Salsa, on the leading edge of fat bikes since before they gained popularity, released the first-ever full-suspension fatty this year. Pictured here: Salsa Bucksaw Carbon.     Photo: Courtesy of Salsa Cycles

The Best Cycling Gear of 2014

The future of bike innovation is already here.

It’s a good time to be a cyclist. The money and energy flooding into research and development right now has given us lots of exceptional designs and concepts, both in bikes and ancillary products. There aren’t many bad bikes out there these days, and there’s a constant flow of interesting things coming to market to improve our rides. Still, certain products and ideas stand out. Here are our 10 favorite bike products this year.


10. Infinit Nutrition (From $3.25 per serving)

  Photo: Infinit Nutrition

I began using this sports nutrition product in 2014, and it's changed the way I train and race. Though Infinit makes a handful of excellent preset powder foods for use while exercising, what sets the company apart is its custom program, which allows athletes to create unique formulations tailored to preferences for flavor intensity, calories, carbs, proteins, electrolytes, amino acids, and caffeine.

Not only does this allow for multiple blends—a higher-calorie version for intense training or a longer-burning mix for endurance events, for instance—but it makes it possible to tweak a formula to your precise nutritional needs. You can do it yourself online or tap into the company’s advisors for help. I’ve fine-tuned three mixes that have virtually eliminated the cramping, bloating, and intestinal distress I used to suffer from using other brands of food while racing.


9. Magellan Cyclo 505hc ($500)

  Photo: Magellan

Garmin products, which are very good, have become the standard in the industry partly because they have remained unchallenged. Magellan changed that this year with the debut of its excellent GPS-enabled cycling computer. It has all the features of Garmin’s top-tier Edge 1000—including ANT+, WiFi, and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, complete U.S. maps, and Di2 compatibility—and it costs $200 less. The screen is super bright, the interface easy to use, and the design is nice and clean, although some may find it a bit large.


8. Specialized Tarmac Disc (From $6,200 to $9,500)

  Photo: Specialized

Despite the clear performance advantages, disc brakes for road bikes have largely, though not completely (think: Pinarello Dogma and Colnago C50), been spec’d on mid- to low-end bikes. Specialized demonstrated its commitment to the technology this year by rolling out its top race model, the Tarmac, in three disc-equipped specs. Our size 56 tester of the top-shelf S-Works model comes in at 15.4 pounds, with acceleration and handling every bit as sharp and fast as the rim-brake version. Discs still haven’t been approved by the UCI, so these Tarmacs aren’t yet race legal. But clearly the Big S is betting that they will be soon. Legality aside, we won’t ever go back to rim brakes given just how good discs—and this bike—feel on the road.


7. Castelli San Remo 2 Thermosuit ($350)

  Photo: Castelli Cycling

This wonky, winter onesie might win the award for the most pleasantly surprising piece of kit in 2014. It’s effectively a Gabba long-sleeve jersey fused to a pair of Sorpasso tights (complete with awesome Progetto X2 chamois), with the advantage of zero gaps and holes to allow cold air to leak in. It’s comfy like a set of pajamas, much warmer than it’s thin weight suggests, thanks in part to the Gore Windstopper X-Lite panel, and opens up in the front for ventilation when it warms up. I wore it so often last winter—almost daily—that I could barely keep up with laundering.


6. Bontrager TLR Flash Charger Pump ($120)

  Photo: Bontrager

I’ve already written about this extensively, so I’ll spare the details here. But suffice it to say that this is the first hand pump that makes tubeless set-ups not just possible, but easy. It’s partly intended for large-volume fat bike tires, but I have yet to find a wheel-tire combo that this pump can’t deal with (and I deal with half a dozen or more per week). Yes, a compressor works just as well, but the Flash Charger is lighter, smaller, and doesn’t need a power source, so you can use it in the field.


5. Magura eLECT ($1,400)

  Photo: Magura

Most of the big players in the bike market, including Shimano, Fox, and RockShox, have invested heavily into electronics. And yet it’s the small German manufacturer Magura that has knocked it out of the park. The company’s eLECT electronic suspension, available in both fork and shock setups, turns a mountain bike suspension system on and off by way of electric-driven accelerometers. No more futzing with the lockout lever. The suspension does it for you depending on the terrain and your preferences. And what really sets Magura apart from all the others is the lack of wires: the batteries fit in a standard fork and shock form and communicate by ANT+. After almost nine months of flawless testing, we’re loathe to go back to our analog systems.


4. Bell Super 2R ($200)

  Photo: Bell Helmets

This is another one we’ve already covered, but we can’t stop saying enough good things about this convertible mountain bike helmet. Thanks to a removable chin piece, it switches from a lightweight trail lid to a downhill full-face with the flip of three buckles. It doesn’t have full DH certification due to the vents, but it offers plenty of peace of mind for pushing it harder on hard tech and enduro courses. If you ride much technical terrain, there’s no good reason not to get this helmet over a standard trail model. It’s extra protection and versatility for the same price.


3. Enve MSeries Wheels (From $2,718)

  Photo: Enve

The Ogden, Utah-based composite specialists took what they learned about width and aerodynamics from their SES road line and incorporated it into the M-Series, which are the finest mountain bike wheels on the planet. Though there are four models that vary in size and weight depending on intended use (M50 for XC, M60 for trail, M70 for enduro, and M90 for downhill), all of the models have a new hookless bead and similar rounded profile for strength and comfort. The result is wheels that are light, fast, ridiculously strong, and feel like nothing else on the market. There is no finer upgrade to a mountain bike.


 

2. Assos T.rallyshorts_S7 bib ($450)

  Photo: Assos

The Swiss cycling apparel company already knocked it out of the park this year with the introduction of its new S7 bib and chamois line. The previous S5 generation was leaps and bounds better than anything on the market, and the S7 stepped up the design and comfort several levels. Then in the summer, for the first time ever, Assos unveiled three pieces of apparel aimed at mountain biking, including these bibs with the excellent S7 chamois. The compressive proprietary fabrics are exceptionally durable, the cross-back bib design is more comfortable than anything we’ve ever tried, and the removable oval-shaped, closed-cell foam pads on the hips have saved us on some hard crashes. Many will bemoan the high prices, but if you spend long periods of time in a pair of bibs, there is no other short as comfortable.


1. Salsa Bucksaw (From $4,000)

  Photo: Salsa Cycles

Salsa, one of the early proponents of fat bikes, pushed the concept to a new level this year with the first-ever production full-suspension fatty. Based on the company’s excellent XC-oriented Spearfish line, which uses a Dave Weagle-designed Split Pivot suspension, the four-inch tires and 100mm of travel make it possible to ride virtually anything. The amazing downhill capabilities are eclipsed only by the bike’s ability to climb up any obstacle you can find.

And kudos to RockShox for producing the Bluto fork, without which this bike wouldn’t be possible. At 31 pounds for the top-end aluminum model, it is neither light nor heavy, and that weight will drop this year as Salsa has announced a carbon Bucksaw coming soon. Specs and tech aside, this is unarguably the most entertaining and interesting bike we’ve ridden in years. It’s also drop-dead gorgeous.

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