DOWN WITH THE DROPPER:
I know dropper seatposts aren’t for everyone. They add weight and, in most cases, severely reduce in-saddle compliance. But since I prefer dirt routes that entail some technical descending, I’ve found them to be really useful. Droppers take me back to my more youthful days riding mountain bikes with my father when suspension was a luxury, and skill, speed and lots of luck got me out of the woods with a smile. I didn’t have a dropper post then, but looking back, it would’ve been nice.
So, if like me you enjoy riding your gravel bike like it’s a ’90s mountain bike, a dropper can be a great option and, additionally, they are convenient at stoplights, too.
THE DEATH OF THE CABLE
When I ride a new bike that has electronic shifting, I don’t think about it. It just simply seems to work flawlessly every time. With that said, when I ride a bike with cable shifting, I do think about it because it’s not always so perfect—not bad but not perfect.
BEST REASON TO BE HELPFUL
My last rant is for those of us who have been riding for too long to remember what it was like to be new to a group ride. There are tons of new riders who seem to be super fit (thanks, Zwift) who also don’t have the years of experience and technical ability that come with pedaling real miles. As more new riders start to attend group rides, it’s good to offer constructive feedback but, more importantly, remember to be respectful. Make a new friend, and remember that they might not be new to cycling, just new to your area. I’m stoked to see so many young riders and fresh faces on my group rides, which gives me faith that road is still thriving, even if everything seems to be either gravel- or indoor-focused.
STILL MY FAVORITE
For all the long rides I’ve done over the last two years, I have to admit that my favorite accessory wasn’t cycling-specific at all. My Aftershokz bone conduction headphones were the best investment I have made. They keep my ears free to hear my surroundings, but still deliver a sort of background music to every ride. I can chat with friends on the ride without needing to turn them down, and I can even take a call if necessary. However, you should stop for all calls, because the wind noise is unbearable for the person on the other end.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE
Although tires are rarely “revolutionary,” they have recently provided me with the biggest new product surprises. I’ve ridden almost every road tire on the market, and what had me most impressed were the new entries from iconic tire brands Pirelli and Goodyear. The two brands have never really been the go-to for cycling, but that has changed in a big way.
When I look at the compatibility charts that many wheel manufacturers have compiled, it’s obvious to me they have not stepped out to look at the modern market filled with a variety of the emerging tire brands who have embraced tubeless technology. Instead, they’re still relying on traditional tire brands who are trying to modify their old technology, and it’s just not as good. So, look beyond the Continental and Vittoria branding that has become commonplace over the years for what I would say is a fresh and better experience and product.
THE BIG DILEMMA
(OR, WHY IT’S HARD TO NAME A FAVORITE NEW ROAD BIKE)
Calling out what my favorite new bike was from last year is a tough one for me, and that’s mainly because, like everything else, there was so little in terms of new road bikes that were delivered. While I love riding gravel and all-road bikes, there is something special about the speed and efficiency of a pure road bike that keeps me engaged and wanting more miles—and more choices.
Unfortunately, while I want to ride more road-specific bikes, in addition to delivery issues, the industry was a bit stale for 2021, and I’m hoping that 2022 will have more to offer.
Until then, I still have a stable of older bikes that are light, simple and perform well to my style of riding. Best of all, the brake lines on them are all run externally from the handlebars, so maintenance and component swaps for testing have been easy.
SRAM MAKES IT EASY
Many might not realize, but SRAM has been making some of my favorite tools lately. If you have recently purchased a new bike or an AXS drivetrain, check the small parts box where you should find some (normally red) plastic things that help you perfectly tune and set up your electronic derailleurs. They make getting things perfect so much easier, I honestly don’t know why we haven’t seen stuff like this sooner; it’s common in the automotive industry.
As much as SRAM has dominated the component side of things, it was when I finally got on the new Shimano Dura-Ace parts that I knew things in the industry were healthy. Maybe “healthy” isn’t the best word to use for the pandemic-stricken 2021, but competition in business is exactly that.
The best part is that while Shimano introduced a far better brake feel and a new wireless connection, the overall experience was unchanged. Shimano seamlessly gave their system significant upgrades without affecting the user experience. After only a few moments with the latest parts, I completely forgot that it was new or different, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing. Those that have Di2 and love it will not be disappointed at all. The user experience is still the top priority.
THE TREND THAT I WISH WOULD GO AWAY
While I’m the kind of person that loves working on bikes, the industry’s embrace of bikes with complete internally routed cables drives me absolutely nuts. The restrictive confines and harsh bends found on many frames will almost always invite compromised performance.
