Now, for those who are huge geeks for product reviews, here are the new gidgets and widgets I slapped on a cycle in 2012 that earned their place in my pantheon of Things That Don't Suck:
POLAR BOTTLES: A brutal heat wave inspired me to test a couple insulated bottles this summer. While I found Camelbak's attempt somewhere between "meh" and "blech" (usually hanging around the "feh" part of that continuum), Polar was a winner -- once I figured out that what I thought was leakage was actually the result of sloppy filling, a.k.a. operator error. I can't count the number of times that bottle's been through the dishwasher since my initial review, and it still looks and works like new. Even disregarding the insulation (which is nice, don't get me wrong), this is a better bottle than any of its plastic competitors on basic bottle function -- even the mighty and ubiquitous Specialized bottle.
CRANK BROTHERS CANDY PEDALS: Originally purchased as a stopgap while I hunted for new ATACs, my low-budget Candy 1s are still mounted up and going strong. My only real complaint so far is with cleat durability -- even mounted in recessed-sole MTB shoes, those suckers wear down pretty quick compared to (steel) SPD cleats or (also brass, I think) ATAC. Still, gosh, these are some nice click-in pedals for the price.
STI: This one completely spit in my inner-Luddite's eye, having been a bar-end-shifter guy for the better part of 15 years. Still, I greatly enjoyed the Tiagra brifters on my Raleigh Clubman. I can still see the benefits of old-school, non-integrated shifting, but I have to admit that the newfangled stuff works and the ergonomics are delightful (for my chubby paws, at least). If they blow out on me, I might consider going back to a retro option, but until then, I'm going to keep on brifterin'.
COMPACT CRANKS: This was less of a stretch for my inner Luddite since I've been a proponent of smaller-diameter bolt circles (and their resulting lower gears for years. However, 2012 was the first time that I tried Shimano's take on what we retro-dorks have always known. The 50/34 combo has its challenges (there can be a bit of a clunky double-shift in the sequence), but for this flatlander, it's a great compromise between the dork factor (yeah, I'm that vain) of a triple and the "who's got quads to push that?" feeling of a racerdude double.
THE HORRIBLY NAMED BUT NICE SHIMANO TIAGRA GROUP: Other than crummy bottom bracket bearings, I was duly impressed by the whole Tiagra kit on my Clubman this year. Sure, it sounds like an (ahem) "male enhancement" pill, but the 9-speed version of the T-group has impressed me as solid, effective stuff that isn't awful to look at. If you're a fan of esoteric midrange Shimano road groups of the mid-90s (and really, who isn't?), I'd liken this group to the RX100 of yore... sitting right under 105, mostly forgotten, basic silver, and good to go.
V-BRAKES AND DROP BARS: 2012 was the year that I finally worked out the kinks which were keeping me from converting my Swift folder to drop bars, including the whole "how to pull a V-brake with a drop-bar lever" conundrum. I'd tried (briefly) the Tektro RL520 before, but had them on a flared drop bar that was not to my liking and ended up throwing out both baby and bath water. Once I mated them to a more traditional bar, perfection. Solid and powerful braking, good (for me) ergonomics, not fiddly at all (I installed inline cable adjusters but haven't touched them in months), no complaints.
Okay, 2012, that's a wrap. Here's to many happy miles in 2013!