First Impressions: J.Paks SnakPak

Thanks to the popularity of bikepacking and gravel riding, a cottage industry of bag manufacturers has emerged to fill the need for products not available from the big-name brands. One such company is Colorado’s J.Paks. Founded by industrial designer and avid adventure cyclist Joe Tonsager, the one-man shop offers a variety of stock and custom-made bags, including his popular SnakPak top tube bag.

The SnakPak is designed to provide quick-and-easy access to necessities such as snacks, cell phone, or camera. Measuring 9″ long and 2.25″ wide, the bag attaches to the front or rear of the top tube. For maximum compatibility, the hook-and-loop mounting straps can be repositioned to clear braze-ons, cables, etc. Single-body construction, combined with a waterproof YKK zipper keeps the bag’s contents dry. A strip of rubberized webbing along the bottom of the pack helps reduce slippage. If basic black isn’t your thing, Tonsager offers contrasting zipper accents in red, blue, green, yellow, camouflage, white, brown, or grey.

With a storage capacity of approximately 85 cubic inches, the SnakPak has room for those items that you don’t want to keep buried in a hydration pack or saddlebag. To give you an idea of just how much the SnakPak can carry, we were able to fit twenty (20) packets of GU energy gel in our review sample. For daily use, the bag comfortably held a wallet, cell phone, keys, some energy bars, and a bandanna with room to spare.

SnakPaks can be purchased directly from J.Paks for $40 + shipping. Turnaround time is approximately seven days for standard models. If you’re in Colorado, Golden Bike Shop and the Pedal Bike Shop both carry a selection of J.Paks products.

Disclosure: J.Paks provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: VP Components R73H Pedals

In the 30 years since LOOK debuted their first clipless pedal, the company’s single-sided design has proven to be extremely popular with riders and manufacturers alike. While there are dozens of LOOK-style pedals available, VP Components’ R73H model stands out from the crowd with a sleek, low-profile body, and an innovative two-piece cleat.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder VP Components R73H clipless pedal Look Keo

VP’s R73H feature alloy and carbon-composite bodies with stainless steel wear plates.

The R73H pedals utilize CroMo steel spindles and a combination of sealed cartridge bearings and LSL (Lightweight Self Lubricating) bushings. Installation requires an 8mm hex key, and release tension is adjustable via a 2.5mm allen fitting. Our sample pedals weighed 266g/pair, with the cleats and hardware coming in at 80g/pair.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder VP Components R73H clipless pedal Look Keo SRAM Force 22

The R73H’s naturally oriented themselves for easy entry.

In use, the VP pedals felt much like other LOOK-style pedals. Entry and exit were consistent, and confirmed by audible and tactile feedback (even at the lightest tension setting). The sealed bearings remained smooth during the course of our testing, and didn’t develop any play. Paired with Mavic’s Galibier road shoes, the unique two-piece cleats were pleasantly silent. Like most dedicated road pedals, the VPs performed best when restricted to paved-road use and walking was kept to a minimum.

When the R73H’s cleats do eventually wear out, replicating the correct position is a breeze thanks to VP’s patented two-piece design. Simply unbolt one portion of the cleat and snap in the replacement piece. Tighten the hardware, and repeat the procedure for the remaining section. VP’s two-piece cleat is 100% KeO-compatible, and can be purchased separately in fixed or floating (7°) versions.

Disclosure: VP Components provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: Jones Loop Handlebars

If you look at the current crop of purpose-built gravel bikes, you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s not equipped with drop-style handlebars. Since the gravel bike evolved from its ‘cross and road predecessors, it’s no surprise that drop bars would be the handlebar-of-choice. But what if you don’t actually like drops? Fear not, because Jeff Jones‘ Loop bar offers a viable alternative to the ubiquitous drop handlebar.

Since welding his first bar back in 2002 (which he dubbed the H-bar), Jones has expanded his handlebar offerings to include three models in two materials. In the summer of 2013, the Oregon-based inventor announced the release of an updated version of his popular Loop H-Bar. According to Jones, this wider bar (710mm vs 660mm) came about when Surly requested a custom bar for some of their 2014 bikes.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Jeff Jones Loop H-Bar Soul Cycles SRAM X9 Avid Elixir Thomson Elite X4 ESI

Jeff Jones’ Loop H-Bar on the author’s Soul Cycles 29er.

The updated bar retains the same hand, stem and brake lever positions as the original H-Bar, but the cross bar now sweeps forward to allow the controls to be mounted behind the cross bar. This forward sweep–combined with the additional width–creates more room for the rider’s hands, as well as improving compatibility with trigger, twist, and thumb shifters. Under the covers, the Loop bar features butted grip tubes, and the cross bar is both tapered and butted. All Jones H-Bars exceed the Europe EN 14755 safety standards for mountain bikes.

For GRAVELBIKE’s testing, the Loop bar was paired with Thomson’s Elite X4 stem (90mm x 10°). On Jones’ recommendation, the bars were with equipped with ESI‘s extra chunky silicone grips (6.75″ length). Brake levers used during the review period included Avid Elixir, FSA Afterburner, and TRP Carbon Dash (all paired with their respective hydraulic calipers). Shifting duties were divided between microSHIFT and SRAM triggers.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Jeff Jones Loop H-Bar Soul Cycles SRAM X9 Avid Elixir Thomson Elite X4 ESI

Room to spare for accessories such as lights or luggage.

Having logged many on- and off-road miles on the Titec-licensed version of Jones’ original bar, I was really looking forward to see how the updated Loop bar would perform. The new Loop-Bars’ uninterrupted real estate made positioning the controls much easier. With the original model, balancing stem length with the brake and shifter positions always felt like a compromise. The updated Loop H-Bar, by comparison, felt more integrated with the bike’s controls.

With a drop of only 13mm, how does the Loop bar compare to a conventional road handlebar (with a drop of 130mm)? While Jones’ H-Bar doesn’t offer the variable height of a drop handlebar, the generous fore/aft range proved very comfortable for paved and gravel riding. Despite having a radically different appearance, many of the Loop bars’ hand positions are quite similar to those offered by drop handlebars. For technical, off-road riding, the H-Bar easily outperformed drops. The Loop bars’ 45° angle felt extremely natural when descending, but also worked well for climbing steep, rocky pitches.

The Loop H-Bar is available in 660mm and 710mm widths, and comes in silver or black anodized finishes ($120 MSRP). A titanium 660mm version is also available ($380 MSRP).

Disclosure: Jeff Jones Bicycles provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.