Items of Use

A few items of gear and more that proved useful during the course of the year…

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
I’ve been using a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt for a while now and mine developed some problems. It was long out of warranty but the company offered a replacement model for a discount – good but no repair offer – and in fact they sent out the V2 version that’s been produced since 2021, an upgrade. It’s got a colour screen which at first seemed like a bit of a gimmick but even reading speed or distance in black and white is better as the screen has more contrast. The battery life is longer too, and not just comparing a new model to an old. A USB-C connection is welcome too. The only downside is the inbuilt thermometer which is consistently three degrees off, and this doesn’t seem to be correctable and it’s a regular problem for others, look at Strava uploads from a bike race and Wahoo models often wildly over and undershoot. It’s not a deal-breaker as you can add or subtract but it does mean if you’re out on the hottest or coldest day of the year… your friends on Strava won’t know it.

Fairmean rinko bag
Travelling? You may find bicycles are banned on trains, and picky hoteliers won’t let you keep your bike in the room. Meanwhile a normal suitcase doesn’t attract the same reservations. With a rinko you can turn your bike into luggage and win. Being able to carry your bike into a hotel room or guest house means you may well sleep better knowing it’s not left unlocked downstairs. Rinko bags are ubiquitous in Japan where it’s standard to remove your wheels bag your bike for train travel. So it’s a bike bag? Sure but a rinko is light, this is the difference.

This one from Fairmean is like a rainjacket as it folds up into a small pouch that fits in a jersey pocket or stuffs in a bottle cage, obviously impossible with a usual bike bag or box. There’s a trade-off as the Fairmean’s for light travel rather than daily commuting and you’d be reckless to entrust your bike to an airline. It’s pricey but has paid for itself in saved bike supplements and improved sleep.

Assos Spring Fall Gloves Evo
Want to have warm hands? There’s a lot to be said for thinking of gloves last, as in get your underlayers and outerwear right first. As the name suggests these ones aren’t meant for winter but they work pretty well down towards freezing, you can put another layer underneath them if needed. Yet they’re light so you can drop them a jersey or jacket pocket for days when things warm up or might cool down and there’s no bulk.

Flappy jersey
From cold to hot now. Over a decade ago team-issue jerseys went form fitting, you sized them small and the elastic fabric hugged the chest, an instant aero gain. Today there are plenty of jerseys on the market promising amazing wicking properties and mesh cooling for high summer and the more you pay, the less you get as in jerseys that only weight a few grams and have open necks and delicate pockets. But if you’re not in a hurry during a heatwave, fish out an old jersey that’s in a light synthetic fabric, think something from 2010-2012 and a size too big. The secret seems to be to get the right fabric in the right size, not too retro as older fabrics were heavy, it needs to be light to ripple in the breeze so it pulls air inside one second and expels it the next. A bit obvious but having got so used to tighter jerseys that are quick to dry on a descent but not necessarily cool on the flat, this was a welcome retro win.

Portable radio
Remember the “Virage Pinot” on the Petit Ballon last summer? Big crowds had gathered to roar on Thibaut Pinot. Apparently none of them knew their man was leading up the climb so they went wild when he appeared solo in front of them. How could they not know? It might sound too romantic but you try visiting a mountain stage of the Tour as the crowds can overwhelm the local mobile signal, even refreshing a web page or fetching a tweet fails. Race sponsor and telecom provider Orange actually installs mobile cellular masts to add capacity but typically at the finish rather than a surprisingly crowded hairpin. So a low-fi battery FM radio works if you’re going to a popular race like the Tour or Ronde and want to know what’s going on… as long as the FM signal still works.

Bora wheels
Some peasant hacks so far. Now for a more pricey choice but have you tried shopping for new wheels for a rim brake bike? The market has almost dried up, especially if you’re looking for something light. Discs work increasingly well and make sense in many ways as you separate the structural rim from the braking surface. But the nice thing is to have choice and the simplicity of a rim brake set-up for some summer travel works, the toolkit for a long weekend is an allen key. But it’s getting harder to find wheels as manufacturers drop lines. MTB legend Keith Bontrager is said to have remarked “light, strong, cheap: pick any two” and Campagnolo Bora wheels are light and strong, so far the 45 size makes a big arch and they’re as true as they day they got delivered despite farm tracks and unpaved passes. These roll well and the braking track offers good friction and the supplied pads don’t need upgrading.

