The mile markers tick over on yet another calendar year. Time to reflect on the kit and gear that got me through 2008 in comfort, safety and style. Here's the best of it.
November's 30 Days of Rapha series left no doubt as to my loyalties. The Perren Street Trust extended their lead with a host of new products and improvements to the everyday essentials that set the brand apart. And the essentials start with the Bib Shorts and ¾ Bib Shorts, my first choice for the business end of cycling whatever the weather, whatever the distance. The Cytech pad's simplicity belies its efficiency. The shorts are laundered after every ride and they continue to look and perform like new. I've not made a better investment in kit than this pair.
Next to the bibs, I wear a base layer everyday and while I've got some very nice multi-season pieces from Campagnolo, I keep coming back to the merits of merino wool. This fall Rapha introduced a heavier, long-sleeve variant called the Fixed Base Layer. It's been a constant companion in the cool air ever since. Tip: wear it inside out with the finished side next to your skin, no one's going to see it anyway. You'll thank me.
In 2008 Rapha refined a number of pieces, none more dramatically than the Stowaway Jacket which delivered on the breathable promise the original couldn't quite keep. It's featherweight and quiet. No excuse not to bring it (or the Summer Gilet) along for the big descents in all but the hottest months. It's one of my favorite pieces.
Speaking of jackets. I broke with my all-black religion and made my Chinese in-laws happy by ordering Rapha's Lightweight Softshell in red last fall. It turned out to be a brilliant call. I guess somewhere in the primitive corner of my brain, the place that worries about such things, I have the occasional misgiving about riding around in dark colored kit. The red jacket is a stylish answer to those visibility fears. I particularly like the asymmetrical zipper and the tailored fit throughout. I've taken to wearing the jacket with a pair of red Oakley Factory gloves. At $20 these full-fingered gloves could be the best value in cycling gloves on the planet.
Panache cyclewear broke the Rapha shut out with its Eleven Jersey. Even lighter than Rapha's LW jerseys, the fit is airy, soft perfection. Panache founder Don Powell reports the first season went better than expected. The contacts made at Interbike are paying dividends and new ideas are taking shape for 2009, among them Don's promise to give something back to young riders. The Houndstooth Cycling Team is that something.
With the paint still fresh on the Panache brand, it's admirable that Don is taking the time to get this initiative underway. More established brands bide their time with this kind of involvement, if they get involved at all. Panache is making an investment in cycling's future a day-one priority. So when can we buy a patron's version of the Houndstooth Team jersey?
My 100-125 mile-a-week commuting routine depends on a few pieces of gear that have to do the job day-in and day-out. The Giro Ionos helmet is so light I've actually left the house wearing the Rapha Winter hat sans helmet... thinking I had Giro on. The retention system works beautifully one handed, with gloves, whether loosening or tightening the fit. My Oakley Radar Pitch sunglasses clip into the front vents perfectly when they're not performing their primary duty.
The Radars help me see what's coming, Dinotte's LED lights watch my back. I run a tail combination solid red/flashing amber from a single battery mounted on the top tube. At dawn or dusk the Dinottes keep me safe from my blind and inattentive enemies. I should add they get a little help from a couple of Knog Beetles: one clipped to the shoulder strap of the ever-present Rapha Fixed Backpack (flashing white); the second clipped to the back of the Ionos (flashing red). I'd consider flares and chafe if I could.
The tied & soldered Pave wheels (Record hubs, DT Swiss RR 1.1 rims, DT Competition spokes) I picked up from Competitive Cyclist last May continue to spin as true as the day I got them. They're not currently on the Competitive site, but I hope they'll be back in stock come Spring. In the tire department I've got Continental to thank for hundreds of trouble-free miles in all conditions, the current set of Continental GP4000S have gone months and 1500 miles without a flat. The small circular wear indicators have almost had it which is a shame because I feel tires are at their best in the last third of their usable lives.
I'm happy to report I put more than twice as many miles on the Enigma Eulogy as the Audi S4 last year. In all likelihood the Audi will be going back to the dealership when the lease is up – the Enigma however is a keeper.
Finally, I suppose this 2008 round up wouldn't be complete if I didn't highlight a couple of failures. It will come as no surprise that Garmin's Connect Service slipped yet another deadline to deliver legacy support for the Edge 305 (they are now over 1 year late... 1 year). In what has to be the most humorous excuse for progress ever issued by a development team, they actually listed the installation of a hard drive as an accomplishment. I kid you not.
In the shoe department, my silver Lake MX400 shoes lost both rubber heels due to an adhesive malfunction. Thankfully I have the heels and plan to glue them back on the carbon soles. I'll probably peel the heels off my white MX400s and re-glue them while I'm at it. I'm amazed in this day and age that manufacturers still can't seem to find the right glue for the job. This spoiled my impression of an otherwise outstanding shoe.
I've listed links to all these products below. If you're looking for new kit/gear I think you'd be happy with any of these selections. Look for updates to the Kit Top 10 and Tab pages reflecting these choices.