It’s been a wild year around these parts. In addition to the organizational changes we experienced with this website, I feel fortunate to have met and collaborated with many amazing people in addition to traveling to some truly remarkable places. My list of favorite products ended up being rather eclectic, but I think it reflects the wide range of material we get to cover here. Of course, music was an integral backdrop to my work – on rides, traveling abroad, and with my family at home – so I have joined some of our other contributors in offering a selection of favorite tunes, alongside a handful of products, below.
Flori, known as “Brainfart,” is one of the fabricators at Sour Bikes in Dresden, Germany. He’s a man of few words and is responsible for some of the imaginative Sour creations we’ve featured over the years, including the custom-brazed dropper lever on the Bad Granny MTB. He’s constantly tinkering and building things, either finding creative solutions to problems or experimenting for the hell of it.
And, unless it’s a production frame he’s building, everything he makes is a one-off. This includes the metal “business cards” he was passing around at Bespoked this year. I tried calling the number on the one he gave me, but it didn’t work probably because of an issue with international long distance.
When Flori saw the Stinner prop stick (see John’s writeup from earlier this week) I was using to photograph bikes at Bespoked, we briefly chatted about how tricky it was to use on the smooth tile floors inside the Dresden airport. While the Stinner prop has little rubber feet to prevent slipping, it work best outdoors on textured surfaces or, even better, on dirt. The next day, Flori showed up and handed me his version. It has cute pointy little rubber feet connected to thin shock chord that holds the two bottom legs together (or at least it did until someone manhandled it a few weeks ago).
More important than a comparison of these two very niche prop sticks, however, is that they exemplify the innovation and collaboration of this wonderful corner of the cycling/outdoor industry within which this website typically exists. It’s the stuff that continues to motivate us. And I’m ready to layer it on even thicker next year.
Follow along with Brainfart Industries
My first fully custom bike, this Bender MTB has been so much more than the touring bike I originally thought it would be. It’s always been difficult for me to find an ideal fit in stock-sized frames because of my long legs with short torso. Having this built just for me was an enlightening experience and working with Will to design it was wonderful. Plus I got to incorporate a beautiful Squid Fork from my longtime friends at Oddity Cycles in addition to lots of parts and accessories from other wonderful makers. While I originally wanted this to be my dedicated touring bike, I’ve ended up using it for so much more and rode it more than any other bike this year (or, at least as much as my Alumalith). It’s a “forever bike” and continues to put a smile on my face every time I ride it – from multi-day adventures to local XC races.
See my review here A FoCo Collabo: Josh’s Bender 29+ Touring MTB with Oddity Squid Fork
My shop visit with Will here Inside / Out at Bender Bicycle Company of Fort Collins, CO
My shop visit with Oddity here Inside/Out at Oddity Cycles: Mastering the Dark Arts of Framebuilding
Earlier this year, I got some tires from Rene Herse and, along with my order, a NUDA mini pump. Weighing just 30 grams, I knew this pump would be small and light but I was still surprised by its mass (or lack thereof) when I received it. The pump body is made from carbon fiber with a few titanium pieces, including the head cover that spins to enclose the valve while not in use. The supplied clips weigh almost nothing and provide a secure lock on the pump even on the most chundery terrain. I’m not usually a weight weenie, but I dig the NUDA’s discreet yet useful design.
This pump is a great addition to my bike-specific EDC approach (that I mention in a little more detail below regarding frame bags) as its home is on a gravel bike 98% of the time, but it’s also small enough to pop out of its holster and stash in a jersey pocket, handlebar bag, hip bag, etc. While it’s rated to 142psi I find it works great for pumping spare tubes (which I’ve luckily only had to do once) or topping off low-pressure tubeless tires on the trail. I haven’t used it for resealing a tubeless bead in the field—I am not sure it’d work well for that—so I typically carry the NUDA in addition to a single CO2 cartridge as a last resort.
