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2008 Year End Awards — Part One, Rides & Gear

We’re in the waning days of 2008, so it seems sensible to look back on the year and hand out some awards. This is Part One, pertaining to rides and gear. Part Two, which will follow in a few days, will pertain to the bike biz and miscellany --

RIDES

Best climb of the year: We had no shortage of good ones this year. Nominees include: A Euro Pro training ride legend, Els Angels on the outskirts of Girona; the heavenly urban gem, Decker Canyon Road on the outskirts of Los Angeles; the Appalachian version of the Galibier, Roan Mountain astride the TN/NC state line; and the you’re-about-to-be-beaten-into-the-gang adrenaline rush of the Kluisberg -- the first of 17 climbs you face when you dive into the 256km Tour of Flanders tourist ride. But the winner of the 2008 Best Climb award is Fairfax-Bolinas road just outside of San Francisco. Specifically the side that starts in Fairfax (though climbing up from Bolinas -- the direction of the Mt. Tam Hillclimb race course -- is lovely, too). Traffic? Zero. Picturesque vistas? Constant. Certainty that you’ll hate golf’s impact on the environment about 15 minutes in? Assured (when you see the mountainside wild west hardscrabble disrupted by the sickeningly lush green of Meadow Club’s fairways about a mile up). It’s maybe an 8 or 9 mile climb from the edge of Fairfax to the top of Mt. Tam. The steady-stream beauty will thrill you, and then when you reach the top and see your first glimpse of Stinson Beach and the ocean -- you’ll belt out ‘God Bless America’. I’ve rarely seen such a beautiful sight. Bay Area people: You’ve got a gem there. We fell in love.

Worst road I thought would be good: San Francisco peoples -- with the good comes the bad. Omigod, it’s suicidal trying to get from Sausalito to Stinson Beach on Coast Highway. I don’t care how many times Steven Cozza’s name is spray painted on the pavement (a PRO relic of the Tour of California) -- getting from Sausalito past Muir Woods on Coast Highway scarred me for life. Never, never again.

GEAR

Private Reserve: These are our finest discoveries for 2008. It’s ‘Private Reserve’ because before we sell out, we stash some for ourselves. You should do the same:

  • Apparel: The Craft Elite WS Jacket. If it had an Assos label on it, we’d sell it for $500. But the mad Swedes give us Assos quality and New York style at a sweet price. Combine this jacket, a mid-weight long sleeve jersey, and a decent base layer -- you’ll be set for sub-freezing rides. Its strongest quality is its wind stopping ability. It has enough thermal insulation, though, to keep you warm when it’s frigid. And it does it without weighing much. For an industry of weight weenies, it’s funny that no one bothers to weigh clothing. And when it comes to weight, this jacket is heroin chic -- thin and light. And all Black -- we love it. If it had a bit more reflectivity, that’d be a bonus. But it’s close to perfection as it is.
  • Componentry: The Challenge Criterium Nerone Clincher tire. Like the Vittoria Open Pave, it’s just a smidge fatter than what you get from a Conti or a Michelin 23c tire. This means an ever-so-slightly cushier ride, ideal for 3+ hour rides. The classic herringbone tread pattern keeps the rubber side down in technical (and wet) situations. And the black tread/black casing look is stealthy. Challenge is a beloved brand on the CX circuit for their knobbies. They’re reasonably light, nicely durable, and they add fuel to the argument that a lovingly-made clincher rides no less sweet than a tubular. We assure you that Challenge’s stock in the road market is about to skyrocket.
  • Accessory: We have a tie. Sharing the honors is DZ Nuts Chamois Cream and the Yokozuna Reaction Cable/Housing Set. DZ Nuts is the only chamois cream on the market that presents a direct threat to Assos’ legendary chamois cream. It’s a different consistency (more like lotion, less Noxema-like), but it is supremely effective. DZ first chipped away at Assos marketshare thanks to the army of the curious. Now it’s devouring market share thanks to the enthusiasm of the converted. And Yokozuna -- it will change your life forever. It’s the closest you’ll get to automatic shifting without having batteries hooked up to your drivetrain. And your braking will get an equally quantum leap in performance. In particular if you ride SRAM (since stock SRAM cables leave much to be desired), Yokozuna gives max ROI when you’re in an upgrade state of mind.

