Editor’s Note: Our 2015 Editor Choice Awards are out now in Dirt Rag Issue #188. But those items aren’t the only things we were impressed with this year. Here is a list of honorable mentions from our previous web editor (and current contributing editor and editor-in-chief of Bicycle Times, our sister mag).
Alpinestars All Mountain Jacket – $200
You’ll be shocked to hear that it can be quite damp here in the Pacific Northwest. Staying completely dry is almost an impossibility, but a rain shell is on my body or in my pack the majority of the year. While there are countless thin, packable shells on the market, the Alpinestars All Mountain jacket is the one that checks all my boxes for nearly year-round use.
The cut is casual enough to layer over sweaters or even a puffy coat, but is still cut for cycling with long arms and a dropped tail. The features are kept to a minimum, keeping the jacket light and streamlined, but the ones I really need are there: namely hand warmer pockets and zippered pit zips. The cuffs have a Velcro adjustment to keep out the wind and the hem and hood have minimalist drawcords.
The shell itself is a two-layer, breathable shell, and while it’s still thin enough to fit in a small hydration pack, it’s not the paper-thin material that I worry about tearing. I’ve scraped it across countless trees, gotten it completely muddy and generally treated it like crap and it’s still my go-to choice when the skies grow dark.
There are probably less-expensive options on the market (and certainly more expensive ones) but the All Mountain Jacket is a sure bet for keeping you comfortable on the bike.
Jandd fanny pack – $8 (used)
It’s true we get to test a lot of fancy gear here at Dirt Rag, but awesomeness knows no price and no age.
I picked up this fanny pack for $8 in a secondhand outdoors store and I find myself reaching for it all time on short rides that don’t require a full backpack. Jandd is the real deal when it comes to old-school Made-in-USA quality and durability (and its style hasn’t changed much). Vintage outdoors gear is back in style so this little guy came with extra street cred.
The main compartment has plenty of room for my phone, keys, tube and tools. Water bottles fit perfectly in the two side pockets, but my favorite setup is water in one and a cold beer in a koozie in the other for a little trail-side refreshment.
The best part is the adjustable lumbar straps, which allow you set the angle of the bag and really keep it in place better than just cinching down the waist strap super tight. I wear it low over my hips where I can keep it snug without it digging into my belly.
Hit up eBay or your local swap meet and see if you can pick up some unique gear of your own.
Catalyst iPhone 6 case – $70
Chances are few pieces of gear have changed the world as much as smartphones. Beyond mountain biking, they have become indispensable tools of everyday life. My iPhone helps me navigate to the trailhead, snaps photos along the way, records my GPS for next time, and most importantly keeps me in contact with the outside world should an emergency arise.
But these tiny, expensive computers are fragile and worth protecting. The Catalyst case is waterproof to 16 feet and drop proof as well … I’ve dropped it a lot. The rubber bumper around the edge makes it easy to hold without that slippery feeling of the naked iPhone case.
The round knob on the side controls the silence button, and there is a tiny loop in the corner if you want to attach a lanyard. The power port and headphone port are accessible behind a small, pull out gasket, which did come off a few times but luckily I never lost it. In fact, each component of the case (front, back, gasket, etc.) can be purchased separately and replaced if lost or damaged.
I’ve used and abused the Catalyst case for almost a year and aside from a few scratches in the clear screen cover, it looks good as new. Previously, I used a LifeProof case and, in my opinion, the Catalyst is better in every way. It’s also available in a bunch of colors and versions are available for most modern iPhone variations.
Editor’s Note: Katherine, our new web editor, wasn’t on staff when the 2015 Editor Choice Awards were being collected for Dirt Rag Issue #188, so her honorable mention list is made up of stuff she purchased during the past year on her own dime.
If you want to know what the rest of the staffers chose as their favorite bikes and gear of 2015, pick up the latest issue off a newsstand near you, or purchase a digital copy now.
Chromag Trailmaster Saddle – $96
The Trailmaster is my just-right saddle. It features a medium-sized platform, has a “medium” amount of padding (it’s not super soft, despite how thick it looks) and is neither too flat nor too curved nor too deeply channeled. Similarly to SRAM’s Guide brakes, I can ride my full-suspension bike all day and not notice this vital component because it just works. I usually ride wearing lightly padded liner shorts, but the saddle is padded and comfortable enough for a brief outing if and when I forget my chamois.
The perforated natural leather top wears a classy striped pattern and has aged admirably, with just a small amount of barely noticeable cracking on the rear after almost a year of rides. Otherwise, it still looks remarkably new and doesn’t feel as if it has lost any of its support.
The Trailmaster looks smaller than it feels under butt thanks to its padding and edges that are generously rounded off for ease in maneuvering off the saddle. At only 4 mm longer than Chromag’s dirt jump saddle, and featuring a soft nose, it might not be the best platform for people who spend a lot of time slid way far forward to grind out climbs, but I have been pleased with the Trailmaster on 99 percent of my rides.
The Chromag Trailmaster has chromoly rails, weighs 310 grams and measures 284 mm by 140 mm.
SRAM Guide RSC Brakes – $410/pair
SRAM’s Guide brakes have gotten so much love in the past year and have worked so well that they have nearly been forgotten, but they should still be on your radar whether you’re upgrading or building a bike from scratch. In fact, after choosing them for this list, I had to go for a quick pedal to think about how they feel; these brakes are so good that I have been able to ignore them, trust them and just ride.