Earlier this year, I spent most of my time reviewing the State 4130 All-Road with the Diamond Rack and Bag attached. Made by our friends Florian and Tine of Fern/Allygn and Gramm Tourpacking (respectively) I was consistently impressed by this setup, even after moving it around to other bikes in my collection. It’s simple to install with all hardware included and makes a great addition to a touring or gravel bike where a smaller and lighter front load is desirable. The versatile 7.5l Diamond Bag quickly attaches with front and rear velcro hypalon flaps and comes with a clip-on nylon strap for easy off-bike transport.
The Diamond Rack/Bag combo is also Flo and Tine’s attempt to broaden, or democratize if you will, their offerings. Both products are based on what were once only available as custom designs but are produced elsewhere and available off-the-shelf. As I mentioned in my brief profile of the duo after my time in Berlin this fall, “they continue to look for ways to carve out a place in the cycling industry and make things available to more folks.” Look for more along these lines soon from Flo and Tine.
Read more at Fern/Allygn and Gramm in Forty-Eight Hours in Berlin
See my State 4130 All-Road Review Can a Sub-2k Wireless Shifting Bike be Any Good?
Over the past few years, I’ve attempted to build bare-bones tool and parts caches on each of my bikes. I’ll augment these depending on the type of riding I’m doing, but the only way I will consistently leave the house with a multitool, tire plugs, spare tube, air, and other assorted small repair bits is to store it all on my bikes. With gravel bikes, storage is pretty straightforward because there are lots of off-the-shelf top-tube and handlebar bags that work great (i.e. they hold plenty of single-day necessities and don’t flop around too much). But with mountain bikes, especially for full suspensions, secure luggage solutions aren’t as readily available. I keep a full frame bag on one of my hardtails—with water and tools all stored inside—but this isn’t always desirable or possible for a lot of bikes, so I’ve found custom wedge bags to be a great alternative.
I worked with Cedaero this year to fabricate a throwback triangle portage strap bag that would live on my Alumalith and hold most of the stuff I might need on a ride. It was so popular that we offered a custom run of the bags and they sold out pretty quickly. Now you can find them available on Cedaero’s site in multiple sizes and colors. For my Starling Murmur full suspension, I enlisted Farewell to make a bag that would fit in the open space in the frame’s front triangle between the headtube and shock. Similar to the Cedaero bag’s static lace, the Farewell bag uses an elastic shock cord that I can tweak on the fly depending on what gear I’m stuffing in it.
See my Alumalith Review here What’s Old is New Again: Crust X Ron’s Bikes Alumalith Rigid MTB Review
Off (and On) Bike Apparel – Ornot Mission Pants and Pinebury Wool Shirts
I try to be pretty selective with the clothing I accumulate these days, which is difficult working in the cycling/outdoor industry as so many cool and innovative products regularly catch my eye. I like apparel that will last, has a timeless look and fit, and is versatile enough to wear daily while traveling/working, or even cycling. To that end, I basically lived in Ornot’s Mission Pants this year. Regular readers of this site will be familiar with John’s praises of the Mission Shorts (I like them, too), and their full-length siblings have become one of my all-time favorite pieces of clothing.
I traveled a lot this year and these pants went with me everywhere; they looked good while connecting flights at Heathrow Airport, pub crawling in Berlin, and walking the streets of Ísafjörður. They also proved their on-bike performance while documenting our Sklar Super Something collaboration and the Sea Otter Classic, attending multiple media camps, and much more. Available in a variety of inseams, the Mission Pants are a great option for us long-legged folks. Oh, and they are sewn in Oakland, CA, and are designed by great people.
Pinebury of Portland, ME was at MADE this year with a selection of shirts, jerseys, and socks. They are a relatively young brand and make active apparel in the US from wool. But, Pinebury claims their yarn isn’t just your average merino, rather it’s NuYarn that is reportedly more durable and more adept at managing moisture than traditional wool. Already a big fan of natural fibers (and having recently lost two wool t-shirts earlier in the year), I treated myself to a Pinebury t-shirt and socks at the show.
