A year in gear: my top 10 products of 2010
Every so often you come across a must-have piece of equipment, the kind you immediately incorporate into every ride possible. And for me, 2010 was a better year than most in this department. So much so that I felt compelled to share it in a top-10 list — not a comprehensive list of the greatest products of 2010, but rather the products that I came across and used to the greatest satisfaction.
Now entering my 16th year as a cyclist, and my tenth working for VeloNews, I’ll be the first to admit there aren’t a lot of things I need to round out my gear inventory. “Need” is a relative term, of course, but I’ve got a bike for nearly every task, and I’ve practically amassed enough cycling shoes, helmets and gloves to keep my accessories fresh for a week’s worth of training.
That said, I’m still exposed to plenty of the new test product that comes through the doors of VeloNews offices. And just like everyone else, I’m guilty of the pre- group ride fashion scan, when riding buddies casually check out each other’s latest duds. Besides, old gear wears out, and needs to be replaced right?
As the managing editor of VeloNews magazine, focusing on races and riders, I’m no tech writer — we have Nick Legan, Caley Fretz and Lennard Zinn to handle that. But I am a regular cyclist and an occasional racer, and I travel regularly, usually with riding gear in tow.
(And though I wouldn’t call myself frugal, others might; I’m not a big spender, and I tend to not recommend items I view as overly priced.)
So take this for what it is, a list of recommendations for the common, non-techie rider. If you’re looking for something in any of these categories, you’d be doing yourself a service by considering these products.
10. OGIO Metro Backpack
Anyone who has ever owned an OGIO product can tell you how well they are both designed and constructed. The Utah-based bag maker cranks out innovative lines of duffels and packs for outdoor activities ranging from golf, moto, BMX, skate, snow, and surf, as well as luggage and backpacks for everyday use. At the end of 2009 employees of Competitor Group Inc., which owns VeloNews, were given CGI-branded OGIO Metro backpacks. After years of using messenger bags left me imbalanced and with neck pain, a professional-grade backpack was a welcome change. And after a year of use I can say I’ve been nothing but satisfied with the Metro. At 2,200 cubic inches, it’s large enough to hold all of my day-to-day items, and the durable nylon has kept it looking like new. Some elements, though fairly standard, are well executed, such as like the fleece-lined audio and digital-media pockets and the sternum strap. One of my favorite features, however, is the back-panel side-entry padded laptop pocket, which means I never have to fish for my 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop in airport security lines. It also means the back panel always retains a flat shape against my back, no matter the shape of the contents of the center storage area.
9. “Chasing Legends” DVD Set
Whether you’ve already seen it up on the big screen or not, “Chasing Legends” is worth owning on DVD. The documentary, produced by Ken Bell and directed by Jason Berry, focuses on the HTC-Columbia team of Mark Cavendish and George Hincapie during the 2009 Tour de France, however it’s really a study of the sport and its biggest event — the riders, the fans, the majesty and the passion that surround Le Tour. Though “Chasing Legends” may not be a perfect, it’s damn close; of the films that have attempted to capture the essence of professional road cycling, it’s one of the best, and it deserves a place in your cycling library. The two-disc set includes a DVD of bonus features, outtakes, and behind the scenes footage that delves deeper into today’s pro peloton.
8. “T.V. sucks — ride your bike” T-shirt
I picked this up for $20 from Alchemist Thread Works at a local Boulder, Colorado, cyclocross race this fall, and because I believe in its message, I wear it proudly. Alchemist has several cool t-shirts in its line, including a “More Cowbell” shirt any ’cross fan can appreciate. The online price for these tees is $30, which is a lot to ask for a t-shirt, even if it is made with 100-percent organic cotton and printed with phthalate-free inks, whatever that means. But if you’re the type of cyclist that boycotts the boob tube and sometimes feels compelled to wear a message across your chest, this might just need to find a home in your wardrobe. (Note: these run large, so if you’re in-between sizes, I suggest going with the smaller size.)
