In this first part, Iain Treloar provides his highlights of 2015 in the world of bikes.
Just as we did in 2013, we’re taking a moment to cast our minds back and assess the best products and experiences Ride On came across in 2015. We’ve covered some ground in this time, with extended tests of over 25 bikes, another 65 products and jaunts across Australia and overseas.
In my personal list of (roadie-slanted) highlights, there are plenty of products that I loved at the time, and some that have grown in my esteem over time. A couple of them didn’t make it into the magazine, but have been personal purchases that have proven invaluable. All of them are things that I used or experienced that I look back on fondly.
Read Simon Vincett’s highlights of the year in part 2.
One of the considerable perks of my job is that from time to time, I get to test some jaw-dropping bikes. The new Bianchi Specialissima is one stand-out example of this. Weighing in at 6.18kg, our review bike had all the bells and whistles—Campagnolo Super Record EPS, Bora Ultra 35 Tubular wheelset—mounted on a <800g, $7,000 frameset. All that added up to $20,000 bike, which I spent five days and 500km flying through the Italian countryside on. Like I said, ‘perks’.
Although it’s now a superseded model so it doesn’t technically count, I was lucky enough to be able to call myself a Parlee owner for about half of this year. This Z5 was (note: ominous past tense) a super lightweight carbon frame from the super boutique American carbon specialist, which I picked up as an ex-demo from the distributor. It completely dispelled any preconceptions I had about carbon fibre, with an other-worldly ride quality, decent comfort, spot-on handling and stealthy good looks. From June to November, this bike was my daily ride—perhaps the most bling commuter in Melbourne’s east—and my companion for Peaks Challenge Cradle Mountain. And then, in one flight, it was over—a crack to the top-tube in transit ending the good times. I won’t replace it, as a new frameset is an unjustifiable $5,000, but I’ll remember this bike with the greatest fondness.
(image: Hormuzd Khodaiji)
My favourite event of the year wasn’t Peaks Challenge Falls Creek or Cradle Mountain (although both were epic, and beautifully conducted), or Ride the Night (which was super fun), but Hells 500’s Ol’ Dirty. An event conducted on the firetrails and gravel roads surrounding Warburton, Ol’ Dirty was challenging, light-hearted and perfectly pitched for a fun time. It was the kind of event where it didn’t matter much about what bike you were on—there was everything from road bikes to cyclocross to dualies to single-speeds—but what enthusiasm you brought to it. I mauled my bike, snapping a derailleur and a chain and writing off a few hundred dollars of carbon bars and seatpost, but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about that day.
Giordana Trade FRC
Of the many kits that I’ve tested over the year, there were some that looked amazing (MAAP), some that offered all round performance (Rapha) and some that gave me shocking saddle-sores. But there’s one kit that I find myself returning to for those long days in the saddle, and it’s the Giordana Trade FRC. It looks a bit dull and utilitarian rather than flashy, in a simple black and white design, but has a magnificent fit and the best chamois I’ve ever used. Outstanding.
Riding in Taiwan
There are more famous destinations for bike riding in the world, and there are great riding destinations closer to home. So when Ride On was invited for a week’s exploration of Taiwan, I didn’t have the highest of hopes. I was wrong. This little island is made for bike riding; there are mountains galore (including the awe-inspiring Taiwan KOM route through Taroko Gorge), stunning vistas, huge bustling cities, amazing food, nice people, just the right amount of culture shock and a sizeable portion of the cycling industry. It’s awesome and I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Continental Grand Prix 4000S II
In Australian bunches, there are no tyres more ubiquitous than these—in the pre-registration bike checks at Peaks Challenge, I reckon a good 50% of riders have a pair of these on their rigs. They’re not the quickest-rolling tyre out there, nor the most puncture resistant; they’re not the lightest, nor the most supple. But they are the best combination of all of these things, and that makes them pretty close to unbeatable, especially in the 25c width.
