A disproportionate amount of my income goes to recreational gear. I'm a cycling enthusiast and thrive on the performance enhancements of new bike gear. It's mostly incremental gains, but you'll also get the occasional breakthrough. Either way, new gear is a motivation to ride more and push my limits. Because I'm also a capitalist and want to see a return on my investment.
That said, I don't always make great buying decisions. My hit rate is about 80 percent, which I've come to accept. The failed gear is cast aside, never to be seen again. The rest of my purchases fall on a spectrum of good to great. The top 10 percent is used on a daily or weekly basis. These items are my de facto "Gear of the Year" picks. This is the first in a series of greatest gear hits for 2016.
Club Ride Bolt jersey ($90)
Is this really a cycling jersey? For sure. Club Ride bridges the fashion-function divide, which means clothing that performs as well as it looks and vice versa. The Bolt is a constant in my bike-commuting rotation. The RideDryWear fabric is breathable, quick drying, and UV protective. Beneath the buttons a is full zipper to block wind, and there are vents in the pits for the hottest of days. When you arrive at your destination and jettison the helmet, it's a seamless transition to the work environment or else the local pub.
This takes hoodies to another level. Kitsbow is committed to making mountain bikers look more subtle and stylish without sacrificing performance. This blended Merino-wool hoodie is a flagship piece. It's ergonomically designed for cycling with a snug, tapered fit so it's not flapping in the breeze. Polyester panels on the sides and sleeves provide breathability and extra stretch. And when you get to the office, it just looks like a very high-end startup uniform. With some choice base layers, it can handle the coldest of LA mornings.
Throughout the summer of last year, I crushed a dozen of my Strava records (PRs) in LA; I climbed Hawaii's 10,000-foot volcano, Haleakala, and grabbed the King of the Mountain (KOM) time on the West Maui Loop. I did all of this with these superb tires. At a svelte 160 grams, the Relix TTs are some of the lightest tires you'll find. Since this is rolling weight, it's something you'll notice as soon as you start pedaling. As a result, though, they lack the flat protection of beefier tires. Nevertheless, with more than a thousand miles on one set, I flatted only once, and it wasn't even on a ride. I discovered the flat the next morning. I also grabbed descending PRs, as they handle tight turns as well as they climb.
These adaptable lenses provide incredible range for just about any conditions. I typically start riding before dawn and often finish after noon. In the past I carried two sets of shades, starting with clear lenses and progressing to darker ones when the sun came up or broke through the clouds. These Photochromic lenses automatically adjust, eliminating that extra pair. In addition, these lenses are masterful at clearing moisture. I've put them in a sweaty jersey for a climb and pulled them out at the top, surprised to find that they were ready to go with no need for cleaning. The Jawbreaker frame design also provides maximum protection and are quite comfortable to wear.
After testing a number of other gloves that cost twice as much, I keep coming back to the Cyclone Gel by Pearl Izumi. I have three pairs of these that make their way through the rotation. In terms of weather conditions, these are ideal for temps in the high 40s and low 50s, so they are fall/spring gloves. You'll be thankful for the ample fleece wiping surface on the thumb; personally, these see a lot of action. The palms are well padded without being obtrusive, and the Softshell fabric on the back panel balances wind protection with moisture management. These gloves absolutely rock.
POC Tectal Race helmet ($210)
Mountain bike helmets have spread into several different categories. The new POC Tectal Race is an Enduro racing helmet, which means it's for aggressive all-mountain riding. As such, it provides maximum protection at the back of the head and around the temple areas. It also accommodates goggles for added eye protection. The size adjustment system cinches evenly around your entire head, which makes it snug yet comfortable. The one complaint is that the size adjust dial is a bit close to the base of the helmet in the back, making on-the-fly adjustments a bit clumsy. There is also an ideal surface on top of the helmet for an adhesive GoPro mount.
Shimano RP9 road shoes ($275)
I'm a big fan of Shimano shoes, in general, because its wide models fit my feet so well. I find the company designs shoes for American feet better than the European brands, which is highly subjective. For competitive riding and going for Strava PRs, I use the flagship R321. It's the Porsche 911 of the Shimano lineup. Borrowing many of the same technologies, the company debuted the RP9 this year. It's more of a Porsche Panamera...high performance for longer distances, where comfort and endurance are key factors. The killer feature is the moldable footbed with tunable arch support, which is both for comfort and pedaling efficiency.
The day I discovered SAXX's Long-Leg boxer briefs was the day I threw all of my other boxers in the trash. Given that this is something I wear all day every day, fit and comfort are paramount. Other boxers tend to ride up my legs and fit haphazardly. It's as if zero thought went into the design. On the other hand, SAXX boxers feature a patented "pouch" in the front to keep things centered and organized. They use high-tech materials for breathability and performance, such that they feel like a second skin. I use the Kinetic, in particular, for bike commuting, snowboarding, and hiking. The Quest 2.0 is a lighter, more casual option that are ideal for everyday wear and traveling.
When it's windy out, I take comfort in knowing I have the right helmet for the job. Of course, the S-Works Evade was conceived and mastered in a wind tunnel to shave precious seconds off ride times in all conditions. I just get a psychological boost in a headwind, imagining that my Evade is all like, "Whatever wind, bring it!" This also means the helmet's vents are used sparingly, which makes the Evade a great choice for chilly days. I'm a huge fan of how Specialized helmets fit and how the straps accommodate your ears, and that has not been compromised in the name of aerodynamics.
Thule EasyFold bike rack ($700)
Schlepping bikes on vacation or just to the shop for a tuneup is a constant struggle. The struggle is real, indeed. Matters are made worse when you have a 50-pound electric bike that gets stranded and essentially needs a tow truck. The Thule EasyFold addresses these challenges in a handy little package. It holds two bikes in their full, upright position. No need to remove front wheels. The platform folds down for transport mode and folds up for "get out of my way" mode. In the folded position, it reveals handles that let you to carry it like a suitcase and conveniently store it in the corner of a garage. There is even a metal ramp for loading those beastly electric bikes.
Wahoo Fitness Bike Desk ($230)
My eyes were opened to the world of indoor cycling this year through the Wahoo SNAP bike trainer and the Zwift virtual cycling program. Paired together, indoor cycling is not only bearable but enjoyable and highly efficient in terms of a structured training regimen. But Zwift requires a computer in order to participate in its virtual cycling paradise. Rather than hacking together a laptop stand with cardboard boxes, Wahoo created a purpose-built desk. It's technically a standing desk and can be used as such. But it also has wheels so you can slide the desk back and forth while riding, depending on your cycling position -- hoods, drops, aero bars, etc.