Editor’s Dozen: Joe’s 2019 Picks

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In 2019 Joe pedaled in Bosnia, on dirt roads from Munich to Marseille, and on a folding bike in Portugal. Closer to home he rode along the Mexico/Arizona border and was part of the Arkansas scouting mission for the No Place Like Oz loop. Not to mention a 50th birthday party of three days of massive gravel rides in Vermont with a few dozen close friends. Along the way he put plenty of new things to the test. Find his favorites here…

My trips this year were a mix of dirt track tours on a drop bar bike and more expedition style rides on plus tires. Packing-wise, the main difference for me between those two is that I’m much more willing to press the limits of potentially fragile gear on gravel tours on the assumption that I’ll be close enough to a town where I can improvise a replacement if something breaks. If I know I’ll be off the grid, I’ll reach instead for the more robust versions of key pieces. Overall, I go for gear that’s simple, multi-functional, repairable, and compact. The latter is far more important than being light, since I aim for a streamlined, tidy style. Everything goes in the bags—resist the dangle!—and I don’t ride with a backpack. Where an item is manufactured is meaningful to me, but it makes little sense to be an absolutist about it. A committed purchasing bias toward sustainably and responsibly manufactured gear can lead over time to a collection that does everything one needs.

These are items that stood out to me this year, but that might have been overlooked in the broad tide of covetable things. Resisting that tide by repairing and reusing will make the world better, and I look forward to using the stuff below for years. I’ve also included something for inspiration and an event that captured my imagination.

Search and State Field Shirt

It was embarrassing when both Logan and I showed up wearing identical Search and State Field Shirts at the Bikepacking Summit this year, but not a surprise. Though they may look like average plaid cotton long-sleeved collared shirts, they’re anything but. Like all of SAS’s offerings, the field shirt is made in New York City’s Garment District with a comprehensive sustainability mandate. This ranges from the number of steps from raw material to finished piece, to the wages of the people who do the sewing, to where the fabric is sourced.

SAS Field Shirt

Speaking of fabric, these are made from a Japanese puckered weave. It is designed to stay wrinkled—think of seersucker—so as to lift off of the body and help keep air circulating. I happily wore mine with the sleeves rolled up in humid 90°F/32°C Georgia October weather. It’s the one shirt with buttons that I’ll pack for warm conditions. The patterns and distinctive wrinkly look are very nice, and the field shirt serves equally well for lifting a sour ale at the bar.

  • SAS Field Shirt
  • SAS Field Shirt
  • SAS Field Shirt
  • Price: US$145
  • Place of Manufacture: New York City
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Search and State

WTB Venture tire

For years I had used and loved WTB’s Byway 650 tires for mixed-terrain riding. The Venture achieves the same reasonable compromise between light weight and durability, but with a grooved and hashed center tread instead of the Byway’s smooth center. In practice and running 45 PSI, the Venture rolls with an efficiency that’s hard to distinguish from the Byway, but the Venture absolutely boosts confidence on curvy dirt descents.

WTB Venture tire

From the Alps to my everyday back road riding in Vermont, these haven’t left my gravel bike. The close up images of the tread, below, are after nine months of steady riding. I’m impressed by their longevity and grip across all conditions. They’re also available in 700c.

  • WTB Venture tire
  • WTB Venture tire
  • Price: $59.95
  • Place of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturer’s Details: WTB

Spank Wing 12 Vibrocore Drop bar

Earlier this year Logan wrote asking if I wanted to try Spank Industries’ Vibrocore Drop Bar. He said it’s a drop bar with a foam core to reduce vibrations within certain frequencies to yield a more comfortable ride. I asked him why he was trying to waste my time testing crackpot nonsense gear, since, after all, we have Miles for that. He reminded me that I’m the grävelle guy—that’s our in-house way of talking about gravel riding—and, he assured me, the bars are legit.

Spank Wing 12 Vibrocore Drop bar

I hereby confess that I was totally, completely, spectacularly wrong. The Wing 12 bars are absolutely effective, and I noticed the difference immediately. The sensation is somewhat difficult to describe, but it’s as if sharp quick ripples in the road are blunted. Don’t get the wrong impression: the bars don’t flex any more than alloy bars standardly do. It’s that the road buzz and chatter is muted. The bike is flat out more comfortable with these bars on, and I’m sold on the damping concept.

  • Spank Wing 12 Vibrocore Drop bar
  • Spank Wing 12 Vibrocore Drop bar
  • Spank Wing 12 Vibrocore Drop bar

Moreover, I completely get along with the shape of these bars. There is 12 degrees of flare, which is moderate but adequate, the 70mm reach is on the short end and perfect, and the 110mm drop is shallow just as I like it. The flattened aero section of the tops gives a wide platform for one’s palms and the angle is spot on relative to achieving hooks that are parallel to the ground. These are installed full time on my grävelle rig and aren’t leaving any time soon.

