PEARL IZUMI X-ALP ELEVATE - $180
Pearl Izumi's X-Alp shoes have been the standard for bikepackers for the last 3 versions, and I doubt that will change with this model. PI keep improving their hikeable mountain bike shoes. They pedal well - they're stiff enough for good power transfer and the lugged Vibram soles provide solid grip in soft conditions. I have to say, however after a recent bikepacking weekend that involved lots of scrambling on rocks, that these would not be my first choice for walking on rocks - the sole should be flatter for that. I think the X-Alp Launch, (which is still available) had a flatter sole. But the Launch sole was more like a traditional running shoe, with exposed foam on the sides that got pretty torn up. The Elevates have minimized that part and seem to have changed material. That's a minor complaint. The shoes fit well and should be a top contender for trail riders that like to explore during their rides. If you need further endorsement, Kurt Refsnider wore this model while setting a new FKT on the AZT 750 and there's no shortage of chunky HAB, so there you go.
OAKLEY ARO3 HELMET - $180
There's a lot to like about the Oakley ARO3. First of course is the look - it's simple enough to appeal to a wide range of riders, but cool enough to be Oakley. Oakley bill this helmet to be their most ventilated model - the ARO5 is their “aero” model. That's not to say the ARO3 isn't aero, but that's not it's main function. MIPS seems to be a standard these days, so it's nice to see that safety feature built in. The boa closure works well and is easy to use - the knob pulls the white wire to snug the helmet to your head. The wicking X-Static pad keeps the helmet from shedding streams of sweat down your shades. Our only complaint is that it's a bit heavy compared to some other premium helmets on the market weighing in at 11 oz. (Giro Synthe is 9.4 oz. POC Octal X is 7.8 oz.) To be fair, MIPS adds some weight, so we feel like the added protection is worth it. Second, I kept getting the arms of my Jawbreakers stuck in one of the MIPS holes. I'm sure Oakley won't rest and the next versions of their helmets will tick every box. Beautiful first offering from Oakley and essential for all Oakley fans. We can't wait to see where they go with their helmets.
WOLFTOOTH MASTER LINK COMBO PLIERS
Wolftooth is making tools you didn't know you needed. The Pack Pliers are a perfect example of Wolftooth smarts. The tool serves as a tire lever, valve core remover, valve stem lock nut wrench and master link pliers. It also provides storage for two master links so you will always be prepared on the trail. Magnets hold the master links securely in place and self close the tool. With this in your pack, you'll always have your missing links handy, a tire lever, and a valve core remover in one handy package. Brilliant! My only critique is that I would worry about ruining my carbon rims with an aluminum tire lever.
WOLFTOOTH PACK WRENCH & ULTRALIGHT BB TOOL & 1" HEX TOOL INSERTS
Wolftooth keep managing to make ingenious bits for customizing your ride, or for working on your ride. The idea with the combo tool was to make a modular wrench that you could take with you on trail without too much weight or bulk. Honestly, I can't tell you how many times I've been out in the woods and someone asked me if I had a cassette removal tool. Seriously. As their site say, The aluminum wrench has magnets that hold the nickel plated steel inserts in place. We love what Wolftooth are bringing to market these days - they're making smart products that really work and they're doing it in small batches in Minnesota. We're fans!
- Pack Wrench - ultralight 1 inch hex and bottom bracket wrench
- Ultralight Cinch and ISIS Spline Wrench Insert - older ISIS bottom brackets or the Race Face Cinch direct mount chainring system
- Ultralight Cassette Lock Ring Wrench Insert - cassette lockrings and some centerlock rotor lockrings
- Ultralight 8mm Hex Wrench Insert - pedal removal and other 8mm hex applications
- Ultralight 16mm Hex Wrench Insert - Race Face Cinch aluminum spindle bolts, frame pivots, and other 16mm hex applications
WOLFTOOTH THRU AXLE
The new generation of gravel road endurance bikes are awesome. I love that they have 15mm thru axles - they provide much better tracking and the fact that they screw in feels much more secure than old school skewers. What does this thru axle do that the standard DT Swiss axle doesn't. Well, functionally nothing - you knew that. But the Wolf Tooth cleans things up nicely. It's cleaner looking, it's lighter, and it streamlines the front end of the bike. Another bonus is that thieves without hex keys won't be able to snag your fancy hoops so easily. Oh and check out this copy from their site - “Unlike other similar products, Wolf Axle uses a captive steel washer under the head to reduce friction on the fork leg. This protects your expensive fork, transfers more of the tightening torque to clamping load for a stiffer interface and prevents the axle from sticking or galling when you want to remove it.” Forty bucks well spent, I think.
LEZYNE DIGITAL SHOCK DRIVE - $75
This is the one you want in your pack. All the Lezyne tools I've tried have been rock solid in the performance department as well in aesthetics. We tried their drive with the analog dial and while the performance was great on that pump, we were after the most packable, lightest shock pump available and that's exactly what you get with the digital shock drive. It's easy to use and very handy to have when adjusting your shocks on trail as your loads change. I've come to appreciate the comfort of full squish bikepacking for more rugged terrain and having the right compact tool to make adjustments is really key.
