Some great products solve problems, like ice-cold, please-don't-be-frostbitten genitalia on sub-freezing rides. Others create new options we never thought about, but now lust after. Hydro-Di2? Yes, please.
I spent a lot of time on various 700c machines this year on the roads around my home in Boulder, Colorado. As new shoes, GPS computers, helmets and clothing filtered through the test line-up, I mostly rode race and endurance road bikes, but dabbled with some tri bikes and even a little cyclocross. These five things stood out as my favourite pieces of road gear for 2014.
BMC Teammachine SLR01 Ultegra
Too many bikes these days are pigeon-holed: race bike, comfort/endurance bike, aero bike, climbing bike. If you want just one good bike, this could well be it. Granted, BMC is as guilty as any company of such pigeon-holing, and the SLR01 is slated as a climbing race bike: the geometry skews more towards an aggressive position than the Gran Fondo endurance bike, and there aren't any meaningful concessions made for aerodynamics.
But with a sub-800g frame and a noticeably soft seatpost, the SLR01 hits the sweet spot of comfort and agility. It felt right at home in my favorite pursuits, whether racing tarmac circuits, bombing down serpentine mountain roads or climbing dirt backroads high in the Rockies. Its eager acceleration felt like any über-stiff race rocket, but the plush ride — not only at the seatpost but at the bars, as well — rivaled any good endurance bike.
Funny thing is, when the bike showed up for test I wasn't all that interested in it. Perhaps that was because, after riding 25-28mm clinchers and tubeless tires for most of the spring and summer, the stock 23s looked skinny, and my brain said, 'this is going to be a harsh ride.' Boy was I wrong. I hated to send this one back!
US$5,600 / £TBC / AU$10,620 (Dura-ace spec, reviewed model not available in Australia)
Shimano R785 Hydraulic Di2 levers
Although the ever-cautious Shimano hasn’t perfected them enough to bestow a ‘Dura-Ace’ or even an ‘Ultegra’ label on these levers, the R785 hydraulic Di2 shifters are the best road hydraulic system right now by a long shot.
For shifting, Di2 has my money. The performance and ease of use make mechanical Dura-Ace feel clunky.
For braking, R785 levers feel like mechanical Dura-Ace, with smooth and predictable lever travel, but with easy single-finger operation, even in hard downhill stopping. (SRAM’s latest Hydro R levers work well, too, but the lever travel feels odd to me: too much squeeze for not enough cheese.)
Speaking of lever squeeze, I am eagerly awaiting the day SRAM or Shimano offers road hydro levers with contact adjustment, so you can dial in your levers like you can on your mountain bike.
In the meantime, R785 is the best there is.
US$699 / £TBC / AU$649 for assembled set of levers, hoses and calipers
When it comes to technology, too often there is a line in the compatibility sand: Shimano or Campy, Mac or PC, 10- or 11-speed. (Don’t even get me started on bottom brackets…) I love the fact that Ant+ simply works across so many platforms, brands and products. I use a CatEye HR strap with an old Garmin Edge 500 and a new Stages power meter. When I’m testing something new, like a Wahoo Kickr or a Garmin 920XT, connecting it all together is simple and solid. I salute the companies for cooperating on a single protocol, and especially Garmin for keeping it open now that the Kansas City giant owns the technology.
Conversely, Polar wireless products are not Ant+ and therefore incompatible with the rest of the world. Unless you’re making something really special, I’m not plunking down my money on a closed-system product.
As winter settles in for the long, trainer-bound haul in much of the northern hemisphere, I am digging the fact that a tiny Ant+ USB can connect me to interactive training software like TrainerRoad and an increasing number of multiplayer online racing videogames, like Tour de Giro or Zwift.
It’s a mighty thing, that little Ant.
Assos Tiburu winter bibs
Assos holds a few dubious distinctions among cycling clothiers: most expensive, most ridiculous advertising imagery, most incomprehensible product names… But often, the Italian-Swiss company absolutely nails it, particularly with bib shorts, thanks to immaculate pad placement, luxurious materials and well-thought-out cuts.
Assos new winter bibs use a waffle thermal fabric and the same partially free-floating chamois construction as S7. While the waffle fabric offers great warmth thanks to the little pockets of air (loft is a good thing for winter clothing), the season-specific highlight here is the windproof crotch. Sound weird? Well, it’s not as weird as huddling under a handwarmer in a public restroom, trying to regain feeling in your sensitive bits. And yes, I’ve been there. More than once.
I’ve tried a number of bibs tights with wind- or thick waterproof material on the entire front portions, and these can be warm on very cold days, but they don’t move well. Even when just pulling them on, bib tights with wind-treated leg panels are stiff and often seem to test the seams. The Tiburu bibs move like summer shorts, but with a warm thermal fabric throughout, and a windshield for your crotch.
US$299 / £166 / AU$329
ProLink ProGold lubricant
This made my list last year, too. It’s a humble workhorse, this stuff. It’s a degreaser cleaner and lube in one. Put it on, let it set, then wipe off the excess, taking the muck along with it. I put it on every single bike in my garage, from the kids’ bikes through all the road bikes to the mountain bikes.
US$8.70 / £5.50 / AU$14.95