Top 10: Best Bike Gear at Interbike 2012

The GearJunkie crew is back from five days of bike-centric living at the Interbike Expo trade show in Las Vegas. We rode, demo’d equipment, watched a race, and saw loads of great new bike gear that will be coming to market later this year and early in 2013. As a bonafide bike junkie, here are my top 10 picks from the show. —T.C. Worley

#1 — SRAM XX1 Group. A first of its kind, this group uses a 1×11 system (one front chainring, an 11-speed rear cassette) that offers similar gearing range as a double chainring setup. You cut weight, lose a front derailleur, and end up with a more simplified system for cross-country and all-mountain riding. The SRAM XX1 Group will be sold in several configurations when it comes to market next month.

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Less is More: SRAM 1×11 Mtb Groupo

#2 — Salsa Warbird Ti. Just when you thought you’d seen every bike genre, Salsa adds another. The Warbird model is specific to road racing on gravel. (Think the Almanzo 100, as one example.) Before you assume it is just a cyclocross bike, I’ll explain that the geometry involves a longer wheelbase, a lower bottom bracket, and a more upright position for long days in the saddle. Shoot down a high-speed, slowly banking gravel hill and you’ll know why this bike is different — the operative word is “stability,” Salsa cites. Highlights include a titanium frame, ENVE carbon fork, and disc brakes. Offered in a less-expensive aluminum version as well, either Warbird model might just help you get off the blacktop, turn down a country gravel road, and see that pavement is overrated. Price is TBD.

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Gravel Specific: Salsa Warbird Ti gravel bike

#3 — FENIX BT20 Light. Every year bike lights get better, brighter, smaller and cheaper. But I was literally shocked to see that the new FENIX BT20 light has a 750-lumen brightness rating and is priced under $100. That’s a lot of light, folks. Our Team GearJunkie adventure racing squads use and count on FENIX headlamps for 24-hour+ events. If this bike light performs like the company’s headlamps (which are stellar) then we will have ourselves a winner. The $97 bike light comes with an easy-mounting rubber strap fastener and is waterproof. It has four brightness levels and a flash mode. It comes with a rechargeable power pack but also accepts CR123 lithium batteries for those “in-a-pinch” moments on the trail. Here’s a link to a video on the light to see it in action.

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Bargain Brightness! Fenix BT20 light

#4 — FOX Electronic Suspension. Electric just went off road. FOX Racing unveiled an electric suspension lock-out system called Float iCD that includes motors and a wired switch. A small handlebar switch moves a connected fork from a firm “Climb” mode to an open, plush “Descend” mode. I tried the system on a stationary bike and it was fast and simple. The battery and wires come from Shimano’s Di2 stock. Less exciting is the estimated $2,000 price tag for a front/rear suspension setup. We’ll see if the market is ready to take electric to the dirt.

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Electric off-road: FOX iCD Electronic Suspension Lockout

#5 — Whisky Thru-Axel Road Fork. Beefy thru-axle forks have become somewhat standard in the mtb world. But we didn’t see this one coming — Whisky introduced a road fork using the same axle style. In partnership with SRAM, Whisky has brought what has to be the stiffest, most responsive road fork to date. It’s called the No.9 Carbon Thru-Axel Fork. We haven’t ridden it yet and aren’t sure if road bikes even need this level of burly, but we’re excited to try it all the same. Perhaps more suitable is the company’s similar thru-axle version for cyclocross. Time will tell if these get traction, but we love seeing the envelope pushed. Both forks are equipped for disc brake only and cost around $600.

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Whisky thru-axle road fork

#6 — Light & Motion Blazers Last year, we fell in love with the Urban500, an elegant commuter torch from Light & Motion. This year the brand upped the ante with its Taz 800 (800 lumens) and Taz 1200 (1,200 lumens). Marketed for on/off road use, the cordless, all-in-one design has us itching to try these lights on both bar and helmet. The Taz 1200 gets a rating for 1.5 hours of battery power at its max output and uses a USB port to charge. Bring on the night!

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Light & Motion’s Taz 1200

#7 — Yakima Whispbar WB200. If you favor a clean, sleek aesthetic, you’ll love the Whispbar WB200 roof mount bike carrier from Yakima. Besides being beautifully made, the rack’s utilitarian qualities are just as lovely. The carrier accepts standard quick-release forks and thru-axle forks — just a flick of a switch to go between the two setups. Built-in locks and the ability to mount to round, square or Whispbar’s own crossbars make it versatile for pretty much anyone who wants bikes on top of their car. $249.

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Classy Carrier: Yakima’s sleek WhispBar WB200

#8 — Michelin Wild Mud Tire. When the trail gets squishy, Michelin’s mud-specific tire could be salvation. Built on a 2-inch tire frame, the soft, widely spaced “twisted” lugs spring back to their original shape flinging mud away and self-cleaning as you roll, a spokesperson explained. This dynamic nature allows knobs to be shorter, thus faster rolling. If it works, this is a winner for the puddle-wallowing riders among us.

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Mud Slinger! Wild Mud Tire from Michelin

#9 — Lazer Beam Helmet. A lower-price helmet, the Beam addresses two common excuses people give for not wearing a helmet: 1) They’re ugly; and 2) They’re expensive. The Beam is neither. For a mere $50, you can top your noggin with a good-looking, urban-styled helmet. Its spring-assisted tightening system requires no dials or ratchets. It “just fits right,” the company told me. And in my short test at the trade show it indeed did. Available in two sizes and five colors for 2013.

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Mock-up: Lazer Beam budget helmet

#10 — PoCampo Bicycle bags. For women who want to ride in town, but don’t want to sacrifice style, ProCampo offers a purse line that go over the shoulder or on the bike. The straps hook onto handlebars or a rack. Available in cotton, waxed canvas, coated poly and vinyl designs for $53 and up.

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PoCampo stylish lady biker gear

#11 (bonus!) — 650b Wheel Size. While not an actual product, this wheel size is an idea that’s been floating around waiting for traction (pun intended) for years now. It seems like vendors and industry members are finally ready to accept the third off-road wheel size, which measure about 27.5 inches. For those who think 26-inch is too small, but find 29-inch wheels too big, the 650b should be the answer. Faster over bumps than 26 and more “flickable” than the big 29-inchers, 650b is also likely the answer for the all-mountain crowd and smaller XC riders. Whether you buy into the hype or not, it looks like the cycling industry is ready to commit. Look for companies to introduce 650b bikes and accompanying parts for next season in full.

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26- to 29-inch wheels, with a new 650b wheel (27.5 inch) in between

T.C. Worley is a contributing editor in Minneapolis.

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