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Beta Editors’ Choice: Essentials

Our favorite must-haves that aren't bolted to our bikes

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Troy Lee A3 Helmet

We’re thinking too much about our helmets. Not “we,” the bike industry. That particular “we” should be thinking about helmets. We, the riders are thinking too much about our helmets. Every brand claims its technology is the best, but we (the riders) are not scientists. It’s sort of a coin toss to us. So, what if that technology is something we can actually feel? If the approach makes real sense when we’re holding a helmet in our hands? It becomes less of a leap of faith and more of a conscious choice. Like one between tire casings or damper settings. Troy Lee’s A3 helmet uses a hybrid EPS/EPP foam construction. We know EPS. It’s the relatively stiff material that makes it possible to survive major crashes without major injury. But the new frontier in helmet design is protection in minor crashes, which can be more frequent and can have a cumulative effect on brain health. That’s where EPP comes in. Lining the inside of the A3, EPP is enough softer that you can tell just by gently pressing on it. Then, lining that material is a Mips slip plane that’s integrated into the neck retention system. Nothing new, but it doesn’t block the vents like traditional Mips systems. Then, lining that, is an X-Static liner designed to be trimmed for a custom fit. This is one feature that sets the A3 apart from the A2 and most other helmets out there. Instead of living with an imperfect fit, you can perfect it. In so many ways, you will not think about the A3 helmet.—Travis Engel

Smith Wildcat Glasses

The full-coverage single-lens glass is slowly climbing out of its ironic, kitschy phase and is back serving the function-first riders. The ones who don’t mind looking like they just stepped off the volleyball court. But the Smith Wildcat doesn’t have any pointy edges or superfluous venting, though there is a turquoise-and-pink colorway. They’re just here to cover your eyes. And because Smith has been an optics brand from the start, they’re pretty good at that part. Most of us ride trails that shift regularly from tree-covered to wide-open, and no photochromic lens (even Smith’s) is quite fast enough to keep up. In slightly shaded areas, Smith’s lenses leave things crisp and well-defined. But even that’s not good enough for some of us. There’s a clear lens included with every Wildcat and though it’s not an especially easy swap, it still leaves the glass looking seamless once you’re done. The fit and finish is what we’d expect from Smith, and what we damn well better get for over $200. There’s a clean transition to the rubberized temples and there’s that nice ‘thunk-thunk’ when opening and closing the arms. And they stay put. The light weight and optimal, customizable fit keeps them in place without needing to pull a hand off the bar to slide them back up the bridge of the nose. Not many premium glasses impress us enough to suggest you pay that premium, but the Wildcats do.—T.E.

Giro Havoc Pant

Want to feel fast? Slip into some sports pants. In a few short years, riding pants have gone from being the balloonish uniform of DH racers and crossover moto huckersto today’s refined, tailored trouser choices appropriate for nearly any kind of bike ride. Our favorite all-around britches? Giro’s Havoc pants. Essentially an extended version of the shorts that bear the same name, both options sport a perfect balance of fabric and features. They’re made of a durable yet flexible nylon and elastene blend (with some water repellant treatment, even) and sport plenty of storage spots, without threatening any relation to your uncle’s baggy cargo-pocketed, zip-off hiking pants. Where the Havoc pants differ from their shorter brethren, of course, is beyond the knee. Those lower reaches are where many other riding pants seem to struggle with fit, but Giro nailed it. They’ll cover your whole leg, but are tailored to avoid any hungry drivetrains or flapping while pedaling. Cozier than shorts but more breathable than full-on winter options, the Havoc pants work in a surprisingly wide range of circumstances. They may not come in gold, but they feel just right.—Satchel Cronk

Fix-it-Sticks Multi-Tool

Bike multitools are irritating. The folding ones don’t fit well in tight spaces, don’t have any leverage, and always seem to be missing the fitting you need. So when the Fix-it-Sticks Replaceable Edition tool came around several years ago, we grabbed on and haven’t let go since. At the core, this is a simple tool, and that’s what makes it so elegant. It’s just a couple sticks that can be put together to make a T-handle. Each of the four ends magnetically accepts standard quarter-inch bits, which opens Fix-it-Sticks users up to essentially a never-ending choice of fittings—available at any hardware store— to suit your trailside needs. One editor once replaced the oil pan on his car with a set, and also carries a pair of sticks in his moto trail kit. The fact that they fit common bits makes them future-proof, too, so when Specialized decides it’s going to run Pentalobe fasteners, you’ll be good to go. And, Fix-it-Sticks now makes several of its own non-standard, bike-specific quarter-inch fittings, like tire levers, a chain tool, dental pick, 15mm axle wrench, mini pry bar, and a little flashlight thing, too. There’s even a bottle opener bit for those of us who just won’t settle for using the end of the stick itself. There are a lot of mini bike tools out there, but this one has been our favorite for a solid eight years..—Ryan Palmer

Bontrager Rapid Pack

There’s a fairly spirited and longstanding debate among this group of editors about the appropriateness of strapping stuff to our bikes. We won’t get into that here, but we are absolutely unified when it comes to hitching the Bontrager Rapid Pack around our waists. Simply put, this thing stays put. It really stinks when a backpack gets too excited off of a jump and hits you in the back of the neck, or a hip pack gets jittery in a rock garden and totally throws off your balance, but the Rapid Pack is simply unshakeable. That’s thanks to the centralized design, with a water bottle pouch holding down center stage, and a sleek, low-profile design that doesn’t try to do more than bags like this can get away with. It’s got enough room to hold all of your essentials, but the sturdy foam back keeps the whole program planted. You should probably reach for something bigger when your plans include something lengthy or remote, but for just about anything else, this bum bag is the bomb.—S.C.

Photos: Anthony Smith