The volume of bike gear that passes through my office is staggering. A few stats from 2011: This year I've tested 18 helmets, more than 20 pairs of cycling shoes, and over 100 bicycles (I ride at least 15 miles per bike; many more for the ones we cover). The upshot: I'm seriously picky about my gear. Presenting the standout products that crossed my desk this year:
10. Twin Six The Cabby ($75) It's tough to find jerseys that are both boldly stylish but not so garish they make you look like a racing dweeb and also technical enough for long days on the bike. I've worn The Cabby on short group rides, multi-day races, and everything in between, and I still love the look and feel. Twin Six keeps their colors and styles fresh each season, so the 2012 Cabby will come in a striking mustard yellow.
9. VauDe Cluster 10+3 ($110) This sleek hydration pack skips the gewgaws and danglies that tend to snag on branches, and a full-wrap zipper expands the 10 liters of cargo space by a third. What I like most, though, is the harness system, which combines fully sizeable shoulder straps with a mesh back panel that keeps weight off your back so you don't get sweaty. So comfortable it all but disappears off your back.
8. Giro Aeon Helmet ($250) Counting ounces in a helmet may seem silly, but in endurance events that can go on for days (especially ones where I ran a light up top) I really appreciated this feathery lid (222g). The Roc Loc 5 tightening system is both light and super comfy and still my favorite system out there, and, as with all of Giro's silhouettes, the Aeon looks about as good as a helmet can.
7. Sidi Spider SRS Lorica ($360) Like most Sidis, these shoes are as cozy as house slippers (courtesy of the soft yet durable Lorica upper) but still ultra stiff for ideal power transmission. The best part, though, is the SRS sole system, which allows you to screw an entirely new set of lugs onto the sole once you've worn out the originals. For $55, I've transformed my old beat-up cleats into virtually a brand new pair twice, and the uppers are so well crafted that I foresee these shoes lasting for years.
6. Garmin Edge 800 ($450) With ANT+ support for cadence, power, and heart rate, just about every other metric you could ever dream up (love the inclinometer), the ability to upload and download courses and tracks, race a virtual partner, and program workouts, and a handy touchscreen that even works with gloves, this bike computer is almost perfect. The only caveat: For ultra endurance riding (i.e. anything beyond around 16 hours), the 800 can be finicky. Then again, for those sort of distances you'd be best to look at the newly updated AA-powered Garmin eTrex series anyway.
5. Easton EC90 XC 29" Wheels ($1275 front; $1325 rear) Carbon wheels are the ultimate indulgence, and after riding a handful of them this year I've decided that they are the simplest and finest improvement you can make to a 29er (where wheel flex can be a huge issue). The Easton's are my top choice, partly because they're stiff but not bone-rattling and partly because the simple straight-pull spoke design means you won't get stranded somewhere searching for proprietary parts. Much stiffer than ultralight aluminum wheels, the EC90s carve beautifully. At 1440 grams for the set, they're among the lightest MTB wheels out there and yet they've stood up to a year of hard abuse. And best of all, they're tubeless ready, so no need for tape.
4. Merckx EMX-3 ($4,000) Finding the right road bike is all about the right fit, and the EMX-3 fit me like my favorite old pair of leather riding gloves. Yet guys several inches shorter and guys 80 pounds heavier also raved about this bike. The substantial volume of carbon at the headset and bottom bracket give the EMX-3 a massive amount of stiffness, yet the flattened out tube design make for nice compliance and comfort. I expounded on this earlier, but the bottom line is that this bike traces a sublime line between speedy wispinesss and brawny comfort, making it the ultimate all-in-one machine.
3. Castelli Body Paint Bib Short ($250) At the heart of a good bib short is the chamois, and I've worn Castelli's smooth, seamless, and variable thickness Progetto X2 for consecutive days without chafing or soreness. What makes these bibs really stand out, though, is the Power Stretch Lycra from which they're cut. With virtually no seams, especially in the bibs on your shoulders, the shorts felt like wearing almost nothing at all. Some of the most comfortable bibs I've worn, and the 2012 version has a few little tweaks that make them even cushier.
2. Assos ij.haBu5 Jacket ($400) I have never had a single piece of apparel that I like more than this jacket. It's perfectly tailored for the bike position, cut from a myriad different fabrics so it's wind-resistant up front and breatheable out back, and burly enough that it has shrugged off numerous encounters with the errant branches and the ground. I also love the weight of it: With a lightweight baselayer it's suitable up to around 55 degrees, but with a heavy layer or two underneath I've ridden comfortably down to 15 degrees. It's pricey, but the huge versatility makes it money well spent.
1. Salsa Spearfish ($2,250) I've already written a review of this bike and shipped it back to Salsa months ago, but it's so good that I just can't stop thinking about it. Here's the thing: With a super efficient suspension system, a quality drivetrain and fork, and very good wheels (including Stan's rims), this would be a killer bike for $3K or more. For this price, it's practically like stealing. In 2012, Salsa has expanded the Spearfish into a range of bikes so you can get the frame built up with three different parts specs. I don't think there's a better deal going on a quality bike.