Editor’s Dozen: Lucas’s Favorite Gear of 2023
Next up in our 2023 Editor’s Dozen series, Lucas shares a look at 12 projects, products, and places that had a lasting impact on him both on and off the bike this year. From budget-friendly to high-end, find his collection of favorites from everyday life and travels around two continents here…
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my 2023 was another year of significant change. A lot was up in the air these past 12 months. As such, I wasn’t able to get out and ride as much as I’d have liked, but I’m quite certain the pieces are falling into place for a simpler and more manageable 2024 (and hopefully beyond).
I know readers come to these Editor’s Dozen posts to geek out over gear—something we all enjoy—but before diving in, I want to open by mentioning that I feel incredibly fortunate to be wrapping up the year back in good health and living in a time and place that’s safe and stable enough for me to pursue my niche passions, luxuries that are never guaranteed. I’m ending 2023 feeling grateful to be able to step outside and ride at all, let alone with a lavish mix of bikes and accessories.
With that, here are a (baker’s) dozen bits and pieces that stuck with me this year.
Pass and Stow Five Rail Rack
975 grams / $295 at Pass and Stow
I’ve wanted a Pass and Stow rack since I first saw one on the streets of San Francisco about a decade ago. The Five Rail is the kind of rack you build a bike around. Buying one was always on the back of my mind, but I didn’t get around to making it happen until after reading Evan Christenson’s superb feature about maker Matt Feeney earlier this year (find it linked just below). It sealed the deal and made me feel an immense amount of respect for the care an effort that has gone into sustaining the small brand.
I’m working on a full review of Pass and Stow’s Five Rail, so I don’t want to give away too much just yet, but I couldn’t resist sharing this little peek. I’ve bought and sold commuter racks from probably a dozen companies since I first became serious about car-free living, and this highly adjustable, US-made one feels like the fully realized version I’ve always dreamed of, especially with the new legs that facilitate the use of cargo cages on both sides. Stay tuned for more!
PNW Range Composite Pedals
390 grams / $44 (pair) at PNW Components
There are better pedals than PNW’s Range Composite flats, but I’m not sure you can find ’em for just 44 bucks. At their price point, the Ranges have a lot going for them, and they’re available in seven colors. I’ve been riding a pair on my commuter for about a year now, and they’re plenty grippy under my size 13 shoes without being so aggressive that they eat up the undersoles. The cartridge bearings are still spinning smoothly after several seasons of casual riding in all types of weather, too.
Many flat pedals are a little oversized for my tastes, and the Ranges hit a sweet spot at 108mm wide by 115mm long, fitting between the small and large sizes of several popular flat pedal models. They’re reasonably light at 390 grams for the pair, and the glass fiber-reinforced composite material has held up well to many dings and strikes. An honest and affordable pedal you can toss on for most occasions is always handy to have around, and the PNW Range Composites get my vote in this category.
Kalita Wave Brewer
113 grams / $40 at Coava Coffee
As is becoming tradition, my Editor’s Dozen once again contains something coffee-related this year. I tend to go through phases with brewers, and my latest obsession is the Kalita Wave, which I use for my morning coffee routine at home and occasionally outside. It’s by no means the most compact field brewer, but it’s super light, fits easily in a handlebar bag, and is nearly indestructible.
Another thing the Wave has going for it is that its unique flat-bottom design helps control the flow rate, so it’s not as sensitive to grind size or pouring technique as other brewers like the Chemex or Hario V60, which can sometimes be a pain when brewing coffee outside. As for my coffee rotation this year, I’m still enjoying my regular mix of beans from Ruby in Wisconsin, Coava in Portland, and SK in Minnesota, and I’ve been super impressed by the first few bags of beans I’ve picked up from Verb in Boulder.
Budget Bikepacking Build-Off
Hands down, my favorite piece to work on in 2023 was my submission to our Budget Bikepacking Build-Off, through which we’re challenging several team members to assemble a bikepacking-ready bike and camping kit for $500. There are many more submissions to follow in 2024, but I had the pleasure of kicking off the series with my 1984 Diamondback Ascent basketpacker, which cost me a grand total of $395, camping gear included.
