It might have been Christmas this week, but that doesn't mean we've swapped our bike geek hats for Santa hats. Here, in this Boxing Day edition of Friday Five-a-side, are some of the most interesting bits and pieces of road cycling and mountain biking gear to have landed at BikeRadar's US headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, this week.
Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews in the upcoming weeks and months.
New road gear
Bontrager RXL Convertible 180 softshell jacket and RXL Thermal long sleeve jersey
As the name suggests, the RXL Convertible 180 Softshell features versatile zip-off sleeves to adjust for drastic changes in weather. There are windproof and water-resistant panels up front, with more conventional brushed fabrics on the back of the jacket to boost breathability. Four pockets offer up plenty of storage, thumb loops help keep the sleeves in place, and reflective bits improve night-time visibility – or you can just go all-in like our test sample and order the jacket up in the ultra-bright 'visibility yellow' color option.
The RXL Thermal long sleeve jersey, on the other hand, is much more straightforward, with brushed fabrics all around, a relatively relaxed semi-form fit and five pockets (three open, two zippered) for storage. Bontrager includes those same handy thumb holes here, so you can say goodbye to chilly wrists.
- Bontrager RXL Convertible 180 softshell jacket: US$180 / £120 / €150 / AU$239
- Bontrager RXL Thermal long sleeve jersey: US$110 / £65 / €80 / AU$129
Campagnolo Shamal Mille wheels
Campagnolorecently updated its workhorse Shamal Mille aluminum road clinchers. The new model retains the previous version's basic design (including the rim extrusion, aluminum spokes, and hubs) but injecting a big dose of braking performance with the addition of a plasma electrolytic oxidation coating. Better known by its Keronite trade name, this is the same surface treatment that's used by Mavic for its Exalith rims but with more traditional circumferentially machined grooves.
Our test set weighs just 1,419g (603g front, 816g rear, plus 121g for skewers), but we're more impressed with the wheels' incredible stiffness – just the thing for bigger riders who want something a little more solid. Braking performance with the included pads has been fantastic too, with gobs of power and very good control.
US$1,299 / £940 / €1,173 / AU$1,497
Castelli Senza jacket and Nanoflex bib tights
If you like your cold-weather road clothing to come with a healthy dose of Italian flair, Castelli's got you covered with a fresh crop designed to help keep you both warm and looking good.
Highlighting our test kit is the Senza jacket, made with fleece-backed Windstopper X-Fast fabric, a flip-up collar with a cutout for your neck, lots of pockets for storage, and a smattering of reflective bits to give the otherwise stealthy garment some night-time visibility. The very trim cut doesn't leave much space for layering but so far we've had the Senza down to the freezing mark with just a long-sleeved baselayer underneath and been quite cozy.
Pairing up with the Senza are the Nanoflex bib tights, built with fleece-backed Thermoflex fabric and an aggressive DWR coating that does a rather fantastic job of shedding water.
The fit is notably Euro-snug but perfectly patterned for road riding and the KISS3 pad has been extremely comfortable but there's a definite difference in warmth between these and the Senza. Whereas the latter is good down to freezing, we'd recommend sticking to slightly warmer temperatures when wearing the Nanoflex bibs
- Castelli Senza jacket: US$229 / £200 / €209 / AU$TBC
- Castelli Nanoflex bib tights: US$169 / £110 / €119 / AU$TBC
Giro Empire SLX shoes
Trying to lighten up your gear? Don't forget about what's on your body. Giro's new Empire SLX road shoes hit the scales at just 374g for a pair of size 43.5s with insoles – well in keeping with company's claims of 350g for size 42s. They are more than 100g lighter than more conventional top-end models.
The thin Easton EC90 SLX2 carbon fiber sole and titanium hardware certainly help keep the weight down, but it's the one-piece Evofiber SL uppers that really deserve much of the credit, with their ultra-minimal lace-up design and simple perforated vents in place of more traditional – but heavier – mesh panels. Giro has even swapped out the usual custom tunable SuperNatural footbeds for ones made of lighter foam.
Say what you will about the seemingly throwback design, but our experience with other Giro lace-up shoes has been very positive. They're a bit cumbersome to put on and take off but the fit is fantastically even around your foot and we rarely have to make any adjustments, even on three-hour rides.
US$350 / £249 / €300 / AU$TBC
Silca NFS-Pro chain lube
Much as Skratch Labs' exercise drink mix was born in the shadows, so has NixFrixShun's chain lube supposedly quietly gained a foothold in the toolboxes of pro teams and mechanics.
