Remember the days when you were young and Christmas was a big deal? Back then, on Christmas Eve, I’d be so pumped full of jolly spirits and eggnog and anticipation-fueled adrenaline that I’d lie awake most of the night and sneak down to the stash beneath the tree long before sunrise.
One year, my family gave me the oddest package, a microwave-size rectangle with a handful of tube-like protrusions, all wrapped in mismatched paper. When I opened it and found my first climbing rope, which I’d been pining after for years, I erupted in a cacophonous euphoria.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to revisit that ebullience?
With that in mind, I started ruminating on a few big-ticket items that make my heart race. If money were no object—or if there were, indeed, a big, generous, do-gooder up in the sky in a red-and-white leisure suit tasked with making us happy—any one of these gifts would have me singing Jingle Bells. The entire haul would be enough to ease the antagonism with the in-laws for the 12 months ahead.
And no, I probably haven’t been nice enough this year to merit any one of these.
Thomson Elite Covert Dropper Seatpost ($480)
I’ve gotten to where mountain biking without a dropper post feels like skiing powder on skinny skis. Sure I can make all those same moves without it, but having the seat jacked into my rib cage while doing it is unnerving at best, dangerous in some cases.
On the other hand, droppers can be as much of a nuisance as riding without one. I broke more than 10 dropper posts in 2014, though to say that I had anything to do with it is a misnomer. Mostly, the devices, primarily Rockshox Reverbs but also a couple of KS Levs, just stopped working. Despite the high cost, many models today need constant bleeds, loosen and rattle at the heads, and are generally finicky.
Enter the Thomson post, which, following on the company’s long tradition of high-quality stems, posts, and handlebars, has finally solved the reliability equation. I rode only one of these this year, and it worked flawlessly for the duration. That’s a tiny sample size, but I also know half a dozen people who have had the same trouble-free experience. The keyed slot design on the interior prevents the development of side-to-side or vertical play, while the one-piece, aluminum inner post ensures durability.
It’s expensive but not that much more than the best of the competition. And to be honest, if it holds up, it’s well worth the premium. Thomson is betting it will, with a two-year, no-questions warrantee.
Oh, and if the post came attached to one of these, I wouldn’t complain.
Enve M60 Forty 29 ($2,718)
I often joke that if you put a pair of Enves on a Huffy, it would turn the clunker into a superbike. That might be a slight exaggeration, but not much.
Enve has been at the leading edge of wheel design for years, and the new M Series pushes the wide, domed rim profile to a new level. According to Enve, the shape helps spread the tire for better traction, adds strength, and also improves ride quality by dispersing the trail chatter. I’ve tested half a dozen sets of these wheels in all configurations, and they live up to the expectations and price. You can push them harder into corners than any of their competitors. I’ve taken a set of the lightest model (M50 Fifty) off big drops with no consequence. And the hookless bead has set up with zero issues on every tire I’ve tried.
The M60 Forty is Enve’s all-around trail model—named for riders who spend around 40 percent of their time climbing, and 60 percent descending—balancing lightweight with iron strength. At first I lusted after the lighter M50 version, but having ridden these, I realized they are hardly heavy at 1,500 grams, feel ridiculously confident beneath you, and add just a modicum more comfort over the more feathery model because of the extra width.
Naysayers will say they’re not worth the stratospheric price. I say those people have simply never ridden these wheels. I can’t think of a single better upgrade to a mountain bike. In fact, I’d double down for a set with the DT Swiss 180 hubs, which drop the weight to a ridiculous 1,423 grams but up the price another $500.
No biggie, right? Santa’s buying.
Moots Routt ($3,895 frame and Enve disc fork)
I’m trading up my road bike this year for one with disc brakes. And before all the armchair critics start sounding off about how they’re unnecessary and added complication and blah, blah, blah…I will say simply, "The performance advantages of discs on the road cannot be overstated." Think of it like suspension on a mountain bike: necessary, no, but more fun and better performance in most situations.
I’m also inclined toward a gravel- or adventure-oriented roadie like the Routt for the comfort and versatility it offers. Yep, it’s a little lower in the bottom bracket, longer in the wheelbase, and slacker in the head tube than the Vamoots RSL that we still dream about, but for a guy like me, who hardly races on the road these days, that translates to an easier position and more stable, long-distance manners. Add compatibility for tires up to 35mm (the Routt 45 adds another 10mm of clearance), and you have a bike that can go almost anywhere. Meanwhile, with a set of lightweight carbon wheels (Enves, naturally), the Routt will keep up fine on any fast group ride or race.
Yes, I still love titanium. When manufactured properly, as Moots does it, bikes from the material are stiff, explosively fast and spritely, and almost magically supple. Ti is perfect for any sort of mixed-terrain road riding, as I found out last year, because it smoothes out the road not unlike a soft-tail mountain bike. And beyond that, this bike is classy like you won’t believe and built by a small shop run by awesome people. What more could you want in a bike?
Rapha Climber’s Shoes ($400)
My very first pair of road cleats, almost 30 years ago, was a pair of Duegis with Bic-sized perforations in the soft black leather uppers for ventilation, as was the fashion of the day. Perhaps nostalgia is part of my fascination with these new lightweight shoes from Rapha, which echo that classic look in a fully modern, carbon-soled riding cleat.
There have been lots of cycling shoe throwbacks of late (like these and these), but I’m stuck on Rapha’s because their original shoe, the Grand Tour, was possibly the most comfortable and long-lasting shoe I’ve tried. I still wear mine all the time.
The only niggle with the GTs was their weight, and the Climber’s Shoe is a full 50 percent lighter (14 ounces for a pair of size 42s, I’m told) thanks to the synthetic leather upper instead of yak leather. The new EC90 SLXII sole shaves a bit of weight, too, while also adding a replaceable heel bumper for durability. The rest of the sweet features of the original remain the same: cork foot bed, variable height arch support, and a trio of straps (though the top buckles are gone).
But let’s be honest: While I value the performance, at the end of the day what I love about Rapha is its convergence of technology and style. And these black and pink cleats are sure to turn a few heads when I come screaming by at high speed.