With the Sea Otter Classic just around the corner, the flood of new products is on. A few of the most compelling things we've heard about are Shimano's interesting new Alfine Di2 electric internal-hub shifting system and rumors of a gran fondo-style bike from BMC that wil bring the quality of their TeamMachine SLR01, the bike Cadel won the Tour on last year, to the recreational rider. Even as we gear up for all the announcements and launches, we've been testing 2012 product that you can get your hands on now—or should be able to soon. Here are a few highlights.
Rapha Grand Tour Shoes ($450) The self-appointed kings of cycling cool have partnered with Giro and Ecco for these retro-style, lush leather road cleats, and they've really outdone themselves. They are built around the same Easton EC90 unidirectional carbon sole as used on the Giro ProLight SLX, which I absolutely love for its combination of unflinching rigidity and very thin stack height. The Grand Tour feels different from the Prolights, though, as the Yak leather upper is creamy soft and totally forgiving and there's much more volume in the toe box. Insoles are cork versions of Giro's Supernatural interchangeable arch support system (my favorites), and the beefy, sculpted buckles are brushed metal. Many will gasp at the price, but the Grand Tour is in line with most top-end shoes, and, as one of the most fundamental pieces of equipment that determine comfort, high-quality, great fitting cleats are well worth the cost. And the hyper-soft leather means there's no break-in time: I took these straight from the box out on a six-hour ride and had zero foot pain or discomfort.