Gear of the Year

With the calendar year winding down and the holiday shopping season in full swing, we wanted to compile a list of the best products 2011 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:

  1. Revolutionary
  2. Technological and functional superiority
  3. Aesthetically awesome

So there you have it. Without any further ado, hype or puffery, we present our first annual Gear of the Year list, starting with bikes.

Road Bike of the Year

Cervelo S5

Thor Hushovd rode the S5 to two stage wins at the 2011 Tour de France.

Cervélo has been the pioneer in aero road bike design since 1996 and the S5 is the latest evolution in Cervélo’s lineup of wind-cheating machines. Evolving from the S3, the S5 is stiffer and more aerodynamic. The most obvious visual difference of the S5 compared to the S3 is the extended rear wheel cutout, which smoothes airflow from the frame to the wheel. Another aero advantage is the dropped downtube, which minimizes turbulence behind the fork crown. The seat stays of the S5 have also been designed to shield the rear brake, further improving aerodynamics. The BB area is massive thanks to the BBright bottom bracket; an improvement on the BB30 design.

The S5 had an impressive 2011 campaign, most notably in the Tour de France where Thor Hushovd rode it to two stage wins and a week in the Yellow Jersey. Not a bad debut for the bike of the year.

Honorable mentions go to the Specialized Venge, ridden my Mark Cavendish to a road world championship and the BMC Team Machine, ridden by Cadel Evans to victory at the Tour de France.

Mountain Bike of the Year

Yeti SB-66

Yeti SB-66 Race 2011 Turquoise

The SB-66 in classic Yeti Turquoise.

Revolutionary. There is no other word that better describes Yeti’s newest 6” travel trail/all-mountain bike dubbed the SB-66. The “Switch Technology” suspension that sets this Yeti apart from other bikes utilizes a unique eccentric pivot above the bottom bracket to build a bike that takes the best characteristics of two radically different suspension designs and combines them while eliminating their drawbacks. Another improvement is a nearly flat suspensionleverage curve. This means the amount of leverage the rear wheel has over the shock stays essentially unchanged as it moves though the full range of travel. All this adds up to a bike that pedals and climbs crisply without sacrificing small bump sensitivity.

HED Aredennes SL Wheelset – $1,099.99

The HED Ardennes SL is our best selling wheelset, and understandably so. It delivers a tubular-like ride quality without limiting you to only using certain tires like tubeless compatible wheels do. It’s under 1,500 grams for the set, rolls insanely well, is stiff and aerodynamic. Lastly, with the new graphics, it just looks better than ever. What’s not to love?

Garmin Edge 800 – $449.99-$649.99

Garmin Edge 800 Performance and Navigation Bundle

The Garmin Edge 800 will show you just about any metric you want to see, in just about any combination.

Garmin’s Edge 800 is the ultimate companion to have along with you on almost any bike ride—it always knows the way and can tell you just how far you’ve come, how far you have to go, and give you multiple options on how to get there. With maps available for almost everywhere on planet Earth, you can just start pedaling and make it back home before dark no matter where you are, even if you’ve never been there before, and you’ll be able to find all the Thai restaurants on the way.

It’s hard to assign one feature that makes the Edge 800 so remarkable, besides the high-resolution, touch-screen display, the near-perfect GPS capabilities of Garmin’s GPS chip, the ANT+ capabilities for speed/cadence and power, and the high-level of customization. Custom maps can be used as well, such as those showing all the cycling routes and trails in an area, or any map you can find. Training regimens can be programmed and a virtual training partner used to help push you along. When you’re done riding, you can upload your data to Garmin’s own Garmin Connect to compare with others, view your route, or look for new routes. Available as a basic speed/distance setup or with cadence and heart rate for training as well, the Edge 800 is our choice for gadget of the year.

We had trouble keeping the Hans Dampf in stock all year.

