RoadBikeReview Best of 2018: Bikes, a drivetrain, shoes, tires, luggage and more.
We're well into 2019 and already there are quiet rumblings of some hot new products coming from our beloved bike industry. More on that soon. But first we want to take a look back at the year that was and share some of our favorite products from the past 12 months. Here then in no particular order are RoadBikeReview's Best of 2018. Have a look and then let us know your thoughts on these choices - and what were your favorite bikes and gear from the past year.
SRAM eTap HRD Wireless Electronic Drivetrain
We've already made our general thoughts known about SRAM eTap in this review. The short story is that, to use a tired but in this case appropriate cliché, it truly is game changing. While the shifting performance is not quite as razor sharp as Shimano Di2, the total lack of wires (and all the headaches that alleviates) make eTap absolutely revolutionary. Bikes have never been easier to build up - or looked cleaner - than those spec'd with this wireless electronic drivetrain.
And after initially releasing eTap in a rim brake version, SRAM made the expected launch of a disc brake set-up, dubbed HRD (aka hydraulic road disc). And despite SRAM's all-but-forgotten initial hiccups with disc brakes for road bikes (chronicled here), this latest iteration delivers just about everything you could ask for in a set of stoppers. The hoods and levers have a superb hand feel, it's easy to adjust the throw and bite point of the brakes for complete customization, and the weight penalty over a rim set-up is a reasonable ~270 grams.
But perhaps most importantly, power is stop-on-a-dime forceful, but not at the expense of light lever feel, plus control and modulation that allows you to confidently attack even the steepest and sharpest corners. I personally will never go back to rim brakes on my road bike. And when it comes time for bleeding eTap HRD, which SRAM recommends be done annually, they have much improved the process over previous iterations thanks to their Bleeding Edge technology.
More info: www.sram.com
Hot Deal: Shop Amazon | Shop Jenson USA
Specialized S-Works Roubaix
Fans of Specialized will surely know that the S-Works designation is code for the bike maker's highest level carbon frame (known as FACT 11r). But while impressively stiff (and quite light) the lead of this Roubaix story (and the reason for inclusion on this list) is the Future Shock suspension system, which is a replaceable spring-loaded cartridge that delivers 20mm of travel just above the head tube. That's combined with Specialized's bump absorbing CGR seatpost to create a bike we found to be incredibly smooth (and therefore fast) on the rough roads that ring our home test grounds in Crested Butte, Colorado.
But it's not all about speed. Indeed, for the majority of people who ride this bike, the real advantage is comfort and what that can mean over the length of a ride. Instead of the progressive fatigue that results from the constant jarring of off-the-beaten-path riding, you simply feel fresher longer because your body is not required to absorb every bump in the road. And this is a particularly salient (and fun-enhancing) feature in these times when riding road bikes can mean everything from sailing along smooth pavement to grinding gravel (we prefer the latter).
Add in the handy SWAT box that resides at the junction of the seat tube and downtube, and has stowage for a tube, CO2, and multi-tool, and the is a bike that's truly ready for anything, which is just how we like our road rides - adventurous without the constraints of traditional limitations.
More info: www.specialized.com
Shimano Ultegra RX
By now you've surely heard that riding off-road on road bikes has become a quite popular thing. It's also spurred the bike industry to start getting creative with product offerings, moving away from the traditional road/mountain divide and occupying more space (and terrain) in the middle. Shimano's well-conceived Ultegra RX rear derailleur is a prime example. Taking a page from the mountain bike arena, but with a few drop bar tweaks, it utilizes the company's Shadow Plus clutch mechanism to reduce unwanted chain movement - and quiet down the drivetrain on rough terrain. It's available in mechanical and Di2 versions, and adds about 70 grams over the equivalent standard Ultegra version. (Check out the RoadBikeReview test here.)
Like the Japanese component maker's mountain bike derailleurs, Ultegra RX has an on/off switch located next to the upper pulley, meaning you can turn off the clutch when riding on smooth pavement or need to take your wheel off. Ultegra RX is compatible with all Shimano 11-speed road groups, works with cassettes ranging from 11-28t to 11-34t, and has a max chainring capacity of 16t, meaning it plays nice with all the standard offerings, including 48/32, 50/34, 52/36, and 53/39.
Bottom line, having the clutch engaged (which tightens a friction band around the derailleur's main pivot) improves shifting because your chain and derailleur cage aren't jumping around when you're trying to shift gears. And that increase in efficiency likely offsets any minimal power loss. Combine that with the added peace of mind and Shimano has a clear winner on its hands.
More info: bike.shimano.com
Full disclosure: I don't love the Canyon Grail. It has a few quirks (which you can read about in this RoadBikeReview test) that make it more of a like relationship for me. But what I do love is the German direct-to-consumer seller's willingness to really think outside the proverbial box. That just doesn't happen all that much anymore in the copycat world that is the bike industry. In this case Canyon brought to market what it calls the Hover Bar. Besides catching eyes, its purpose is to allow its Grail gravel bike to deliver more compliance when you're in the tops, but a stiffer interface down in the drops.
The upper flex area is designed to exploit carbon's elastic properties and gently deflect and absorb road/trail chatter and vibration. Indeed, Canyon claims by not having a stem clamped to the middle of this bar, it delivers seven times more vertical compliance than a conventional carbon bar (say that which is spec'd on the Endurace, Canyon's endurance road bike). Down below, where the stem is attached to a lower bar that attaches to the inside of the drops, the bars are far stiffer.
