It’s that time of year again
Yep, it’s that time of year once again. While we debated about doing a more categorical gift guide this year, offering ideas for mountain bikers, roadies, commuters, etc., truth be told, we started that discussion a little late. So, we’re sticking with our usual format of individual wish lists where each of us picks our favorite things from the past year. Things we think would make great gifts, but also sort of an unofficial Editor’s Choice. Most of the stuff you’ll see in our lists over the next couple weeks are things we’ve actually tested and used and can recommend in good faith. But, inevitably, there’ll be a few that we simply lust after. And while the focus of GravelBikes is the products and gear, we were very fortunate to have been included on several events this year that focused more on the experience than the parts, and its no surprise that those are the ones we remember most fondly. So, once again, we’ll start with an experience before diving into the products…
EXPERIENCE: Riding in Iceland
If Bergur’s video wasn’t enough to make you want to go, maybe the pic above will, too. And I’ve got a feature coming up highlighting my trip there with the Lauf guys to Review their GRIT gravel fork. The riding is awesome, but the team at Lauf is what made the past two trips there incredible. It’s like a guy’s weekend that includes great riding, a little adventure, amazing scenery and lots of beer. Good Lord, so much beer. I’m fortunate in that all of the planning was done for me, but there are companies like Made In Mountains and Ice Bike Adventures (both recommended by locals) that’ll help you plan something incredible. So grab some friends, drop the excuses and just go make memories.
This one’s easy this year. When one thing instantly pops into your head, or when something becomes the bike you grab for almost every ride, then you know it’s worthy of a special mention. Lately, the Cannondale Slate is that bike for me. It’s purpose built for fun, as bikes should be. I’m in the middle of a long term Review with this one. I’ll still grab my mountain bike or road bike when the situation warrants, but for everything in between, this is the bike I’m riding most days. The suspension makes a world of difference on dirt paths and around town, the big tires have gobs of grip and smooth the ride further, and it’s basically just a really, really fun bike to ride.
For mountain bikes, I’m torn between two extremes. I really enjoyed the Norco Revolver I rode at Cyclofest. XC might be waning in popularity, but if your local trails seem purpose built for it, nothing will be faster than a bike purpose built for speed. Everything about its 100mm of travel felt right. This is the second year in a row I’ve included a Norco in my wish list, perhaps they’re onto something. I’d certainly get more daily use out of this one, but… At the other end of the extreme is the new Pivot Firebird, a 170mm 27.5″ freak of nature gravity bike that goes beyond enduro in terms of downhill capability but climbs as good as any short travel full suspension bike. We ripped them through Arkansas and Tennessee on the way home from Interbike (more on that trip coming soon), during which we earned all of our turns up switchbacked mountains. Using the firmer settings on the rear shock helped a bit, but the DW Link design kept all that travel tight when pedaling up. Point it down and the long top tube keeps weight back, and the big Fox 36 fork tamed rocks, drops, jumps and more. If your terrain is more vertical and you have to climb to descend, the Firebird rewards your efforts without punishing you on the way up. So good.
This is the second time I’ve included a Yuba in my annual list, too. Barring something full custom, this would be a sweet replacement for my Boda Boda. The new Yuba Sweet Curry is basically their motorized Spicy Curry e-bike version, but without the motor. That means 300lb of cargo capacity and less weight, but it still works with all of the usual accessories like racks, baskets, fenders and kid-hauling parts. Of course, I’d like the motorized version, too, but this one’s $1,800 less ($2,199 MSRP) and I can add a motor later. Only problem? It doesn’t ship until February.
SRAM Eagle. No question. I already didn’t want a 2x by on my bikes anymore but felt like the one I take to the mountains could still benefit. Now, it’s all 1x for me. It’s everything that was good about XX1 made better, plus a massive 50T cog to help me scoot up the hills (or crawl), but it’s still better than walking or grinding along and killing myself). If you’ve been hiding under a rock, get the full tech story on Eagle here and first ride and actual weights here. A close second is Easton’s new crankset. I’m a huge fan of Race Face’s ultralight Next SL mountain bike cranks and direct mount rings, so I’m stoked to see sister brand Easton take that to the road. I’ve been racing my long term Review set in cyclocross and had zero issues with flex or chain management. The arms are just a bit wide at the spindle, which rubs my shoe, but it’s minimal, causing more aesthetic damage than any real harm. But worth thinking about if you ride heels in. Check the actual weights and first impressions here, and stay tuned for a long term review (spoiler alert, they’re fantastic).
Their new Interceptor is technologically phenomenal, but it’s the Kali Lunati that’s most exciting to me. Why? Because it’s super comfortable, reasonably light and costs just $80. It looks good, too. The other piece of gear I’m geeking out about is Blackburn’s Outpost bike packing bag collection. Mine’s here, fully packed (on that Cannondale Slate) and has been out for a Review run. Full bike packing trip is happening later this month, but even before all that I’m impressed with the apparent quality of the gear. There are some quirks to the design, and the installation instructions are piss poor, but still…just look at them. Bad ass. Also available in black. The complete collection runs $350, but individual bags go from $50 to $130, making it possible to talk loved ones into making it happen piece by piece. Lastly, the new Feedback Sports tool kits are a solid collection of high quality tools that pack in a modern assortment of fixes for model bike woes. At the top of my wish list would be the Team Edition kit (shown, $249), but they also have a travel sized kit ($129) and really sweet T-Handle allen and torx set (also $129). Pricey? Perhaps. But if you need one good kit that probably has everything you’ll need at home and on the road, it’s way more expensive to piece it all together separately.
Two pieces stood out for me this year, both of which came in handy riding around Prague following Eurobike. The rain came and went, as did the wind, but the Gore-tex Active Cycling Jacket and the 7Mesh Revo Short were in for the long haul. The jacket debuted earlier this year as Gore’s lightest-ever waterproof piece, and it lives up to that claim. It’s ultra light, packs into a jersey pocket with ease and blocks both wind and water. What makes it special is that the waterproof membrane is the outer layer, so there’s not any extra fabric, and water just beads and rolls right off since there’s nothing for it to soak into. It’s also reasonably breathable and not too hot. But it is expensive at $300. The 7Mesh Revo shorts are also expensive at $225, but they’re amazing. The cut, fit and shaping are superb for road or mountain biking. In particular, the knees are longer in the front and slightly scalloped…