7. Gorge Delights JustFruit Bars
($16.64 for a box of 16, www.gorgedelights.com)
I discovered these tasty little treats in June at the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, where the Washington-based company Gorge Delights was one of the event’s sponsors. And as much as it might be hard to get excited about another energy bar, it would be hard not to love JustFruit bars. Made of conventionally grown fruit from the Pacific Northwest, each chewy 40-gram bar contains two whole pears or apples, with varieties flavored with other fruits such as blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, cherry and cranberry. The 150-calorie bars have a shelf life of up to two years, without the use of artificial ingredients, flavorings or preservatives. (Gorge Delights boasts a USDA patented process, which separates fruits into purees and concentrates and then rejoins them in a manner that, they claim, retains maximum nutritional value.) The fact that Gorge Delights supports a regional stage race is one reason to consider buying JustFruit bars; the fact that the bars taste great and are all natural is an even better reason.
6. Giro Ionos Matte Black/Red Helmet
I have to admit a little bias in falling in love with this helmet. First off, I spent the 1990s in Santa Cruz, California, home to Giro Sport Design, and I knew and rode with several of the folks involved with the company during its pre-Lance Armstrong era. I’ve worn Giro helmets through the years, and each and every time, a size medium goes from the box and strapped to my melon with virtually no adjustments. For my head, the fit is so dialed that Giro’s new Roc Loc 5 fit system — which uses a ratcheting, micro-adjustable dial — is almost wasted. But what sold me on this lid was the matte black/red color scheme. Not only am I sucker for matte black, but black, red and white are VeloNews colors and match the team kit perfectly. (Hey, I said I was a little biased.) There’s no question $235 is a chunk of change to pay, even to wear the same helmet Lance wore this year. If you can, look around for 2010 model, which are on closeout for closer to $175 as the 2011 product replaces them.
5. Da Kine Split Roller LG Suitcase
In terms of travel, my luggage situation during 2010 was a departure from years past (pun intended.) The 5,800-cubic inch OGIO Terminal suitcase I’d used since 2006 finally expired; though the bombproof outer material was still in great shape, the zipper slowly self-destructed. I was disappointed when OGIO declined to honor the bag’s lifetime warranty, claiming it was intended to cover the lifetime of the product — not my lifetime — and only against defects in materials and workmanship. I saw the zipper’s malfunction as a defect in material, however OGIO saw it as “normal wear and tear.” And though I was offered half off of MSRP towards a new Terminal, in this case $125, I turned it down on principle. Estimates to replace the zipper amounted to nearly the same cost as a discounted replacement bag, and though it pained me to discard an otherwise perfectly good bag, that’s what I ultimately did.
I took the new Thule Crossover 56-Liter Rolling Duffel with me to the Tour de France and used it throughout the fall, with mixed reviews. It’s a sharp-looking bag, but at 3,418 cubic inches, not really large enough to consistently handle my travel needs, which often requires space for a helmet pod, cycling shoes/pedals and clothing, a camera bag, street clothing and toiletries. Also, over the span of a handful of flights, the exterior of the Thule bag was torn several times, perhaps distinguishing itself as the soft-shell duffel it is, rather than a bulletproof suitcase. (This might have been caused by a few instances of overly aggressive baggage handling, however the exterior of my OGIO fared better over four years than the Thule did in four months.) With a $290 price tag — and given Thule’s sterling reputation for making durable car-mounting systems — I expected the Crossover to be more resilient. In the future it may serve as a race bag, to be thrown in the car, rather than an air travel bag.
To finish off the year I ordered a Da Kine Split Roller LG suitcase. Though not as rugged as the OGIO, nor, in my opinion, as stylish as the Thule, at 6,000 cubic inches the Split Roller is large enough to handle all of my gear, rugged enough to withstand disgruntled baggage handlers, and its surfer-style plaid material has enough flair to stand out both on the baggage carousel and in the corner of the hotel room. At $175 it’s competitively priced — $75 less than the OGIO and $125 less than the Thule — and I’m happy to have the space I need, and a zipper that I can put my faith in. Whether or not it can outlast the four years the OGIO was in heavy rotation remains to be seen. One online review I came across claimed that after four years of “fairly light use” (two to three long trips per year), the bottom seam gave out, and Da Kine declined to repair it as part of the bag’s lifetime warranty, citing “normal wear and tear.” Sounds familiar.