The Hover Bar also has 15mm of height adjustment and delivers a host of new hand positions. Most notable is when you are in the drops. Instead of the traditional hand-fully-wrapped-around-the-bar position, your thumb can wrap around the lower cross-bar section for a more secure grip. Other features of the bar include a compact bend, and subtle 7.5-degree flare and ergonomic D-shape at the bottom of the drops, all of which are aimed at increasing comfort and stability when in the drops. This is further aided by the short effective stem length and wider bar width (44cm on a size L), which as any mountain biker knows, makes tackling technical terrain less of a challenge.
The comfort story doesn't stop there. Most (but not all) Grail models come with Canyon's VCLS 2.0 seatpost, which utilizes a leaf spring design to create yet another flex point to help dampen road buzz while keeping saddle tilt constant. Bottom line, for the right rider and terrain, the Canyon Grail is a terrific (and very unique) bike and that's cool.
More info: www.canyon.com
Vittoria Terreno Zero Tires
Yep, there's a running theme here. At least in our opinion, riding road bikes off-road is cool - and Vittoria's Terreno Zero tires can further add to the fun factor. In an effort to lessen the inherent compromise of gravel tires that also see paved road use, the Zero has a smooth center (which takes design cues from the popular Vittoria Corsa road tire) and very minimal shoulder profile. Indeed, rather than the small lugs found on the edges of the sibling Terreno Dry, the Zero has scales.
These small hexagonal knobs are angled toward the direction of rotation, which makes them faster when rolling, but hook up better under braking forces. Run your hand across the Zero and you're reminded of a furry animal's back, where it's smooth in one direction, but resists slightly in the other. Options include 700x37 and 650b x 47 sizes, and it comes in a TNT tubeless version. Check out our first ride review here.
More info: www.vittoria.com
Hot Deal: Shop Here
Specialized S-Works 7 Shoe
At $400 a pair, you'd expect near perfection from Specialized's S-Works 7 road shoes - and at least on our feet that's essentially what they've delivered. While the previous S-Works 6 Shoe got high marks on the performance scale, it wasn't the world's most comfortable cycling footwear. Fit was ultra-snug (especially around the heel), making them tough to slip on. And the toe box was a tad tight for some riders. The S-Works 7 Shoe addresses these issues, maintaining the same efficient performance, but in a more plush package. Power transfer is enhanced thanks to the stiffest and lightest FACT Powerline carbon plate Specialized has ever made. Stiffness index is 15; it was 13 in the last shoe.
To further enhance comfort Specialized opened up the toe box a tad, employing what it calls PadLock heel construction, which does a superb job of cradling and securing the heel without crunching it. Also new is the custom S3 BOA Dials, which both look great and perform well. They're made of machined alloy and have grippy knurled edges that are easy to get hold of when you're on the move. Inside each dial are spring clutch internals and the dials can be adjusted in either direction in 1mm increments. These new dials also come with a lifetime guarantee. Bottom line, while pricey, this is a truly superb high-performing road cycling shoe.
More info: www.specialized.com
Wren Aluminum Stem
Contrary to popular wisdom, cyclists don't always have to abide by the "strong, light, cheap, pick two" adage. And that's what we love about Wren's lightweight aluminum stems. As you can see in the photo above, this 100mm, 6-degree angle option comes in at just 88 grams - but costs only $60. Contrast that with a carbon fiber ENVE road stem, which has a claimed weight of 115 grams for its 100mm model, yet costs an eye-watering $265. We'll take the aluminum one, thanks.
Applicable for MTB or road use, the Wren stem uses 3D forged AL7050 aluminum that enhances strength, hardness, and rigidity. And the four-bolt clamp distributes clamping force over a wider area, while Torx T20 Chromoly bolts are strong, light, and harder to strip.
More info: wrensports.com
Hot Deal: Shop Here
DoucheBags Little Bastard 60L
The perfect sized suitcase is a personal choice, but for our longer trips (where checking a bag is a necessity) the DoucheBags Little Bastard 60L works really well. It has a big open main compartment for easy gear/clothing access, and there are zippered pockets on each side to help keep you organized. More impressive is how sturdy this bag is, which means a lot when disgruntled luggage handlers get hold of it. The outer shell is made from tough TPE material, and the DoucheBags Little Bastard features integrated rib cage construction that allows for the removal of traditional padding, which helps lower bag weight (about 7 pounds) without diminishing protection and durability.
More info: douchebags.com
Hot Deal: Shop Here
Woom 4 Kid's Bike
With two kids under the roof, I've grown far more interested in the kid's bike segment. And that's led me back to Woom time and again. Take the Woom 4, which is a great introduction to gears, its SRAM X4 8-speed drivetrain expanding the possibilities for your little one. Whether they are out adventuring in an area with hills or going on a long commute in town, this 20″ bike is as dynamic as the growing child demands it to be. Plus Kenda off-road tires are perfect for exploring the road less traveled. Assembly is a snap and all tools and easy-to-follow instructions are included. Bike weight is a reasonable 16.9 pounds and it's designed for ages 6 to 9 years or kids 45″-51" tall.
More info: us.woombikes.com
Hot Deal: Shop Here
Stages Power LR Ultegra R8000
We're just starting to experiment with this Stages Gen 3 power meter, which measures left and right power output independently. But we've long been impressed with the Boulder, Colorado-based company's products, which combine high-level functionality with fair prices ($1000 in this case, with four crank length and three chainring combo options). Top line features include active temperature compensation, which enhances consistency of measurement. It's also easy to calibrate (with a claimed +/- 1.5% accuracy level), utilizes accelerometer based cadence measurement, has wirelessly upgradable firmware, an LED indicator that displays battery level at start up, and uses upgraded BLE and ANT+ radios that offer a claimed 6x improvement of data transmission strength.
More info: stagescycling.com
Hot Deal: Shop Amazon | Shop Jenson USA
What do you think of our picks? And what are you favorite road cycling products from 2018.