The app and streaming service has made it simple to watch a bike race, it’d be easier to list the road races they didn’t show as in shorter, but the omissions were so few and far between it’s hard to recall. The best thing was the sheer ease, having it one one channel at home would be convenient – like Sporza for Flemish residents – but it’s better than that as it’s both portable, you can watch on your phone and it’s global, you can watch a race from a cafe whether your in Koksijde or Kyoto. Alas it’s all ending and replacement services are set to be more expensive and less portable.

Things that came in useful before… and are still often used too

35 thoughts on “Items of Use”

  1. I will add a few things i find worthwhile for a lot of my rides.

    Magene C406 bike gps computer. Cost me 65$ aussie (<50 us) on amazon prime. Battery lasts over 4 times what my garmins do. Has a good sized old school display like garmins used to have which is very easy to read. Cons are it does not do mapping and directions. Radar does not work. Speed tends to underreport when under trees. But so cheap.
    I have a couple of Sleeveless fleecy lined gillet/jacket which i wear over a running shirt or jersey. My most used piece of clothing. We have a lot of chilly mornings which soon get to hot for a full length fleecy lined jacket but a bit of warmth on the chest is good. These things are hard to find for sale but so useful.
    Proper bike pump with foot flipout so its sort of a mini floor pump. Mini pumps are couple of hundred grams lighter which gains you maybe 0.1 km/hr on the steepest mountain in the world but are practically useless at pumping up road tyres to full pressure. A proper pump is not heavy really and you can put in 100 psi in a minute without much effort.
    Radar. A lot of my riding is on narrow unmarked country roads with cars every 5 to 10 minutes on average. The procedure is for the last riders to keep a look back and for the group to go single file when a car comes. Relying on the last riders to constantly look back has a proven track record of failure. I wish every rider in our groups had one, it makes being last rider so much easier when you can look ahead instead of turning around constantly. Even by yourself no longer being surprised by cars is great.

    • I see (I already knew) that Italy isn’t the only place in the world where cyclists are bullied into less safe behaviours by drivers’ expectations and commonplace assumptions 😛
      Double-line w/o anyone looking back is way safer the vast majority of times!
      But of course we can’t do much against social context, although forcing some on-the-run implicit negotiation against a bad standard can sometimes be an option, when one feels confident enough (not easy).

      • But here in Italy there’s a glimmer of hope as “Cycling Mobility-Italy in Bike” has been announced to the Parliament. I kept wondering if/when the Italian bike and component companies would combine with the Italian bike tourism people to make their voice heard before the likes of Matteo Salvini manage to legislate (or just do it via homicide) cycling on the roads here out of existence.
        I guess I wasn’t the only one 🙂

  2. Great tips and I just saw the 2018 edition for the first time. As one of my goals for the next season is to make more rice cakes for rides (and mix my own Maltodextrin-Fructose-Salt-Iso-drink), I am keen on trying the Onigiri mold. Do you still use these?

    And concerning the preparation, after
    „put some rice in the mold, drop some filling in the middle, put rice around it, add more rice on top and press the other half of the mold.“
    they are solid enough to wrap in a paper and put into the jersey pocket?

    • Yes, very much still in use. Japanese or Italian rice (for risotto etc) works better for stickiness. You don’t meed a mold, it can be done by hand if you want to try. But start with warm rice – not hot from the pot, not cold from yesterday – and wet the mold or your hands, then press in to shape. Like all recipes it might not work on the first attempt but with practice you’ll refine it.

      There are more typical rice cake recipes online, eg rice baked into a slab and cut into pieces, easier. But I like these “onigiri” for the longest of rides because of the fillings, you can put salty things in which you might not feel like when preparing them but hours into a ride on a hot day they work.

  3. In my experience Rinko bags are one of the most unfit-for-purpose pieces of kit I’ve ever used. The standard ones they sell in Japan are basically made from bedsheet material, easy to rip and frustratingly undersized. But they are absolutely a necessary evil when touring Japan!

    • I had the same feeling when I was studying how to transport my bike on TGVs. Another issue with these bags is that they are usually used with the front wheel on, which is not allowed on a TGV.