T-Shirt of the Year: I flew all the way to Louisville and all I did was buy this lousy T-Shirt? Well, sort of. I DNF’d at the Masters Nationals Road Race, and I got the T-shirt at the airport, too. Two birds, one stone. More motorpacing next June…

Best piece of clothing, <$100: The Giordana Windtex Corsa gloves. It’s rare for winter gloves to be just as good in the mid 30′s as they are at 50, but this is it. One of the most dynamic pieces of clothing in my riding wardrobe. If you have any uncertainty at all about what winter gloves to get, this should be your choice. They’re light, they resist wind and retain heat, and they’re thin enough for easy shifter manipulation.

Most underappreciated piece of clothing: The Giordana FormaRed Bib Shorts. It’s as though the Bib Short Fairy made a visit. The Forma Red are all but elastic-free. There’s none on the cuffs and none on the straps -- and while localized elastic pressure might not be a big deal on an hourlong ride, when you’re riding 3+ hours it can drive you mad. They have a nicely thin chamois with thicker layers only where it’s needed. And seams? They’re nowhere to be found. It’s more like lingerie than bike clothes. These bibs are light, they’re durable, and one glance at the fashionista details shows it’s made in Italy. They’re that lovely to behold. The FormaRed is a staff favorite.

Finest piece of clothing, now discontinued: It’s the Giordana Monsoon Vest. A super-high end vest specifically built for the rain. I’ve got one & I’ve ridden the hell out of it. I love it. We’ve sold a truckload with a return/warranty rate of near-zero. But Giordana claims that the rain-resistant membrane in the jacket causes its clear fabric to yellow over time. We argued the point with Giordana -- we’ve never seen yellowing in the least. But that’s what they say. So they’re not making more for 2009, and they’re hoping to release a new, no-jaundice version for 2010. A year without the Monsoon is a year of deprivation for cyclists everywhere. If/when we run out, scour Google to find it somewhere else. It’s a rain-ride essential. Light, breathable, malleable, easy-to-stuff, and nicely impervious to the slings & arrows of mother nature.

Biggest equipment frustrations, #1: We’re SRAMaholics here. We love Red. It’s lighter than both Super Record 11 and Dura Ace 7900. It has perfectly shaped shift levers. The brakes are super-powerful. The drivetrain perishables (chain, cassette, chainrings) show good longevity. It’s relatively inexpensive. But one major headache plagues SRAM road groups: The stock cable kit is an atrocity. It’s friction-in-a-tube. We’ve jammed up their suggestion box, written letters to our Senators, lodged complaints to SRAM employees all up the food chain, written sad ballads, etc, etc but they’ve done bupkis to make things better. Thank God for Yokozuna (see above). Upgrading to Yokozuna Reaction cables (at a whopping $65) re-invents your SRAM road bike. It’s like SRAM electronic.

Biggest equipment frustrations, #2: Assos Knee Warmers. They are one size fits all. Mono-size knee warmers make as much sense as one-size-only jackets. Are you tall? They’ll slide out from under your short cuffs. Are you short? You’ll need to hike up upper elastic band way up your legs, and you’ll be uttering DZ Nuts, and it won’t be in reference to chamois cream. May we suggest Giordana, Capoforma, or Rapha?

