It’s Travis Engel’s turn to go through the gear that made his year. Somehow, he managed to resist the urge to fill his list with movie podcasts and carbon full-suspension bikes (though there are a couple movie podcasts down in his Playlist). Instead, he’s got an eclectic collection of on- and off-bike goodies. None of them actually came out in 2023, but each played a uniquely pivotal role for him this year.
Sensus Meaty Paws Grips $32.99
Though I’ve always loved the comfort and confidence of these 34mm US-made grips, I couldn’t use them on my personal bikes until this year. My stubby Shimano brake levers and edge-of-the-bars hand position weren’t compatible with the extra-long Meaty Paws. But now, my main bike is an all-SRAM affair, from the GX Transmission drivetrain to the Code RSC brakes. Without cramming a brake review into this grip review, I’ll just say I’ve gotten used to the smidge of extra force it takes to get the Code brakes to full power. And that means I can run Meaty Paws again.
They’ve displaced my Ergon GA2 Fats, and held their ground against the compelling Race face Chesters. Both those grips have a slight inboard taper, which has its merits. It brings the benefits of thick grips to more hand sizes. But my hand size fits the Meaty Paws just fine. Though I’d be curious to see how Sensus would approach a fancy contoured design, the simple cylindrical shape pairs well with the oversized diameter. It’s all about maximizing surface area. The outside edge has no bump, making it a sheer drop to the ends, so I can comfortably hang my palm on the tips. The inside edge has a flange, which doesn’t really do anything for me. But it also doesn’t do any harm, at least once I snipped off a lobe to clear my AXS shifter.
I don’t deserve Abbey Tools. My toolbox lives outside and collects leaves if I forget to close the drawers and put on the cover. I’m usually fine settling for whatever’s cheapest as long as it gets the job done. But nothing gets the job done as well as Abbey’s Crombie Dual-Sided lockring tool and Whip-It chain whip. I picked these up back in my Bike Mag days, hence the logo. But I’ve never used them more than I have this year. I seem to be doing a lot of wheel and drivetrain reviews, and swapping cassettes is not my favorite task. Abbey has made the process much more palatable.
The chain whip is nothing special, but that’s what I like about it. Too many tool brands try to reinvent the wheel with weird pliers and sockets. The whip just works. Also, it’s designed to double as a scabbard for the Dual-Sided Crombie, which is something special. The side with the 12mm guide offers some peace of mind that the lockring is going in nice and straight, and it keeps tooth and spline square to one another. Most impressively, this tool is actually not that expensive, comparatively. Park’s integrated-handle lockring tool is single-sided, doesn’t have a guide, and goes for $45.95 compared to the Crombie’s $53. Park’s most deluxe chain whip is also $45.95, compared to the Whip-It for $47. Spend nearly the same, and you get a better-working, better-looking package.
Most tires are built around features to suit their intended use. That’s how it should be. There aren’t many ultra-light DH tires, or ultra-tacky commuting tires. But sometimes that approach can leave gaps. Like, it’s hard to find tires with minimal tread, moderate width, and thick, durable casing. Even harder if your bike’s color motif demands you run tanwalls. Until early this year, I’d dealt with too-light, too-flimsy too-boring XC tires on my Otso Fenrir. But now, the Teravail “Durable” Sparwoods are my go-to touring tire.
As a rule, I seek out touring routes made up of smooth, family-sedan-friendly terrain. I prefer established dirt roads, but I’m more than happy to spend a few days on civilization-adjacent pavement. So, I want a semi-slick tire with a round profile so that, at near 40 PSI, little more is touching the ground than would on a 38c hybrid tire. The Sparwood does that. But also, I don’t want to fear pinch flats when I come across singletrack or Jeep trails. I can drop a few PSI for added traction and comfort, and the Durable casing takes care of the rest. Mine are a hefty 875 grams, but that’s a drop in the bucket on a loaded bike.
Death Stranding Video Game $49.99 (or less than $20 used)
I had a few injuries this year, which meant I played a few video games. Some of which scratched my adventure itch in one way or another. Because I’m usually a few years behind on releases, 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn and Zelda: Breath of the Wild were brand new to me in 2023. For several weeks, they were as close as I got to the mountains, and each could have easily made this list. But 2019’s Death Stranding, the bizarre magnum opus from visionary game director, Hideo Kojima, will probably stay with me much longer.