  • Price: $109.90
  • Place of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturers Details: Spank Industries

Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo

A full review of the Lunar Solo is in the works, but I don’t mind saying in advance that this tent has been an excellent go-to shelter this year. It’s a single wall, non-freestanding pyramid type tent with a built-in floor and netting that closes off about two-thirds of the interior. It took some practice to get the pitch just right so that the mesh around the perimeter stands open and clear for venting. Once I did, I found condensation build up to be about average for this kind of design. Namely, not none but also not daunting. The real standout features are the immense space, the sit-up room, and the big handy vestibule.

  • Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
  • Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo

The Lunar Solo readily conforms to my tent pack rule: when packed, it’s about the size of a canteloup. The single carbon pole folds small enough to fit into my half frame bag, and it requires just six stakes for a taut, reliable pitch. I love it.

  • Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
  • Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
  • Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
  • Price: $230 (on sale for $184 at the time of this writing)
  • Place of Manufacture: USA
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Six Moon Designs

Salsa Kingpin Deluxe Carbon Fork

Salsa’s Kingpin Deluxe now has a permanent place on my main expedition wheel, a Seven Cycles Treeline fat bike. This is the bike that I run with 29+ wheels in summertime and on standard expedition trips. In winter and for truly demanding terrain, the fat tires mounted to 26” wheels go on. I had been on the lookout for a fork that would allow me to carry cages up front, and the Kingpin Deluxe is a godsend. It has two sets of three-pack mounts on each leg in addition to a mid-fork rack attachment, front and back mounts at the crown, and fender eyelets.

  • Salsa Kingpin Deluxe Carbon Fork
  • Salsa Kingpin Deluxe Carbon Fork

Details: 483mm axle to crown, 51mm rake, clearance for 5” tires on a 26” wheel, 15x150mm thru axle, and internal dynamo hub routing. It’s light and precise.

  • Salsa Kingpin Deluxe Carbon Fork
  • Salsa Kingpin Deluxe Carbon Fork
  • Salsa Kingpin Deluxe Carbon Fork
  • Price: $499
  • Place of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturers Details: Salsa

Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent and Camp Lights

Honestly, I started using these lights for a bit of levity and cheer and to make my travel companions chuckle every time I plugged them into the cache battery. But I got so attached to the useful illumination they put out, I started to bring them on every trip. They are a 100”/2.5m nylon ribbon with embedded white LED lights that terminates in a USB connector. They come with a battery pack for two standard AAA batteries, though I never actually bring that, since I always have a backup rechargeable battery for my other electronics.

Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent and Camp Lights

The mtnGLO ribbon easily provides enough light to read by, and somehow it’s just more pleasant to spend time in the tent with light that isn’t coming from the single point of a headlamp. The lights crumple up to nothing. They are basically like a wad of paper in the tiniest corner of a bag, and I just throw it into the tent stuff sack. Do you need this? Emphatically no! But kinda yes!

  • Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent and Camp Lights
  • Big Agnes mtnGLO Tent and Camp Lights
  • Price: $29.95
  • Place of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Big Agnes

Morpher Helmet

For me the usual drill is to pack the bike in a cardboard box and then all the gear in a duffel that I’ll take as carry-on. Slinging the bike around is a cinch with the duffel on my back, and if the bike is late or goes missing, I have my gear with me for a rental or to borrow one at the destination. Packing a helmet in a carry on, however, is a perennial pain. It’s bulky, oddly shaped, and rigid. I’ve often strapped the helmet to the outside of the bag, which might seem like it looks cool for walking through the terminal but (a) probably doesn’t and (b) exposes it to knocks.

Morpher Helmet

Foldable helmets have been around for a number of years, but the Morpher is the first one I’ve really liked. It folds pretty flat, it has sufficient adjustment, and it’s comfortable on my head. Obviously these were developed and are marketed for bike-share urban use. I’ve found them just as useful way in the backcountry.

  • Morpher Helmet
  • Morpher Helmet
  • Price: $99
  • Place of Manufacture: China
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Morpher

Revelate Shrew saddle bag

Revelate’s Shrew is the indispensable saddle bag that you didn’t know you needed. The simple, roll-closure construction, the just-big-enough size, and the compatibility with any saddle or post makes it so that I rotate mine across my various bikes for any day ride I’m going to do.

  • Revelate Shrew saddle bag
  • Revelate Shrew saddle bag

The top of the pack is made with a super abrasion resistant panel and the rest of it has withstood months of gravel and mountain bike rides. There is a fiberglass stiffener to give it some shape, but it conforms well to different loads. The straightforward strap connection makes for easy on-off.

