If there’s one thing we’re not short of at Above Category, it’s incredible kit. But when everything comes with extra panache, how do you call-out the hors catégorie gear from the past year? The apparel and accessories that elevated the art of cycling in 2022. You ask the Above Category staff for the things they love, of course! From wheels to wax, it’s all here, the tête de la course of cycling essentials, according to the AC team. Enjoy.
When I first heard the request of us "to share a favorite cycling-related item", I immediately thought of the Q36.5 Dottore bib shorts. Kalara figured I'd choose my life-changing Pegoretti, but I'll go with what first came to mind. If the PEG is life-changing, then the Q36.5 Dottore bib shorts are mood-enhancing. My first impression was of compression - just the right amount. The fabric was a cut above other bibs I'd tried, and the fit and feel were so good that sometimes I catch myself wearing them around the shop for a while after my commute (a habit Chad seems to share as well). I have a pair in black and one in Squalo (shark), which have become my favorites, even though I've never been a grey bib guy before. I rode in the Dottores well into the fall before needing to switch to something warmer for commuting in 30-degree weather, rain and darkness. (Cue overlay of minor chord progression here!) So, consider them a 3+ season bib for the Bay Area. Pretty darn versatile.
It's tough to separate a single item of kit since everything has to work together. It can become a game of whack-a-mole if one piece feels great and another is chafing or binding, or there's a rough seam driving you crazy. Ultimately, we're all looking for complimentary pieces of apparel that offer comfort and performance that inspire us to ride harder or put in more miles. For me, these bibs did just that and were key to kicking off a real interest in the Q36.5 line. I have been lucky to try quite a bit of their apparel this year and found quite a few combinations to get me through the seasons. There are many other great pieces I could easily go on about, but that will have to be for another time.
The KOO Demos Sunglasses were my favorite kit from the cycling world in 2022. Optics are not usually something I am emotionally attached to, but I was blown away by the KOO's clarity and ease of use. I have worn, no joke, 40 or so different pairs of performance-related specs from just about every major brand out there, which makes my choice of Koo sunglasses that much more surprising.
KOO's use of Zeiss lenses has a noticeable clarity advantage over the competition's "high definition" lenses and had me wondering why it's taken me so long to try them out. If you have issues with medium-light transmission lenses being too dark or too light for mixed use, try the KOOs. You're in for a treat. I've been riding the turquoise lens (11% VLT), and they seem great both on foggy days and in full sun exposure. Handily, the lenses are easy to swap out in the Demos (additional lenses are sold separately), which makes finding the right functional/aesthetic choices a cinch.
I have a small face, so most glasses with a large field of vision make me look like I'm going scuba diving. However, the Demos have a just-right fit to them (at least for my face) which allows me to have an excellent panoramic view without feeling like I'm about to find Nemo. I have noticed they also fit most of our customers' faces, which is promising. They also clear out reasonably well as long as you're moving, and the grippers keep everything in place when the inevitable sweat starts to pour.
My favorite cycling-forward item from 2022? My custom, one-off underwear, designed by Luigi Bergamo at Q36.5 for my 5-mile, deadpan flat, home-to-AC commute on my City bike: boy shorts with a mini-unobtrusive chamois to wear under my street clothes.
The ride isn't long enough to warrant gearing up in lycra, and I don't go hard enough to break a sweat. Still, it's just long enough that discomfort arises in a particular area, especially sitting on the oh-so-beautiful but oh-so-hard leather Brooks saddle. Now, the saddle matches the look of my Titanium City bike with Brooks oil cloth and leather panniers perfectly, so obviously, I wasn't going to switch the saddle out. As my mother used to say, "your vanity overcomes your sanity". Well, where there's a will to marry aesthetics and performance, there's a way, and Luigi found it for me.
And no, I don't stay in the mini-chamois boy shorts all day. An extra pair of regular underwear is easily packable to change into during the workday!
I can't believe I'm picking this, but my favorite thing from '22 is wax. I've known about folks waxing their chains for decades but always thought it sounded weird and discarded any notion of doing it to any of my bikes. But lo and behold, without me knowing, Robert waxed a chain on my repainted Mosaic early in the year, and after my first ride, I commented on how quiet the drivetrain sounded, which is not a normal conversation when coming back from the first ride using new SRAM components. I was surprised when he told me why he thought that was. Just as good if not even better than the quieter ride is that my drivetrain is always clean, even after super wet rides (which we're dealing with now), and does not attract grit and grime from the road leading to the drivetrain lasting much longer and of course the aforementioned quieter ride.
It impressed me so much that we no longer use the 'normal' chain lube in the shop.
My choice? It's got to be Lightweight Wheels with CeramicSpeed upgrades. After updating my 20-year-old Serotta with Ceramicspeed BB, pulley wheels and coated chain and noticing the improved smoothness of the drive train and better power transfer, I decided that ceramic bearing hubs were a worthwhile addition.
Of course, the fact that they are lighter and stiffer would be the icing on the cake. And that has been the case. The upgraded wheels have made a decent 20-year-old frame ride on a different level. The acceleration is improved, the handling is crisper, and the entire package just works better and makes the ride more enjoyable.
One bike-related highlight of 2022 was the incredible service from the fine mechanics at Above Category. Robert and Dane are so talented that their attention to detail is unparalleled. It's no secret that I ride my bikes a ton and can be pretty hard on my equipment (it is my job, after all!). Thanks to those two, I could keep training and racing with my gear in tip-top shape all year long.
Until I handed my bikes over to Robert and Dane, I always had a hard time relinquishing control of my bikes. With 2022 being my first year racing professionally, I was busier than ever, limiting the time I had to work on my bikes. I also substantially increased my training volume, contributing to additional wear and tear. Thanks to these gentlemen, my bikes kept rolling smoothly all year long, propelling me to many wins and podiums along the way. And the best part about it was I never had the slightest hesitation when leaving my bikes with them. Every time I picked up a bike from the shop after a service appointment, it felt as if I were riding a brand-new bike. Thank you, Robert, Dane, and the rest of the team at Above Category, for all the support as I chase my dreams and pursue cycling at the highest level.
It wasn't easy to pick an item I truly loved and enjoyed using. Maybe it's because I'm a "jaded" mechanic, and most components, cycling gear, etc., don't get me going anymore. So since I am a mechanic, my pick has to be a tool! It's a two-piece tool that aids in wheel building. It's a Gold Skull Nipple Shuffler Box 3d printed by a guy named Jake Ryder (@J_ryde) and the Wheel Fanatyk nipple driver.
The box allows the wheel builder to dump nipples into the box and, with a light shake, positions them in the correct orientation for quick lacing. The second tool that goes hand in hand with the box is the nipple driver, which marries perfectly to the nipple head. The top of the driver has a bonded cartridge bearing that fits well in the palm of my hand for quick spinning while threading the nipple onto the spoke.
If I had to put my finger on one cycling "item/item set," it would be the Effetto Mariposa torque wrenches. The audible click of these tools when achieving manufacturer torque spec helps me sleep at night, especially with some of these extra light parts requiring only 2-4nm. I can't stress to folks enough that these parts have recommended "Max torque" and that not all mechanics use calibrated torque wrenches.
Finally, to echo the small torque requirements, I enjoy the ease of a dual-sided larger 10-60nm Mariposa torque wrench that can go clockwise & counter clock when torquing cranks, bottom brackets, cassettes, & disc lock rings. Solid tools that can be recalibrated & aren't too bulky for travel boxes.
And as we're talking torque, I'll sign off with a little reminder. It's highly recommended to check torque after the first 100 miles on any new or rebuilt bike for safety.