As I wrote about in my entry, building and riding a humble 26er with parts I found at my local bike co-ops and restored to their former glory was a breath of fresh air. I had so much fun ripping around trails and cruising around town on the Ascent; riding it reminded me not to take anything too seriously, which I sometimes struggle with, especially when riding bikes that cost 10 times as much. Plus, remembering how much enjoyment I can get from riding a parts-bin build without the latest and greatest anything helped me reassess my needs and spurred me to sell several bikes and frames. I’m feeling happier with less these days, and I credit the Diamondback for that shift in perspective.
JPaks Footlong EXT SnakPak
159 grams / $110 at JPaks
Nearly every maker has introduced their take on the ubiquitous top tube bag by now, but none have impressed me as much as the Footlong EXT SnakPak from Joe Tonsager of JPaks in Denver, Colorado. I often find top tube bags frustratingly floppy or flimsy, but the Footlong EXT SnakPak is the most reassuringly solid one I’ve used to date. It’s also the perfect size, bridging the gap between bags that are too small to be of much use and those that are big enough to get in the way.
As its name suggests, the Footlong EXT SnakPak is 12″ long and tapers in height and width from 4″ x 3.25″ at the front to 2″ x 2″ at the rear, offering a convenient 2L of storage. It features high-density foam padding on the sides and bottom to provide structure and protection, and a grippy daisy chain on the underside helps keep it securely in place. JPaks offers the EXT SnakPak with bolt-on or velcro attachment, though I typically use spare Voile straps for mine. A waterproof zipper adds a little protection against the elements, and burly dual zipper pulls offer flexible opening. If you’re in the market for a new top tube bag, you can’t go wrong with a SnakPak, which Joe offers in 9.5″ to 15″ lengths.
I started 2023 by spending a little over a month escaping winter and pedaling around the Algarve, Portugal’s beautiful southernmost region. It’s not home to any iconic climbs or particularly dramatic vistas, but it’s among the most charming and ideal winter riding destinations in all of Europe. Full of sleepy roads that meander through the countryside and along the coast, there’s a uniquely intriguing quiet to the Algarve that motivated me to get out and ride every day of my stay. Life is generally unhurried there, which perfectly suits a slow rider like me.
The food in the region is sublime (a post-ride coffee and Pastéis de Nata is a must), and there are endless layers of history to peel back and learn about. Despite the lack of imposing peaks, the topography is never dull, and even a short ride can take you along coastal tracks, through quaint villages, and up hills with picturesque views of the ocean below. Rather than giving specific recommendations, I highly encourage anyone interested in Portugal to go experience the south of the country in any season.
$26.99 at Drip Drop
I had given up on ever liking hydration powders and supplements before trying Drip Drop, but I bought a bag of it in a last-ditch effort to help beat the Colorado heat this summer, and now I can hardly imagine a warm-weather ride without it. I won’t claim to understand the exact science behind Drip Drop’s balance of electrolytes and minerals, but I feel noticeably better when I drink it, and it actually tastes great, even with half as much sugar as some alternatives.
Concord Grape is my favorite flavor by a country mile, but I also like Fruit Punch and Berry. I sometimes forget to drink while riding, but that’s never the case when I have Drip Drop in my bottles. With a subscription, the cost works out to about 85 cents per packet, which I add to a full bottle of water. I think that’s fair for the benefits I get from it, though I would love it if they’d offer a cheaper and more environmentally friendly bulk container that could simply be scooped out before each ride, rather than having to use an individual packet.
After a few years of cooling off on them and focusing more on gravel, rando, and touring bikes, I’m fully back on the mountain bike bandwagon in my new home state of Colorado. Between the old Diamondback and a couple of forthcoming review bikes I’ve been riding throughout the year, I feel hugely excited to continue diving back into the world of MTBs alongside brevets and other planned tours in 2024.
The renewed appreciation for mountain bikes I’ve cultivated since moving to the Rockies has me dreaming of new routes and imagining fresh possibilities. Having access to a wealth of trails from my front door or via a short bus ride also has me appreciating the nearly endless opportunities close to home instead of always scheming trips to far-off places, and the narrowing of my mental map is a welcome change.