Reid porteur rack
When people ask me what my favourite bike-thing of the year is, there’s only one thing that springs to mind—this porteur rack. It’s cheap ($40), heavy (almost 2kg), kind of ugly looking, and impacts negatively on the handling of the front end of the bike, but it’s brought me more joy than anything else and has made my little urban runabout a whole heap more practical. From the weekly shopping to six packs of beer to fish and chips, this thing has carried a few loads and continues to makes me feel both unbearably smug and very very happy every time I use it.
Thule Commuter backpack
One of the big changes for me this year was that I moved from the inner suburbs to the burbs proper, a 22km commute where I could no longer ride in my work clothes. This meant that I needed to start looking into a backpack that would haul a change of clothes, keep everything dry in all weather and still have a relatively compact silhouette. My backpack brand of choice, the utterly dependable Chrome, has become an eye-wateringly expensive prospect thanks to the falling Australian dollar against the US. Thule’s Commuter backpack was the next in line, and you know what, even though it lacks a bit of visual flair, it’s been just about perfect functionally, getting on with the task without fuss or complaint.
Castelli Diluvio gloves
There are few things more dispiriting on a bike than cold hands, and as I learnt in a winter-time test of several different pairs of gloves, it’s surprisingly tricky to find the balance between decent tactility, warmth and waterproofing. The least compromised long-fingered glove I’ve yet come across is the Castelli Diluvio, a close-fitting neoprene glove that is good down to about 4 degrees. It’s an effective windbreaker and actually improves in wet conditions, as it traps water and warms it to body temperature. I recommend these wholeheartedly, and although I’ve since lost them out of a jersey pocket somewhere, I’ll be getting another pair as soon as winter next rolls around.
Clif Double Expresso Gel
Clif’s bars, gels and chews are my favourite on the market, and out of their considerable range, there’s one product that really stands out. The Double Expresso gel is—as the name suggests—a strong coffee flavoured gel, which tastes delicious (imagine sweetened condensed milk mixed with a shot of espresso) and gives a potent boost. There have been many long rides this year where me and my regular training buddy have been flagging, busted out these gels and found a giddy second wind to get home.
POC Octal helmet
Helmet comfort and fit is a subjective thing, but with that important caveat in place, I reckon the POC Octal is bloody magnificent. I love its bulbous looks (again, you might hate them), enjoy its light weight, find its fit flawless and its breathability superb. In no way does it represent good value—approaching $400, I think it’s right at the upper end of what helmets cost and way off the scale of what they should cost—but you know, I’d probably wincingly buy one again just because everything else about it is so spot-on.
Rapha Randonee shorts
I spend a lot of time in cycling kit, but am not much of a one for casual shorts. The excellent Rapha Randonee shorts are great to ride in, with a lot of stretch, and look classy off the bike, with clean tailoring and a flattering cut. They’re available in a few different colours, but we would recommend steering away from the lighter shades (they’re a bit sheer). In navy blue or black, they’re flawless and are fast becoming a daily-use item for the summer.
Adventure/gravel road bikes
Bikes have been ridden on gravel for as long as they’ve existed, all without any specific design for that purpose. In the past couple of years, however, there’s been a new category of bikes to pop up—the so-called gravel bike (or ‘adventure road bike’, or ‘new road’, or a number of other variants depending on the whims of a brand’s marketing department). Normally I’m a massive cynic about industry-led trends, but this is one I’m getting behind. These bikes are practical, equipped with disc brakes and decent tyre clearance. These bikes are comfortable, giving the position of an endurance road bike with various measures taken to ensure the rider doesn’t get beaten up too much on rough roads. But the number one reason I’m excited about the category is this—it encourages exploration, a spirit of adventure, fun and friendship. If aero road bikes (to pick one example I don’t feel too favourably about) are at one end of the spectrum, with an eye on high average speeds and racy ambition, these bikes are at the other end. Forget about Beach Road. Hit the hills. Take your friends. Take that gravel side road. Remember the joy that riding a bike used to bring you.
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