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.
SciCon Roller 2.1 ($45) We hate what a pain saddlebags can be to get on and off the bike, but this sleek little SciCon bag uses a smart snap-lock system that clips in with a simple twist. And unlike other similar designs, this one hasn't inadvertantly come unfastened after hundreds of miles of riding. Bonus: A built-in mini tool and tire levers mean you’ll never get stuck out. It's a tiny little bag but carries all you need for emergency roadside assistance.
Assos Zegho ($400-$470) No, that pricetag is no typo. The Swiss purveyor of high-end clothing has teamed up with Carl Zeiss, manufacturer of some of the world's finest lenses including cameras and microscopes, to create some seriously advanced, seriously expensive riding glasses. As you'd expect from Zeiss, lens clarity is exceptional, and the Zeghos are so light and unobtrusive—credit the huge frameless lenses and the careful shaping of the wrap—that it's easy to forget you're wearing them. On fast descents through bright and shadows, I really appreciated the distinct transition from dark to light about two-thirds of the way down the lens—just look down, and you can still see. These are without question the best glasses I've ridden in, though at this price few will have the privilege. Warning: They're fashion-forward so it will take some attitide to pull them off.
Specialized S-Works Toupé Saddle ($300) At an eye-wateringly light 113 grams (that's less than a quarter of a pound), the S-Works Toupé is an ounce-counter's dream. If the shape fits you, this is an easy way to trim fairly signicant weight from a race bike. And the good news is that, for those who prefer a firm saddle (like me), the Toupé is surprisingly comfy. I've ridden it for months on my road bike and had no issues with saddle sores or bruising, though I do wish the nose were a touch longer as I prefer to ride far forward. And though I was dubious when the folks at Specialized claimed this carbon-railed saddle was tough enough for mountain biking, I've also raced a few all-day endurance events on it and had no problem with durability. One note: the ovalized rails will not work with every seatpost clamping design.
Feedback Sports Pro-Elite Workstand ($240; feedbacksports.com) is the most durable, stable, and easy to use bike repair stand we’ve found. The quick-ratchet frame grip gets the bike nearly in place, and a few easy twists of the clamping knob locks it down. The stand will hold your bike in any position, even straight horizontal or upside. And when we were juggling tools and rags and the phone, we loved that we could use our shoulder to bump the quick-release seat-tube clamp to get the bike down fast. The Pro-Elite made us realize just how mediocre all our prior workstands were.