Often, Gear of the Year articles come across as a bit pretentious and exclusive, featuring the most expensive or highest-profile items in the industry. Well, not this time. This Gear of the Year rundown does present some costly goods, but it also has the stuff I (or my cohorts) simply like to ride—and can afford.
With road disc brakes, eTap, and at least one new standard arriving next year (will it be bottom bracket, axle width, handlebar clamp diameter?), it’s time to close the books on 2015. Before we get the crib ready and boot the old bearded man out the door, let’s take a look at some of the products that made riding more enjoyable these past 12 months. While we may constantly look to the future and dream about what the Next Great Thing to hang on our bikes or our bodies will be, let’s be thankful for the fun we had in 2015. Plus, who knows, you may have missed out on something and your friends have been making fun of you this whole time.
Garmin Edge 20 GPS Computer—It’s not that I’m anti-computer, it’s just that I’m anti-complexity. I don’t want to waste time during my rides scrolling through screens displaying metrics I didn’t even know existed, nor do I need to know which five degrees of my pedal stroke is the strongest. I do enjoy knowing how fast (ha ha) I went down my favorite descent, and whether or not eating that extra plate of pasta and getting eight hours of sleep the night before resulted in a faster completion of my after-work loop. Basic info—that’s what I want; enough data to keep me motivated, but not enough to change my mind if I thought I had fun on a ride. Basic info is just what the Garmin Edge 20 provides. Easy to use, compact, and as accurate as it gets thanks to GPS and GLONASS satellite coordination, the Edge 20 lets you take your eyes off your screen and keep them on the road. STRAVA compatibility and the option to add cadence data is available with the ever-so-slightly more advanced Edge 25.
Blackburn Local Cooler Pannier—With the right mindset, anything is a bottle opener. With a bottle opener attached, anything becomes cool. A cooler with a bottle opener? Specifically made for your bike? It doesn’t get much is better than that. Blackburn’s Local Cooler Pannier is equipped with a bottle opener, is a cooler, and goes on your bike—all bases covered. Insulated and waterproof, these panniers are ready to haul whatever it is you need to stay chilled: milk, potato salad, or beer. When used with the Blackburn Interlock rack system, this bag can be conveniently locked to your bike with the simple turn of a key, offering security and peace of mind.
Kask Protone Helmet—If I may speak frankly, the typical road helmet of several years ago, with its jagged rear profile, hard angles, and teetering placement high atop our heads, was, well, absolutely horrible to look at. Cyclists have never been well known for their sense of style, but those things were an insult to anyone who cared about aesthetics even a little bit. In 2013, Giro released the Air Attack, creating a helmet category now filled with offerings from every manufacturer. Not surprisingly, at the top of the list for style, comfort, and efficiency sits the Kask Protone Helmet. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my eyes appreciate the simple, rounded lines of the typical aero road helmet shape, which the Protone epitomizes. The Italian-made Protone is functional as well as beautiful. Viewed from the front, Kask’s Protone looks like a standard, well-vented road helmet. Its top and back, however, share the smooth surfaces and rounded profiles of the latest crop of hybrid aero/road helmets. Kask’s padding is the most comfortable in the game, and like all their helmets, the fit is impeccable.
Capo Women’s SC Donna Bibs—2015 was the year women-specific bibs showed up in a meaningful way. Yes, there are still drawbacks, but when it comes to overall comfort—chamois placement, waist-zone support, and coverage, bibs can’t be beat. The Capo Women’s SC Donna Bibs’ calling card is its mesh halter upper. Specially placed lycra panels alternate with breathable mesh to provide ample upper body support while enhancing air circulation. Using a tank-style upper gets around the conundrum of using traditional “straps,” as on men’s bibs; there just never seems to be a way to orient the straps that works for every woman. Below, high gauge Lycra provides supportive compression and an excellent fit across many body types, and Capo’s superb anti-bacterial Giro HD Carbon EIT chamois is comfort incarnate.
Vittoria Corsa G+ Tire—The newest marvel material is Graphene Plus, used exclusively by Vittoria, who believe in it so much they purchased part of the company that makes it. Using a four-compound lay up of the stuff, the Vittoria Corsa G+ clincher tire is durable, grippy, and fast. No, really, it is. Graphene is pretty magical stuff, and coupled with a 320 threads-per-inch hand-spun cotton casing, it makes for an unbelievably high performance clincher tire. While Vittoria gives the OK for everyday use, I suggest saving these for race day or special rides, although you will get a lot more of those compared to a typical race tread.
HED Ardennes Plus Black Wheelset—Light and wide, the HED Ardennes Plus Black Wheelset is designed to get the most out of today’s crop of wider tires. 21 millimeters across internally, the Ardennes Plus creates a more aerodynamic tire cross section, in addition to maximizing the tire carcass’s inherent structural qualities. Weighing in at 1400 grams, and laced with bladed stainless Sapim spokes, the Ardennes+ delivers on the climb, the descent, and the sprints. What impressed me the most though, is the improved braking performance. Turbine Braking Technology creates half-moon ridges on the brake track, creating extra friction and reducing braking distances up to five times depending on conditions. Enve has adopted a similar textured braking surface on their SES rims. What else? Oh, it’s all done up in beautiful black. Nothing says “I’m fast when I want to be” like matte black and shadow script.