I won’t try explaining the narrative here. Best to let the game do that. It’s really the gameplay mechanic that’ll hook you. You’re essentially a delivery man in a post-apocalyptic U.S., There are very few established roads, and significantly more rivers and mountains than there used to be. Again, I’ll let the game explain why. Basically, you’re usually making these deliveries on foot, with vehicles only being useful for certain routes. Most of the time, you’re carrying a couple hundred pounds with the help of a small exoskeleton. You need to carefully plan a route, check the weather, decide what traversal equipment you’ll need, and take on as much cargo as you can.
You can also opt to build structures to make traversal easier, and those structures will show up on other players’ maps while others’ will show up on yours. You can improve or repair other players’ structures, and other players can improve yours. But that means carrying extra materials, which means extra weight and extra thought. Then, once you’re underway, you have to maintain your balance and keep an eye on uphill stamina and downhill speed. There’s very little combat in the game, or at least not traditional combat. It really is just about covering ground, making connections, and unfolding the crazy story behind it all. The game takes patience, but it’s the kind of patience anyone who’s done multi-day rides has probably mastered.
Giant Transfer Socks $25.00
Yep. Giant socks. I’m as surprised as you are. Although I love me a good set of Swiftwick or Dissent or Darn Tough socks, my one and only set of Giant Transfer socks has long been what I reached for on special occasions. The word that comes to mind is “perfect.” They’re not too thin, not too thick. Not too short, not too high. When I slide them on, there’s that positive “sssshhh-UNK” as the multiple fitted elastic panels cross over my heel and toebox and lock into place around my ankle and midfoot. I scored that one-and-only pair on a Giant product launch several years ago, and they finally earned their first toe-hole on a multi-day ride in April. So, this year, I splurged and bought myself four more pairs.
That should keep me in my favorite socks for many years to come, even if I can now be a little less picky about what rides deserve them. On top of being supremely form-fitting, these things are built to last. The material in high-wear areas like the heel, toe and forefoot is noticeably thicker. That also adds comfort on long days both on and off the bike. For something I don’t really think about after I leave the house, few products have a bigger impact on my overall comfort on a ride.
I’m kinda preaching to the choir here, but Paul Klampers have changed what I think about cable-actuated disc brakes. Not everything I think about them. I still do trust hydraulic brakes, and still do run them on my flat-bar bikes. But I’ve never liked how hydraulic brakes feel on drop-bar bikes. Modern Shimano GRX gets pretty close to what I want, but I tend to have a hard time tuning in a short deadstroke. Drop-bar levers are longer than flat-bar levers, so deadstroke gets magnified down at the tips. I want to be able to death-grip from the drops without bottoming out against my tape. But I also want a close reach for that mountain-bike-like one-finger feel. That’s why, earlier this year, I revamped my touring bike with cable-brake SRAM AXS shifters and some all-black Klampers.
Mechanical brakes make dialing in lever feel particularly easy. And there’s no shortage of power. Actually, unless my bike is fully loaded, I have to be careful with these things. They offer a lot of power without a lot of effort. And that’s nice, because I like my drop-bar controls to have a light touch. Side note, that’s also why I went to an AXS drivetrain. Here’s hoping those parts last at least half as long as the Klampers will. Pretty sure this configuration of Force levers has been discontinued, and who knows what’s happening to the traditional Eagle AXS derailleur in a post-Transmission world.
Speaking of things that I’m worried could be on the chopping block at SRAM, I’ve been pairing this rocker-style GX AXS controller with all the Transmission bikes I’ve been reviewing lately. It didn’t really occur to me until I spent time going back and forth between the two controllers, but the button-style T-Type “Pod” kinda makes no sense to me. the buttons are so close together that pushing the correct one is like reading Braille. We’re used to upshifting and downshifting feeling totally different and being done in totally different places. Why put them right next to each other? At first, I thought I was just stuck at the beginning of a learning curve. After all, original AXS took me a bit to figure out. But now I know what every cyclist on the internet knows: I’m right, and the bike companies are wrong.
SRAM was on the right track when they introduced the $21 aftermarket Rocker Paddle add-on for the original AXS controller. It replaced the first-generation “paddle” with one that had two distinct surfaces in two distinct places to upshift or downshift. It feels more familiar to those of us who have been using traditional shifters for decades, or for those of us who don’t want to do high-precision target practice every time we need to shift.