  • Revelate Shrew saddle bag
  • Revelate Shrew saddle bag

Here are the things I always keep in my Shrew: windproof vest, energy bar, minipump, tire levers, spare tube, tubeless plug, multi-tool, small LED front and back lights.

  • Price: $57
  • Capacity: 3L
  • Place of Manufacture: USA
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Revelate Designs

Brooks C13 saddle (carbon rails)

When Brooks released their natural rubber saddles a few years ago, I was pretty enthusiastic but for their hefty weight. The carbon rail C13 series at 280g solved that qualm for me—I ride the 145mm wide cutaway version—and I’ve been impressed by the exquisite comfort right out of the box. The nylon cover shrugs off the elements.

Brooks C13 saddle (carbon rails)

Before I purchased the C13 I asked around for whether anyone had seen wear on the carbon rails from saddle bag straps. My sources indicated that they’d run into no trouble at all after a year of bikepacking, and I can confirm that after a half dozen trips with a full saddle pack, the rails show no abrasion. One potential wrinkle is that the carbon rails do not have a round cross section and are kind of tall ovals, so your seat post clamp has to tolerate enough adjustment to fit the saddle.

  • Brooks C13 saddle (carbon rails)
  • Brooks C13 saddle (carbon rails)
  • Brooks C13 saddle (carbon rails)
  • Price: $220
  • Place of Manufacture: Italy
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Brooks

Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie

Appalachian Gear Company’s All-Paca hoodie is a luxurious revelation. The 100% alpaca fiber is nearly enough magic: it’s breathable, compressible, light, and suitable for a surprisingly wide temperature range. The fiber is related to wool, but is warmer for its weight. It doesn’t take on smells, it keeps working when wet, and it’s shown itself to be durable.

Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie

This is just the kind of insulating layer I like: functional, unpretentious, and simple. The fit is generous, so order true to size or perhaps even size down if you would prefer it close fitting. Though it is alpaca and a hoodie it doesn’t to my eye look overly Hippie, so you won’t look like Cass. I happily ride in this and it’s made for active pursuits, but it’s especially nice for the end of the ride at camp for a natural fiber comfort. Also, kudos to AGC for their no plastic packaging.

  • Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie
  • Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie
  • Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie

Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive

The Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive is a collection of photographs from the 1950s to the 1980s that gives a window into the trips and joys of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship cycling club, started in 1955. In the public invitation to form the Fellowship the year before, W.H. Paul aptly describes all of us as, “…searcher[s] of the remote, wild and more desolate country which is to be seen ‘off the beaten track.’” The images subsequently accumulated are a source of marvel and inspiration. From lowering bikes down a rock face by rope, to picnicking next to a gravel track, to an Icelandic crossing, to hike-a-bikes over alpine passes, we see our own bicycle adventures predicted and celebrated.

Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive

I return to the Archive for its depiction of riders of all ages and of all body types. The club welcomed people from income groups that were afforded outside leisure opportunities for the first time, women and men, and they’re shown wearing functional, non-specialist clothing. Yes, the whiteness of the club is obvious, as is the explanation, given the place and time. That’s a way we can do better, but the broader unity the photos indicate is the vitality and exhilaration of riding in rough stuff.

  • Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive
  • Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive
  • Rough-Stuff Fellowship Archive

Markagram

I met the organizer of Markagram a few years ago at the end of a bikepacking trip in Norway. We laughed over beers and oysters, and I was impressed by Rouleur, his shop that serves as a tremendous social gathering space for adventurous cyclists. We crossed paths again when he rode across the USA on Search and State’s Brigade ride. He revealed then that he had in mind an event on the network of gravel tracks—the Marka—north of Oslo.

  • Markagram 2019 Recap
  • Markagram, Norway
  • Markagram 2019 Recap

Markagram is an all-night unsanctioned dirt brevet patterned on France’s diagonales, the lines that link together the six “corners” of France into star. For Markagram, the lines inscribe a pentagram of 264 kilometers / 164 miles of gravel tracks linking five checkpoints traversed at night without support of any sort. Riders apply for a ticket to the event and finishing is unusual owing to the unpredictable October Norway weather, the route finding, and the demanding terrain. I haven’t been able to make it yet, but I’m hopeful that it’ll happen again in 2020. It looks like a painful, wondrous time with tarot cards, inky blackness, warm cheer, and cold temperatures.

  • Markagram, Norway
  • Markagram 2019 Recap

I suppose this is well known, but just to say it again. Few Satanists literally worship Satan. Instead, Satanism is a celebration of secular science and humanistic values that honor diverse belief systems. It is often pagan, pro-ecology, feminist, and inclusive, and it especially advocates religious tolerance against the intolerance that has so often been leveled in anti-Satanic terms. l’ll gladly pedal to spread that message. Oh, and Black Metal is the coolest music around.

  • Where: Oslo
  • When: 2020 TBA?

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