Strava tells me I’ve ridden 11,500km this year, primarily on test bikes rolling across pavement and a bit on trails and dirt roads. I’ve had the opportunity ride a number of great bikes in 2015, including the new Trek Madone, the BMC Granfondo and the Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc. (Yes, I am spoiled rotten.) I’ve also found myself going back again and again to a few old faithfuls, simple things like Shimano pedals, ProGold lube and an old Pedro’s Pit Kit cleaning bucket with Simple Green.
Here are my 10 favorite products of 2015.
Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS
This is not a practical bike. Nor is it a trendy adventure bike. And no, it doesn’t have disc brakes. But holy crap is it fast and fun to ride.
The ViAS is basically a TT superbike with race-bike handling. The geometry is identical to a Tarmac’s, with rock-solid BB stiffness and race-rocket handling. Fat and deep wheels glide on plush, ultra-low-rolling-resistance clinchers, and the machine comes with a Quarq power meter.
Goodbye, bank account; hello, PRs.
Islabikes Beinn 24
Islabikes make the world’s best kids’ bikes. Period.
For starters, the things are routinely at least half the weight of other comparable kids’ bikes. Every detail is well thought out and cleanly executed: tight Q factor, narrow saddle, alloy rims on well-constructed wheels, narrow-diameter handlebars, close-reach levers, powerful mini-V brakes… the list goes on and on.
My daughter is now on her third Islabike, a 24in Beinn. The bikes are an investment, but if my neighborhood is any indication, there are plenty of kids and parents eager to snatch them up when your child outgrows them.
Pearl Select Softshell Lite gloves
I probably tested 20 different gloves this year, with most earning a distinct meh. Too many gloves feel constrictive, either in the fingers or around the hand. Too many gloves have annoying Velcro that grabs your clothing on the bike or in the laundry. And too many gloves feel either like sweaty rubber bags or porous, why-even-bother lightweights.
Pearl’s Softshell Lites, by contrast, are none of these things. The thin mitts offer great bar feel, wind protection and breathability. They’re perfect for cool to mildly cold days. There is no annoying Velcro, and you can use your smartphone with them on. Plus, the price is right at $35 / £28.
Stages Dura-Ace power meter
Yes, I’m a nerd. And yes, sometimes I train with power, or just navel-gaze at data afterwards. But I see no need to broadcast to the world that I’m A Serious Cyclist with a giant power meter dangling off the bike.
Tucked inside the left crank, the tiny Stages meter delivers clean, reliable data without fuss. While I had issues with water killing batteries on earlier Stages meters, the latest Dura-Ace model has thwarted the rain, water and Simple Green suds.
Castelli Tempesta rain jacket
Speaking of rain, the Tempesta is my new favorite rain jacket, hands down. It uses eVent fabric, which, like GoreTex, prevents rain from getting through but lets sweat vapor out. It’s phenomenal.
The zipper jammed seemingly every time I wore the Tempesta… until I cut the backing off. However, the stuck zipper forced a legitimate test of the Tempesta's breathability. For instance, going hard uphill at rain-soaked events like the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportive didn't result in overheating. In a standard waterproof jacket, I would have been tearing that thing off with my teeth.
Bottom line: buy one of these, cut the zipper backing off, ride happy in the rain.
Shimano R321 road shoes
Sure, you can custom-shape the Shimano R321 road shoes. But they are so comfortable out of the box that I’ve never bothered. From the wide toe box to the soft-but-grippy heel counter to the enveloping upper, everything about the fit feels great to me.
I wore a pair of the third-rung R170 shoes for three years until they were pretty gross, frankly. The R321s are likely headed for a similar, well-loved fate.
Specialized Power saddle
Here in Boulder, Colorado, Tuesday means the Stages lunch ride, where the national-caliber-riders, who also happen to be Stages employees, throttle the rest of us who are foolish enough to show up. I spend the entirety of this ride – until I’m dropped, at least – with my back flat and my nose on my stem, trying to make myself as small as possible in the draft.
With most saddles, riding in what is basically a TT position can result in temporary numbness in a place a guy does not want to go numb. With the Specialized Power, I can spend 60-90 minutes prostrate on the bike without issue.
The active social site has become a few things for me. It’s a record book, nicely tallying up the miles ridden and the vertical feet climbed over the year. I’ve also used it as a reference when my heart has been giving me grief, comparing heart rate against power and duration on various days. But most important, it’s an extension of the social aspect we all love about riding. I use it more than Facebook these days.
Only two products go on all the bikes in my garage at some point: ProGold lube and Knog lights. There are plenty of great, hyper-bright lights out there now, but I come back to the Knogs for simplicity of use. The rubbery clamps wrap easily onto aero bikes, kids bikes and cruisers, and the integrated USB stick means I don’t have to hunt down a cable to recharge them.
POC DO Half Blade sunglasses
File these in the overstuffed folder titled ‘things I used to make fun of but now like’.
Aesthetics aside, here are the plusses: crystal-clear optics thanks to interchangeable Zeiss lenses with anti-fog and Ripel treatments, wide lens for uninterrupted coverage on my big face, no bottom frame (see previous), and small but effective rubber grips at the nose and temples.
Another seemingly small but important detail: the arms extend from the upper portion but not the top of the lens, which prevent them from bumping the helmet, no matter how low on the brow it sits. Another pair of otherwise good glasses (looking at you, Smith PivLock V2 Max) was jettisoned after the high arms kept hitting the helmet, knocking the glasses down my nose.