Schwalbe Hans Dampf Tire– $66.99

The tire of the year award goes to the Schwalbe Hans Dampf. It takes one seriously awesome tire to virtually surpass all other mountain tires in sales and be more expensive (and it’s only been available since April!). The Hans Dampf is the perfect all mountain and trail tire. It rolls well, grips even better, is tubeless compatible, light for its size and level of protection, and performs exceptionally on every type of terrain. Jack of All Trades indeed.

Lezyne Dirt Floor Drive Pump – $59.99-$109.99

Lezyne Dirt Floor Drive Pump Classic

We love the distinct look of the Classic Dirt Drive.

There is no better way to inflate your mountain bike tires than with Lezyne’s Dirt Floor Drive floor pump. Designed specifically for larger-volume mountain bike tires, the Dirt Floor Drive outperforms traditional floor pumps by a margin of at least two-to-one. This innovative pump makes life easier for dirt riders everywhere. Sorry roadies, the DFD will only pump up to seventy PSI; it’s for mountain bikes only!

For Gear of the Year honors, aesthetics is as important as performance, and the DFD comes up aces in the looks category as well. Depending on the model you purchase—ClassicAlloy, or CNC—you’ll get a classy, varnished wood or stylish aluminum handle topping off the oversized piston. Sitting inside a huge barrel, the piston can push enough air to seat tubeless tires with only normal pumping effort required. We know, we use these pumps all the time. Tubeless or conventional tires are inflated in half the time it takes to inflate a tire on a traditional high-pressure pump. Looking at the taller/wider than average Dirt Floor Drive chassis and minimalist base, you might wonder about its ability to remain upright in a cramped workspace. Don’t, because the cleverly designed base is as sturdy as they come, employing a tripod design, which uses an oversized pressure gauge as one of the supports.

What puts the latest version of the DFD into elite status is the new ABS Flip Thread Chuck. Thread-on capability for both Presta and Schrader valves, and push-button pressure release (ABS stands for Air Bleed System), allows you to effortlessly remove the chuck from your valve with no loss of pressure or damage to the valve core. Of course, if you prefer to press rather than thread on, the DFD also comes with Lezyne’s Speed Fit Chuck, which fits Presta valves only.

Giro Factor and Code Shoes – $289.99

Giro Factor Road Shoe Black

Our staff loved Giro's shoes so much, nearly half our employees placed special orders for them.

Our favorite shoes came from an unlikely source, not heavyweights Specialized, Sidi or Shimano, but we felt newcomer Giro created the best all-around product with the top-end Factor road shoe and Code mountain shoe. The best part about these shoes is the refined fit, which feels so perfectly dialed in, they’re ready to wear right out of the box. The unrivaled fit is largely thanks to Giro’s SuperNatural Fit Kit, which provides three different arch options to customize the amount of support. Stiff carbon soles, supple yet supportive uppers and effective closure systems leave nothing to be desired. We predict Giro will carve out a huge chunk of the market in 2012 and wouldn’t be surprised to see their shoe lineup expand in years to come. An Honorable Mention goes to the Fizik R1 and R3 for the classic, retro styling and handmade Italian craftsmanship.

Swiftwick Olefin Four Aspire – $15.99/pair

Socks are socks, right? Wrong. Socks are really important – if your feet are uncomfortable, it can significantly affect your performance. Our staff is totally sold on the amazing comfort and durability of Swiftwick socks. Once you try them, they’ll be your go-to socks for every ride. Features that set the Aspire Four apart from the rest – 200-needle construction, Olefin material with seamless toe and a four inch compressive cuff. As a special bonus, you can save 15% when you buy two or more pairs! We absolutely love this sock and think you will too, which is why it made the list.

Giro Aeon Helmet – $199.99-$249.99

Giro 2011 Aeon Helmet Black/Charcoal MD

The aeon is crazy light and extremely well ventilated.

After years of developing an extended high-end road helmet line, Giro has finally streamlined its offerings and settled on the Aeon as the do-it-all, race-level brain case. Merging the weight of the Prolight with the ventilation of the Ionos, Giro has created the perfect helmet in the Aeon.

