My list is a bit esoteric but that is intentional as it reflects, not a simple shopping list or buyer’s guide, but things that for the last year made my cycling experience and the life around it better. Some are core items for riding, others sit on the kitchen counter. But all of them are keepers.
- Real food for riding. I had been making my own oat based energy bars for some time now and found that a better alternative for pre-made bars. Then the two cook books by Chef Biju Thomas and Dr. Allen Lim, ‘The Feedzone Cookbook’ and ‘Feed Zone Portables’ came my way. It was a fabulous journey into easily prepared, tasty and healthy meals biased toward the athlete and the Portables cookbook was unique and super handy. Out of that came a solution for a breakfast meal that works so well for me that it ended a years long struggle for something my engine ran well on and that I could stand to eat. That alone was worth the cost of the books. And the sticky rice cakes with minced apple, raw sugar, sea salt, cinnamon (and I add chopped turkey bacon) wrapped in foil paper are killer for long rides pretty much anywhere, anytime. There will always be a place for a Clif Bar but ‘real’ food rocks.
- A rice cooker. I love rice but seldom made it as it can be tricky to get just right and the time waiting for it to finish may not always be convenient. But after the cookbooks entered my life, I needed one. And so I splurged a bit and got a good one. The Zojirushi NS-LACO5 (about $150.00 if you shop around) has been an absolute joy to live with and cooks all kinds of rice rice perfectly, is easy to clean, keeps it warmfor me till I get back from the ride, and chimes a cute little tune when it begins and ends. All that is missing is a little anime japanese girl to serve the rice.
- Tunes. I do not always use them, but for longer rides, especially solo, where typically I will not see traffic or even another person, music keeps my mind off of the long efforts and long hours. My favorite combo is an Apple iPod Shuffle and a set of YurBuds earphones. The Shuffle is simple and rugged as long as it stays dry and I clip it right on my jersey collar, hit play and pedal. $50.00 in all kinds of colors. Get a bright one so you can find it in your gear bag. It’s tiny. Yurbuds have been a product I have used for as long as 12 hours with hardly a break and they have never bothered my ears, have survived being ripped out of my ears by branches, been coiled and uncoiled more times than I can count and I am still on the original pair. The new Adventure series has a tangle free kevlar cord and improved buds. $60.00 for the Venture Duro.
- Base layer. I tend to run with a colder thermostat so layering works well for me. And the base layer, that bottom layer of clothing that rests right against your skin, has an important job to do. It needs to move moisture away from your skin and wick it out where it can evaporate or transfer to the next outer layer. I wear a light tank base even in the summer as I have found it feels like a tiny swamp cooler even in the heat. In winter it keeps my skim drier and that means warmer. The best one that I have used is the Alpinestars Tech Tank . It does not seem to pick up body odor much at all, is super comfy like a second skin, and has lasted well all season, looking like new. $50.00
- Buff. Yeah, I know that I have mentioned this before, but I never ride without one. Truly a super-core item for me. The combo of sweatband, head and ear cover, and shade for the back of my neck is something I could not do without and still have a good ride. Price varies, but figure $20.00 or so for the original Buff.
- Shimano Hydration pack. The Unzen 10L came in for review a couple of seasons ago and has been the pack I have nearly exclusively used since then. Unless I need a great deal of capacity or extra stability for heavy loads, the Unzen has done it all from after work quickies to multi hour rides. Not at its best if you are gravity riding as it tends to lift off the back and ride up when your wheels leave the ground (no waist strap), for all around riding it is been my absolute go to pack and that does not look like it will change any time soon. Seems to be sold for around $90.00 on the innerweb sites.
- Lightweight baggy shorts. The baggy shorts I had tried in the past had been heavy, hot, restrictive, and overbuilt for my XC/Trail use. Lycra does fine thanks. But then I tried the Zoic X Short and another short from Specialized . The lighter weight fabrics and easy to pedal cuts won me over to the dark side. I have not given up lycra, but more often than not, if I am rolling out on a mountain bike, I am wearing something like these.
- Arm coolers/UV covers. I had thought, since I live in the land of sun and fun never ending, that a product like this would be handy. I had no idea. I used these a TON this year, often on the road but on the MTB too. Yeah, they will get shockingly dirty when used off road, but I have had more than my share of sun and these are better than slathering sunscreen all over my arms, keep me cooler on hot days (you can soak them with water), and slightly warmer in sunny but colder weather.
- A road bike. Yeah, weird huh? But this summer, to get ready for a endurance event, I dusted off the old road sled to get longer miles in the summer heat and fell back in love with road riding. That led to a new bike build and even more miles and smiles. I am hardly ready to convert to being a roadie, but I am always ready to be a better cyclist and adding the road bike has accomplished this for me. Prices? Mild to wild, but there are a lot of older bikes out there that are a fraction of what they were when new. And if you can imagine a steel road bike, then something like a Lemond Zurich is still a viable bike for all but the meanest club racer and can be picked up and modernized with newer drivetrain parts for a pretty low price. Or there is this Ritchey shown below, which is what I bought and built up. Carbon is the killer app but great steel is still viable and exciting to ride.