Yeah right, you’re going to spend serious coin on cycling stuff for someone else. Admit it, you want to give yourself the holiday gift that no one else would think to give you: something drool worthy for the new “It’s All About Me” Trump age. And it’s our responsibility to keep those factories in Asia and Eastern Europe churning 24/7. It’s sad to say but I’ve actually used almost all of the items below, and my recommendations are therefore based on personal experience and in keeping with the post-truth, post-Obama theme, very biased.
Garmin Edge 520. $265. If you do not need turn-by-turn navigation, this is the very good GPS-enabled cyclometer. And that’s a good thing because with the exception of the Edge 800, Garmin’s other navigation cyclometers all have fatal flaws. Despite being nearly three years old the Edge 1000 still has glitches that make it an unreliable device, not to mention that the battery life is absolutely abysmal. The Edge 810 is hardly better and suffers some of the same software flaws. But if you kick navigation to the curb, Garmin’s other devices such as the 520 become very usable devices. The Edge 520 is small, light, and fairly easy to use. The screen is very legible even in bright sunlight. I haven’t had any software glitches in the eight months I’ve been using it. However I don’t use any of the social media functions such as auto uploading to Strava/Garmin Connect nor do I connect it to my phone to get alerts and text messages. So I have no comment on how they work or don’t work. Battery life is much longer than the 1000, which dies around eight hours even with energy sparing (if I’m lucky). My typical rides run 3-4 hours and the 520 usually has about 70% battery left, so my guess is that it will last through a double metric. My one complaint/laudation is that it doesn’t have a touch screen. Garmin touch screens are unreliable, not seeming to work when you most need them to, so buttons are a good thing. (Aside: you should see the online complaints about the touch screen on the new Edge 820; it’s apparently worse than ever.) Unfortunately the buttons on my unit are stiff and have to be pushed quite deliberately to work. As a result I’ve splurged and gotten a Garmin Remote This little ANT+ device has three easily clickable buttons to control your 520 and obviates the need to thrash repeatedly on the buttons on the Edge 520 while zipping through traffic or hammering up the road. Another minus of no touch screen is that all the settings have to be done by multiple, laborious button pushes. It reminds me of when we used to text on flip phones: so much work for so little gain. But the unit is reliable! Also there is enough resident memory that I’ve even installed an open source map of the Bay Area. This is useful not only for ascertaining where I am on unfamiliar roads/fire roads but also for doing simple bread crumb navigation. Having enough resident memory is important because unlike the Edge 1000/810/800 there is no SD slot for adding maps or additional storage.
Spurcycle Bell, or Incredibell Omnibell. $50/$13. The Spurcycle Bell is the Hot New Thing. Remember when bells on bikes meant condemnation and scorn by your local self-appointed bike snob? Well thanks to hipsters at Spurcycle having a bell on your bike now makes you look cool. And it is a nice looking bell with a very nice ring. And it’s handmade in California, not Asia. But it costs $50. For a bell. I repeat: for a bell. It’s a goddamn bike bell, not a friggin’ curated art piece.
If your wallet howls at the prospect of springing for a Spurcycle, then opt for the Incredibell Omnibell. It’s a lot cheaper, as in $13. This gets you a nice silver bell with a good ring and sustain, an adjustable dinger, and an adjustable strap to fit any size handlebar. And why should you have a bell on your bike? Because it’s friendly and polite to alert peds and cyclists when you’re near or passing. And it’s a lot friendlier than screaming, “On your left!”
SKS Raceblade Pro Fenders. $60. I’ve been using SKS Raceblade fenders for years on my travel bike. Using rubber straps they are easy to put on or take off and they fit my old-school bike with no problem. They’re not perfect: they’re short, so wheel spray is still a problem particularly with the front wheel. Now SKS has Raceblade fenders with built-in mudflaps that reduce spray. They’re still not perfect but they are better than their predecessor. (If you want more effective mudflaps, get the original Raceblade and buy some Buddyflaps to add to them.) If you don’t have a dedicated rain bike with fenders, this is a good, cheap alternative. And you’ll be able to remove those fenders quickly when the sun comes out.
Showers Pass Spring Classic Jacket. $289. I’ve written about this jacket before. It’s now my go-to jacket for Bay Area rainy days. It’s light, has a snug-but-not-uncomfortably-so fit so that it doesn’t flap or make a lot of noise. It’s cut correctly for riding on the bike. And it is completely waterproof and surprisingly breathable, even having armpit zips for cooling. It’s meant for temperate climates so it works very well in the Bay Area. It’s a tad warm but that’s the nature of waterproof, breathable fabrics. For cold, rainy weather it’s near perfect especially paired with a merino wool base layer. It comes in fashionable black but the red is much more visible while still being easy on the eyes.