According to Silca – who commissioned a custom formulation for itself – NFS-Pro offers the holy grail of quiet running, low friction, and supreme durability even for seven-hour rides in the rain. It's apparently so good, in fact, that Silca company owner Josh Poertner says a relatively tiny 2oz bottle of NFS-Pro "yields about 10,000 miles".
Will those claims hold true? Given how much this stuff costs, we sure hope so.
US$16 / £12 / €15 / AU$20
New mountain gear
45NRTH gloves and insoles
45NRTH's new Sturmfist 4 and 5 winter gloves both feature a novel, thin aerogel insulation in the palms that the company says does a good job of insulating your hands from cold handlebars and grips, while retaining very good dexterity and feel. The Sturmfist 4 is the burlier of the two options with a warmer four-finger layout, heavier insulation, removable Merino wool liners, and a gauntlet-style drawcord wrist to seal out snow.
The more conventional five-fingered Sturmfist 5, uses slightly less insulation and has sewn-in Merino liners.
45NRTH suggests using the Sturmfist 4 at -18 to -9°C (0 to 15°F) and the 5 at -9 to 2°C (15 to 35°F), and we'd say those recommendations are spot-on. We've already used the Sturmfist 4 during a night-time fat bike ride at -5°C (23°F) and actually had to remove the liners to keep from overheating. Toasty indeed.
45NRTH also uses the same non-compressible aerogel in its Jaztronaut winter insoles to help keep your feet warm. The aerogel panel is supposedly just 2mm thick but the total thickness of the insoles is more like 7mm so make sure you've got room for these before plunking down the cash. Their flat shape likely won't suit riders who need a little more arch support, either.
- 45NRTH Sturmfist 4 gloves: US$130 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$TBC
- 45NRTH Sturmfist 5 gloves: US$100 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$TBC
- 45NRTH Jaztronaut insoles: US$50 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$TBC
Bar Mitts handlebar mittens
Can't manage to ever keep your hands warm no matter what you wear? In the same way as good overshoes help to seal in the warmth and block out the cold, Bar Mitt's handlebar 'mittens' wrap the entire grip area – including your hands, wrists and all controls – in neoprene to create a pocket of body heat.
The standard Mountain version uses 4.5mm-thick neoprene, while the even more protective Extreme version bumps up to 5.5mm-thick material. Both have plenty of room for a wide range of gloves and control configurations (including options for bar ends) but they can also be quite heavy – a pair of Extremes weighs 550g per pair. They're quite expensive too, but for those who invariably suffer from frozen fingers and have yet to find a solution, these might do the trick.
- Bar Mitts Extreme Mountain Mitts: US$125 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$TBC
- Bar Mitts Mountain Mitts: US$75 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$TBC
fi'zi:k Gobi M3 k:ium saddle
Fi'zi:k recently updated its popular Gobi mountain bike saddle. It has kept the general shape of the original version but added lot more EVA foam padding to the nose – which effectively makes that area wider and flatter and should improve comfort.
The new version also features a fiber composite shell with tuned flex zones on the sides and tail that fi'zi:k claims improves pedaling efficiency and safety, while the Microtex synthetic leather cover is armored with Cordura rear edges to protect against abrasions.
We recently received the mid-range Gobi M3 k:ium model to test. The updated padding profile is definitely noticeable, and comfort is improved. Despite the extra squish, it's still impressively light – just 204g.
US$150 / £TBC / €129 / AU$TBC
Tioga Spyder Outland saddle
While you could argue that the fi'zi:k Gobi is a fairly traditional saddle in essence, the Tioga Spyder Outland takes an entirely different approach. Its dual-density, fiber reinforced molded nylon construction combines the shell and padding into a singular structure. Stiffer and tougher material is used for the saddle's perimeter and interior spines, with softer and more flexible material used elsewhere to create a sort of hammock effect.
Tioga says the Outland's subtly wider and flatter shape is better suited to all-around trail riding than the Spyder Stratum we reviewed recently. It also introduces a new concept for the range – snap-in silicone rubber pads that add a bit more cushion and grip.
Our sample has hollow chromoly rails and weighs 183g. The silicone 'anti-slip pads' tack on another 23g per pair.
US$135 / £110 / €TBC / AU$165
Wisecracker bottle openers
Bikes and beer seem to go hand in hand, which makes WiseCracker's clever bike-mounted bottle openers a natural addition for many.
They are made from CNC machined, anodized, and laser-etched aluminum, titanium, or stainless steel, and WiseCracker has models that mount to your headset or seatpost (or even a dog collar) so that a frothy beverage is never far from reach.
US$12-28 / £TBC / €TBC / AU$TBC