A few bike things I love

A few bike things I love
Yesterday's spring thaw ride up in the hills

I've ridden bikes all my life, and pretty seriously on the road and dirt since the early 2000s. I try out a lot of bike gear to get things lighter, stronger, and more comfortable. I figured I might as well write up some quick reviews of things that have made riding more fun in the last year.

Cheap threads done well

I love Rapha cycling gear because it's understated, stylish, and performs well. But paying $275 for bike shorts and $230 for a jersey is ridiculous, even if it's really nice stuff. For years, I would buy unworn Rapha gear new from eBay, where people got them as gifts but couldn't return them for being the wrong size, so they passed the savings along to me.

Recently, I noticed one of my favorite riders, Phil Gaimon had a new clothing sponsor called The Black Bibs. His pitch was any $200 jersey you see for sale is maybe twenty bucks worth of nylon with a ton of markup added. The Black Bibs sells jerseys for $40 in simple solid colors (and they make other stuff as well).

I bought a base layer top, Winter tights, 3/4 knickers for Spring/Fall, and a Winter long sleeve jersey last month and they fit well, are constructed well, and I got all four pieces for less than the price of a single Rapha jersey. The pad in the shorts is a bit thicker than I'm used to but overall the clothing is comfy, well made, and incredibly affordable. Big thumbs up to The Black Bibs for making bike clothing that performs well, but is also quite affordable.

3D printed saddles from Aliexpress are actually great

I'll be honest, this next recommendation is a bit fraught. Every so often, someone in the bike community spots an incredible deal at Aliexpress where you can get a knock-off version of a very expensive bike product, at 80-90% less than retail.

I know this stuff is borderline counterfeit, but the real items are so wildly expensive that sometimes it's worth taking a risk on a knock-off.

Specialized and other companies figured out how to 3D print bike saddles. When I first heard about them, I thought they were completely custom, like you sit on a pad and then a computer makes you an exact perfect saddle. But that's not the case here, bike companies figured out how to 3D print seats that are pliable and soft but they come in standard sizes.

Here is Specialized's highest end 3D saddle, which retails for $450:

And here is an Aliexpress 3D-printed saddle that retails for $65:

Here's a good summary of the pros and cons of these cheap knock-offs versus real-world tests of their full-priced equivalents.

I bought one of these saddles for $65 on Aliexpress, and it showed up a couple weeks later. I've only ridden it for about 20 miles since installing but it's already night and day more comfortable than my previous Fizik saddle. It's extremely lightweight, more comfortable than what I used to use, and makes rides easier as a result. As the video states above, the imported knockoff saddle is about 95% the same as the big ticket version when ridden side-by-side, but for a 85% cheaper price, it's totally worth taking a gamble on.

Here's mine mounted on my bike and I have to say I'm a huge fan.

A dropper post on a gravel bike is actually good

For the past several years I've ridden more of my distance on gravel roads. They're fun, due to the unpredictable nature of the road surface, but more importantly in America, there are barely any cars on gravel roads so your chances of being hit by a car and killed goes way down.

The longer I ride mostly gravel, the more gnarly the rides get, to the point where some trails I do are part of mountain bike trail networks. I used to ride cyclocross bikes, then I went through two previous gravel bikes before settling on a Canyon Grizl bike. It can handle big 50mm tires I run on it and any trail I throw at it.

Canyon offers my bike with a suspension fork and a dropper post, but when I first got it I thought those were overkill and silly, trying too hard to make it into a mountain bike. My Grizl came with SRAM wireless AXS shifters, so eventually I bought a wireless AXS dropper post that lets me put the seat down 2-3 inches with a quick double-tap of my shift levers.

It's a $700 seat post that requires bluetooth and battery charging and I know that sounds wild, but I have to say since I got it, I use it every day when doing steep descents on rough terrain. You can lower your center of gravity immediately and it makes your bike feel like it's sticking to the roads like the tires are made of velcro, not to mention it gives you more room to move around above your seat, and the seat will never pop up from a bump in the road and slam you in the crotch.

It's crazy expensive, kind of heavy since it's made entirely of metal, but if you're riding rough roads on your gravel bike this thing is a game changer for bike control on the downhills.

A bike computer that really does it all

I've used all the popular brands of bike computers over the years, mostly settling on whatever latest/greatest thing that Garmin makes. Last year, I bought a Karoo 2 by Hammerhead and it's basically a bike computer running android as the OS. It first launched as a Kickstarter many years ago and the newest version has really come along.

Since it's Android at its core, you can sideload Android apps if you need something to close a garage door or unlock a door without having to pull your phone out of your jersey pockets. It talks to all my SRAM wireless shifters and can tell me what my wireless shifter battery levels are, it joins my WiFi network when I get home from rides and auto-uploads them to Strava. The computer automatically shows me upcoming hills complete with steepness graphs and overall distances until they are complete and pops up warnings when the descending road ahead hits a hairpin turn so I can slow down for it.

Overall, it's wildly customizable, does a great job with mapping, and seems more flexible than anything I've used from Garmin or Wahoo.

My current rig