In the old, prepandemic days, I used a combination of gym time and sports to stay fit. A regular schedule of pickup basketball, pickleball and soccer adequately supplemented a handful of weekly gym workouts. Since the coronavirus swallowed the US, however, my gym has been closed and social distancing protocols have put the kibosh on many group sports.
Back in March, I dragged my 2005 Lemond Tourmalet bike out of the garage, put on four layers of warm clothing and went for a ride. Since then, I’ve been cycling just about every other day. I wrecked the Tourmalet in June, but have since replaced it with a used 2010 Specialized Roubaix Pro. And I recently added a 2018 Specialized Enduro mountain bike to my arsenal, which has given me access to tons of mountain bike trails — and will allow me to experiment with riding on the snow this winter.
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Over the past year, I’ve been trying out a variety of cycling clothing and accessories, bike gear and technologies that have made riding safer and more enjoyable. Note that I haven’t comprehensively tested out any of these product categories; this is just a sampling of my own personal top picks of the best cycling gear. I regularly update this article as I try out new gear.
Having now tested a variety of hydration backpacks and hip-packs, I’ve settled on the Camelbak Chase for mountain biking. It has the right amount of storage capacity — 70 ounces of water plus a good amount of gear — as well as lots of handy pockets and other bells and whistles. (Literally, it has an integrated safety whistle.) It also has an integrated protective impact panel, which could come in handy should you fall off your bike and land on your back. At $200, it’s not cheap. But if you’re an aggressive rider, the additional protection is worth it.
That noted, if you’re looking to spend less, I’ve been using the Osprey Syncro 12 on family hikes, and I actually prefer its water bladder to Camelbak’s system. Plus, the Syncro has a nice balance of storage capacity and accessibility, an integrated rain cover and it costs a more reasonable $130.
There are plenty of folks who ride in order to leave the emails, texts and calls behind, but I prefer to keep my phone handy when I’m in the saddle. (Obviously, I pull to a complete stop on the side of the road before engaging with the screen.) Until recently, I was tucking my phone into the pocket of my jersey, which was often underneath a jacket, which made it difficult — and unsafe — to access while rolling. Then I got this Quad Lock case and mount. It’s been a total game changer.
The Quad Lock mount sits atop the bike stem, and I feel quite confident in its capacity to keep my phone safe and secure, even when traversing bumpy terrain. When the ride is over, or I’ve pulled off the road to take a photo, it’s dead simple to release; just pull the mount’s locking mechanism upward and twist. The Quad Lock phone case is hefty — there’s a raised bump on the back that fits onto the mount — and I’d trust it to ably protect the phone in a crash. But when I end my ride, I switch over to my preferred Catalyst case.
Until it gets really cold, this is my go-to top layer for bike rides and runs after dusk. The DriLayer HorsePower fabric is both insulating and breathable, and the integrated 3M Scotchlite reflectors are unmistakably bright — and cool-looking.
As the weather turns colder and wetter, I’m experimenting with new outerwear to keep me dry and warm on rides. Endura’s Luminite pants have become my go-to choice on the strength of their lightweight construction, protective waterproofing and comfortable fit. I also appreciate the combination of ankle zippers and adjustable snap-button cuffs, for on-the-fly tweaking, and the four reflective panels, which help increase my visibility to others in the dark. Well worth it — especially if you can catch them on sale for under $100.
Comfortable, grippy, stylish kicks that are equally well-suited for mountain biking and the rest of life. The reinforced toe has saved my foot from getting crunched between a rock and my pedal several times. And though I love the new “Spruce/Berm brown” styling, I have the older navy and orange model, which is currently on sale.
My top choice for the fall, the Giro Xnetic H20 gloves, have now been replaced by a few heartier models optimized for the freezing temperatures I’ll be contending with for the next few months. So far, the Pearl Izumi AmFIB Lobster — an odd-looking cross-breed of glove and mitten — provides the right balance of warmth, maneuverability and grip. And it’s touchscreen compatible to boot. Currently on sale, too.
This summer I added Hiplok’s Z Lok security tie to my small bike bag. Weighing in at 2.5 ounces, it’s almost imperceptibly light and though it’s not going to deter a pro bike thief — I wouldn’t rely on it in a treacherous city like San Francisco — the steel core is strong enough to give me peace of mind when I park my bike at the beach.
I’ve also been loaning the combination-based Hiplok Spin to my kid, who finds a four-digit code easier to manage than a key. It has everything I want in a lock — and a few things I didn’t know I wanted. It’s strong but not too heavy, reflective and wearable.
If you’re looking for an affordable water bottle that will keep your water chilled, Polar makes excellent 20- and 24-ounce insulated squeeze water bottles in a few different color options. Just add a little ice and your water will stay cool — even on long rides. Starting at around $14, they’re BPA-free and come with a lifetime guarantee.
I had been wearing the same bike helmet for a long, long time. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends replacing your helmet at least every 10 years, and mine was at least that old. After doing some research, I opted for a mountain biking helmet for the extra protection and, in my opinion, cooler look. After trying out several, I decided on the Smith Forefront 2 mountain bike helmet. I love it.
Most importantly, it features MIPS architecture, which can mitigate the force of an impact on your brain. It’s relatively lightweight and breathable, and it has Koroyd on the interior — a layer that offers additional crash protection as well a way to screen out bugs.
I found these comfortable to wear and secure on my face, quite lightweight and stylish enough. If you poke around, you may be able to find a deal: I found a pair for $35 on Backcountry.com, though they’re listed at $100 and up, depending on color.
Where I live, it’s windy and cold weather all year long except for a glorious stretch of 10 weeks or so in the summer. This cycling jacket has kept me warm and dry, even in weather that feels like winter cycling, without ever making me feel stifled, constricted or bogged down. And though it has no pockets, there are zippered slots that allow through access to jersey pockets.
I’ve been using Strava to track and share rides (and runs and hikes) for years. But in March, I upgraded to Strava premium subscription service, called Summit, which costs $8 per month or $60 if you pay upfront for a full year. I did it mostly for safety purposes: Summit’s Beacon feature lets you choose a contact who can monitor your whereabouts during each ride. But there are a few other attractive features, too, including advanced training metrics and leaderboards.
I will not suggest that it’s the safest choice to listen to music when riding a bike. A lot of cyclists frown on the practice of wearing headphones while cycling, arguing that all of your senses should be on alert for danger. I think that makes a lot of sense and I’m not going to argue otherwise.
If you do listen to music when you ride (or run), however, you can mitigate the risks with a set of headphones that doesn’t completely shut you off from the outside world. A pair that has some version of transparency mode — like the Apple AirPods Pro — is a good bet.
Otherwise, I highly recommend the Adidas FWD-01. They’re comfortable to wear, easy to control with one hand and loud enough to hear — even in very windy conditions. They have a built-in microphone, so you can jump onto a call when needed. The knitted fabric cable, which is water resistant, is lightweight and does not tangle. And the battery life is superb.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.