It’s That Time of Year…
GRAVELBIKE’s Holiday Gift Guide first appeared in 2017, and since then it’s become one of the site’s most anticipated features. You can find dozens of online shopping guides for bicyclists, but GRAVELBIKE does things a little differently. Instead of publishing generic submissions by PR Firms and Marketing Agencies, GRAVELBIKE’s Holiday Gift Guide is limited to products that I’ve personally used or tested. And while everyone’s tastes are different, these products are solid performers that make excellent holiday gifts whatever type of riding you friends or family members prefer.
Bags & Packs
- North St Bags Flanders backpack ($199.99 & up) — Available in several stock or custom colors, the 32L Flanders backpack will have you saying Okily Dokily whether you need to carry your laptop, spare clothes, or even groceries. Waterproof construction keeps your cargo dry, and the pack’s contoured shoulder straps and padded mesh back provide comfort for any sized load. An internal hook and loop strap system enables the use of numerous organizer and storage options, while the Flanders’ side sleeves provide quick access to u-locks or bottles.
- Patagonia Black Hole 25L backpack ($129.00) — Ten million plastic bottles. That’s how many recycled bottles went into producing Patagonia’s 2019 line of Black Hole bags. Constructed using 100% post-consumer recycled polyester ripstop (body) and 100% recycled polyester (lining), this lightweight (630 grams) 25L backpack boasts a padded laptop sleeve, an air-mesh back panel, and is compatible with hydration reservoirs (not included) for on- and off-the-bike use. A DWR (durable water repellent) finish helps keep the elements out, and the pack is covered by Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee.
- USWE Airborne 3 hydration pack ($119.99) — USWE’s (pronounced, you-swii) hydration packs feature what the company calls NDM Technology. NDM stands for No Dancing Monkey, which is a clever way of saying bounce-free. Marketing lingo aside, the USWE four-point suspension system more than delivers on the company’s claims. I had all but sworn off (conventional) hydration packs, but one ride is all it took to sell me on the Airborne 3L (2L HydraPak reservoir, 1L storage) pack. The Airborne’s detachable organizer pocket accomodates tools or snacks, and front and rear reflective trim provides added visibility in low-light conditions.
- Wingnut Gear Two Point Five hydration pack ($125 & up) — Long before the big brands jumped on the waist pack bandwagon, Wingnut Gear was cranking out low-slung bags featuring the company’s unique Low Rider System design. By positioning the load closer to your center of gravity, the Two Point Five pack offers improved stability and increased airflow. Available in ten colors, the 4-ply laminated sail cloth construction helps keep the weight down (540 grams) while ensuring that the pack’s contents remain dry. WingNut’s patented SideWing pockets offer true on-the-fly access to your gear, while bulky items are easily secured with external bungee cord.
Clothing & Accessories
- 45NRTH Stove Pipe cap ($50.00) — It’s hard not to love a product whose care tag reads, KEEP YOUR BISCUIT WARM. And when the mercury drops, keeping your biscuit warm is easy with the 45NRTH Stove Pipe windproof cycling cap. The Stove Pipe’s extended coverage protects your ears, neck, and forehead, while the cap’s three-panel design is helmet friendly. Wind-blocking panels stave off the dreaded ice cream headaches that accompany long, wintery descents, and the moisture-wicking wool liner keeps you warm and dry. Unlike the competition’s one-size-fits-none approach, 45NRTH offers the Stove Pipe in SM/MD and LG/XL sizes for a perfect fit.
- GORE® WINDSTOPPER® Base Layer shirt ($69.99) — It’s rare that I use the term game changer to describe a product, but GORE’s WINDSTOPPER definitely earns that superlative for autumn and winter riding. WINDSTOPPER fabric on the front, shoulders, and kidney areas protect your core, while lighter-weight fabric on the back of the shirt keeps you dry and comfortable during strenuous efforts. What makes GORE’s base layer even more impressive, though, is the garment’s light weight and sleek profile. Pairing the WINDSTOPPER with one of your current jerseys or shirts dramatically extends their comfort range, but without unnecessary bulk and reduced breathability.
- PEARL iZUMi BLVD Merino vest ($190.00) — Mention bespoke cycling vests and the first image that often comes to mind is one of those high-viz numbers that look more at home on road crews or construction sites. With its subtle colorways and semi-form-fit, Pearl Izumi’s BLVD Merino vest won’t have you mistaken for a traffic flagger. Using Merino scrap to insulate the polyester front and rear paneling provides a sustainable, natural approach to odor control and temperature management. The vest’s fit is roomy enough to layer over a hoody, while features such as the two-way center zipper, BioViz® reflective elements, and zippered rear pocket provide the necessary functionality for on-the-bike use.
