During our annual bike test last month, our primary job in Tucson was, well, testing bikes. But we also had a broad selection of new gear along to try out while we were riding. Two weeks of riding every day is a great opportunity to put all the latest offerings—from apparel to footwear, dropper posts to forks—through their paces. Here's a roundup of some of our new favorite gear for the coming riding season.
Pace Edwards UltraGroove Metal Tonneau (from $1,600)
The piece of equipment that made the single biggest difference at this year’s test was this durable tonneau cover for our new Chevy pick-up. The ingenious design combines a bed-height, spring-loaded, roll-back metal cover with grooved rails that allow you to add a Thule rack and carry bikes over the bed. Installation was super simple on the Thule 430 feet, with push-button releases that enable the whole rack to easily pop on and off the truck. So I could easily load up the bed with a cooler, table, tools, chairs, and all the sundries we’d need for the day, then throw six bikes on top of it all. Once again, Thule's ThruRide bike racks were a godsend because they adapt to virtually every axle standard out there.
Küat Pivot ($295)
In addition to bikes on the bed, we ran a four-pack hitch-mount Küat NV rack off the back of the truck for a total capacity of ten bikes on the Silverado. Last year, Rocky Mounts debuted their excellent swing-away design, and this year Küat has joined the game with this add-on hinge. The big advantages of the Pivot: it’s burly enough to hold four bikes instead of Rocky’s limit of two; and it works with any two-inch hitch carrier, no matter what the brand. It’s an industrial-strength piece of metal, which should stand up great to abuse, though the weight of the Pivot alone (55.6 pounds) made installation and alignment a bit challenging. That heft, plus the weight of the rack and four bikes, made for a lot of movement back there when we were off-road, and it also meant the bolt-on mount had a tendency to loosen. Still, it was a boon to be able to carry so many bikes and still move them out of the way for loading and unloading the bed.
Giro Empire E-70 Knit Shoe ($200)
When I first saw Giro’s new line of knit shoes, which includes this road lace-up as well as a less expensive commute-oriented model and a mountain option, I was skeptical. But in the Tucson heat, the extra ventilation and supple feel of these quirky shoes proved perfect. Despite the mesh, the Empires have a surprising amount of structure and support, and the Easton EC70 carbon sole was stiff enough for performance but not so brutal that I couldn’t ride all day. I’m still ambivalent about the lace-up design, but I have to admit it is easy to fine-tune the fit. All said, this is a great all-around road shoe with some distinctive style.
Henty Enduro Pack ($110)
Though I like the way hip packs get the weight and heat off your back, I don’t love how you either have to crank them down so tightly that they constrict your waist or they flop around on technical terrain. The Henty Enduro splits the difference between backpack and butt pack, with all the weight low but a lightweight mesh shoulder harness system for stability. The main compartment fits a 3-liter bladder (not included), and a range of other pockets make organization a snap. One small niggle: the buckle for the main flap is fixed, not adjustable, which limits how much you can stuff on. Still, I carried this throughout the mountain bike portion of the test with tools, spare tube, water, food, lights, and a jacket.
Lupine Piko R Headlamp (from $276)
Evidence of the continuing improvements in light technology, the Piko R is smaller than a rolled-up mountain bike tube but produces more light than my huge racing setup from a decade ago. This is the ultimate emergency and backcountry system because you can tuck it into a spare pocket and never fear getting caught out. And with 1,800 lumens, the Piko R knows no trail too techy to ride after dark.
Power Trail Gore Windstopper Insulated (Partial) Jacket ($250)
It was seriously warm in Tucson this year, with daytime highs occasionally pushing 80 degrees, so by and large we rode in shorts, short sleeves, and not much else. However, on days we were out for long stretches, I always carried along this semi-insulated piece, which has a light layer of PrimaLoft Gold in the front section, stretch panels in the arms and back for ventilation, and windproof and water-resistant fabrics throughout. The day I rode the Lemmon Drop, conditions at altitude went from sunny and glorious to 30 with sleet and snow and back again, more than once. Having this jacket basically meant I could keep riding all day long without constantly stopping to add or shed layers.
Look X-Track Race Carbon Pedals ($130)
At first, it seemed a little odd that Look’s new off-road pedals are SPD compatible. I mean, Shimano has the mountain bike pedal down to a science. However, after a couple of weeks of use, I started to really appreciate the X-Track’s wider, more stable platform compared to my go-to XTRs. And on the day we did Cañada del Oro—the north-facing, big-mountain drop—the trail was choked with snow and mud down to 5,500 feet, yet I was impressed by how well these shed the muck. I wouldn’t say that the performance is so dramatically better that I’d run out and upgrade, but if you value a no-slop fit from your pedals, these might be worth a look the next time your old pedals give out.
Blackburn Chamber Tubeless Floor Pump ($150)
Building on Bontrager’s awesome concept of a pump with a reservoir that makes tubeless setups a cinch, the Chamber is one of the sturdiest and best-built floor pumps I have ever used. The all-metal construction feels virtually indestructible, the handle with bolt-on grips is as sturdy as a pair of handlebars, the extra-long hose is convenient, and there’s a bleed valve. I also like the oversize gauge. I set up half a dozen bikes tubeless with the Chamber in advance of the test, and it sealed up everything from road bikes to fat bikes without any hesitation.
Oakley Aro 3 Helmet ($180)
With so many good helmets already on the market, Oakley had its work cut out to break into the cycling world, and the Aro 3, the company’s lightweight climber’s lid, is definitely a strong salvo. The most notable improvement over the competition is the use of a Boa ratchet combined with a super lightweight nylon lace for the retention system. Oakley has also built channels for sunglass temples into the inside of the helmet’s shell, so when you turn your shades upside down and store them in the lid, as is common when climbing, they don’t jam uncomfortably against your skull. Other than that, the Aro 3 was so light and well ventilated that mostly I never really noticed it was there—that is, in my opinion, the mark of the best helmets.