Registering 219 grams in a size medium, with all straps and retention systems in place, the Aeon would be a Mini Flyweight boxer. As a helmet, the Aeon disappears once you strap it on your head, thanks in equal measures to the lack of grams, the Roc Loc 5 retention system, and its design. Keeping contact points with your head minimal makes the Aeon very comfortable, and moves material to the outside of the helmet, increasing impact resistance. Upon first look, the Roc Loc 5 looks like it might be a bit obtrusive, as there is no padding on it’s plastic frame. The plastic is soft and pliable, however, and combined with the shape of the “pads” the Roc Loc 5 is as light, comfortable, and as easy to use as any tension device on the market.

If you had to judge by the defunct Prolight, there must be a trade-off between feather-weight and ventilation. The Aeon proves that isn’t true, with more vents than on an old leather hairnet helmet. Giro took advantage of two different technologies to create the Aeon; a reinforcing frame called the SL Rollcage, and a special EPS foam. Since the new thermoformed SL Rollcage—basically a second shell under the outer shell—is so effective, Giro was able to use a lower-density foam to keep weight down. Thin webbing with tiny adjusters also contribute to the increased airflow on your skin, and of course reduce weight as well.

An Honorable Mention goes out to the Kask Vertigo for its revolutionary retention system.

Shimano XTR M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur

After checking out the new XTR Shadow rear derailleur one of our mechanics remarked, “This is a real monkey touching the monolith moment.” Who can disagree? The Shimano XTR M985 Shadow Plus Rear Derailleur is a revolution in rear derailleur design; allowing the cage to swing backward, but limiting forward motion. The result is a chain that stays in tension, never slapping the stays. This derailleur is a chain guide and rear derailleur all in one.

The result of this technology is a much quieter bike and far fewer dropped chains. One employee here experimented using this derailleur with a single front chainring and only a bash guard to guide the chain. Over a one-mile trail littered with softball sized rocks, the chain never dropped. He plans on removing the bash ring soon. We can’t think of a better endorsement than that. We can’t wait to see this technology spread to all levels of mountain derailleurs.

Gore Ride-On Cable Sets – $36.99-$54.99

Cables are often overlooked and frankly a little unglamorous, but since installing Gore Professional Ride-On cables last October (2010 mind you), Brad, our components buyer, hasn’t needed to adjust his derailleurs once after the cables broke in. This bears repeating: he hasn’t even touched his cable adjustments in over a year and they still work like new. And yes, he does ride… a lot.

Niterider Pro 3000 – $649.99

Apparently Niterider grew tired of the slow-paced lumens competition, seeing each manufacturer’s output creep up by a couple-hundred L-M’s each year. In an effort to put some distance between themselves and their adversaries, Niterider teamed up with the Cree LED company (who have been supplying Light and Motion for years) and came up with the unbelievable Pro 3000, more than doubling last year’s high-output lamp without a price increase.

Niterider Pro 3000 LED

3000 Lumens! Are you kidding me?

The Niterider Pro 3000 uses a single head housing and two reflectors loaded with three LED bulbs each. Niterider’s mounting hardware is solid and secure—once you get the light aimed where you want it and tightened down, it won’t move. Another distinguishing feature to all the Niterider Pro series lights is the ability to customize output levels, and thus, burn times as well. This would come in handy for racing where you want a climbing mode to save energy and a descending mode to maximize visibility, with no shuffling through medium output and flash modes. All these things are nice, but really, it’s the sheer power of the Niterider Pro 3000 that we most appreciate. It’s like riding with the sun!

Runner up: Light and Motion Seca 1400. This was a tough choice since the Seca is much lighter, has a much lower profile, and has a smaller battery. In the end, though, we just couldn’t overlook the huge output of the Pro 3000.

So there you have it, our favorite products of 2011. If there are any awesome products you’ve been riding that should have made our list, or if you think any of these suck, we’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.