Monday, December 8, 2008

The best gear of the year...

(or, what to stick in your bike lover's stocking?)

So, as an editor of Mountain Bike Tales ( I get a lot of opportunity to see the best and the worst of products out there. So, being the holidays, it's time to come up with a couple things that I would classify as standout performers in 2008. Without further ado:

Best of season, 2008:
SRAM X.0 Drivetrain (Front and rear shifters, rear derailleur - ~$450)

Again, it comes down to the most important parts of the bike to fill in my best of the season slot. I'll be accused of being a fan boy, and that may be. I've been there with Shimano's drivetrain parts, but the simple fact remains that they are more labor intensive than SRAM's gear. Shimano even copied the SRAM design when they introduced the Shadow derailleur, so that has to say something, right?

Why do I perennially pick SRAM drivetrain parts as my best of the season? Because they just don't fail me. I've racked up a lot of miles on those parts this season, and they've taken a load of abuse (crashes are a way of life for me, and all these east coast hazards don't help any) through they year and still just keep on ticking. There's something grossly satisfying about not having to replace parts every season, and never having shifting problems. Best...of...season. Period.

Most underappreciated item of 2008:
Jagwire RipCord derailleur cable kit (multiple colours ~$30)

Me. No, really. Me. Or cables. Yeah, that's it. Nobody thinks cables are such a big deal, but when something comes along that keeps your shifting smooth for a full year without being touched, then it's something worth mentioning. Sure, cables do need replacing, but only just. Dirt, grime and crap just DON'T get into the Jagwire sealed systems, which is awesome for us east coast riders. For the $30 spent, not only does my bike look kick-ass, it now shifts perfect in every condition I can imagine.

Most frivolous but cool bike part in general for 2008:
Spank Lock On Grips (Chocolate, White or Black, ~$25)

Yeah, there's only so much to say about something like a pair of grips. (In this case) they're mocha/chocolate in colour, they have gold clamps, and they stay locked down on the bar through the most gruesome conditions. What more can you ask, except for a pair in your stocking?

Best "technogeek approved" item of 2008:
Garmin Edge 305 with Heart Rate Monitor and Cadence Sensor (~$275)

Who doesn't like to know their heart rate, cadence, average grade, current speed, lap speed, and even sunset time with a glance at their handlebars? Well, the old coots that rode with toe clips and straps may not approve, but those of us who know where the 'on' button is on the front of a PC will love this. Pair this gizmo with Sport Tracks training software and you're set to get a wealth of very usable information that will keep your training right on track throughout the season. It's amazingly handy to have a breadcrumb trail map (for full GPS navigation, consider the 705, but double the price, at least) should you get lost and need to return to square one. It's probably one of the most expensive bike computers out there, but to the right person, it's worth it's weight in gold.

Best "My Ass Doesn't Hurt" gear of 2008:
Tossup: AssMaster Chamois Cream and Gore Bike Wear Contest Shorts (~$10 and ~$85)

The AssMaster goes on your ass, and the Contest shorts pad that oiled rear end. Gore's shorts come in the bib and shorts variety (I prefer the bibs) and have an amazingly non-intrusive chamois. It doesn't feel like you're wearing a diaper and it provides cushioning in just the right places to keep you comfy over multiple hours in the saddle. And with a price under $100, you can't really go wrong. Unless of course, you prefer the baggy look to the roadie-weenie lycra look. In that case, buy them anyway and put baggies over them. You'll love me for it.

Best Safety Gear of 2008:
Uvex XP100 helmet (~$95)

With so many vents, it's cooler than a lot of road helmets and has the full coverage of a skate helmet. It's stupidly light and has a nifty-as-all-hell buckle/release system that I just love. Thankfully, I've not had to test its crash durability, but I can say for a fact that this baby is comfy and reassuring like an young lady's bed on a cold night. If you're a drunk college kid anyway...

"Most confusing parts catalog on the planet" of 2008:

Really...what the hell? How many axle assemblies can you really HAVE? And how many times do you have to send me the wrong one before I find the correct model? Really...what the hell...

Well, that's it for another year. What can I say? It's been fun, it's been a wonderful ride, and now it's a ride that goes nowhere with the emergence of the trainer (who wants to ride in snow?) That being said, keep the rubber side down, and we'll see how these things shape up for 2009.

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