Reviewing helmets is tricky. You can test fit and comfort, but very few of us are willing to take one for the team and actually crash test them in the name of journalistic integrity. While I’m happy to report that I didn’t need to test the efficacy of these helmets, I’m no stranger to cycling-related head injuries. Two and a half years ago I fell while riding my bicycle. I hit my head and sustained a concussion.
As you might imagine, that incident sparked an increased interest in bicycle helmet construction and design. At last year’s Interbike trade show, I spent a good portion of my time talking with manufacturers about helmet technology and mild traumatic brain injuries. And while each company touted the superiority of their respective technologies and features, practically every bicycle helmet shares the same basic design–namely, a layer of crushable foam encased in a protective shell that’s secured with a simple chin strap.
These five helmets cover a wide range of disciplines including commuting, off-road, and urban riding. Prices range from just under $70 to $230, but as the BHSI.org points out, less expensive helmets don’t provide reduced protection compared to their pricier counterparts. Each of these helmets complies with the necessary certification standards, so you can choose a helmet that fits your budget without compromising safety.
Once reserved for only the most elite (read, expensive) rigs, hydraulic disc brakes have become more common on gravel, cross, and even road bikes. With hydraulic brakes’ increased popularity, you might think that the mechanical disc brake is all but dead. Not so. Hydraulic brakes may be the new hotness, but many road and gravel riders still prefer the simplicity and reliability of cable-operated disc brakes. And in 2016, mechanical disc brake fans have more choices than ever.
Why choose mechanical over hydraulic brakes? Compatibility, for one. Hydraulic brakes require dedicated levers, whereas mechanical disc brakes can be paired with practically any cable-operated lever or shifter. Bleeding hydraulic disc brakes may have gotten easier, but fixing a problem in the field is much simpler with mechanical brakes. Lastly, cable-operated disc brakes cost less than hydraulics–especially when you can reuse your existing levers.
All three of the brakes that I tested are designed for use with drop bar levers. Those types of levers pull less cable than MTB-style levers, so you need to match the lever with the correct type of caliper. I tested each brake with Shimano’s 105 STI (5800) and SRAM’s Rival 22 levers. Although some manufacturers recommend smaller rear rotors on road and gravel bikes, I went with 160 mm rotors front and rear. And because frames and forks often require specific adapters, weights do not include mounting hardware or adapters (but include pads).
With their drop handlebars and narrow(er) tires, gravel and adventure bikes share plenty of DNA with conventional road bikes. In recent years, however, a great deal of mountain bike tech has crossed over into the gravel and adventure space. Thanks to our knobby-tired brethren, gravel bikes now sport disc brakes, tubeless tires, and even 1x gearing. The best crossover, however, may be something you wear instead of ride. I’m talking about MTB shorts.
Traditional lycra shorts are great for logging big mileage, but many riders prefer something less conspicuous (and more durable) for off-road and adventure riding. While you certainly could wear casual or generic athletic shorts over bibs, MTB-style shorts have cycling-specific cuts that are designed to cover what needs covering, while still providing freedom of movement for efficient pedaling.
Mountain–or baggy–shorts vary in length, cut, and materials. Shorts designed for hardcore technical riding are typically longer and have wider leg openings to accommodate kneepads or body armor. Trail-oriented shorts often have a slimmer profile and shorter inseams. While many of the shorts include padded liners, some manufacturers eschew liners altogether, leaving the rider provide their own.
Scheduling (and publishing) reviews is always a bit of a balancing act. Manufacturers want to see their products reviewed the moment they’re released. Readers, on the other hand, want to know how products perform over the long haul. As luck would have it, Ergon’s SMC4 arrived just a few days after I posted GRAVELBIKE’s 2016 saddle roundup.
Since then, I’ve tested the SMC4 with a variety of gravel, mountain, and road bikes. The saddle has seen use with conventional rigid seatposts, as well as suspension and dropper-style posts. In typical Colorado fashion, Mother Nature provided a wide range of weather conditions during the test period.