- Velocio RECON vest ($259.00) — Like the other items in Velocio’s RECON collection, the company’s eponymous vest combines the technical features and fit needed for riding with a clean aesthetic for off-the-bike wear. Polartec® High Loft® insulation provides exceptional warmth without adding extra weight or bulk, and the vest’s Pertex Quantum ripstop fabric keeps the wind out. The lightweight, micro-fleece backing adds breathable insulation to the back and shoulder areas, and three zippered pockets (two front, one rear) provide secure storage for keys, wallet, or phone. Velocio’s garments have a form-fitting silhoette, but I was able to comfortably wear the XL size over a base layer and long sleeve jersey (I’m 5’10” tall and weigh 200 pounds).
Components & Accessories
- Blackburn Outpost Elite frame bag ($120.00 & up) — Thanks to the bikepacking boom, finding a custom bag maker is as easy opening the Instagram app on your phone. But what if you can’t wait weeks–or in some cases, months–for made-to-order bag? That’s where Blackburn’s Outpost Elite frame bag comes in. Available in four separate sizes and constructed from waterproof, lightweight materials, the Outpost Elite combines back country capability with off-the-shelf convenience. Keeping your cargo organized is easy with the aid of the Outpost’s configurable internal divider and multiple external pockets. Nine removable Hypalon straps and multiple mounting slots ensure a secure fit on nearly any frame (the large model was a near-perfect match for my 56 cm Salsa Vaya and medium Breezer Radar Pro).
- Knog Mid Cobber lights ($69.95 & up) — Knog knows there’s no such thing as being too visible, and that’s why the company’s Cobber Mid lights deliver 330° of coverage and a max output of 320 lumens (front, 170 lumens rear). Charging is easy via the integrated USB plug (no cables required), and the light’s o-ring mounting system is compatible with bars and seatposts ranging from 22 to 32 mm+ diameter (as well as aero models). The Cobbers’ coolest feature, however, is the ability to configure the lights’ brightness and flash modes via Knog’s ModeMaker app. Plug the Cobber into your Mac or Windows system, and with a few clicks, you can choose up to eight different modes per-light. Looking for even more firepower? The Big Cobber models pump out a whopping 470 and 370 lumens; front and rear, respectively.
- Lezyne Mega XL GPS ($199.99 & up) — Looking at its extensive list of features, 2.7″ switchable (portrait/landscape) display, and claimed 48-hour battery life, you may wonder how Lezyne’s Mega XL stacks up against the pricier completion. The Mega XL’s form factor is a little chunkier than competitors’ units, but Lezyne’s ultra-secure mounting interface more than makes up for the unit’s bulkier profile. And although some of the Lezyne’s more advanced functions do require a connection to the rider’s cell phone, features such as speed, distance, ride time and elevation don’t require cell phone access. Uploading ride data is easy with support for Strava, Today’s Plan, and TrainingPeaks, and there’s enough storage to capture up to 800 hours of ride data. And although the Mega XL lacks over-the-air firmware updates, customizing display fields and pages is simple with Lezyne’s GPS Ally v2 app (available for Android and iOS).
- Rapha Waterproof frame pack ($110.00 & up) — Rapha may have built a name for themselves with classically styled cycling clothing, but the company’s Waterproof Frame Pack ticks all the boxes for adventure riding or commuting. With its polyurethane-coated ripstop fabric, 100% welded construction, and AquaGuard zippers, the aptly named pack easily earns its waterproof moniker. Dense foam padding protects the bag’s contents from the bike’s frame, while high-viz pink lining makes it easier to find smaller items. When the pavement ends, the pack’s five-point mounting system (three Velcro top tube straps, cam-lock webbing on the seat tube and down tube) ensures a sway-free ride over even the roughest terrain. Available in three sizes, the 5L/large version fit my 24″ (ETT) Jeff Jones MTB with room for a bottle/cage on the down tube.