4. Rapha Winter Hat
Hardly a new product, Rapha’s winter hat is an item I’ve lusted for, but never owned, until 2010. And now that I have one, I can only ask for a moment of silence, in honor of cold Colorado winters spent wasted riding without the perfect cycling hat. It offers the warmth of a skullcap, the shade of a cycling cap and the optional ear protection of a headband. I love the style, the functionality, and because it’s Rapha, the classic, retro style and immaculate quality. Made in Italy from stretch Sportwool, the winter hat offers a balanced level of insulation — not too heavy, not too light. It fits nicely under a helmet, and if needed, the ribbed ear guard folds up for extra breathability. If you live in a warm climate, you won’t have much use for a garment like this, but if you live and ride in areas where staying warm is paramount, this hat — along with the right pair of gloves — might just be the single most important piece of gear you can own.
3. Beaker Concepts SpeedFold Riding Wallet
For all those out there still stuffing plastic baggies into their jersey pocket full of money, credit cards, I.D., lip balm, etc. — there’s hope for you. Riding wallets have come a long way, and if you’ve never used a riding wallet, you should. Beyond the minimal space they occupy in your jersey, riding wallets keep things organized and protected. For years I’ve used the Jimi wallet ($16, www.thejimi.com), a small, slim plastic shell that folds out into a money clip. I’d still recommend the Jimi, but this year a friend turned me on to the SpeedFold, and for a few reasons, it’s replacing my Jimi. For starters, it’s bigger —just big enough to stuff an iPhone inside — but not so big that it takes over a jersey pocket. Secondly, it’s made of ballistic nylon, and though it has a zipper, it feels nearly indestructible. Inside there’s a coin pocket, space for business cards, and a clear outer pocket for ID. Blackburn has a similar product to the SpeedFold, the VIP Zip Wallet, which retails for $20 and is more oriented toward the iPhone crowd, with a headphone port and clear cover for screen access while still zipped shut.
2. Ryders Drill Photochromic Sunglasses
I like the understated style of Ryder’s Drill frame (in black, though it comes in a variety of colors), but what impressed me with these glasses were its combination photocromic/polarized lenses, meaning they not only cut down on glare, but they also darken on exposure to ultraviolet radiation. While out riding, a friend and I briefly swapped glasses, and I was amazed by the clarity of the Ryder lenses; it was like comparing the difference between an analog and high-definition TV set, and I didn’t want to give them back. The fact that the Drill fits my face perfectly and uses an anti-slip nose pad and temple tips was an added bonus. My black-framed pair came with a gray shatterproof, polycarbonate lens and two sets of spare lenses, clear and brown, that are not photochromic, as well as a nicely designed zipper case to keep the whole package protected. You can spend more on sunglasses, and if you’re intent on wearing what the top pros wear, you’ll have to. But before you do, you owe it to yourself to try a pair of Ryders photocromic lenses.
1. Pearl Izumi P.R.O Ultrasoft Shell jacket
There’s nothing about Pearl’s P.R.O. Ultrasoft Shell jacket that’s wrong; in other words, everything about it is right. It has a perfect, slim tailored cut (not too loose, not to snug), perfect weight (neither light nor heavy) and perfect design (stylish enough to wear to dinner, sporty enough to wear to a cyclocross race.) I love the asymmetrical cuffs, the plush faux fur interior, the oversize metal zippers and the minimalist use of logos; I appreciate that there’s nothing on this jacket that screams “cyclist.” (That’s what the Alchemist Thread Works t-shirt is for.)
A few months back I attended a congratulations party for Tayor Phinney in Boulder, Colorado, and spotted Pearl Izumi president Juergen Eckmann sporting the P.R.O Ultrasoft Shell; that’s a testament, considering he can choose from anything in Pearl’s line. Simply put, in 2010 this was my go-to jacket for all but the warmest summer months. At $160 it’s not an impulse buy, but it’s worth every penny. Perhaps the best compliment I can give is this — I’ve considered buying a second jacket, to keep as a spare for the day Pearl stops producing this model.