Editor’s Dozen: Lucas’s 2020 Gear Picks
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Looking back on the year, Lucas rounds up 12 notable pieces of gear and experiences that improved his life in 2020, both on and off the bike. From affordable and practical accessories, to transformative upgrades, to a titanium dream build, find his Editor’s Dozen here…
Additional photos by Josh Meissner (@joshm.de)
No doubt, 2020 sucked, but I’m grateful I was able to make the most of it in good health and in a handful of beautiful places that allowed me to maximize my time outside on the bike, even if that meant swapping my usual bikepacking trips with friends for solo day rides.
I spent the spring in Spain and Arizona, summer in Colorado and Minnesota, and the fall and first part of winter back home in Berlin. Along the way, I had the opportunity to test out a few bikes and a bunch of new (and old) products on everything from scorching hot, cactus-lined desert tracks to freezing cold mountain roads. The following list includes a dozen things that stuck out and added to my quality of life in a memorable way this year.
As a classic, time-tested bicycle accessory (first produced in 1924!), the humble Wald basket is far from new for 2020, but I can hardly think of another piece of gear that added as much utility or brought me as much joy every time I used it this year. Whether I was hauling a packraft and camping gear or just running errands around town during lockdown, my Wald basket was infinitely useful.
Although it won’t be for everyone, bikepacking with a basket setup makes for a refreshing change of pace that can extend your carrying capacity and reframe the way you approach your ride. Our Gear Index of Basket Bags for Bikepacking shows off around 20 unique interpretations of the Wald basket bag, though a simple bungee net or an old duffel bag you have lying around the house is more than enough for your initial foray into basket life. Going forward, I’ll always have at least one basket bike in my stable.
I’m generally hesitant to use the term “game changer,” but if anything suits the expression and has transformed my riding experience, it’s finally getting around to installing dynamo lighting systems on all of my bikes this year. Knowing I can wheel any bike out my front door—whether it’s my all-roader, commuter, or tourer—and I’ll be able to see and be seen gives me one less excuse not to ride and removes a layer of complexity from pre-ride planning. And once on the bike, I really appreciate never having to worry about when to switch my lights on or how much juice is left in them.
Despite my best efforts, I regularly find myself forgetting to charge one of my battery-powered lights, or leaving them on the table next to my door, or in a bag that ends up on a different bike. You name it, I’ll find a way to be without lights every now and then, which adds unnecessary stress and risk to any ride. It’s an issue most riders face every now and then, but one they don’t have to. Even though a dynamo hub and lights can add up to a substantial chunk of change, I think they deliver a nearly unmatched return on investment when compared with other upgrades. Of course, they may not be a perfect fit for you if your average ride involves slowly picking your way up steep singletrack or lots of hike-a-bike, but I strongly recommend looking into a dynamo system for pretty much every other type of riding.
Quoc Wool Socks
I’m constantly on the lookout for high-quality, hardwearing wool socks, and my favorite find of the year is unquestionably Quoc’s Extra Fine Merino Wool Tech Sock. I have a drawer full of wool socks and these are the ones I’ll reach for every time if they’re clean. At £24 ($32.50) per pair, they’re not a budget option (though there’s discounted three-pack pricing), but I’ve been riding and hiking in mine constantly throughout the year and they’ve held up exceptionally well. In that time, I’ve destroyed several pairs of wool socks from other cycling brands.
Note that they’re mid-weight, so a bit thicker than your average cycling sock, and best suited to fall, winter, and spring riding. I think they look great, too. I’m a big fan of the understated “green camouflage” color and the muted logo design on the calf. And based on my experience with them, their anti-piling design really seems to work, plus they feature all the usual benefits that make wool a great choice for bikepacking.
AeroPress and AeroPress Go
I found my way back to the AeroPress when the new Go version was released at the tail end of last year (see my full review), and I’ve since been using them exclusively for my coffee needs at home and at camp. After losing my taste for Moka pot coffee and breaking my fair share of Chemex and Hario V60 brewers in various mishaps over the years, the ultraportable and nearly indestructible AeroPress has earned its place as my go-to brewer, no matter where I find myself. I love the quick brew time, tiny footprint, no-fuss cleanup, and the incredibly delicious coffee these little $30 brewers are capable of producing with a little bit of effort.