      In the end, I did a little bricolage inspired by [1], but I was constrained by my budget and nonexistent sewing skills.
      I took the lightest tarp [2] and added additional eyelets [3]. In the middle, I folded and glued the three layers, which subsequently formed the bottom when I carried the bag on my shoulder. The bag is closed with a 4-mm rope. A part of the rope is a shoulder strap. It weighs 570 g with ropes, so it is not the lightest.
      The tarp also serves as a grounds cover when I sleep outside. Its wide enough to cover me if it rains. The end product is not the best, but I was making it in a room smaller than the tarp! Note that it is too large to fit in a back pocket.

      What I would do differently:
      – I think that metal eyelets are lighter and definitely thinner. A lot of the bulk comes from the eyelets.
      – The bag should have thinner ropes for closing and a lightweight band for shoulder straps.
      – Design it better, so I can use it as a bivouac.

      [2] I think it is this one:
      [3] Like these:

  4. +1 for the Bora wheels. My Bora WTO 45 are certainly the best (non-TT) wheels I have ever owned. Having said that, I absolutely adore my Shamal Mille wheels, and I suspect the Shamal Ultra would be equally great. The design might now be dated, but they are light and super strong, and after seven years and tens of thousands of miles on terrible roads they are as smooth and true as on the first day. If I could only own one pair of wheels, they would always be my choice. I should probably start stockpiling brake pads…

    • I used to have a pair of Campy Scirocco (which are at the cheaper end of things) and they were absolutely rock solid. Sold them to get a snazzier pair which look faster, but not convinced they actually are faster.

  5. Nice idea sharing reviews of useful stuff, just when someone might be looking for gift ideas!
    I’ll throw in a plug (but leave-out links to them as to not piss anyone off?) for URSUS wheelsets – they have a carbon and two aluminum rim-brake options on their website currently. Their Athon set was spec’d on our last round of rental bikes while a pair of their (since discontinued) Guara wheels is still spinning happily on one of my personal bikes. I’d love to suggest Campagnolo but I really, really HATE the Scirocco 35 set I have…ride like rocks no matter what tires I put on them! Their now-discontinued Khamsin and Calima wheels were fine (and cheap) but I’m guessing the folks in Vicenza have decided to concentrate on rich people these days?
    I’ve gotten a lot of use out of SciCon’s Pocket Bike Bag, combining it with their double wheel bag for light-duty. I make sure the bike’s chain’s on the big ring and often slip a piece of pipe insulation foam around the bottom to reduce the chance of damage from ground contact.
    Happy Holidays to all!!!!

    • I agree on the Sciroccos. While the Shamals have been the best, the Sciroccos were the worst wheels I have ever owned. Harsh, sluggish, and the bearings were probably made of clay. I wrecked two of them relatively quickly, and I am not that heavy. One level up, the Zondas rode well and were very reliable.

      • I had a pair of Sciroccos and was really impressed with them for the price! Other than being a touch heavy they were great for the price but just goes to show you can hit lucky (or not) with quality control. Would love a pair of Shamals, if I ever get riding enough again to justify the purchase.

        • If your Sciroccos were good, then maybe it was indeed a QC issue for my sets. As for the Shamals, it might be worth keeping your eyes open for a bargain while old stock is being sold off. I can also recommend the Zondas as a cheaper option. Just to be clear, I have been talking about the rim brake versions, since this is what the original post referred to. I don’t have any bikes with disc brakes (yet). I am very happy with my current bikes and groupsets, but it’s been worrying to see how quickly good quality rim brake wheels have become a niche product.

          • Yeah, I was talking about rim break too. Have discs on my CX bike but prefer rim for road riding. Agree it’s a worry – I suspect the Chinese manufacturers might fill the gap but the QC varies wildly across those brands from the online vids I’ve seen. Almost talking myself into buying some Shamals now!

          • “how quickly good quality rim brake wheels have become a niche product.”
            As have rim braked, bare frame sets at the upper end range. Giant seems to be the only major mfr offering such frames in USA, and I suspect they will completely eliminate it in 2024.
            I’ve never had any issues with rim brakes for road riding, even in very hilly and mountainous terrain.
            I cynically believe it was a “group think” mentality among the mfrs to force us to re-purchase new frames, wheels, and group sets at great expense.