Happiest equipment surprise, #1: Reynolds all-carbon clinchers. I weigh ~170ish lbs. I installed a set of Reynolds DV32 all-carbon clinchers 8 months ago. I’ve ridden them for every ride since. Sun. Rain. Training. Racing. Flat roads. Climbs. Everything. These things have shown the durability and trueness of a set of 32/32 handbuilts. The braking quality has the teeth of a set of Mavic Open Pros. And they weigh over a pound lighter than a set of (more expensive) Zipp clinchers. Our only complaint? The hidden nipples require you to remove the tire to do the occasional truing job. But outside of that, we’ve had an experience with these wheels we weren’t anticipating. We’re still riding them, and we’re still stoked with how they treat us.

Happiest equipment surprise, #2: Giro sunglasses. Zeiss-certified lenses might be best explained with optician mumbo-jumbo, but put a set of Giro glasses on and you’ll think you’re wearing Oakley-or-better. The clarity is astounding. And, from a structural perspective, we love how they don’t interfere with the RocLoc on a Giro helmet. We’ll admit we were cynics when Giro first released their glasses line. We remember their star-crossed attempt to get into the shoe market. Their execution with glasses has been totally different, and given it’s quality-per-dollar value, they’re becoming our go-to recommendation for shades.

Bike we don’t sell for which we have the greatest lust in our hearts: Many nominees here -- Maybe it’s just the baby blue, but we have a crush on the Team Astana Trek Madone ; we groove on anything Cannondale/Liquigas Green; Rouleur Issue 10 gave us Bianchi fever; and we have endless admiration for Cycles Tournesol. But the winner comes from our pals over at Orbea. Maybe it has less to do with the bikes and more with the fact that this year we concluded Spain is the very, very coolest place on planet earth. But the Orbea Orca looks gorgeous, and they are Spain the way Campagnolo is Italy. NB: We’ve never ridden an Orbea, and maybe one ride will be the cycling equivalent of conversation-with-a-stripper, i.e. instantaneous buzzkill. But indulging fantasy is something we encourage. So, for now, it’s Asturian cheese, Costa Brava beaches, and Basque bikes.

Greatest Fashion Extravagance: Paolo Bettini Sidi Ergo 2′s tempted us. Rapha leather gloves did the same. But no gawdy thing gave us more pleasure than the Oakley Atomic Orange Radar sunglasses.As you might recall, the Atomic Orange was the 2nd of Oakley’s duo of day-glo shades in 2008. First came the green/yellow Retina Burn Radar, a ballsy entrée into the madness of neon -- ballsy simply for the fact that they were neon. As much as we loved most everything about them, one thing bummed us out: Oakley’s two cover boys for the Retina Burn were Saint David Millar and his doping equal, Alexander Vinokourov. Actually, we didn’t mind Vino. It was St. Millar and his ‘savior of cycling/future president of the UCI’ horseshit that nearly drove us to murder. Thankfully Oakley released a 2nd edition dose of neon for us, in the form of their Atomic Orange Radar, as made famous by Fabian Cancellara. What was better? That Cancellara seemingly won every race worth winning in March and into April -- each time in a set of Atomic Orange Radars? That we got to channel our inner Viacheslav Bobrik every time we put on a pair? Or that St. Millar’s mug never once came in contact with a pair? Each brought its own special joy.

Fashion Trend We’re Most Ready to See: The universal eradication of elastic arm cuffs on short sleeve jerseys. They bind to distraction, and the rumpled look they give is unfortunate and unmistakable. Do you notice how many pros snip off the elastic with a pair of scissors? Almost all of them. We do the same. We’ll sacrifice the 0.01g of drag our marginally-floppy cuffs cost us to give our arms freedom. If you haven’t done the same, liberate yourself with your Fiskars. Take a look at the pro peloton in 2009 -- you’ll see more & more riders wearing short sleeve jerseys with arm cuffs bound by a 1cm tall band of rubbery fabric (Giordana, for example, calls it ‘Liquid Elastic’). It’s a comfort issue and a style issue. You’ll see more rubbery cuffs built into jerseys in the ProTour next year, and the concept needs to trickle down throughout every jersey price point for every brand: Just say no to elastic!

Part 2 of our awards are coming soon -- the bike industry and some miscellany. Stay tuned.