- Bontrager Foray clipless shoes ($149.99) — Shopping for clipless cycling shoes can be a bit intimidating. Navigating the various companies’ claims and discipline-specific features makes selecting a new laptop seem easy by comparison. When it comes to the basics, though–stiffness, grip, and durability–it’s hard to beat Bontrager’s $150 Foray. Available in men’s and women’s versions, the Foray features a nylon composite sole, lugged Tachyon rubber outsole, and GnarGuard protective bumpers. The shoes’ best feature, however, is one that you can’t see–comfort. Built on Bontrager’s inForm Race last, the Foray offers a slightly roomier, yet high-performance fit. BOA L6 dials and hook-and-loop straps keep your feet secure, but being able to wiggle your toes is an absolute godsend on long rides.
- Five Ten Sleuth DLX TLD shoes ($120.00) — When it comes to selecting shoes for flat pedals, it’s hard to beat Five Ten’s Freerider Pro for grip, pedal feel, and pedaling efficiency. Sometimes, though, you want a bike-friendly shoe with a little less bulk and a bit more style. Enter Five Ten’s Sleuth DLX and Sleuth DLX TLD. With a sleek profile that draws on adidas’ iconic Samba and Five Ten’s Danny MacAskill model, the DLX looks equally at home on or off the bike. As you’d expect, the Stealth® rubber and Micro Dotty™ sole deliver loads of grip, and the shoes’ EVA midsoles provide added cushioning and shock absorption. Five Ten offers the Sleuth DLX in men’s and women’s versions, but the Troy Lee Designs/TLD edition (pictured) is only available in men’s sizes.
- Memory Pilot Wattstyle socks ($19.99) — Are cycling socks considered clothing or equipment? If they’re Memory Pilot socks, the answer is both. With their distinct functional zones and varying knits and thickness, the company’s Wattstyle socks boast some impressive engineering. The socks’ vertical ribs provide support to the Achilles, and help the sock stand tall. The ribs also provide a protective cushion behind the leg where pedal pins can sometimes bite. Tighter, denser weave in the heel and toe areas ensure long-lasting performance, and the open weave fronts help you stay cool at any speed. And while I was initially skeptical of Memory Pilot’s 40-46 sizing, the Wattstyles proved exceptionally comfortable for my size 45 feet.
- MINT Socks ($20.00) — Finely crafted in Italy, MINT socks have the fit, breathability, and luxurious feel you’d expect from premium cycling socks. What MINT socks don’t have, however, are cartoony graphics that look out of place anywhere but on the Saturday group ride. MINT’s small run colorways and patterns just ooze style and class. Wear ’em on the bike, at a club, or even to a job interview without second-guessing your footwear choice. Available in XS, M/L, and XL/XXL sizes, a pair of MINT socks will set you back twenty bucks. But for every pair of socks MINT sells, they’ll donate a buck to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (aka, NICA).
Maintenance & Tools
- Leatherman Free T4 multi-tool ($59.95) — It probably comes as no surprise, but I’m extremely particular when it comes to pocket knives and multi-tools. Over the past year I’ve tried–and dismissed–my fair share of everyday carry items due to various shortcomings. Take a look inside my pocket today, though, and you’ll find the versatile and durable Free T4 from Leatherman. Made in the USA, the T4 features eleven tools in a compact, lightweight (122 gram) package. One-handed operation is easy thanks to the Leatherman’s magnetic opening and closing, and all blades and features lock for additional safety. Like the Leatherman’s other products, the T4 is backed by the company’s 25-year warranty.
- Mineral Design Mini Bar multi-tool ($39.99) — Ever wish you could configure your mini-tool with just the features you want? If so, then the Mini Bar might be what you’re looking for. With six slots and the ten included bits (2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 mm, Torx T25, Phillips and flat screwdrivers), you’re free to mix-and-match to your heart’s content. Three driver positions deliver enough torque for nearly any repair, and neodymium magnets keep the bits and nickel-plated tool secure. The Mini Bar’s compact size (97 mm x 12.7 mm x 34 mm) and light weight (112 grams) make it easy to slip into a seat pack or tool roll.
- Muc-Off Silicon Shine spray ($14.99) — Ask a cyclist whether they prefer to ride or clean their bike, and the response is almost always the former. And while Muc-Off’s Silicon Spray won’t actually clean your bike for you, the spray’s slick protective coating does make cleaning your ride easier. How so, you ask? The cherry-scented spray lays down a protective shine that helps prevent dirt and grime build up, which in turn cuts down on future cleaning and maintenance. Water and even light snow bead up almost instantly, and require a light wipe-down to remove. Additional benefits include reduced stiction when applied to suspension forks, shocks, and dropper posts. And if you’re an all-weather commuter, I’ve used Muc-Off’s Silicon Spray to successfully restore finishes that were ravaged by harsh winter conditions.
