Editor’s Dozen: Logan and VA’s Favorite Gear of 2021
In our final salute to the gear of 2021, Logan and Virginia round up a dozen components, wearables, tools, and toys that became their favorite things throughout a year of route scouting, trail rides, and overnighters. Find them all here…
Following our full triptych of 2021 Bikepacking Awards and our annual Gear of the Year roundup, several of us still managed to sneak in a few more things that became near and dear to us in 2021. Virginia and I stayed on familiar trails most of the year, only breaking away for a handful of East Coast rambles and scouting missions not too far from home. For the final installment of the #editors-dozen series, we circled back and picked out a dozen items that saw a lot of use in 2021, things that were time-saving, more comfortable, game-changing, highly useful, or became special to us for one reason or another.
Fizik Terra Argo X3
238 grams / Made in Italy / $129.99 at Fizik.com
Fizik made a lot of claims when they released their new Terra Argo X3. They stated that the new “gravel-specific” saddle’s short-nose, waved profile, softer padding, and compliant shell were all purposefully designed to perform well and tame long and bumpy rides.
The marketing language made no impact, but since I kept bolting to that saddle onto different bikes before long rides, I figured there was something working. I’ve been riding the X3 for several months now, and after thinking about it, some of Fizik’s claims hold water. Its profile does a good job of keeping you planted, but it also provides enough fore and aft wiggle room to change positions while climbing. Most importantly, I’ve found it to be quite comfortable. It has a thicker foam at the sit bones area, and its springy shell has a little more flexibility than a lot of saddles I’ve used, giving a little extra bump absorption. There aren’t too many saddles that don’t cause me discomfort on long days, particularly in the heat of summer, but this is one of them.
All in all, I think I have about 800 miles on the Argo X3, 400 of which were on bikepacking trips carrying a DSLR in a hip pack. That’s no small load, and it seems to be holding up really well. I expect to get quite a few more miles out of it.
The Fizik Terra Argo comes in two flavors, the X3 and the X5, both in 150mm and 160mm widths. The lighter 238g/245g X3 model, which is the one I’ve been testing, features Fizik’s Kium rails and costs $129.99, and the 250g/257g X5 has S-Alloy rails and costs $89.99.
Wolf Tooth Lube WT-1 Chain Lube
I have to admit, when Wolf Tooth Components mentioned they were releasing a new chain lube, I didn’t pay it much attention. There are a half dozen decent options out there already, so what could they bring to the table? But, leave it to the minds at Wolf Tooth to change the way we think. We’ve been using WT-1 on all of our bikes for several months, and I’m sold.
WT-1 isn’t a typical chain lube. According to Wolf Tooth, it’s technically a “premium synthetic chain lubricant and a drivetrain treatment.” WT-1 is designed to work in all conditions, wet or dry, and clean the chain while improving the drivetrain’s mechanical efficiency. That seems like a lot to ask, but after using it for a while, I get it.
It takes several applications for the chain to its optimal state. You apply it, ride it, then wipe the grit and grime off the chain. WT-1 penetrates the nooks and crannies and brings contaminants to the surface. After ride one with a used chain, it’s kind of a mess. After three of these cycles, it became silky smooth and clean. Better yet, it lasts longer than any other lube I’ve used. To test that theory, I took the bike out on a muddy trail ride after an application of WT-1. When I got home, I washed my bike. I never re-lubed the chain and continued to ride that same bike for about 150 miles. It remained smooth and quiet for about 100 of those miles, slowly getting a little dirtier in the last 20 or so. It was still never as noisy as chains normally are with typical wet or dry once they wear off. Truly impressive.
Maxxis Ikon Tires
If you type “Tour Divide friendly tires” in the Google search bar, no doubt the Maxxis Ikon will appear somewhere in a list. The Ikon is a longstanding, classic XC tire that’s known for its excellent blend of speed, durability, and grip. I got reacquainted with the Ikon this year on the Tumbleweed Stargazer, and I’m pretty enamored with this tire on everything from rooty singletrack to gravel. It’s fast, light, durable, and punches a bit above its class.
I had the 2.35” Ikon on the Stargazer, but it’s worth noting that there’s a 29 x 2.6” version too. I actually just ordered a pair for my Nordest that I’m excited to try on an upcoming trip. And, the Ikon also comes in a 2.2” option in both 29 and 27.5”.
