Whether you had a good Crossmas or rode your bike to the naughty side, the dark, cold days of winter are the ideal time to make a few equipment upgrades and acquisitions and get you and your bikes ready for upcoming rides and races.
Over the past year, we’ve compiled a list of items we thought would enhance our readers’ experience for cyclocross and gravel. Here are a few of tech editor Clifford Lee’s selections.
Gore Explore Shorts
Gore has a lot of garments in the cycling category alone and in our experience, most are thoughtfully designed and well-executed. The $130 Explore shorts are no exception. If you are tired of the lycra look, but mountain bike baggies are, well, too baggy for you, then the Gore Explore shorts are for you.
Gore’s Explore shorts are made of four-way stretch woven nylon with a smooth, soft hand. The stretch gives the short a close cut to avoid the baggy look. There is a water-resistant back panel to keep your rear end dry from wheel spray and add some durability to the saddle contact area. The adjustable waistband has two tabs at your hips and a zippered front opening with a snap closure at the top.
The best thing aside from the fit is the pockets. Two sash pockets, one with a zippered key pocket are on the front, with a zippered cargo patch pocket on the right thigh. There is an open right rear pocket as well.
The Gore Explore shorts are comfortable enough to wear all day, before, during and after your ride. The stretch and close fit mean there is little chance of snagging on your saddle as you move on the bike, and I could even do cyclocross dismounts and remounts without restriction, though I would not recommend it. They look good enough to wear as casual shorts without the “bike rider” look.
More info: gorewear.com
WolfTooth Components 8-bit Tool System
WolfTooth makes a lot of problem-solvers for cycling enthusiasts, including gear range solutions such as chainrings and rear derailleur extension links, and levers, collars, headsets, spacers and through axles.
The 8-bit tool system started with the 8-bit Pack Pliers a few years ago. This slender multi-tool evolved from the original Pack Pliers to include 8 attachments nestled into the pliers and held in place by magnets. The 7 of the 8 bits each attach to a swiveling head and altogether the tool has 17 functions.
We’ve been a big fan of the Prestacycle Prestaratchet with its bits and tire lever, but the WolfTooth option is an attractive, versatile alternative with different features.
This year WolfTooth Components added two additional pieces to create a tool system capable of handling conceivable road or trailside field repairs. These two additions include a chain tool with a tire plug tool and utility knife and a rim dent remover with a tire lever. The plastic tire lever is friendly to your carbon rims, the rim dent tool is only for metal rims. You can also use the rim dent tool to true a damaged disc brake rotor in the field.
The tools nestle together with magnets to create a slender package that easily slips into your jersey pocket or tool bag. I like the modular design. If I go on a road ride, I may only take the 8-bit pliers.
The three tools are available together and weigh 173 grams as a package, for $140. Each piece is available separately, with varying prices for each tool.
That’s a hefty price for a lightweight, small item, but it certainly packs a lot of features into a small package.
More info: wolftoothcomponents.com
Topeak Tubi Master X
Last year we mentioned that Topeak has a dizzying array of portable tools and featured a Topeak multitool that could plug tires
Just when we thought we’d seen everything in portable tools, we found the Topeak Tubi Master X. This is a tool to plug and inflate your tire with CO2 simultaneously. This could be the tool for the rider who has everything else or maybe fancies themselves as a pro gravel racer with big money on the line. The scenario: you’re in a gravel race in the front group. You puncture and stop to plug the tire. If all goes well with the Tubi Master X, you’ve saved a few seconds and can be on the bike sooner with a smaller gap to close, and Lifetime Grand Prix title dreams still alive.
The tool is constructed of aluminum and steel and comes with a mounting strap that can hold 2 CO2 cartridges in addition to the Tubi Master X. The plug tool is hollow and threads onto the CO2 inflator. To operate the Tubi Master X, you thread the CO2 cartridge onto the tool and insert the plug into the hole deep enough so the inflation holes are in the tire. Push to inflate and then extract the plug tool making sure to hold the plug in place. There is a ring that unthreads to perform that task.
Practice will make this process smoother and more successful. The plug tool shaft is larger than other typical plug forks, so I found that the thicker “bacon strip” plugs work better with this tool. The hardest part is avoiding some loss of inflation when removing the tool.
The $70 Topeak Tubi Master X is a useful plug tool and a great inflator, even if the one-step race scenario does not pan out as described. I like its novel approach and the fact that Topeak is always trying to come up with something new.
More info: Topeak.com
RedShift Sports ArcLight Pedals
The inventors at RedShift, known for innovative products like their Kitchen Sink handlebar and Shock Stop stem, continue their engineering innovation with the $139 ArcLight Pedals (available February 2022, $109 if pre-ordered now).
This product is not specific to either ’cross or gravel but is one of the coolest products we’ve seen for cycling. It is not available immediately but is quite novel. The pedal is a dual-sided platform with lights front and rear, on each pedal.
Strong magnets hold the lights into the pedal platform cage. The smart light cartridges will determine whether to shine white or red depending on position, front or rear, respectively. If the pedal flips over, the light colors will change for their respective position. You can program the lights to be steady or flash. If you stop pedaling, the lights remain lit for a minute if you’re at a stoplight, and will shut off if you park your bike for longer. Hop back on your bike and the lights turn back on.
The light modules plug directly into a USB port, and a pair of pedals come with a 4 port USB charging hub. An available multi-mount accessory converts the light modules to a standard taillight or headlight. You can also purchase light modules individually.
The Redshift Arclight Pedal was a successful Kickstarter project you can view and pre-order.
More info: kickstarter.com
Ergon SR AllRoad Core Saddle
Saddles are certainly a personal choice based on shape and padding among other factors. I think with the SR Allroad Core Pro, Ergon has a winning saddle that goes beyond just ergonomic fit. The Ergon Core series uses Infinergy, the same E-TPU material in Adidas midsoles invented by BASF. The material is firm but deforms and rebounds quickly. That yields a saddle that offers support and cushioning without the compression seen in normal foam or gel saddles. That usual compression leads to pressure in the wrong places. The Infinergy also seems to have vibration-damping qualities I’ve not experienced with other saddles.
The Ergon SR Allroad Core is available in two widths, and three models. The $150 Pro sits in the middle of the lineup with a carbon shell and titanium alloy rails Ergon calls TiNox. Our sample weighs 257 grams. A Comp model with chrome-moly rails and a nylon composite shell meets a lower price point of $130, but gains around 20 grams according to Ergon. The Pro Carbon model sits on top at $200, has carbon rails with the carbon composite shell and saves around 50 grams.
To obtain the proper width saddle, there is an online estimator on the Ergon website, or for the ultimate accuracy, you can visit an Ergon dealer that has the Ergon 3-D Sitbone Measurement device which is a pressure-sensitive device that you sit on. I was measured with the 3-D Sitbone Measurement device but checked with the online tool and the same recommendation was given for an M/L width. There are only two widths after all.
I don’t get too excited about saddles since I can make most anything work, especially in cyclocross where you are on and off the saddle so much. For long mixed terrain rides however the correct saddle can make or break the ride. I am impressed with the firm support from the Ergon SR Allroad Core saddle over long miles when you stay seated on mixed terrain, and the perceived damping of vibrations on pebbly gravel, and rough broken pavement. The shape is fairly flat with a deep center groove that suits my anatomy well.
If you’ve been looking for the right saddle to make your long (and short) rides more comfortable, consider the new Ergon SR Allroad Core saddle. Availability in the US is set for this Spring, just in time for the long gravel and road season. It does not yet appear on the US website, but keep an eye out.
More info: Ergonbike.com