And like the Mission Pants mentioned above, I’ve worn the shirt A LOT casually, working, and riding. It doesn’t hold odors, dries quickly, mitigates heat as well as a shirt can, and still looks nice after many washes. Pinebury recently came out with a long-sleeve version of their t-shirt, which they sent me a few weeks ago. Now that temperatures are finally dropping here in Arizona, it’s become a welcome layer in my winter wardrobe seemingly with the same properties of the short-sleeved shirt. Watch this space for Pinebury updates because we’re stoked to see where this brand goes.
On Bike Apparel – Safetti Gravel Jersey and Ornot Cargo Bibs
I don’t like to wear a lot of “cycling-specific” clothing when I ride. For most of my riding, I don’t think it’s necessary. But I’m increasingly spending more long days in the saddle and I find valuable utility and comfort in a nice pair of cargo bibs and, occasionally, a jersey. Still, the less they look like quintessential cycling clothing, the better for me. I was in Colombia this fall with a few other cycling-media folks (more to come from that trip in January) who are all very much into tight-fitting cycling kit. As we were touring the Safetti apparel factory, two of them were pointing at this Gravel Jersey saying it was the most “Josh jersey” they’d ever seen. And, well, they were correct.
Designed, printed, and sewn in Medellin, the Gravel Jersey is just like all of Safetti’s other products: made of quality materials with close attention to detail. The casual fit, collar, and full zip offer everything I’d want in a jersey. Granted the loose rear pockets aren’t as useful as those on a super-tight alternative, but the fit is a worthy tradeoff, IMO. While it doesn’t look like this jersey is currently offered through Safetti US, keep an eye on the brand for expanded US availability in the future.
If I’m gonna wear bibs, I want to feel good in them, from both a fit and comfort perspective. Since this is my second product from Ornot on the list, I’ll make it quick: I love their Cargo Bibs. They have a substantial inseam, which is helpful for my long femurs, stretchy and wide shoulder straps, and a pad that I think Goldilocks would approve (just the right amount of plushness). The two leg and two rear pockets haven’t come close to stretching or ripping like some other cargo bibs I’ve used in the past. They are made in Italy of mostly recycled Bluesign-approved fabrics. Ornot just nails everything they make and the only downside to their products is popular sizes tend to sell out fast.
For me, gravel cycling is often a literal mix of road and mountain biking. I’ll spin for 25-40 miles with my head down on a rolling dirt road and then add in some singletrack at various points throughout. Finding a shoe for this kind of riding has been trickier than it would seem. I want a gravel shoe that’s comfortable and kinda stiff for those road miles but also durable and capable for some hiking. And they need to be breathable because temperatures get uncomfortably hot where I live.
Udog sent me these Distanzas earlier this spring and I’ve put them through the wringer on local flat spins, documenting the Westfjords Way Challenge, riding in the steep rugged Andean foothills with Scarab Cycles in Colombia, and lots more in between. At first, I thought the Distanzas might be too tight in the toe box for me, but they broke in a little after a few long rides and I also figured out how to best lace them to my liking. I’m able to leave them a little loose in the toe while leveraging the mid-foot Tension Wrap System (TWS) to dial in the rest of the fit.
Thus far, the rubber soles have held up great and seem quite durable; the extended portion that covers the shoe’s toe is a nice touch. The woven mesh uppers are highly breathable, though not water-resistant at all (which is not an issue for 95% of my rides). Thankfully in Iceland, I had Albion waterproof pants combined with Rapha shoe covers to keep rain and road splash out, but, still, as soon as I stepped off road into a wet grassy field the shoes were soaked through. It’s a reasonable tradeoff for the great breathability I need for my average rides.
I first started using Smith sunglasses with interchangeable lenses in the 1990s. We sold them at the ski shop I worked at during high school and recommended them to customers over fixed-lens sunnies because of their versatility in variable lighting conditions. Back then they were called Sliders (anyone remember Bazooka frames?!) and represented a change in the premium sunglass space because instead of spending $100s on multiple frames with various lens colors, you could spend $100 on a single frame with multiple swappable lenses. And this was important in Michigan, as outdoor light changes often and sometimes drastically. Plus, those bubble gum-colored lenses looked sick in blue frames!