SQ Labs 30×16 and Foam Grips
235 grams / Made in Taiwan / $254 at SqLab-USA.com
Virginia: After carpal tunnel surgery and ongoing wrist and hand issues, it was time to make some changes. I worked with a mountain bike physical therapy coach who provided a couple of recommendations specific to fit and components. Two of these recommendations were to use a handlebar with a moderate backsweep and foam grips. The SQ Labs 30×16 bars came highly recommended.
SQ Labs offer several ergonomically designed handlebars in both aluminum and carbon, sporting a broad spectrum of sweeps and rises, with ergonomic research behind each of them. The 30×16˚ is a really comfortable handlebar that’s likely to suit those who prefer the control that comes with a more typical trail handlebar. These bars feature a 16° backsweep and 4° upsweep designed specifically to take pressure off the wrists. They’re also available in a 15mm, 30mm, or 45mm rise in order to dial in the fit. The carbon version weighs in at only 235g and adds a nice level of vibration dampening that carbon bars are known for. Overall, I’ve been really impressed with these bars on my Ibis Ripley AF. And even when riding more technical terrain, there’s no loss of control.
Made in USA / $9-$17 at AMZN
After stitching and super gluing a lot of patches to bags over the years, and generally finding it a little frustrating, I think it was Joe Cruz who told me about Badge Magic. Badge Magic is a simple two-sided tape designed specifically to adhere patches to fabric.
Badge Magic comes in sheets. You simply trace the patch, cut it out, and stick it onto the patch before removing the second backing and applying to a bag. You can buy it as a single sheet for $8.85 or in a two-sheet pack for $16.80.
I’ve used it with about a half dozen patches now and have been very happy with it. I’ve had the end of one of our small snake tagline patches start to come up after a lot of use, but they typically stay put.
Elite Jet Bottles
Made in Croatia / $12 at AMZN
Best known for their incredibly lightweight FLY bottle, ELITE is an Italian brand that manufactures most of its products locally in Italy. The JET is made with a biodegradable polyethylene. To be more specific, the bottle compound is treated with a special additive that reduces the time it takes for it to decompose when introduced to industrial composting processes. According to Elite, this enables the microorganisms responsible for biodegradation to attack the polymeric chain of the plastic, thus significantly reducing the time it takes for the bottle to degrade (three months to five years). Regular plastic products are estimated to take 100 to 1,000 years to decompose.
Better yet, we’ve been using a couple of test bottles for a long while now and they’re holding up perfectly. It also keeps its shape better than a lot of bottles I’ve used and is designed really well. We’re working to get some custom bottles printed, so stay tuned. Also, check out Elite’s latest Jet Green bottle, made from plant-origin (sugar cane) bioplastic.
Wolf Tooth TekLite 0.6L Bag + DrJ0n’s StrapDeck
It’s nice to put fork blade mounts to use if you have them. However, if you like to carry water bottles in the triangle and/or under the downtube and you don’t like big and bulky bags on the fork, how about small accessory bags? I happened upon this solution earlier this year and have been using it ever since. Essentially, it’s a combination of gear from three different manufacturers to store a tire repair/spares kit on the fork blade. I usually buried that stuff at the bottom of the frame bag, so this allowed me to free up some frame bag space for more important things: food.
The heart of this kit is Wolf Tooth’s relatively new 0.6L TekLite bag, which is the perfect size for a spare tube, lever, sealant, and tubeless repair kit. That’s lashed onto the DrJ0n Strapdeck using two 12” Voile Nano Straps. We’ve been using this a lot lately and it works great. And after you eat your way through the food in your frame bag, you can unstrap it and put it in there to get the weight off your fork. Another perk is the two Voiles make great backup straps in case you need them for something else.
Shimano PD-M8120 XT Pedals
Virginia: It was just a couple of years ago when I switched to Shimano SPDs. That was after using Crankbrothers pedals for over a decade. The biggest perk was the durability of cleats—they seem to last five times as long as the brass ones from Crankbrothers—but there are a few other things to like about Shimano’s mountain bike SPDs. For one, they seem ultra-reliable. They also have adjustable spring tension engagement screws, so if you can tune them to be easy to get out of if you’re not a super rowdy rider, more so than is possible with other pedals I’ve used.