Internal cabling portends that every maintenance task will be more difficult. Remember when installing a new stem or raising/lowering your stack took just a few minutes? Not anymore. On any bike with internal cables, I would block out four to six hours and pray that it will only take 30 minutes. From a bike shop’s point of view, many might think that they are winning since they usually charge an hourly rate. In reality, it can be a nightmare to quote an accurate price. What you thought would be a $30–$60 job could now cost $300. So, while I agree it looks good, get ready to spend some money when your bike needs a repair.
THE SHORT LIFE OF NEW TECH
We all know that technology evolves faster than manufacturing, but, recently, I was told by a Garmin customer service rep that their products have a six-month life expectancy; I was baffled. Six months?! See, I had purchased their pinnacle Fenix watch with titanium band, sapphire glass and some other upgrades that added $600 to the $300 “regular” version.
It was just over a year old, and the battery that once lasted 30 days was down to 48 hours if I was lucky. This was if I simply used it to tell time, not record rides or the occasional hike with the family. In those circumstances, it was suitable for maybe two hours. My nearly $900 Garmin was pretty much a paperweight—and not a good one at that.
Garmin offered to charge me nearly $200 for a refurbished one. The catch was, it was not the premium one I had, and instead was the basic normal one that would have initially set me back $300. I asked if I could send mine in to get refurbished and got a quick, “No.” I simply said I don’t want your refurbished option; I want my premium device to work. The customer service rep simply said, “Is there something else I can help you with?” I responded with a, “No,” and they hung up.
MY FAVORITE GRAVEL BIKE
In 2021 we received more new gravel bikes than we did road bikes. While there were gravel bikes for every conceivable segment, the one bike that caught my eye at first glance and had me hooked after the first ride was the Cervelo Aspero 5.
Although the Aspero 5 featured complete internal routing, which I despise, the bike climbed well on either road or hard-packed gravel, and it was responsive and transferred power well. I would put the Aspero in the race category even though it has a flip-chip in the fork to alter responsiveness and handling. Both positions, in my opinion, were great for the confident rider. As such, I hesitate to suggest this style of bike to the masses because it requires a clear mind and a confident pilot.
While it was hard to box the Aspero 5 up and send it back, the more challenging part was not taking photos of it. The Purple Sunset finish was a thing of beauty, no matter if it was dusty, muddy or freshly polished. Thank goodness it wasn’t matte black.
A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP
Given that I’m no longer a true “Garmin guy,” I figured it was time to give Wahoo another chance. I have used a Wahoo computer on and off, but it’s never been my go-to. I enjoy the simplicity of the Wahoo ecosystem, and when it’s working, the experience is excellent.
I try to not compare my Wahoo to my now-retired Garmin too much, but there are small things that I had taken for granted that the Wahoo doesn’t do. Wahoo doesn’t have any way to save or transfer your device settings to a new device. The ecosystem is entirely app-based, so why can’t this be saved or backed up on my phone? Another is when I turn it on and it’s slow to load, or the fact that I can’t see the temperature unless I add it to a data field.
The most frustrating part of my Wahoo is that it has Wi-Fi but will not connect to a network and upload my completed rides unless it’s connected to the app on my phone. Why can’t it just turn the Wi-Fi on at the end of a ride and search for my saved networks? I know it seems silly, but all of my other cycling computers from other brands do this without any user interaction. For now, Wahoo will remain my primary device, and like any good relationship, I will continue to make small compromises for the greater good.
THE BEST UPGRADE, STILL
I feel like I say this too much, but wheels are still the best upgrade for any bike. It could be weight or durability, but wheels can make a good bike better, and bad wheels can completely ruin the best bike. You will still pay a pretty penny for the made-in-America product or truly cutting-edge tech, and the disparity in tech between wheels has become much smaller with the best part being that wheels are getting
Out of all the wheels I rode last year, I came away most impressed with Hunt wheels. Sure, their prices needed to go up like nearly everything else globally, but the value was still stellar. I have lent my Hunt wheels out to countless people, and they all come back with the same question, “How much do you think I can get for my old wheels?” Now we need to hope they can fulfill the demand.
THE NEW GO-TO EVENT
Over the years I’ve been to many events, but for the most part, they are all more alike than they are different. Sure, the course and location make them unique, but the general experience is the same. Not so with the SBT GRVL event in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Now in its second year, the SBT offers four different distances—144, 103, 64 and 37 miles. There is even an e-bike-specific ride that takes place on the 37-mile course.
Without a doubt, this was probably the best event I’ve been to, period. The organization, courses, communication and atmosphere were nearly perfect. Rest, fuel and hydration stops were located every 20–25 miles and were well-supplied, and all road crossings and intersections were patrolled by an officer all day, not just for the lead group. In addition to the stunning views, the city of Steamboat seemed to have no problem accommodating everyone.