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Dec

31

2019

Upgrade—Gravel Edition

Only a few years ago, most gravel bikes were just glorified cyclocross steeds with fatter and faster tires. But innovation chases passion...

Only a few years ago, most gravel bikes were just glorified cyclocross steeds with fatter and faster tires. But innovation chases passion, and cycling is digging on the mixed surfaces scene. It’s fast, fun, and way safer to take a drop-bar bike on gated dirt, forgotten mellow singletrack, beat-to-shit pavement, off-season XC-ski networks, and yes, gravel roads too. I made a few upgrades to my much loved 2018 Niner RLT 9 RDO. Check them out. By Marc Peruzzi

Gore C7 Gore-Tex Shakedry Jacket

It’s as lightweight, packable, and breathable as a simple windbreaker, but Gore Wear’s Shakedry cycling jacket from its Active line is also waterproof. Seriously, water beads up on the surface and runs off. On the bike, I’ll snap the material forward and send water flying. But what makes Shakedry worth the extra money is the breathability. In the right weather—below 60 degrees and cloudy—I can pedal hard without overheating. It’s not just a rain shell: I now wear it to cut the chill of apparent wind on cold days, and always have it in a pocket if it’s looking like rain. This technology has been widely adopted in the pro peloton for a reason. $280

Pearl Izumi Pro Merino Thermal Jersey Merino Long Sleeve Baselayer

I attended a research experiment in a Canadian climate-controlled wind tunnel this past summer that pitted Pearl Izumi’s new Merino wool (sourced from Woolmark) cool weather gear against its traditional petroleum based offerings. The results were clear: The test cyclists stayed warmer and just as dry if not drier in the new hybrid materials. That was true both objectively and subjectively. Out here in western Montana, I’ve found the same to be true on gravel rides in spitting rain just above the freezing point. The blends pull moisture from your skin’s surface and then lock it into the center of the wool fibers. Incredibly, it’s been shown that as water gets pulled into wool, heat is released, boosting comfort. I’d known that intuitively for years, which is why I always ski in a wool/polypropylene hybrid base layer. But the evidence is further justification to buy sustainable wool products. Jersey: $195; Baselayer: $90

LEM Motiv Air Helmet

A full-carbon exterior shell allowed LEM to shave weight while boosting the ventilation (it has 23 ports) of their new Motiv Air. At only 220 grams, it’s officially the lightest helmet I now own, and I own too many helmets. It’s also exceedingly comfortable, with enough range of motion in the fit to accommodate a beanie in cool weather. Vitally, both sets of my RX eyewear integrate seamlessly without the temples bumping up against the micro-adjustable harness. $225

Shimano GRX Di2

I was a Di2 disdainer—until I ran the XT version on my trail bike for two years. That’s a 1X11 setup of course. The new GRX lets you choose one-by or go with a front derailleur. I went with the latter to maximize my power output on extended dirt and paved downhills. Clearly, and you know this if you’ve ever ridden Di2, the shifting is flawless. The system takes away human error, which in my case with mechanical shifting is too little or too much pressure on the levers resulting in that shitty half-engaged grinding I should know better to avoid. But Di2’s efficiency is not exactly news. What’s new is the dedicated gravel drivetrain. There’s an entire line of options here, many of which were released last spring. (The Di2 is newer and was only launched in October.) It’s not just a mash-up of road and mountain parts as some critics have said. The Ultegra and Dura Ace level group I’m running is largely its own animal. That’s most notable in the clutched rear derailleur—which is a marked improvement over my old non-clutch Ultegra mechanical unit that had me bouncing off chains on more rugged descents here in western Montana. The hoods, too, are unique in that they’re redesigned for gravel. They’re by far the most comfortable hoods I’ve ever used, which makes a big difference on long rough climbs. I’ve also scared the hell out of myself in the past when I’ve been lazy of mind and have come into chunder corners with too much speed with my hands on the hoods. If you’ve ever done that, then you know that braking can be delayed and weak in that position. With GRX, Shimano sped up and powered up the braking action. Look for an extended online Time-Tested review in the spring after I get a thousand miles into the system. Prices vary depending on level.

 

 

 

Enve G Series Gravel Handlebar

As with mountain biking, wider bars on gravel bikes boost your control. This is especially noticeable on tacky singletrack and similarly tacky gated dirt roads. It’s on that terrain that you naturally want to lean the bike more into corners and even pump through the corner a bit. To do that more efficiently, wide bars really help to leverage 700c wheels (same as 29ers) into a lean. I only went two centimeters wider from hood-to-hood with these carbon bars from Enve, but even that’s noticeable when you’re whipping through flat to slightly inclined singletrack. The big difference, though, is with the flared drops, which on the 44 centimeter bars extend to 56 centimeters. That width delivers a startling difference in handling, but the flare also means that your inner wrists never get hung up on the upper bars. And because the drop is shorter than my old bars—they aren’t as far down—I find myself riding in the drops far more often, which is perhaps the biggest boon to control. $350

Lizard Skin 3.2mm Bar Tape 

Lizard Skin’s pro teams in Europe run this extra thick tape for the spring classics. I’ve run it for four years on my last two gravel bikes. Paired with carbon wheels, lower pressure rubber, and carbon bars, this cushy tape takes the last of the high frequency chatter out of the front-end before it hits your hands. I tried riding without it for a week when the stock tape on my bike was new—and my hands went numb. This year they upped the durability. $44

Continental Terra Trail and Terra Speed Tires

Having ripped off lugs and torn sidewalls on most of the gravel tires I’ve run, I was waiting for Continental to release some “ProTection” reinforced gravel rubber. From my experience, Continental, and to be fair Maxxis, offer the best flat resistance in the mountain biking space for Rocky Mountain talus, and after two months on the new Terra Trails I have no reason to doubt that it doesn’t translate to gravel. Continental sent me both models to test, but I’m saving the faster rolling Terra Speeds for a Vermont gravel event next summer. For what I ride—I’m on gated forest service roads 75 percent of the time and mix up the rest of my time equally between gravel road, singletrack, and pavement—the slightly more rugged and deeper lugged Terra Trails were the call. I also bumped up from 38mm to 40mm, and won’t go back. The extra width and deeper lug offers a noticeable boost in grip. $65  

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