Welcome to our second annual Gear of the Year post where we offer our picks for the best products 2012 had to offer. The products on this list were picked by our staff of buyers, an enlightened collection of cyclists with expertise in every genre of two-wheeled machines. We have sorted through literally thousands of products to bring you our top picks for Gear of the Year. The products on the list stand out to us because they meet one or more of the criteria on the list below:
- Technological and functional superiority
- Aesthetically awesome
So there you have it. Without any further ado, hype or puffery, we present our second annual Gear of the Year list, starting with bikes.
Road Bike: BMC Gran Fondo GF01 Available Here
Never one to leap before it looked, BMC has taken its time bringing a comfort road bike to market. But the extra time BMC spent getting it right was well worth the wait. Developed as a Paris-Roubaix weapon to tame the cobbles of the fabled “Hell of the North” the BMC Gran Fondo GF01 Ultegra Di2 is your greatest ally on such foreboding roads.
To excel on rough roads and offer the comfort required for long days in the saddle, the Gran Fondo utilizes a taller head tube, longer chainstays and slacker head angle for improved stability, and more vertically compliant seatstays to absorb road chatter. While some bikes in this category are known for giving up some lateral stiffness in the chase for a smoother ride, BMC’s Swiss engineers made no such compromises. The dramatically oversized downtube, bottom bracket shell, and chainstays ensure the wattage you put into the pedals gets to the road. As a result, the Gran Fondo is just as capable on your local hammer ride as it is on a double century.
Mountain Bike: Intense Carbine 275 Available Here
The Intense Carbine 275 takes an already killer bike, the Carbine, and endows it with the improved grip and ride of a 27.5″ (650B) wheel. The result of this upgrade is a bike that is a serious contender for the title of best trail/AM bike on the market. At just 5.5lbs for the frame, this easily flickable machine is a true joy to ride. The VPP suspension is tuned to level square-edged bumps and offers a degree of plushness that is unrivaled by any other bike we have ever swung a leg over. Plus, there are water bottle bosses on the top side of the downtube. What more could you want?
Shimano’s jump to 11-speed is a smashing success. Rather than producing a group that is more fragile and finicky than their outgoing 10-speed groups, Dura Ace 9000 is tougher, more reliable and smoother than any group they have ever produced. Front shifting is especially impressive. The front derailleur slaps the chain on and off the rings with authority and requires remarkably little effort at the shifter. Rear shifting is as positive as always, but faster than ever and the new crank drops 50 grams while improving crank arm stiffness and chainring stiffness. What is most impressive about Dura Ace 9000 however is that the mechanical group is so good that it can seriously compete with 7900 Di2!
There is an awful lot of hype in the bike industry regarding new products but SRAM’s XX1 group deserves every bit of it and more. The end of ghost shifting, dropped chains, and dramatically lower weight are the advantages that SRAM’s new XX1 group brings to the table. It delivers on all counts. I have had the privilege of riding with SRAM engineers during the development of this group and we rode down trails as rough as you will find anywhere and never experienced a dropped chain, ghost shift, or broken chain, ever. All of this was accomplished with absolutely no chain guide to speak of. Shifting is buttery smooth and the feel is somewhere between XX and XO 10-speed shifters with a Type I (non-clutch) derailleur. XX1 addresses every complaint relating to mountain bike drivetrains short of getting rid of the rear derailleur. Believe the hype.
Wheels: Mavic Cosmic CXR80 Available Here
The CXR80 scores high on innovation. The one-of-a-kind CX01 blades act as a flange that snaps into the rim between the tire and the braking surface, creating a smooth transition for wind that reduces drag at every yaw angle. The integrated tubular tire is designed to further enhance aerodynamics. The result, according to Mavic, is a savings of 6.4 watts of power compared to the most aerodynamic wheels on the market. These wheels won’t save weight at 1,700 grams or be easy on your wallet with an MSRP of $2,800. But they will undoubtedly save time and energy, which is something definitely worth paying for. Check out the video to learn more.
Shoe: Sidi Wire Available Here
The Wire has the legendary, slipper-like fit Sidi shoes are known but is sleeker, lighter and better ventilated than its predecessor, the Ergo 3. The proprietary Techno 3 closure system utilizes a micro-ratcheting buckle that allows one click adjustments in either direction to dial in the perfect fit. The adjustable heel mechanism further adds to the tune-ability of the Wire. We love the neon yellow color option and predict you’ll be seeing more neon shoes from other manufacturers in the next few years. The list of tech features on the Wire goes on and on, so watch the video below for more info.
Runner Up: Giro Empire. This shoe almost won the category thanks to its lace-up closure system, which is both revolutionary and retro at the same time.
Not all revolutionary products have to be technologically advanced. These simple mounts can have a profound impact on your cycling experience by placing your Garmin Edge 200, 500 or 800 out in front of your bars, making it easier and safer to look down at your computer. We literally can’t keep our shelves stocked with these mounts and several other brands are coming out with competing products, including Garmin. Check out our full review of the Bar Fly Mount here and watch the video below for the low down on the K-Edge mount.
Light: Light and Motion Taz 1200 Available Here
Light and Motion designates the Taz 1200 as a “crossover” light, meaning that it is just as at home commuting to work or school as it is shredding your favorite after-work rock garden or singletrack. As a commuter light, it’s a bazooka—brighter than your car’s headlights and just as easy to use. The Taz 1200’s true calling is as a performance trail light; there are no cables to hook up, no chargers to keep track of—it’s a one-piece unit with an internal battery and charger. On top of all that, it’s blindingly bright with an advanced, trail-worthy beam pattern. Check out our full review on the Taz 1200 here and watch our video review below.
Apparel: Castelli Body Paint 2.0 Bib Short Available Here
Designed around the principle that less is more, Castelli improved upon the first generation of Body Paint Bibs with the 2.0s, which are even faster and more comfortable than the originals thanks to aero dimples on the legs, an improved gripper system and a more breathable chamois. These bibs stack up against high-end offerings from any other brand, including Assos, Girodana and Rapha, at a fraction of the price.
Road Tire: Michelin Pro4 Available Here
The Pro4 Service Course replaces the legendary Pro3. It has more grip and less rolling resistance while still providing adequate protection for a race-ready tire. The Pro4 Endurance tire replaces the Krylion and is designed to give you longer tread life and added protection against punctures and cuts thanks to its bead-to-bead breaker ply, making it exceptionally durable.
Mountain Tire: Schwalbe Racing Ralph Available Here
A great cross-country tire must be fast, supple, grippy and light. It must roll exceptionally well but brake well when it needs to. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph EVO tire possesses all these qualities, making it a favorite tire of trail and XC riders alike for it’s fast rolling tread and great cornering. For 2012, Schwalbe redesigned the tread to provide even more control on hardpack and loose-over hard terrain.