It’s easy to judge a book by its cover. We all write off products because they look different or judge them by some previous, unrelated iteration. Frequently, that knee-jerk reaction is correct. In a mature sport like cycling, the novel solution is more often than not a gimmick. But occasionally, very occasionally, products that at first seem to be almost jokes, or at least the set-up to an unfortunate punchline, are real revelations. It products like the three covered here – the RedShift ShockStop stem, the SeaSucker bike rack, the Coros Linx Smart Helmet – that make us think twice before we judge any book by its cover.
REDSHIFT SHOCKSTOP STEM.
A shock-absorbing stem? For any rider around in the ’90s, that brings up images of the Girvin Flexstem and instant derision; so when Redshift Sports sent us its alloy ShockStop suspension stem we imagined we’d give it one ride and confirm what we already knew: "Suspension stems don’t work." Well, we’re eating crow. Not only does the ShockStop work, it works as well or better than any current road or gravel suspension setup—and for a fraction of the cost without cluttering up the bike’s lines. With five different elastomer options, wedged into the body of the stem in ones or twos, it is incredibly tunable. The stem’s stiff construction ensures the 20mm of travel is locked in the vertical plane only, which means the ShockStop only smooths out the ride, improving handling and never giving the vague, wobbly feeling the Girvin was famous for. With hands on the tops, it barely moves for an efficient climbing position; increase leverage by grabbing the hoods on a rough descent and it gives you all 20mm for a buttery-smooth ride. When it comes to adventure and gravel riding, we are believers. $140; 298g (120mm tested); redshiftsports.com
SEASUCKER MINI BOMBER 2-BIKE RACK.
"Suction my baby to my car?!" I don’t think so. That was our initial response when we first got a Sea Sucker rack: the 2-Bike Mini Bomber. After some research and a lot of yanking, wiggling and shaking, we gave it a try and we haven’t looked back since. Using six suction cups, each capable of supporting 210 pounds, the Mini Bomber holds two bikes securely without being bolted or clamped to your car—and it stores in the trunk so, when not in use, it doesn’t ruin the car’s aerodynamics. The rack can be suctioned to essentially any car, pick-up shell or other non-porous surface in seconds and physics does the rest. Each suction cup—or vacuum mount—has its own mini-pump to lock it down, with an orange warning sign, so you know when its time to re-pump. We recently arrived at a race and had a friend look at our SeaSucker with a smirk, declaring he would never trust his bike to suction. We politely pointed out the rusted-out bolts on his traditional rack and the rust stains on his pretty Jetta before heading off to warm-up. Our rack sucks, and we love it! In addition to the 2-Bike Mini Bomber, SeaSucker has solutions for single bikes and three-bike racks. $440; 2 bikes (up to 45 lbs each); seasucker.com
COROS LINX SMART HELMET.
Riding with headphones is a polarizing topic. We can all agree that the more aware we are of our surroundings the safer we are—of course, the real issue is cars just need to respect a cyclist’s right to be on the road. Regardless, thanks to the Coros LINX Smart Helmet we’re enjoying tunes and podcasts on the bike, while still being aware of that Ford F-150 hitting the gas behind us. Small pods on the straps channel audio through bone-conduction technology. It’s like the audio just magically appears in your head, leaving your ears open for the environment. Thanks to the companion app, you can even get phone calls and navigation prompts. While it’s not perfect—the helmet is a bit heavy, the controls need to be helmet-mounted and wind noise makes podcasts tough to hear at speed—this technology is for real. The helmet itself is comfortable and looks suspiciously like a Specialized Evade. Coros even offers a walkie-talkie accessory for bike-to-bike communication. We imagine the next generation of this helmet will be lighter, with better sound-and-control integration—and that will be a true game changer. $200; 400g; coros.com