GoreTex Power Trail Short or Pearl Izumi MTB WxB Short. $149/$100.For rainy days I have a pair of GoreTex overshorts for the road that I got in London many years ago. It’s excellent for touring because it’s small and light and rolls up nicely into a back pocket. Because it’s Gore-Tex fabric and seam sealed it is completely waterproof, and it’s easy to slip on over cycling shoes when it starts to rain and easy to take off when it stops. They keep your lower back, butt and thighs dry—the most critical areas—and your legs aren’t covered so you can easily vent heat from the effort of cycling. For certain days shorts work better than full rain pants especially if your bike has fenders. Rain pants keep your legs dry as well but I’ve never had a waterproof pair that didn’t get steamy at anything above an easy effort. Unfortunately those Gore shorts were never brought over to the US. Well, now Gore sells a waterproof mountain bike overshorts in the US. They’re not as nice as the ones I have but they do have longer legs, coming down to the knees. For rain that’s probably a good thing.
If you don’t want to spend $150, Pearl Izumi also makes a waterproof mountain bike, the MTB WxB Short, which is also waterproof and seam sealed. Instead of an elastic waistband as on the GoreTex Power Trail it has an adjustable waistband. And it’s “only” $100.
Rudy Project Exception. $375. Cycling eyewear for some reason—probably fashion—can be ridiculously expensive. And these Rudy Project Exception sunglasses are near the top at $375 (the Assos Zegho does jump the shark: it’s $479!) But if you wear prescription eyeglasses, these are definitely worth considering despite the cost. They take prescription inserts and the sunglass lenses flip up. If you go indoors and say, need to read a restaurant menu, or you need to inspect your tires for a flint, or go into a tunnel, or just get caught out after sunset, the dark lenses flip up and out of the way. They’re decent looking and you can get different lens colors.
Bontrager Flare R/Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150. $60/$50. Taillights aren’t just for night riding. In an era when distracted driving is a commonplace, having a bright taillight for daytime use is cheap insurance against getting rear-ended. Light companies are starting to sell daytime taillights, and some are definitely better than others. These two taillights are two of the better compact ones. At 200 yards they’re both quite visible in broad daylight. That isn’t to say they’re blinding enough to someone in a car staring at their iPhone (for that you need a DiNotte Daytime taillight, at $259!). But they are much brighter than your run-of-the-mill taillight. They both have rechargeable batteries and the run times will get you through at least four hours of riding at their brightest.
Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket. $379. How could a holiday gift list not include at least one Assos item? The Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket is expensive and you could certainly get a decent winter jacket for Bay Area conditions for half the cost. But this jacket is very comfortable—it feels like pulling on piece of tailored clothing. This ‘jacket’ is really more like a beefed up long sleeve jersey. The front and arms have a windproof layer but the sides and back are fabric only. If you’re riding hard in cold weather, it’s fine. But if you wear this in the coldest weather we get around here, 32-29 F, you’ll likely want something with a more insulated back. This fall I’ve been riding in 50-60 F weather and it’s comfortable. Unfortunately Assos styling often means you have to like black though you’ll look really PRO when you are being mowed down by a car. But that’s why you have a bright daytime taillight on your bike, right? Then you can wear all the black your heart desires. The black is definitely cool looking but you can get it with red or white accents. It’s warm enough to wear with just a base layer. You wouldn’t want to wear a long sleeve jersey underneath because this jacket is very form-fitting. But a thin vest such as the Assos Falkenzahn fits nicely underneath and would be a perfect colder weather accessory—just another $280!
Continental Cyclocross Speed tires. $45. At 700x35mm these tires won’t fit most modern road bikes. The clearance underneath the fork crown and between the rear stays block most tires that are bigger than 700x25mm. Also most modern caliper brakes have a hard time clearing a 700x28mm tire let alone a 35mm. However if you have an older road bike with “long reach” caliper brakes or have disc brakes, these tires may fit. I’ve been riding these tires for about two years and they are a revelation. They’re fat for road bikes so I run them around 40-50 psi—that’s really low for road tires! But they’ve held up well and they are super cushy. They stick like glue in the corners but they are slower than standard road tires. They’re perfect for mixed surface rides as long as you avoid mud. In mud those tiny tread blocks just get clogged up. But for dry or damp conditions these tires allow you to ride on pavement, dirt, or grass without second thoughts. At 360 gm per tire they aren’t that heavy either. And they’re hardy too—I’ve had just one flat in several thousand miles and that was due to a goathead thorn, which would have done in almost any tire. The little knobs in the center have worn down but that’s actually made the tires roll slightly better on the road and I still have plenty of knobs off-center, which is where you really need them when you’re on fire roads anyway. The only bummer is that they are not (yet) tubeless. And if Continental made a 28mm version, they’d sell like hotcakes.