Muitune Bluetooth Headphones $25.99
What does it say about me that I like so many products that are under threat of obsolescence? The semi-rigid-neckband Bluetooth headphone used to be a pretty common way to listen wirelessly. Now, Airpods have taken over, and the only neckband-style options out there are suspicious no-name affairs, mostly found on Amazon. I’ve tried six of them since supply of my go-to model (the Skull Candy Method Wireless) finally dried up online. It hasn’t been a fun journey. Sometimes the neckband was too flimsy. Sometimes the wires were too short. Sometimes the earbuds were poorly shaped. Sometimes, they just stopped working after a month. I finally landed on the “Muitune,” also available under a handful of equally cryptic brand names. They’re not perfect, but they’ll do.
Air-pod-style wireless earbuds don’t work for me on rides. I want to be able to quickly put one (or both) in, and take one (or both) out without stopping. I also want to be able to control volume or pause while wearing gloves, and without talking to Siri. BTW, I’ve never used Siri, so maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. I just prefer physical buttons. Unfortunately, buttons aren’t a strong suit for the Muitune. Though “Pause” works fine, “Play” sometimes doesn’t respond. And it’s hard to differentiate between volume control and track-skip, but again, it’s the best option I’ve found. The wires can be stowed at the back, the charging port is USB-C, the battery lasts for several days, and they’re only $26 … on Amazon.
Wolf Tooth B-Rad TekLite Roll-Top Bags $39.99 / $44.99
I replaced both of my personal mountain bikes this year, but I haven’t replaced the custom frame bags I made for them. I’ll get around to it. But in the meantime, to support my every-ride carry kit, I had to come up with a plug-and-play option. Though they’re not flush and form-fitting, the Wolf Tooth roll-top bags are certainly user-friendly. They’re pretty simple. A 0.6- or 1.0-liter TekLite fabric bag with a burly rubberized Velcro strap, captured by some webbing. They also come with Wolf Tooth’s B-Rad plate. If you’ve got an accessory mount or any extra room below your water bottle, the B-Rad system is ideal. But if not, as long as there’s a big enough void in your frame, you can probably strap on one (or two) of these.
I’ve been between a few different review bikes this year, so I’ve used these to stay equipped no matter which one I’m on. You probably aren’t reviewing that many bikes this year, but I reckon you own more than one. These bags make it easy to swap a kit from bike to bike without making a custom frame bag. And hey, even if you do make a custom frame bag, these are still convenient, sleek, compact ways to move your essentials from one to another.
My playlist is probably a little different than what you’ll see from the rest of the Radavist team. As I said in my post about audiobooks, I really don’t listen to music on my rides … Or ever. Twenty years ago, I was still buying CDs from The Dismemberment Plan, Kings of Convenience, The Weakerthans, and dozens of other post-indie classics. But now, I mostly listen to podcasts. So, here are a few titles that were either new to me, or particularly important to me in 2023.
Most of my favorite podcasts are movie podcasts. Blank Check and How did this Get Made are at the top of the list. But I just discovered What Went Wrong this year, and I’m hooked. They take a deep dive into the production of movies that didn’t go that smoothly. Sometimes, it’s notorious struggles like Waterworld or Lord of the RIngs. But surprises like the Galaxy Quest episode brought the hosts, and me to tears.
Not what it sounds like, Hollywood Crime Scene is more of a history and gossip show than a true crime show. It’s hosted by friends Rachel Fisher and Desi Jedeiken. I once heard a bike-industry colleague say that hearing them tell a story is like hearing it from “the two coolest, funniest girls in your high school.” I’ve been listening for years, but I put it on my 2023 list because it was only recently that I learned that Rachel Fisher is the daughter of Gary Fisher. It doesn’t really ever come up
This is also not new to me, but I returned it to this year after Stitcher Premium shut down. A few shows just aren’t on that platform, but the in-depth cartoon analysis show, What a Cartoon, is on Apple Podcasts, which is where I’m at for now. The format is just about what you’d expect. Two white elder-millennial men talk about the production history of a cartoon show of the past 40 years, and then go scene-by-scene of one of its more famous episodes. For a time, I sprung for their Patreon, which extends that to famous cartoon movies once a month. If you don’t already need a reason to get trapped in your own nostalgia, this is a way to at least be informed while you do it.
Horror movies were big for me this year. It’s partly why I made a top-ten list aimed at adventure cyclists. I was able to do the research thanks to a few extended vacations my wife went on, allowing me to watch otherwise off-limits movies. And because I just love reliving my entertainment through comedic commentary, Too Scary, Didn’t Watch is my favorite horror accessory. One of the hosts is a lifelong horror fan, while the other two are very much not. They recap movies from beginning to end, which isn’t that novel, but I can’t get enough of TSDW. There’s a guileless charm to their rapport that keeps me grinning for the whole show.