THROWBACK THURSDAY: ZAP’S LOOKBACK AT A DECADE OF EDITOR’S CHOICES

For over a decade now we’ve run an Editor’s Choice feature story in either the January or March issue, and we just wrapped-up the version that will appear in the March 2023 issue. The idea behind our annual “Editor’s Choice” story is to  act like a “year in review”  that offers a look-back at the bikes, products, people and moments that stood out from  the previous year. The following column was  originally written for the the March 2022 issue as an overview of some of my “Editor Choice” highlights written over the previous decade.

 

FROM THE MARCH 2022 ISSUE

Admittedly, yes, our “Editors’ Choice” feature has endured a far shorter lifespan than that of Edoardo Bianchi’s namesake bike brand that’s now eclipsing the 137-year mark. And true, having its first run in 1903, the Tour de France also predates it. Still, this year marks the 10th anniversary of RBA’s “Editors’ Choice” feature, which, for me, continues to be the best round-up of drop-bar culture and technology around. 

Doing my best to avoid being too business savvy, in conceiving the idea for “Editors’ Choice,” the priority was always to make the “awards” helpful and entertaining for the readers while at the same time silly and informal enough to avoid the taint of editorial that’s purposely formatted to act as a foundation for advertiser buy-in. For years that was the playbook for Bicycling Magazine’s annual editorial awards where they’d create as many bike and product categories as possible in hopes of maximizing a potential advertising sale. Good for them, not me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to ads being placed within these pages (they do help to keep the lights on, after all), but just like wasting pages producing Christmas buyers’ guides, which we don’t do, I’ve never been a fan of producing editorial with such a contrived direct business-to-consumer correlation. Do readers really need our help in deciding what Christmas gift to buy their loved ones?! 

With all that said, as I was organizing this year’s EC entries, I couldn’t help but go back in time and thumb through some old issues to see what bikes, products moments and people made my list over the last decade. It is worth noting that each year’s entries actually reflected our look back at the previous season’s worth of content.

A DECADE OF “BEST OF” HIGHLIGHTS

2012

• Proving that some critiques never grow old, back in 2012 we ran a photo of the finish at Milan-San Remo with a victorious Matt Goss celebrating a big win. My nitpick? There were six other riders in the photo, and, along with Goss, they were all wearing white shoes. 

• My Bike of the Year award went to a beautiful metallic root-beer brown Calfee Dragonfly (above) that not only had a great story to tell but a great ride as well.

• As for a forecast of “hot” new products, my scorecard was way off in citing both the short-lived Mad Fiber wheels and the Selle Italia Monolink seatpost. But, where I was spot-on (if I say so myself) was in touring both the arrival of Shimano Ultegra Di2 and the benefits of compact gearing. 

• Speaking of electronic drivetrains, while lauding Shimano’s effort, I also noted SRAM (then) poo-pooing the concept, and I ventured to guess that at some point in the future (especially since they were soon to go public) that the Chicago-based company would eventually have to embrace batteries.

2013

• The nod for my Best Bike went to the $5000 Cannondale Evo that weighed just over 14 pounds, with the BMC TMRO1 getting a wink for being the most awesome-looking new bike we’d yet to test.

• While the monied types will shake their heads, as noted above, it was never my intention to use “Editors’ Choice” as a bankable marketing tool. As such, we’ve always included cultural touch points that couldn’t be monetized. One random “Best” went to the Road ID TV ad (above) that featured Bob Roll stuck in a van with crazed “hippies,” portrayed by George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer. Hysterical. And, an anniversary high-five was given to the Hawkins family who were celebrating 50 years in the bike business under the guise of Park Tools. 

• The Best Quote, of which I can’t recall the purpose, came from former national champion and all-around inspiration Dave Zabriskie. “As long as nobody is dead, it’s okay. It’s just a bike race.”

2014

• I couldn’t help but mark the passing of some key industry players. One was Claudio Sacchi, who was the grandson of Silca founder Felice Sacchi. Steve Ready was a gentle, little-known businessman who annually helped grow the industry by overseeing the Interbike bike show. Last, it was with an air of nostalgia that I mourned the passing of visionary Schwinn product manager Al Fritz. Of course, the bike he made famous was none other than the Stingray – the bike that I spent years jumping, bunny-hopping and basically falling eternally in love with.

