Another year (and decade!) comes to an end this week. Like the rest of the internet, I’ve got a best-of list to share. The 12 Days of Randonneuring rundown took a hiatus for 2019, in lieu of this approach. I hope you like it.
Unlike the rest of the internet, my list is not confined to gear that was released over the last 12 months. I tend to be a late adopter of things supplanted in the marketplace by newer and probably better.
Frankly, I’m often as much interested in the riding and fitness aspects of cycling than the gear, though you wouldn’t know it from the bikes and spares I keep in the Dining Room Bike Shop and all the Rapha in the clothes closet. I want gear to fade into the background and not take up my time. We’re in this for the great rides, right?
Introduction done, let’s begin! These are in no particular order, as this is the holiday season and I’m just going to freestyle it.
1. Tacx Neo smart trainer + Zwift
When the original Neo was discounted last winter, I upgraded from a capable but more basic Elite Direto trainer. The Neo has made indoor riding really seamless. It just works and I don’t have to worry about calibration, unlike the Direto and other belt-driven trainers. I can even use it without external power.
Pairing is immediate with Zwift on my 2016 Macbook Pro. It took me a couple of sessions to get used to the slight rocking motion of the Neo but I’ve come to appreciate it.
Recording my Zwift rides concurrently on my Garmin head unit moves my data directly into the Garmin Connect platform, including virtual mileage, though the miles are usually a few less than what Zwift counts. I logged about 1,000 ‘Garmin miles’ on the Neo trainer this year and feel like I have better intensity endurance. Next up, I’m going to explore structured training plans.
2. Custom Co-Motion 650b tandem
We rode Paris-Brest-Paris 2019 on our newest tandem, the Green Apple. It’s a custom steel road & gravel tandem with travel couplers. This bike has nicer fit compared to our past tandems, and suits us very well. It matches the fit of the aluminum Co-Motion 650b tandem we bought last year.
The Green Apple will continue to be our travel/touring/randonneuring tandem. Our custom 700c steel lugged Spectrum will also see rando use. The aluminum one is slated for some gravel rides this coming year
3. SRAM 10-speed bar end shifters and GX rear derailleur.
Tech alert! Let’s talk shifting. I gave up on Shimano Dura-Ace 10-speed bar end shifters after a couple of seasons of crummy shifting with Shimano XT 9-speed derailleurs. While that Shimano combination is supposed to be compatible, I found the setup difficult to keep in adjustment. Don’t get me started on Dura-Ace 9-speed shifters, they never worked well for us.
After reading good reviews of the 10-speed SRAM 1:1 drivetrain components from recumbent riders, I installed SRAM gear on one tandem, loved it, and then added it to the other two, all using SRAM 11-36 cassettes. The SRAM SL-500 shifters have a much more solid feel than Shimano and they mate perfectly with the SRAM GX clutched long cage derailleur.
I still have to get cable tension dialed in, but once that is done shifting stays accurate. A bonus is that the components are affordable compared to 11- and 12-speed stuff. Plus, bar end shifters let me use our reliable 10-speed triple Campagnolo front derailleurs that can manage our 24-tooth triple chainring range.
4. Garmin Varia RTL510 rear radar/taillight
I bought the Varia a few weeks ago when year-end sales lowered the price, based on the rave reviews over the last couple of years. It alerts us to a car before I ever hear it. We’ve paired it on the tandem concurrently to my and Mary’s GPS computers and it’s super useful on suburban and country roads. That said, it’s not practical in the city and sometimes has false alarms, but overall I like the additional situational awareness.
5. Garmin Edge 1030 and Edge 830 GPS computers
I bought a 1030 over the winter and we got Mary an 830 this spring, and both have been solid performers on long rides. With tweaking of the settings and importing course files through Garmin Connect, we’ve seen reliable run times and accurate turn-by-turn navigation. The ClimbPro feature showing distance and grade on big hills is neat. Here’s the Edge 830 in-depth review from sports tech expert Ray Maker.
They were a big help in France at PBP with all the roundabouts in the villages at night. I missed a turn here and there due to my inattention, but the devices never sent us off course. Recharging on the fly from a portable battery was easy.
The grand 1200K of randonneuring didn’t fail to amaze. We had a truly memorable and gratifying experience. See my story here and Mary’s here. It was very hard at times, but the payoff was immense. The best part was riding with great people including our former local randonneur-in-arms Jerry Seager and a fine group of San Francisco randonneurs who didn’t mind the tandem. We’ll go back in 2023.
7. Kit’n’Kish 600K
This wild and wooly former D.C. Randonneurs brevet route (see details here) has been our gruesomely hilly go-to pre-1200K prep ride the last two summers. It ascends through the wooded central Pennsylvania highlands in unrelenting fashion, putting us close to the time limit (40 hours) with a five-hour overnight stop. This year a vicious heat wave added an extra challenge.
Finishing the K’n’K, unsupported, has yielded a huge boost to our self-confidence before big randonnees. Everybody should have a test ride that sets them up for success at an important event. Here is Mary’s writeup from last year on her blog Chasing Mailboxes.
8. Kona Rove LTD 650b gravel bike
I sold off my Rivendell Atlantis frameset this year after concluding it was too big for me. It only took more than a decade of fiddling with fit to realize that.
The replacement is the Rove LTD, a sparkly dark cherry Reynolds 853 steel frame with a carbon fork, flat mount disk brakes, and lots of tire clearance. I set it up with 47mm WTB Byway tires on thru-axle tubeless compatible wheels, my standard 10-speed SRAM drivetrain and Velo Orange Nouveau Randonneur handlebars. It’s a blast to ride on gravel and feels zippy on pavement. It’s not superlight, but it fits and puts a smile on my face.
9. Rapha Pro Team Insulated Jacket
This jacket is very versatile and warm while being light weight. The Polartec Alpha lining on the chest and arms is amazing stuff. Combined with a base layer and a long sleeve jersey, this top keeps me warm into the upper 40s on a steady ride and can extend further with a thermal jersey. I also like the three rear pockets and two-way zipper. It doesn’t really keep me that warm off the bike, but it works a treat (to borrow a British phrase) when riding.
10. Los Angeles
We rode from Phoenix to downtown Los Angeles in March with our pal Tim. For a city with a driving culture, a lot has been done to make the it rideable. We had a grand finale there with Jerry and his partner Caroline and Patrick and Delphine, known as @tandemlosangeles on Instagram.
A fun ride up to Calabasas for coffee and lunch at Pedalers Fork was a highlight. The short sleeves weather in March was just the best thing too.
There’s more I could choose that stood out in 2019, such The Philly Bike Expo and The Coffeeneuring Challenge. We had a good year on the bike together.
Next year we are planning a couple weeks of touring in Europe and some gravel events, one big one in particular if we gain entry. I’d like to tap into the good spirit coming from the gravel riders around Washington and make a contribution as well. Also we plan to be part of efforts to reinvigorate the regional randonneuring scene.
Here’s to a terrific 2020 for you and yours. Thanks for reading!