As for which one to choose, the original AeroPress and the newer Go version are both make the same great cup but offer a slightly different suite of features. My recommendation would be to think about where you see yourself using the AeroPress most often and pick between the two based on that. The original version has a 10% greater capacity and a few accessories that make for a nicer experience in your kitchen, but the Go version’s more compact design fits better in a frame bag. Given their low cost, I opted for one of each so I can use the original AeroPress at home and the Go version for bikepacking trips and making coffee outside.
Curve GXR (AKA Kevin)
Following Cass’s lead of including a high-end titanium bike in my Editor’s Dozen, I couldn’t talk about my favorite gear of the year without mentioning my Curve GXR. Beyond just being shiny and expensive, it’s a bike with quite a lot of sentimental value for me, and being able to ride it has been meaningful.
After far too much hemming and hawing, I finally convinced myself to invest the money in a dream all-road rig in early 2019, and six months later all the parts were in and the crew at The Gentle Jaunt here in Berlin had finished building it up. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer on almost exactly the same day it was ready to pick up, and a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and recovery would keep me off the Curve for more than a year. To be back on the bike and healthy again has made every ride on my Curve GXR that much more special.
Despite the fact that COVID-related travel restrictions in Europe have kept me from giving my GXR the proper shakedown ride it deserves (the Torino-Nice Rally route is still high on the list), at least for the time being, it’s been as versatile, capable, and fun to ride as I’d hoped it would be on the multi-day bikepacking trips and big day rides I’ve had it out on to date.
Randi Jo Fabrications Cycling Caps
Somehow, this is the first time I’ve written about them here on the site, but I’ve been wearing Randi Jo Fab’s handmade cycling caps exclusively since 2013. For my money, they’re the best cycling caps in the world. In fact, I haven’t been able to wear anything else since I first stumbled upon them all those years ago. Each cap is lovingly made in rural Oregon by Randi Jo and Eric, two passionate makers (and wonderful people) who’ve been sewing caps and other useful bike goods since 2003 (don’t miss our shop visit from 2018).
I’ve purchased all of the wool caps in Randi Jo’s range over the years, from the newer tropical weight wool to the timeless and beautiful wool flip-up cap, and even the oldest ones still have life left in them after thousands of wears. Reasonably priced in the $30-$40 range, offered in a wide array of colors and materials, more comfortable than anything else I’ve found, and built on more than 15 years of experience, I can’t recommend Randi Jo Fab’s caps enough. See their full line of durable and stylish cycling caps over at RandiJoFab.com.
Wizard Works Mini Shazam
Released earlier this year as a more compact version of their popular Shazam saddlebag, the Wizard Works Mini Shazam is the brand’s take on the classic saddle bag, with an oversized flap closure, two outer side pockets, and versatile attachment options that make it equally well suited up on the handlebars or behind the saddle. I bought one from makers Harry and Ve the day they were announced and it has lived on my tourer ever since.
I’m a relative latecomer to running a classic saddlebag up on the handlebars and it’s been a revelation. I love this particular bag from Wizard Works for its ease of packing, blend of old and new aesthetics, and the fact that it has a fairly compact footprint but can expand to haul a substantial amount of gear when needed, up to around 16L. Its roll-top design and cleverly hidden second set of closure buckles make it a super versatile choice for any bikepacking or touring setup. And as I’ve come to expect from the small British manufacturer, I can’t find a single flaw in its construction. I anticipate getting lots of use out of my Mini Shazam in the years to come.
Velocio Alpha Gloves
As the temperatures have been dropping over the last couple of months here in Northern Europe, I’ve been forced to confront the fact that I have some circulation issues that need addressing, particularly as they pertain to my hands and feet while riding. It’s a fairly new problem for me, which has led me to search for the perfect pair of cold-weather riding gloves. That search led me to Velocio’s new Alpha Gloves, which have really impressed me in my first few weeks of riding with them.
Made of an eVent DVStretch material with a DWR coating and lined with Polartec Alpha Direct insulation, their warmth-to-weight ratio is remarkable. They’re not at all bulky and they keep my hands warmer than all of the other options I’ve tried in my initial glove experiments. Because they have the right amount of stretch in key places, they allow for a comfortable range of motion and natural dexterity. I also like that they use a velcro-free design, which I find allows for a better interface between the glove and the cuff of my jacket, and it’s also one less thing to worry about wearing out over time. Velocio says they’re recommended for temperatures in the -7 to 8°C (20 to 45°F) range, which I think is quite generous, but I’ve found them comfortable on all-day rides down to around -2°C (28°F).