• Cannondale returned as my most noteworthy bike, this time with the arrival of the quasi-radical Synapse that featured a split seat tube (at the bottom bracket) and their own SAVE tube shapes that brought a micro-dose of compliance to the ride. 

• Strange but true, both the Tour de France and the Tour of California were chosen as my best event for the sole reason that both disparate races held a time trial that required a mid-route bike change. The rolling NASCAR-style pit stops made for great TV, and I wish it happened more frequently. 

 

2015

• In choosing a Best Bike, there was the usual need to distinguish between “dream” and “real” versions. This year it was the Colnago C60 that was the stuff of my REM-mode dreamscape. The affordable bike that impressed me the most was the $4000 BH Ultralight RC.

• The most impressive product wasn’t one that made my bike lighter or made me faster. However, clever name notwithstanding, what Sugoi’s new Zap jacket did was make me safer and more visible, thanks to pixelated fabric that produced eye-opening, reflective qualities under the lights. 

• It was impossible to let the year pass without highlighting the Best Quote, as espoused by basketball legend and cycling enthusiast Bill Walton. All it took was four words: “I love my bike!”

2016

Keepin’ it real  and steel aboard Steve Hed’s Triple Crown gravel bike in 2014.

• By 2016 gravel bikes had made an irreversible entry into the sport, and it was with misty eyes that I recognized Steve Hed’s steel Triple Crown as the best. The bike rolled on 650b wheels, and it was the legendary wheel
man’s last big project before his untimely passing. 

• My Quote of the Year came from the owner of a German-bred bike company that had eyes on the American market. His name was Roman Arnold. His quote was, “No, we have to go; there’s no turning back now.” Maybe you’ve heard the company? Canyon Bicycles.

• There was definitely no other bike that warranted a Best Gamble citation like Cannondale’s Slate did. I called the aluminum bike an “abstract road creation” given that it rolled on 650b slicks and used a Lefty suspension
fork. Huh?!

 

2017

• Two race finishes on separate continents, both oh so unbelievable. The first was at the Tour of the Gila when KHS/Elevate rider Zachary Allison borrowed a spectator’s mountain bike to finish Stage 4 after his bike broke in a crash 4 kilometers from the finish. And, of course, who could forget the momentous Stage 12 at the Tour de France when Chris Froome was forced to resort to running up Mt. Ventoux following a crash with a moto? 

• You might not think there were many superlatives to describe a pretty basic steel bike that was designed by a famous mountain bike pioneer, but in addition to its beautiful Sunset Fade paint and $1600 frame price, I found one for Tom Ritchey’s Road Logic bike—Best Road Bike.”

2018

• My Best Outside-the-Box Thinking award went to both the 3T Strada road bike and Turner Cyclosys gravel bike, each which epitomized new design and performance approaches to bikes around 1x drivetrains. 

• Proving naysayers wrong has always had a certain attraction, and with both Tom Boonen’s and Marcel Kittel’s UCI history-making wins with disc brakes, the relevance of all the race/weight geeks’ anti-disc-brake tirades suddenly became a lot less relevant. And in years to come it would only become increasingly so. 

• Campagnolo received the first of many nods to come for having the best-performing disc brakes on the market. They still do.

 

2019

• Maybe not so shocking, but two red bikes made up my Best Of picks. Owing greatly to the performance of its freaky-looking front suspension fork, the Lauf True Grit was my gravel choice, and the $12,000 Factor One aero road bike won out among the slick tire crew. 

• From the international desk, France scored a Best Of pick for Mavic’s Comete Ultimate helmet, the shapely Selle SMP saddles from Italy were my saddle choice, and the multi-colored Ciro cages from the Dutch brand Taxc were my faves.

2020

• Euro brands ruled the Best Bikes roost with the Pinarello Dogma F12, which, despite its 18-pound weight, was still universally raved over—just Open’s monster truck-like WI.DE. easily outclassed all of the previous year’s gravel entries. 

• The Best Race-Day Launch went to the American-made Allied after team riders Colin Strickland and Amity Rockwell (above) rode their freshly made Able bikes (with elevated drive-side chainstays) to victory in the Dirty Kanza 200.