The RSC Guides have impressed me with their modulation, reliability and adjustability. They don’t feel grabby nor do they replicate the unnerving, brake-pedal-to-the-floor-then-catch feeling of the old Avids I replaced. As a smaller rider with smaller hands, I appreciate tool-free reach adjust and true, one-finger braking that is always smooth. After many rides—not always in great conditions—these brakes have stayed true, quiet, powerful and proven to be very low-maintenance. Read Mike’s review if you want all the technical details.
Giro Wind Vest – $80
Simply called “Wind Vest,” this is Giro’s least-expensive outerwear offering (price is the same for men and women). Despite the steep price tag for what seems to be a simple piece of gear, I have found it to be worth every dollar. On any ride when the temperature is 70 degrees or below, this vest goes with me. I never know if I’ll get cold on a long descent or end up sitting outside a coffee shop in the shade. It wads up small, stuffs into its own pocket (inside the vest) and can fit in the hip belt pocket of my hydration pack or a rear jersey pocket.
Giro’s vest is made of Pertex Nylon Rip Stop fabric and features a perforated rear panel that means a less-sweaty back when riding with a pack. My vest shows no signs of wear after almost a year of abuse being worn under backpacks, stuffed into gear bags and rained on. It wicks moisture and is highly wind and water resistant. It’s an indispensable piece of gear with multiple uses that I’m never sorry I carried and often very glad to have.
The vest is slightly fitted but doesn’t have the upside-down triangle shape of hardcore roadie gear. It lacks grippers and still has room in the hips. It is comfortable enough off the bike that I also wear it running and hiking. The women’s sizes run almost a full-size large, especially if you want this to fit closely.
Surly Bikes Racing Sucks Hat – $28
Before you wave a rigid carbon pitchfork in my direction over my bad attitude, know that I bought this hat specifically to wear at a 12-hour mountain bike race. Since then, I have ditched my other baseball-style head coverings and reach for this Surly cap exclusively. It features fancy pinstripes, a high-qualty embroidered patch, Flex-Fit stretch, polyester and Spandex construction and a standard brim (as opposed to flat, bro-brah nonsense). The hat has even held up to multiple trips through the washing machine. Those are nice touches but, really, my favorite thing is that this hat says “Racing Sucks.”
Most people understand that the sentiment is supposed to be funny, and I can feel good about my day knowing that I made some people laugh. Even better are the ones who don’t know how to react to a woman wearing a hat that says “sucks.” I wasn’t allowed to say that word as a young child but we’re all adults now and, if you have a sense of humor, you should have this hat.
Editor’s Note: Our 2015 Editor Choice Awards are out now in Dirt Rag Issue #188. But those items aren’t the only things we were impressed with this year. Here is a list of honorable mentions from our tech editor, Eric.
Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition – $6,400
It hurt me not to give this bike my top pick. It is excellent in every sense of the word. As the bike of our recent One Bike Challenge (read all about that adventure), it handled bikepacking, downhill runs and a 100-mile race with more poise than I did. To top it off, it is one of the best handling, shorter-travel trail bikes I’ve had the pleasure of riding. If it has a weakness, it’s that there is just a single, $6,400 model. I’d love to see an aluminum frame version as well; the proletariat needs bikes like this, too.
Five Ten Guide Tennies – $130
To be clear, the Guide Tennies are not mountain bike shoes. They are what is known as “approach shoes,” which are a cross between a hiking shoe and a climbing shoe. They use 5.10’s well-known and well-loved Stealth rubber, which is as famous for sticking to crags as it is for sticking to pedals. I’ve ended up using these for a little bit of everything including a good bit of home remodeling, as evidenced by the layer of drywall dust and primer drips.
The sole can leave dark scuffs, and the solid rubber toe area is great for edging, not so much for scrambling up muddy hills. With a more lugged sole, these could be the bikepacking/adventure shoes I’ve been looking for. Still, the Guide Tennies have been a comfortable and versitile surprise and have relegated my 5.10 FreeRiders to the back of the closest for flat pedal use.
Acre Traverse – $165
Admittedly, these shorts look plain and the price tag is steep for a short that doesn’t include a liner. But this is a case of understated excellence.
Acre is the mountain bike arm of Mission Workshop, which is all about non-flashy performance gear that is mainly focused on the urban rider. The Acre lineup is small, with just seven pieces, and the Traverse is the only available short.
Much like a modern trail bike, the Traverse is capable of handling a wide range of riding, from multi-day bikepacking trips to laps at the bike park. The stretch nylon material is comfortable in a wide range of weather conditions and the short slits at the bottom of the leg openings allow these to settle neatly over kneepads while still keeping a nice silhouette when going without protection. A pair of zippered leg pockets work fine for cellphone storage but anything much heavier can get floppy when pedaling. A simple belt and taller waist in the rear keep the plumber’s crack at bay.
The shorts are crafted in the U.S.A. of American-made material, for those that find that important (you should). Said material sheds most trail detritus and has stood up to multiple rides without washing.
It is hard to explain just why these shorts are so good. They fit just right. They are just the right weight. They are sturdy but not too heavy. They don’t ride up or fall down. In a drawer full of expensive mountain bike baggy shorts, these are always, always, always the first to be pulled out for a ride. Acre cut the fluff and left just the good stuff.