see the entire BikeRadar team in Cuore kit sometime down the line.
Park Tool Internal Cable Routing kit
There’s little fun threading cables from scratch through a frame with internal cable routing – it’s a true nuisance most of the time. Perhaps this is why I love the idea of wireless shifting so much.
Thankfully, the IR-1 kit from Park Tool eases the process, and often turns a punishing task into a simple one. It’s a small kit that offers plenty of options, and assuming it fits into the frame, it’s a snap (magnetic that is) to use.
I should point out here that older pre-Di2 frames can still be problematic, given the size of the Park kit's magnetic heads – but it still offers a few solutions even on those poorly thought-out frames.
RockShox Digital shock pump
I recently group-tested 11 shock pumps, and while this one came in second place to a pump from Syncros, its lower price made it the one I purchased. Its gauge accuracy proved to be on par with the Syncros, but its more generic body construction brings the price down.
I own plenty of dial-gauge shock pumps, but the easy to read and precise nature of a digital gauge is hard to pass up – especially once you’ve experienced it. Do I really need to know if my rear shock has 157 or 159psi in it? Probably not, but I like the option of knowing.