Danner Tramline Chelsea 917 GTX
1,000 grams / $210 (pair) at Danner
While searching for new boots to replace my aging Blundstones, I came across Danner’s Tramline Chelsea 917 GTX, and I’ve worn them every day since getting a pair in the fall. Most often, I only need them for walking the dog, where I like having something I can slip on and off easily, but I’ve been surprised to find myself riding in them more and more—à la Alexandera Houchin in her Red Wings, at least aspirationally.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that these are a conventional choice for riding, but with their grippy Vibram sole, full-grain leather upper, and waterproof GORE-TEX liner, they’ve become my go-to boots for dog walks, commutes, and casual spins on cool and slushy days. I’ve come quite a ways from clipping in on every ride not so long ago, and these boots are a great step in that evolution!
San Util Design Light Weight Panniers
740 grams / $280 (set) at San Util Design
You might have spotted San Util Design’s Light Weight Panniers in my review of the Kona Sutra earlier this year, where they were right at home for fast-and-light touring. I’ve also run them on the front rack of my commuter and on my rigid mountain bike’s rear rack, and their versatile shape and combined 15L capacity make them work just about anywhere. I adore the look of the grayish waxed canvas, which has a timeless quality and perfectly hides dust and dirt.
I like that small panniers help prevent me from overpacking, and with their Voile strap attachment, these don’t rattle or budge over bumpy terrain. As with everything I’ve seen and tried from San Util Design, the panniers are exceptionally well made right down the road in Winter Park, Colorado, and they’re available in a range of colors and fabrics you can mix and match using their online custom bag designer.
Gilles Berthoud Aspin Saddle
500 grams / €208 at Gilles Berthoud
It’s hard to beat a well-worn leather saddle for really long rides. I’ve tried to break in many of them with mixed results over the years, and the French-made Gilles Berthoud Aspin is the one that finally got me to see the light. For the slightly upright style of riding I enjoy most, the Aspin is more comfortable out of the box than any leather alternative and softens up beautifully without getting saggy.
I have thousands of miles on my two by now, and I will never sell them. Other leather saddles from Brooks and Selle Anatomica have come and gone, but my black and brown versions are here to stay. At 157mm wide, they’re a tad narrower than the 175mm wide Brooks B17, which suits me just right, providing enough support without feeling too narrow and racey.
Ornot Lightweight Mission Shorts
195 grams / $126 at Ornot
Although I’m still wearing the pair of Rapha Randonnee shorts I bought in 2018 and recognized in my 2021 Editor’s Dozen, I figured it was about time to find a replacement now that they’ve been discontinued and are starting to come apart. I asked the BIKEPACKING.com team for recommendations, and Miles suggested Ornot’s Lightweight Mission Shorts. Despite trying and returning the original Mission shorts because they fit me horribly, I bought a pair of the newer Lightweight Missions in July and quickly fell in love.
I still have an attachment to my ragged Rapha shorts after 1,000+ rides and many meaningful trips in them, but the California-made Lightweight Mission Shorts are an admittedly superior replacement that I’ll no doubt be wearing for years to come. They have the perfect amount of stretch with an 85%/15% blend of Nylon and Elastane, a full panel gusset, and four pockets that provide storage for the essentials on and off the bike (I can’t stand riding shorts without proper pockets). For me, their 8.5″ inseam is perfect, and black is the only color of shorts I need. The price is steep at $126, and they’re often sold out, but after six months of riding in them, they’ve already proven well worth the price.
Gramm Diamond Bag
510 grams / €249 at Gramm Tourpacking
The third bag and final item on my 2023 list is one I’ve had kicking around since last spring, and it comes from one of my all-time favorite bag makers, Tine of Gramm Tourpacking in Berlin. Purpose-built to suit the stellar Allygn Diamond Rack, the Gramm Diamond Bag is a futuristic 7.5-liter rando bag with a unique origami folding lid, a magnetic closure, a rock-solid decaleurless mounting system, and an aerodynamic shape. Josh Meissner goes into great detail about this innovative bag in his excellent review.
My Diamond Bag is one of several prototypes Tine designed and tested during more than a year of development (it’s missing the Hypalon backing that now comes standard but has nonetheless held up well to regular use). From a technical standpoint, it’s easily one of the most impressive bags in my small collection, and looking down and seeing it while pedaling is a pleasing reminder of my years in Berlin. The Diamond Bag is a little on the small side for fully loaded bikepacking, but it’s ideal for hauling anything and everything I need for a full day out, which is how most of my time on the bike is spent these days.
Find my Editor’s Dozens from the past few years linked below, and stick around to find out what stood out for Logan and Miles this year. Did any picks resonate with you or surprise you? Let me know in the conversation below!
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