We the leg-shaving citizens of the tarmac saw some major changes to our world in 2016. Disc brakes finally came (and then went) in the pro peloton, suspension bobbed into our bikes, and Zwift blossomed into a legit phenomenon.
I logged 11,000 miles this year, Strava tells me. Much of that was on test bikes. Like my coworkers, I also tested a whole mess of shoes, helmets, computers, apps, saddles, wheels and more. But what do I use when I'm not actively testing something, you ask? What are my favorites? Well, here are the 10 things I went back to time and time again in 2016.
Okay, let me start this one with an apology to Polar, a company that I derided in the past for choosing Bluetooth over ANT+. Two years ago, ANT+ was the wireless protocol for cycling computers and components, and using Bluetooth seemed kinda like spec'ing Campagnolo in a Shimano- and SRAM-dominated world. I mean, it's a great technology, but who is using it, really?
Fast forward to 2016, and, well, a lot of cycling companies are using Bluetooth — often in addition to ANT+. Stages kicked off the power-meter category with Bluetooth/ANT+ transmissions, and now dual broadcast is the standard for smart trainers.
Of course smartphones have long offered Bluetooth, and many newer laptops have it, too. The new Android Galaxy 7 (not the flammable one — the other one) is cool with its native ANT+, which I've been testing with TrainerRoad. But short of that, getting ANT+ to talk to your phone or computer requires a plug-in dongle or USB stick. Not very slick.
Here's how I used Bluetooth regularly in 2016:
- Auto uploads of rides from Garmin Edge or Wahoo Elemnt to Strava via a tethered phone
- Text and call alerts on Edge and Elemnt from a tethered phone
- Smart trainer connection to Zwift and TrainerRoad
- Heart-rate monitor connection to Edge, Element, phone and MacBook
- Power meter firmware updates
So, sorry, Polar. I still think you should offer ANT+ on your products, though!
Shimano Ultegra SPD-SL pedals
There are pedals that are lighter. There are pedals with smoother float. And there are pedals with more Gucci appeal. But Ultegra SPD-SLs are what I buy because they work very well, they last seemingly forever, and they require basically zero maintenance.
Specialized Power saddle
Yes, it looks funny. But I would argue that a good saddle is one of the most important things on your bike. I mean, if you're not comfortable sitting on your bike, you're probably not going to be riding it much, right?
With saddles like the Power, which let you ride in an aggressive, forward position, I would also argue that a saddle that lets your body be aero can make you faster than aero wheels.
In any event, I keep three Power saddles on hand to pop onto test bikes. They work well for me.
Dznuts chamois cream
Riding at home I seldom use chamois cream. With good bib shorts and an agreeable saddle — see above — cream just isn't necessary for regular riding.
But for longer rides — especially when on a test bike — I'll use some. When going on trips to test bikes with who knows what saddle, I always pack Dznuts in my toiletries. In addition to the juvenile title requisite for this type of product, Dznuts has natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial ingredients. I'll sometimes use it after a ride to help rejuvenate tender skin.
Q36.5 phone wallet
I almost always ride with my phone, and I used to just use a plastic bag to keep said phone and paper money dry.
This double-layer waterproof protector comes in a few colors. I like the bright BikeRadar orange; it makes it easy to find the phone in a bag or on the street, should you accidentally drop the thing.
I also like how the fabric provides a little traction inside jersey pockets. I've ejected phones before from sweaty jerseys when hunkered down low in the drops; but never with this thing.
A lot of companies make great socks these days: The Athletic, Ten Speed Hero, Handlebar Mustache, Panache, etc., etc. My wife doesn't care about cycling, but says Sako7's styles generally look the best.
Oakley Jawbreaker Prizm Road
Oakley makes excellent lenses, and the Prizm lens is tuned for road cycling. The tall upper portion is great for visibility for when you're on the drops.
Although I definitely appreciate the visual clarity of frameless designs, alas, I am a clumsy man. So one thing I appreciate about the Jawbreaker is how the big frame means dropping the glasses on the road seldom results in a scratched lens. Believe me, I have unintentionally tried.