• There was no denying that SRAM’s new wireless AXS drivetrain was the Best New Product.

• In terms of new faces earning a spotlight, Bianchi’s 27-pound rear-hub-drive Aria e-road was the first power-assist bike to grace any of our “Editors’ Choice” lists. Niner’s MCR dual-suspension gravel bike was chosen for being the Best Bold Initiative.

2021

• Reminding me once again that it’s not the frame material that counts most but the design and build quality that make for great bikes, last year I split my Best Bike accolades between two legacy frame designers. The best carbon bike was Gerard Vroomen’s simply fabulous Open MIN.D., while the Tom Kellogg-designed Ritte Phantom took the metal crown. 

• Maintaining my belief that words can be just as impactful as any new product, there was this typically big-picture message from frame builder Craig Calfee that I thought worthy to highlight: “I used to think that bicycles were the solution to the transportation problems. Now I know they are the solution to humanity’s problems.”

 

2022

* Just as I feel funny touting a $15,000 road bike as a “best”, so too does calling a consumer-direct bike the “best” given that it’s no-middleman cost savings play such a role in shaping my decision. Still, while the big American brands spent so much energy battling for bike shop superiority over the years, Canyon looked into the future and devised a new world business model to which they are now the undisputed leader.

And when it came to dual-purpose bikes, with its three bottle mounts, stout carbon frame, Shimano GRX drivetrain, room for up to 45mm tires, suspension seatpost and “Explosive Grape” colorway, the $3200 Canyon Grizl (above) delivered more gravel good for the dollar than any other bike

* Trust me, I take no satisfaction in naming as one of the best bikes I rode in 2021 one that had a retail price of $14,500. Regardless of knowing that the definition of “expensive” is relative, not only do I think paying that kind of money for a bicycle is dumb, but try as I did to make sense of the price, I could never get the math to pencil out.
Be that as it may, over the years hundreds of test bikes have rolled through into the halls of RBA’s well-lit, plushly carpeted, palatial towers, only to be rolled-out and ridden by one test rider or another. And of all those bikes, the latest fruit from a family tree that was touted as “great” by everyone who ever rode it was the Pinarello F12.

* Going as far back as when Greg LeMond first popularized handlebar extensions in 1989 with the Boone Lennon designed Scott clip-ons, I’ve never been a fan of handlebar extensions. As such, solely through guilt by association, I’ve always been skeptical of triathletes given their inherent reliance on said “plumbing fixtures.”
So, when the folks at (legacy tri-geek brand) Quintana Roo offered us a SRFive road bike to test I was less than optimistic about thinking nice things about the bike. I was wrong. The QR ended up being one of my most enjoyable test bikes in 2021. Starting with a reasonable frameset price of $2399, our complete bike priced out at $5535. Best of all is that QR (under the same American Bicycle Group that owns Litespeed and Obed) assembles the bikes in America and offers customers a wealth of “build you own” options and colors.

*  Each year the year is filled with so many memorable quotes. No doubt one of my favorites was uttered by the “Manx Missile: who simply forgot himself for a brief and celebratory moment in July when pressed to explain his feelings after winning his first Tour de France stage in years, Mark Cavendish had but one word, “F%$K…oh sorry!”

Photo: Bettini/Sprint Cycling Agency

* If only to prove that at times I can be consistent, this last one mimics a similarly themed “choice” from 2012…”I  know, it’s an annual complaint, but few things continue to be as nauseating as witnessing one WorldTour finish sprint after another filled with nothing but white shoes pushing the pedals. And so, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Sidi released the Jimi Hendrix inspired, limited-edition version their Sixty shoe. I was even more stoked when FDJ/Groupama rider David Gadu actually had the courage to fight the white scourge and wear them during the Tour de France (above).

 

AS FOR THE REVIEW OF 2022…

Tour de France 2022 – 109th Edition – 6th stage Binche – Longwy 220 km – 07/07/2022 – Wout Van Aert (BEL – Team Jumbo – Visma) – Quinn Simmons (USA – Trek – Segafredo) – photo Nico Vereecken/PN/SprintCyclingAgency©2022

What made the grade in 2022? I’ll be assembling that tally is the coming days. As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.

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