Shimano GRX Di2
I had the chance to ride a test bike with Shimano GRX Di2 for a few weeks this fall and I’ll admit I was initially skeptical about it. In fact, I didn’t want to like it, as someone who prides myself on not being too caught up in the latest and greatest, especially when it comes to electronics. I’m generally a bit slow to adapt to new technologies and I’m not one for upgrading to the newest version of anything just because it exists.
All that said, Shimano’s GRX Di2 2×11 drivetrain won me over after only a few rides. Shifting was incredibly smooth, no matter what, and with an ease and level of precision no mechanical shifting setup I’ve used has ever been capable of delivering. When it came time to return the bike, going back to mechanical shifting felt clunky and imprecise in comparison, which I can’t believe I find myself saying. While I’m not in a hurry to upgrade my existing all-road rig’s drivetrain any time soon, I’ll be giving GRX Di2 a serious look when it comes time to do so. Does anyone need electronic shifting? Definitely not, but it delivers a notable performance upgrade and is a joy to use, albeit at a cost that puts it out of reach for many.
Outer Shell Mini Saddlebag
Most of us on the team here are fans of San Francisco-based Outer Shell Adventure’s handmade bikepacking bags, and for good reason. Kyle and the team at Outer Shell design and sew an impressive range of clever, no-nonsense bags and accessories that cram in tons of useful features, all with an understated and aesthetically pleasing design. Within their lineup is the Mini Saddlebag, which I’ve been using almost daily since the spring.
Nearly everyone makes some version of an under-saddle tool roll, but this one stands out for me among the sea of options. At 2 x 2 x 5” (or .33L), It’s the perfect size for hauling my essential repair kit on day rides. What I love most about it is its super quick Voile strap attachment method, the way its profile fits perfectly and almost disappears under all of my saddles, and its rock-solid construction. I’d be happy with any color/material option from Outer Shell’s considered lineup, but ultimately decided on LiteSkin. The Mini Saddlebag is a $45 accessory that has saved my ass on more than one ride, from a small company I’m happy to support. You can learn more or purchase one at OuterShellAdventure.com.
Launched this summer by my friend Kyle Ponce (whose Bombtrack Hook EXT we recently featured as a Reader’s Rig), Pizza Gravel is easily my favorite event of 2020. Once a week, a small group of riders meets up after work for a relaxed “gravel” jaunt around Berlin, riding meticulously planned routes that link up some of the best pizza joints in the city. Each week, Kyle announces the rendezvous point and takes riders on a mystery course around the city that strings together as much dirt as possible, often in surprising places.
Half of the fun is guessing what the next pizza stop will be (there are usually two on each ride), which is a nearly impossible task, as Kyle sometimes designs 30-50km routes between pizza stops that are just down the road from each other. Pizza Gravel is an amazing way to see new and interesting corners of the city by bike and taste Berlin’s surprisingly diverse pizza scene with a great crew of cyclists. It’s currently on pause in accordance with COVID-19 lockdown measures, but I’m looking forward to it picking back up again sometime next year when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, you can follow Pizza Gravel on Instagram @pizzagravel.
Creativity in the Bikepacking Community
More than any other year, I was especially blown away by the outpouring of creativity in the bikepacking community throughout 2020. Despite all the constraints imposed by the pandemic, some of my favorite projects came out of this year. For many bikepackers, it was a time to get to know and share their own backyard in a new way, look through the archives and breathe new life into old projects, or to take up other hobbies when local restrictions kept them off the bike. Even when we couldn’t ride, I enjoyed getting to see what creative outlets other riders were getting into to help pass the time, whether that was painting, spoon carving, graphic design projects, etc.
A few of my favorites from this year were Jeremy Janin’s “The Big Lockdown Traverse” film, Matty Waudby’s series of indoor self-portraits, and Erik Binggeser and Alison Mae Bonham’s “Studio Ghibli Campout” film. All three projects were brilliant responses to the unique set of circumstances created by the pandemic, and they importantly didn’t put local communities at risk.