          • Pinarello and Colnago are among those offering rim brake versions as well but this points to the luxury, rare option. It’s expensive for frame manufacturers to offer both versions as it means two production lines.

            I like both brake systems and value the choice. Good dual-pivot calipers on dual mount forks with the right pad-rim combo is great for a summer’s day in the mountains and easy for travel; discs for a wet day etc. But this choice is really drying up and there’s a cost as lots of bikes become near-obsolete, if you crash or wear out your frame / wheels etc it’s harder to carry the undamaged parts across.

    • I wonder how much this is being driven by carbon rims. Obv heat and carbon rims is a potential failure point – i.e. it’s a lot easier to build carbon wheels if you don’t have to worry about brake tracks.

      • The other significant factor was certainly the (welcome) trend towards larger tyre widths, as the longer-reach rim calipers necessary to accomodate them all have downsides, being either too heavy, too flexy or too sensitive to setup.
        Rim-brake wheelsets are quickly disappearing from the market, but good-quality rims for rebuilds and custom wheels will certainly be around for many years still.

  6. Quick plug for TPU tubes. Switched back from tubeless 2 years ago. Mostly paired with Continental Ultra sport tyres. Occasionally the rather fragile GP5000s. I prefer the tight handling feel of the Ultra Sport over the more neutral GP 5000.

  7. For those riding tubs or tubeless Vittoria Pitstop canisters are a get out of jail free card if the system fails. Basically a small canister with expander foam if your puncture won’t plug. Saved me once or twice!

  8. Not exactly “item of use” — more of a requiem and RIP: internet retailer “Wiggle UK” went bankrupt and out of business.
    I’m a USA resident but would typically buy 80% of my component and repair parts from Wiggle. Also from Ribble and ProBikeKit (PBK)
    Campagnolo prices in US were always absurdly, uncompetitively high. Always had significantly better pricing on Campy wheels & components from UK, and often Zipp wheels & components, too.
    No more.
    Ribble & PBK still in business — for now — but product range is significantly reduced. eg, Few or none Campy products at Ribble and PBK, and PBK won’t ship any Zipp products to USA.
    Seems many manufacturers have strongly restricted their distribution channels and geographic availability, to keep the selling prices high.

      • Wiggle’s ease and price advantage seemed to fade before their parent company Signa got into trouble, merging with Chain Reaction meant customers lost competition.

        Can vouch for Merlin too, some good prices, also Bike24 of Germany. And of course the local bike shop 😉 but not not everyone has a good one within reach.

  9. An inexpensive pancake air compressor and a Jaco presto adapter. It’s completely changed my relationship to tubeless gravel, 29+ and fat bike tires.

  10. On jerseys for cooler times – autumn and spring – or basically, almost the whole year in climates like the Celtic Isles (especially the more westerly and/or northerly parts), I thoroughly recommend a good mid-weight or thick wool jersey. E.g., the Cima Coppi “Centreline” jersey/jacket is my favourite bit of kit for 90% of the year here in Ireland. Wool works amazingly well across a wide range of temperatures, and wicks well even if you over-dress and/or the sun comes out and you get a bit too hot.

    Cima Coppi don’t seem to list the Centreline in their shop at the moment. Maybe their “Thermal jersey” is a similar replacement. Email them, tell them about your requirements, and they’ll tell you what they recommend – and I’m sure they’d make the make the Centreline if you want. I prefer the randonneur style horizontal pocket of the Centreline to the 3-vertical ones of their current thermal jersey anyway.

    Also, I disagree that gloves are the last thing you think about it. Ok, underlayer on the core is maybe first, but after that you need to think about your extremities. If you let them get cold, everything else gets cold. Get the gloves and (even) insulated overshoes on first.

    I find the Agu thick neoprene overshoes are some of the best. No zip, so they’re more robust – last longer. The stitching and reinforcing fabric at the cleat holes has also lasted much longer than most other overshoes. The previous best overshoes I had were the Shimano/Pro NPU overshoes, but they stopped making them – and they were zipped, a weak spot. The Agu overshoes are great, never had overshoes last this long!

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