LEZYNE ALLOY DRIVE - $45
Again…this is the one you want in your pack. All the Lezyne tools I've tried have been rock solid in the performance department as well in aesthetics. We tried their digital drive version of this hand pump and while the performance was great on that pump, we were after the most packable, lightest pump available. We love the ABS Flex Hose. Ever destroyed a presta valve trying to inflate a tube? We have. The flex hose takes your jerky pumping motion and takes the risk out of pumping up. It packs down small and hides in your pack or bag until you need it, which is hopefully never, but we know how that goes. As soon as you leave your pump at home, that's the day you triple flat. Do us all a favor - don't tempt the flat gods and pack one of these on every ride. Essential! Oh! and we love the purple ano. Style points and the color helps you find the pump in your packed gear.
Just like Wolftooth, Dynaplug is USA made in small batches - except Dynaplug is from Chico, CA not Minnesota. Before Dynaplug we were jamming “bacon strips” into our tire gashes. Dynaplug has many models to choose from - some incorporate CO2 cartridges for race applications. The idea is to plug that hole and reinflate as quickly as possible. Plugs are easier to place when the tire still has some air volume. The Racer is our model of choice, since it's slim and won't take up too much room in our pack. An essential piece of gear for bikepackers and trail riders alike!
PDW FULL METAL FENDER
Finally a fender that looks good enough to install on the Parlee. PDW have considered all the permutations when it comes to mounting these on a range of bikes. I usually run 28c or 35c tires on this bike and while not the closest fit, these City sized fenders work well with both sizes. The best thing about the Full Metals, aside from the great aesthetics that we already mentioned, is that they're user-friendly. Both the front and rear allow users to quick adjust the reach with a small allen wrench. I've seen folks replace the stock rubber splash guard with a extendo buddy flaps that practically brush the road surface. Yeah, you can do that too. Highly recommended. These have made us less afraid of riding on rainy days, and any product that does that is gold…err black gold I guess. Great fenders!
PICKY OATS “Performance Oatmeal”
We've already raved about Picky Bars in past features. Oregonians probably know that Picky is owned by Bend-ites Jesse Thomas, Lauren Fleshman, and Steph Bruce - all super star athletes. They set out to make bars that are made with all natural ingredients but still perform like sport food - good tasting sport food. So, the bars are a hit, the question is can they repeat that success with breakfast oatmeal. Having tried all three flavors - Apple Cinnamon, Beet Chocolate, and Matcha/Pepitas/Goji/Cardamom I have mixed opinions. First, the portion size (2.8oz.) is sufficient for bikepacking - the Matcha is 310 calories while the Apple Cinnamon and Beet Chocolate both have 325 calories. I thought I would appreciate the exotic flavors more - I love the idea of beet powder for an endurance boost, but I feel like I'd tire of the flavors quickly. Surprisingly, the fairly traditional Apples and Cinnamon (How 'Bout Dem Apples) was my favorite flavor. Matcha was a close second for me - I'm a sucker for anything with cardamom and of course, pepitas. For me, I'm a DIY guy, so I'll probably just take inspiration from their more daring flavors and keep loading up my own 3 oz. packs, but I think there's room in the market and I think these will do well for folks looking to liven up their morning oatmeal ritual in an easy to use format.
Another new packable sport oatmeal start up! ROAM is a Portland-based start up. Russell Kevin and Zach are all friends that love rambling in the outdoors. The packets are both functional and good looking - The idea is to pour boiling water right into the pouch to save doing dishes. Zach's art graces all four flavors. Apparently the idea for ROAM was hatched on a backpacking trip or two. Like Picky, serving size is a generous 2.5 oz and is large enough to fuel a morning trekking in the woods. The Hazelnut Mocha and the Chocolate Peanut Butter have powdered milk and peanut butter in the mix - yes, the Hazelnut Mocha is caffeinated! They clock in at 310 calories. The Coconut Cranberry is awesome too, I'm a sucker for anything coconut and flax seed and hemp seed. Their flavors seem somehow familiar - like something I'd make while trying to make a mix with good rich flavor and extra brown sugar and sea salt. I think they'll do well - they have a good story, a great packable product and as always the bottom line is the fact that they're good tasty calories. If all that's not enough they give 1 percent to the planet which goes to local stewardship and outdoor access. Good stuff! Go Roam!
STUMPTOWN HAIR BENDER, NARIÑO BORDERLANDS, JACOBSEN HAIRBENDER SALT, TOTE
Stumptown is OG second wave coffee in Portland, and they've transitioned nicely into thirdwave coffee. We all know and love Hair Bender, so it's nice to get a refresh on that. The Colombian Nariño Borderlands is as rich and sophisticated as you could want and brewed up nicely in both Aeropress and pour over. From Stumptown's site: “Many of the farmers from this region are newer to coffee and have devoted themselves to the crop in exchange for income security. Borderlands continues to shine as a wildly successful project which has supported and empowered the community which in turn continues to produce beautiful and sustainable coffee.” That's something we can get behind. Also worth a try is their Hair bender finishing salt. Use a pinch on top of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, for a nice surprise while you're out on a long ride or trail work party. Finally the canvas tote: I'm going to call it kind of a punky memphis bauhaus vibe to this one. Represent, roll around town, and get shit done, all while caffeinated on some sustainable coffee. We're grateful to Stumptown for supporting our Oregon Timber Trail work parties.