As the year winds down, real websites does product round-ups, holiday gift guides, etc.
This is not a real website.
Instead, here’s a half-assed look at some stuff I’ve been riding and wearing.
Before that though, inasmuch as it is the holiday season, if you’re looking to give money away in a bike-themed fashion to assuage your cumulative guilt for the year, I would suggest one or both of the following worthy recipients (numbered merely for sake of organization, not preference):
Star Track is the youth cycling program at Kissena Velodrome. It’s great, which I know because my older son is in it. Donate here.
Ride Up Grades runs a kids’ cycling summer camp and some other programs, and you can donate here. It’s also great, which I know because my son did the camp last year. They also had a fundraiser at a Trek store in Manhattan this past weekend, which I stupidly did not share with you beforehand, but which I did attend with the family. In so doing, we won a pair of Speedplay pedals…so maybe I’m not so stupid after all, since if you’d been there you might have gotten them instead of us:
I’ve never tried Speedplay pedals, but my older son was very excited, so it looks like I’ll have to set them up for him…though apparently he can’t use them for competition:
I was puzzled by this warning, so I tried to learn more about it from their website…which I couldn’t find, because apparently I’m the last person to learn Wahoo bought Speedplay like three years ago. Anyway, I’m not sure what the point of a non-racing clipless pedal is, nor am I sure why a pedal with a chromoly axle wouldn’t be able to withstand the rigors of competition, so I’m going to go ahead and assume Speedplay labels their entry-level pedals like this in order to scare people into upgrading to the $449.99 titanium version as soon as possible:
I bet they seriously reduce ankle fatigue.
Both shoes are inexpensive as bike-specific footwear goes–$100 and $125 respectively–and since taking delivery of them I’ve been wearing one or the other for almost all of my riding. However, with winter arriving in earnest that’s about to change, since these are both light and breathable and I’ll be spending more time in warmer shoes. Given this, it seemed like a good time to update you on what I think about them, and what I think about them is that they’re both great–and I’m not just saying that since they sent them to me. Really, they’re both extremely comfortable, and I go right to them without even thinking about it. High-end road shoes are all about stiffness, which is stupid if you think about it, because how stiff does a shoe really need to be? Meanwhile, the Quest shoes are plenty stiff without being unyielding, which means you don’t have to buy titanium cranks to reduce your ankle fatigue problem. The rubber heel is also fantastic and has saved my ass several times. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly busted it on my slippery basement floor after coming home from wet road rides in other shoes.) As for the Canyons, they’re light and comfortable both on and off the bike, they’ve got a handy elastic loop in the tongue to stash your laces, and while saying they look cool might be a stretch I’m in no way offended by their looks. Of course I’ve only been using both since October so long-term durability is still a question, but so far I’ve had no problems with either and there’s really nothing I don’t like about them.
Having said all that, now that temperatures have gone below freezing I’ve been wearing thes:
I’ve also made some changes to the Eye Of The Tiger Bike, inasmuch as it is the perfect winter all-’rounder and I expect to be spending more time on it:
For example, I’ve fitted it with clipless pedals again, since those winter boots have cleats on them. Also, I’ve given it the Nitto Mark’s Rack that was on my Homer. I love that little thing, since it’s light and unobtrusive but facilitates little errands by allowing you to do stuff like carry a lock (see above) and stop for toilet paper (see below):
And because winter calls for a robust tire, I did pretty much the opposite and threw on some ninja slippers:
I got these tires for Christmas two years ago now, though I haven’t used them since incurring a puncture awhile back and deciding they’re a little to lightweight for where and how I ride. In fact, I hadn’t even repaired the puncture until now, and as I did I marveled at how thin the casings were (and these aren’t even the “extralights”), and how tiny the little sliver of whatever was that caused the flat:
There was once a time I scoffed at people who got hung up on stuff like frame tubing, since I was convinced that it was mostly tires that informed ride quality. Since then, I’ve changed my view, and now scoff at people who get hung up on tires. I still believe tires are hugely important, but I don’t think they’ll transform a bike all by themselves. I mean yes, going from really skinny to really fat tires (for example) will transform a bike in that it will allow you to use it differently, but assuming stuff like the tread and dimensions are roughly similar the ultimate arbiter of how a bike rides is going to be the frame and the parts and the materials, geometry, etc. thereof. (Especially those titanium cranks, which reduce ankle fatigue!) Certainly a “nicer” tire will get you closer to making the bike feel the best it can, but after riding lots of different bikes with lots of different tires I’ve come to the conclusion that tires don’t fundamentally alter a bike’s character, extreme examples such as massive differences in volume notwithstanding.
The Rene Herse is a very nice tire, especially on terrain like this, where it feels all floaty and grippy in the best possible way:
Though it releases its grip like a kid with a bad handshake as soon as you ascend or descend something like this:
This is in no way a criticism of this particular model of Rene Herse tire, which is not especially wide and is essentially a slick:
And which still has lots of traction otherwise, no doubt due to its much-vaunted “supple” casing.
But about that whole “supple” thing…
I don’t know what the latest thinking on rolling resistance is, and I don’t really care. However, I do care about “feel,” and despite the current supple tire craze I actually prefer a firm tire when I’m riding on pavement. I don’t want to feel much in the way of flex when I’m cornering or climbing, and as I’ve noted before but am too lazy to find where, riding these tires on the road makes the bike feel sort of muted and anesthetized, like it’s on Vicodin. I get people are into that these days, but it’s not what I’m after.
Of course, the solution to this is to run them at a higher pressure, which I did on my last ride. However, then you completely lose the whole “floaty and grippy” feeling on dirt, which is the best thing about them. Maybe it’s a question of getting the pressure juuust right, but I do think other less exotic tires do a better job of riding consistently both on- and off-road without the rider having to micro-manage the pressure, and I wonder if in that sense a stiffer, less “supple” tire is in fact an advantage for many riders. These tires are also quite difficult to seat properly, and on one hand I admire how thorough and informative Jan Heine is on the subject, while on the other I marvel at his arrogance in blaming it entirely on the rim manufacturers and not his own fussy tires.
Mostly though I realize I’m just a Rene Herse tire person. I do think that you’re doing fast 100-mile gravel rides some sort of tubeless Rene Herse setup (or other Panaracer variant) is probably as close to perfect as it gets. But for a dirtbag like me who’s encountering everything from hardpack dirt to smooth pavement to piles of glass, and who doesn’t fuss over his tire pressure, and who prefers grab-and-go to topping off sealant and massaging tire beads into place, I’m better suited to a…less intellectual tire. The Schwalbe Marathon Supremes I’ve been using on my Homer (and with which I replaced the Gravel Kings that came on the bike) are dimensionally similar to the Natches Pass, very well-made, reasonably light, and ride quite nicely while at the same time being highly durable and puncture-resistant. But they’ve got a reflector strip instead of a tanwall, and are therefore deeply uncool.
Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the tires and the cool factor, so I’ll keep riding them until such point as I’m not enjoying them anymore.
Lastly, as for other stuff I’ve been using, I don’t know if Pearl Izumi sells this vest anymore (if so I can’t find it on their site) but I wear it all the time:
You can wear it with a jersey, you can wear it with a sweater, or you can wear it with an “insulated riding shirt” as I am here:
I’ve also been doing a lot of riding in the MUSA pants from Rivendell, and my son also wore a pair on our last mountain bike ride:
So there you go, plenty of stuff to spend your money on, or not, whatever works for you.