Now that I live in southern Arizona sunnies are seemingly glued to my face, and I still use interchangeable lens Smith glasses. The Wildcat has been my frame of choice this year. The fit is what I would consider large/full coverage but the frame itself doesn’t feel like a huge ski goggle. Not that huge glasses are a bad thing, but I find that the more tailored fit of the Wildcat meshes better with my helmets and offers great airflow. Take that all with a grain of salt if you don’t have a large head like me. And, if you don’t, but like the looks of the Wildcat check out the smaller Bobcat.
Lens interchangeability has come a long way since the early Sliders and, with the Wildcat, the action happens with minimal lens touching, keeping them relatively free of smudges. My “matte safari” colored frames came with gold and clear lenses. I added a photochromic grey-to-clear lens that I’ve used a lot more than I originally thought I would because it actually works (unlike other light-sensitive lenses I’ve tried in the past). On days when the sun isn’t earth-scorchingly bright, I pop these lenses in and particularly enjoy them for afternoon rides that turn into night rides; one lens for lots of conditions.
I’ve had a couple of Weird Wallets over the years and have either lost them or given them away to friends. Made of Dyneema fabric by Allmansright, they are super handy little pouches with pockets for flower, smoking device, and a lighter. John got his hands on one of the new versions that dropped as part of a collaboration Dangle did with Fat Tire and he gave it to me, which I’ve been happily using for the past couple of months. Dangle is continually refining these wallets, as they do with all of their mainstay products, and this V3.0 has some nifty little features.
The most notable change in this new version over the previous ones I’ve had is its size. It can now hold a full-size lighter, rather than a mini, and more loose stuff of your choice in the large pocket. There’s also a little loop to tuck the lighter pocket lid flap into for more secure storage. It all folds up into a little 2.5″ x 4.5″ rectangle and easily fits into my pants pocket or bike luggage. And if you’re curious about the lighter, look no further than Mr. Dano Brown.
See more at Dangle Supply
I’m ending my list with something a little different. Earlier this fall, Bouldering Project built a facility about one mile away from my house in an under-utilized industrial part of town. After a few months of construction delays (when doesn’t that happen these days?) the gym opened to offer robust bouldering circuits in addition to yoga, fitness classes, and plenty of activities for kids all for very reasonable rates. From the bouldering rating system to the fitness class structure, all of the programming is designed with inclusivity and progression in mind rather than pure competition. They have quality coffee available on-site, serve good meals, and encourage remote workers like myself to post up with laptops and suck up their WiFi in between climbing sessions or yoga classes.
Even though Tempe, where it’s located, is a sizable college town within a giant metro area there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, we have places to go work out and inviting cafes with great coffee (shoutout to Cartel!), but there aren’t many “third places” that combine all into one while encouraging folks to stick around and be part of a burgeoning community; something I didn’t realize I was missing after moving from Fort Collins, CO seven years ago.
As cyclists, I think it’s important to have some way to cross-train, stretch, and/or activate mind and body off the bike. But paying a membership fee to exercise when you’re already a regular rider can be a difficult pill to swallow. Bouldering Project makes it easy. Or, at least, they have for me and my family. BP is in a few cities around the US now, so if there’s one near you, I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already.
See more at Bouldering Project
I was putting together a general playlist of my favorite albums but then realized there was actually a lot of great music that dropped just this year alone, so I split my picks separately. This first list is stacked with albums from 2023, in addition to one reissue. It’s, uhhhh, eclectic, but I hope you find something in it you haven’t heard before.
And this list is a lengthy amalgamation of albums I’ll regularly turn to, whether on a ride, road trip, or at home. It’s not definitively my favorite albums, even though some are, rather those that I tend to listen to over and over without ever seeming stale or tired. Enjoy!
Stay tuned, because we still have a few more lists on the way!