Jordan Villella's 2020 Gear of the Year
Like most of the cycling world, I spent a lot of time on the trainer this year, less time racing, and a bunch of time re-discovering the sport I love so much. This meant riding bikes that I usually wouldn't be on at a particular time of year (no 'cross) and lots of fun rides in place of interval blocks and vision quests. These changes in riding behavior also brought on some deviation from my usual go-to race and training gear. Not to say I didn't get to ride some fast gear but quarantine life really changes your riding routine, and zoning out and escaping daily craziness was a challenge all to itself. So here's the gear that stood out to me and help me through a year for the record books.
Specialized Recon 3
The Specialized Recon 3 are shoes that I've worn nearly every ride since I received them - they have suburb fit and excellent walkability. Now walking in shoes designed for riding- that's one thing, but when you're exploring or need to get off and walk unpassable features - it's much easier to do in shoes that flex. That's the nice thing about these shoes. They don't flex where your pedaling platform is. They only move in the upper portion after the cleats. It's a perfect mix of performance and comfort - in a neat race-able package. They come in great color options and can take a beating when you crash (happens to us all) and caused me zero hot spots during my review period and beyond. The rubber lugs on the tread give the Recons a fantastic grip on gravel and slippery mud. Plus the toe cleat capability makes these shoes a great option for cyclocross racing.
More info: Specialized.com
Shimano Deore M6100 12 Speed groupset
I get to ride a lot of high-end gear on the newest - lightest bikes, and finding a groupset that can go punch for punch with the feel of Shimano XTR is hard. The Shimano Deore M6100 group, gram for gram and dollar for dollar - is better than the top tier for me. This groupset has all the trappings of the performance; excellent brake lever feel and modulation, quick-precise shifting, cassette jumps that make sense with front ring combinations, and above all - it's amazingly reliable. I love Shimano brakes. They have exquisite feel that few match, but even on the Deore M6100 (the most entry-level race groupset Shimano offerers) they achieve a positive lever feel, zero fade, quicker bite engagement than then previous designs - with a shorter free stroke. The new lever also has a familiar design (check the new XTR lever) with the extra lever support to stiffen up the lever and give better feedback when pulling on it. Value is king when you're traveling to races, and balancing performance and value - The Shimano Deore 12 - speed groupset delivers top-notch performance at a comprehensible price - leaving you enough scratch to send the money where it matters!
More info: Shimano.com
Park Tool Bleed Kits (BKM-1)
Now that more and more...well, nearly all bikes are using disc brakes, someone has to bleed those brakes and make sure they function. Coming from a shop mechanic background, I like to do most of my own repairs and work in the comfort of my own home. That said, bleeding brakes has always been a pain; not having the right tools, fittings, oil… yeah, that could be blamed on me not being prepared, but it would be better if I had those all in one place - like a kit. The Park Tool Bleed Kit does that and some. The BKM-1 kit arrives with everything you need to bleed your brakes without having to call for assistance or an extra hand. The plungers are robust as well as all the fittings, ensuring they will far outlast your older kit. The unique design of attaching the plunger to the seat stay of the bike helps keep hands free and work efficiently. The storage box is professional quality and keeps the equipment tidy when you need to perform service or lend it out to a buddy. To help you along, the newly updated Park Tool website is where you can find assistance with nearly any Park Tool product and watch a step by step clip on how to properly use the equipment.
More info: Park Tool.com
7- Mesh MK3 Cargo Bib Short
You don't know you want pockets on your shorts until you have them...that's the revelation I had. The 7-Mesh MK3 cargo bib shorts are similar to other pocketed performance cycling shorts, but the thing that separates them is the material, pocket angles, and the thrashing they can take on any kind of ride. The pockets are crafted with a reflective material, which gives them a sturdy feel that supports anything from a phone, or a banana, or weird stuff you find on the road. The short itself is very comfortable and surprisingly resistant to abrasion and cuts, considering the soft handed fabric. If you cut them in an accident, 7-Mesh has a crash replacement policy and will help you get a new kit ASAP - very cool, considering the price. On the backside, 7- Mesh uses an Elastic Interface recycled material chamois that is comfortable during both road and off-road riding. A set of kit like this can rarely take a beating from the less than stellar conditions I ride in and muddy gravel explorations without an early retirement a few months later. The 7-Mesh MK3's are still in my go-to rotation, are still as luminescent with reflectivity and comfortable as the day I took them from the wrappings.
More info: 7mesh.com
Bontrager Line PRO 30 Wheelset
Without serious training and racing, I explored the world of wider wheels, tires, and longer travel machines this year. One wheelset that caught my attention early in the review process was the Bontrager Line PRO 30. From the first rides with this mega-stout, wide carbon wheelset, I could tell that I was steering better and going a bit faster in the techy bits of my local trails. This isn't because the wheelset gave me an incredible boost in performance. It gave me solid contact with the trail, and less air translated to faster times in my favorite rock gardens. The wide 29mm interior width and 36mm outer width, paired with my go-to Vittoria Barzo 2.35 tires, was a winning combo and revamped my trail experience this summer. The wheels aren't XCO world cup light, but they are bombproof, and Bontrager considers them the strongest wheelset they've crafted - that says something. The second best feature (second only to the ability to take a crazy hit) is the engagement on the hubset. The Line 30 PRO uses Bontrager's Rapid 108 drive with fantastic fast engagement without needing much maintenance after months of abuse. These are the perfect wheelset for all-day adventures in the mountains or testing your meter at the local enduro series - fast and value-packed!
More info: Bontrager.com
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