I rode with the more minimal and lightweight platformless PD-M8100 for a while and liked them. However, I occasionally had a little discomfort and some numbness in my feet when trail riding. This year, I switched to the PD-M8120, Shimano’s XT sibling that features fore and aft wing-like platforms. Since making the switch, I haven’t experienced that discomfort or numbness. I also feel like they offer a little more of a solid foothold that adds a bit of oomph on ascents and stability on the descents.
Ion Scrub Select Shoes
Austrian brand Ion is perhaps one of the lesser-known in the big flat pedal shoe roundup I published this past spring. Ion’s Scrub shoes come in three unisex versions, with both men’s and women’s sizing and a few different styles. The Scrub Select is perhaps the most toned-down of all of their options, and the most expensive because they have a real leather upper.
Honestly, I didn’t think I’d like this shoe, but it’s one of my favorites, particularly on long rides in the shoulder season. I won’t go into a ton of detail since I already reviewed them in the roundup, but the short of it is, their Ortholite EcoPlush insole and medium-stiff shank make them extremely comfortable on long rides. They also have outstanding pedal grip and have proven to be very durable. Additionally, the leather aesthetic doesn’t scream cycling shoe, and they’re a touch warmer than other shoes I’ve tried, which has been nice for fall mountain temps. Find the more detailed writeup over in the roundup.
Virginia: As mentioned in our recent layering article, I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to get a Houdini jacket. It’s something I’ve seen a lot of friends wearing, but it’s so thin and lightweight that I was sure it wouldn’t really accomplish much in the warmth department. I was wrong. It works amazingly well over a short-sleeve jersey or T-shirt to cut the chill of a long descent, and when it’s worn over a heftier layer, it adds a surprising amount of warmth. It’s not designed to keep you dry in a torrential downpour, but it does an admirable job of shedding light rain and mist.
I opted for the Tropi Birds pattern, which has a nice aesthetic. Additionally, the dropped tail is a plus for any cyclist. It’s also fair-trade sewn from 100% recycled nylon. The Houdini’s packed size isn’t much bigger than a cell phone and it weighs next to nothing, so justifying its place on any bikepacking adventure is a no-brainer for me. It basically goes on all trail rides and most overnight outings now.
Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT
When it comes to GPS navigation, the simpler the better. I joked with Neil—who loves the new full-featured Hammerhead—that I just want a screen with a line and an arrow on it, letting me know when to turn and recording. The ELEMNT ROAM does a lot more than that, but it’s also smaller and simpler than many full-featured cycling GPS computers these days. I’ve been enjoying the ELEMNT ROAM for a while so I was excited to see Wahoo update the smaller and simpler BOLT. I’ve now put quite a few miles on it over dozens of longer rides.
First things first, the BOLT isn’t without issues, particularly for mountain bikers. I’ve experienced it losing its signal in on the densely forested singletrack we have here in Pisgah in the thick of summer. Fortunately, it’s not on all trails, just a couple. And Wahoo has updated the firmware a few times, improving it incrementally over time. And on gravel and double track, it seems to maintain a signal, no problem.
All of the updates they made to the latest BOLT unit are quite nice. It has larger and more tactile buttons, a bright and legible color screen, and a much more solid and secure USB-C port. Also, the 15-hour battery life they claim is more than accurate, and it charges very fast on a battery pack. Like the ROAM, you can easily change menus and settings through the app, sync and load a route from RWGPS, and roll out following a line, which is all that I ask for.
Aftershokz Aeropex Headphones
26 grams / Made in China / $130 at REI
The Aftershokz open ear headphones are awesome in so many ways. They’re comfortable to wear, stay in place, and offer great sound quality. What’s more, they make it possible to listen to music without drowning out ambient noises like traffic. That’s a huge plus in the safety department.
These headphones work via bone conduction technology, so instead of actually sitting at the opening of the ear canal, the speakers rest just in front of the ear, adjacent to the cheek and jawbones. For me, this positioning is the biggest asset of the headphones. Whereas I usually have to battle with earbuds to keep them in place, these speakers sit exactly where they should, and they stay there. The open-ear design also makes it possible to adjust one’s listening experience to the situation at hand. When being fully aware of one’s surroundings is less of a concern than it is on busy trails or trafficked roads, the music can be amplified (and clarified) by simply inserting the foam earplugs that are included with the Aeropex. All in all, these headphones have helped transform some of my more mundane solo rides into delightful mini-meditations.
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