Cycling has benefitted from advancements in design and materials perhaps like no other recreational activity. Current day bicycles are engineering marvels that combine performance and rider comfort into stunning styles. For the body, apparel has more than kept pace in the quest to maximize gains from rider output while looking equally stylish and attractive. With these improvements, though, we’ve seen prices for bikes and gear grow increasingly higher and while there’s no doubt that advanced level equipment is worth it there doesn’t seem to be much attention on affordable cycling gear.
The good news is that high end performance is increasingly finding its way to lesser and more moderately priced cycling equipment. With a look towards Spring riding season we’ve put together a list of a few of our current favorite items.
We should probably kick off this gear guide with a bicycle but the idea for this feature began with a helmet. We think it’s a good idea to protect where all the good ideas come from, your brain, and the Specialized Align II helmet is one of the best. This $50 helmet features Mips and received a 5-star rating from the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings Lab. Its 9.6 overall score ranks it 8th among 141 helmets tested, putting it well ahead of helmets that cost two to three times more. Affordable safety doesn’t come at the expense of good looks or great fit. The Align II has a road style design that also blends nicely into commuter looks and the easily adjustable Headset SX dial allows riders to tune the fit across a range of head sizes. Unbelievably, the Align II is available in 11 different color options.
What is Mips? – The Mips® safety system features a low-friction layer inside the helmet that allows a multi-directional movement of 10-15mm on certain angled impacts, intended to help reduce rotational force to the head.
What is the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings Lab? – Since 2011, Virginia Tech researchers have been providing unbiased helmet ratings that allow consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing helmets. The helmet ratings are the culmination of over 15 years of research on head impacts in sports and identify which helmets best reduce concussion risk. This work is done as part of Virginia Tech’s service mission and is 100% independent of any funding or influence from helmet manufacturers.
State 6061 Black Label All-Road Bicycle – $1399.99
Here’s a bike for all of you wondering about gravel and if it’s worth getting a new bike for. For the price of a premium road wheelset you can get a complete bicycle with an aluminum frame, carbon fork, and spec’ed with a 1x drivetrain and disc brakes. Looks pretty good in both available colors, too. Bicycling magazine says the 6061 Black Label All-Road is an “expert blend of quality, performance, and price” while adding, “State Bicycle Co. hit a sweet spot of affordability and versatility with the 6061 Black Label All-Road, an aluminum drop-bar bike that straddles the line between rugged road bike and adventurous gravel bike. It sports a traditional aesthetic that belies a modern take on what a drop-bar bike can be.”
We like the style as well but really appreciate the ability to run wider tires. State uses #exploreyourstate on their social media and that’s exactly what we’re about here at Cycle Oregon. The ability to cover paved and unpaved Oregon surfaces with this bike with money saved to spend at local businesses is what we find so appealing.
Nowhere is quality, fit, and performance more important than the interface between your body and the bicycle. Gloves, shoes, and shorts are incredibly important contact points where sacrificing quality often leads to a miserable day on the bike. Further, it can lead to pain and discomfort off the bike. We’ve seen all the headlines for shorts that cost more than our first bikes (or maybe even cars!) and there’s no doubt that they are as comfortable as advertised. But the namesake shorts from The Black Bibs are a revelation at $40. Comfortable, technical, and classically styled with no labels or branding, these shorts are available in 7 sizes for women and 9 for men in a range of colors and comfortable for long days in the saddle. The Black Bibs also offers a full range of technical cycling apparel and accessories at remarkably affordable prices.
American Classic Tires – $35
We featured American Classic tires in our 2021 Holiday gift list and gave some to ourselves because, let’s face it, we were nice (not naughty) last year. We’ve been riding their road and gravel tires in the new year and have been impressed by their performance. Lower priced tires have historically been labeled “training tires” which is a way of saying slow and heavy but these tires have a lively feel and great performance in all conditions. Yes, they are slightly heavier than premium, high-performance tires but building a library of tread patterns, especially for gravel bikes, can be an expensive proposition. Our favorites so far have been the Udden for gravel and Torchbearer for road. All tires in the American Classic lineup have a two-year warranty and are backed with their Road Hazard Replacement Policy.
Yes, we feature Ride With GPS in a lot of stories here and for good reason, it works great and is easy to use. Add the fact that they are an Oregon-based company and that’s just about as good as it can get. We love to feature rides and routes all across Oregon and having the peace of mind to know exactly where you’re going in such an easy-to-use format makes it easy to enjoy the ride. Even better, you can track and store your rides here as a journal and share with friends. It makes the list here because you don’t need a fancy cycling computer, just use your smartphone!
Ride With GPS offers a Starter plan for free that allows you to record your rides, Create your own routes, create goals and collections and upload/sync with devices. Basic and Premium plans, ($50 & $80 per year) offer more powerful in-app tools for advanced planning. But if you just want to know where you’re going and where you’ve been, it’s tough to beat this incredible app on the thing you’ve got with you all the time. No, not your bike, your phone!
And with all the money you save on gear, you can spend it on snacks! Now, that’s an investment plan with a profitable return.
Note – This is an opinion piece written by Cycle Oregon staff. Cycle Oregon was not compensated by any company for inclusion in this post; these are simply the opinions of riders intended to inform other riders. Cycle Oregon receives no compensation from any actions (clicks, views, follows, purchases) taken from this blog post.