- SILCA Gear Wipes ($12.50 & up) — Mechanics of all sorts know the advantages of nitrile or latex gloves. They offer protection from dirt and chemicals, and cut down on post-repair cleanup. Unfortunately, I usually end up making one last repair or adjustment after I’ve already discarded my gloves, leaving me with grimy hands and a dirty bike. For situations like that, I’ll reach for one of SILCA’s Gear Wipes. Designed to remove dirt, grease, and oils, the disposable wipes feature a textured side for scrubbing heavy dirt and a softer polish side for hands or delicate finishes. Cosmetic grade cleaning agents are safe on hands and skin, but don’t contain lotion or moisturizers that leave behind streaks or residue. The 110-sheet canister is ideal for workshop use, while the single-wipe packs are the perfect addition to your on-the-bike repair kit.
- HipLok Z Lok Combo lock ($24.99 & up) — Locks keep out only the honest. I don’t know if that expression is true or not, but I’m certainly not willing to put it to the test by leaving my bike unlocked. When it comes to bicycle security, I usually opt for the biggest, heaviest locks available. But for the times when I just need to make a quick bathroom stop, or fuel up at the convenience store, a 14-pound lock is overkill (and a pain to carry). In those scenarios, HipLok’s Z Lok Combo is ideal for discouraging crimes of opportunity. Resembling an oversized zip-tie, the 69-gram Z Lok Combo features a reinforced steel core and three-digit (resettable) combination lock. While HipLok’s Z Lok is clearly not designed to replace a burly u-lock or chain, it’s small and light enough that you won’t think twice about carrying it on recreational rides.
- Küat Sherpa 2.0 hitch rack ($498.00) — It’s been said that really good products are the ones you don’t have to think about. Based on that metric, it’s safe to say that Küat’s Sherpa 2.0 is an excellent hitch rack. In the twelve-plus months I’ve been using the Küat, the rack has required exactly zero maintenance or adjustments. Whether cruising along the freeway, or bouncing over dirt roads, not once have I questioned my bikes’ safety or security. I’ll admit that $500 is a lot of money to spend on a bicycle rack, but think about how much your bikes are worth–in both actual cost and the joy that they provide. Thanks to the Küat Sherpa 2.0 rack’s stellar performance, I’m counting on peace of mind for many years to come.
- Osmo Active Hydration mix ($1.85 & up) — Founded in 2012, Osmo Nutrition’s name is rooted in the concept of osmolality. What exactly is osmolality, and why does it matter? Osmolality measures how much solid is dissolved in a fluid, and it matters because sports drinks with the wrong osmolality will cause stomach issues and draw body water from your bloodstream. As you might expect, Osmo’s Active Hydration mix is formulated to maximize fluid absorption in the body. All that science is useless, though, if the product doesn’t taste good. Flavored with real fruit and natural ingredients, Osmo’s hydration mix has a light, clean taste that’s easy on the taste buds and your stomach. Available in single-serving packets and 40-serving tubs, Osmo Active Hydration mix is vegan, non-GMO, as well as gluten- and dairy-free.
- Smith Tempo sunglasses ($169.00 & up) — In 40-plus years of wearing prescription glasses, I’ve never owned cycling-specifc eyewear. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, either. But between fit issues and lens (correction) needs, cycling sunglasses simply weren’t a viable option. That changed, though, when Utah-based Smith Optics asked if I’d like to review a pair of their sunglasses. Relaying my past history and prescription requirements, I assumed the company’s response would be a polite, thanks, but no thanks. Turns out I was wrong. A few weeks after meeting with Smith’s staff at Sea Otter, a pair of prescription Tempo sunglasses arrived at my door. At the risk of hyperbole, the new glasses were a revelation. Gone were the teary-eyed descents and eye strain that I had come to accept as normal. Befitting their name, the polarized ChromaPop lenses made colors pop, greatly improved my ability to read trail obstacles. If you’ve struggled to find suitable sunglasses for cycling–prescription or otherwise–I highly recommend checking out Smith Optics’ offerings.
Disclosure: Each of the aforementioned companies provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for appearing in GRAVELBIKE’s Holiday Gift Guide. All images copyright their respective holders.