Gear Of The Year: The Wheel

In “the outdoor industry,” people have thrown around the term “game-changing” for several years, using it to describe a new piece of gear that they think will turn a sport on its head. Like cams, which enabled climbers to efficiently protect and climb cracks, or hydration reservoir backpacks, which made it so hikers and mountain bikers didn’t have to stop what they were doing to drink water.

All that stuff is cool, but you know what really changed the game? The wheel. I mean yeah, cams made rock climbing easier for the 0.1 percent of the population who climb cracks outdoors, but the wheel, holy fucking shit, the wheel changed civilization. Cams are great, but your great-grandmother probably couldn’t care less how they work. The wheel, though? Your great-grandmother gives it two thumbs up.

Unlike that new ultralight high-tech bicycle component that people are drooling over because it saves seven grams, the wheel has been around for thousands of years and has stood up to, if you will, long-term gear reviewing by most of modern civilization. Also, that new bike component is totally useless if there are no wheels under it, FYI.

Skip forward a millennia, and westward migration on the Oregon Trail is made possible by the wagon wheel (and a whole bunch of our badass ancestors who set out on the trail to move west). What does this have to do with adventure? Well, without westward migration, there’s no climbing at Indian Creek, is there? That’s right. Thanks, wheel.

In the 1860s, long before you and your friends were getting aroused by the new hot-shit bicycle wheel size, Eugene Meyer invented the high-wheeler bicycle—the original fixie—and bicycling started to take off as a sport. Yes, please, tell me all about the difference between 29-inch wheels and 27.5-inch wheels, but don’t forget about the O.G. Eugene Meyer, who, not to make you feel inadequate, was straddling a 60-inch wheel. Obviously after that, 150-plus years of people fucking about with bicycle designs eventually led us to the mountain bike, another invention that is rad but would have never happened without standing on the shoulders of that other invention of the wheel. Think about that shit next time you’re shredding singletrack.

And then, of course, in 1886, a vehicle called the “automobile” came along, transforming transportation all around the globe over the next century and paving the way for things like Big Gulps, accidents caused by people looking at their phones while operating 2,000-pound machines, and in the early 2010s, #vanlife. #vanlife, a word that officially begins with a hashtag symbol, is a fantastic way to see the world with limited funds and can lead to full-time income via brand sponsorships and deft media creation if you play your cards right, but let’s be honest, without the wheel? #vanlife would be the slightly less glamorous “Living In A Tiny Steel Box That Smells Like Old Shoes And Is Very Difficult To Move Between Scenic Locations.” So thanks, wheel.

Not living in a van, but still love hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, or any other sport that takes place more than a couple miles from your home? Thank the wheel for getting you there—even if you lived in a place where skiing is close to your home, without the wheel, your ass would be walking your skis several days just to get to the base of the ski resort. And next time you’re at a ski resort, check out those chairlifts, because those chairs are clipped to a cable that runs around a few dozen—wait for it—wheels.

There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about that game-changing rock climbing widget, ski binding, tent design, jacket insulation, waterproof breathable fabric, or backpack harness system, but how about a little hat tip to that nameless Mesopotamian man or woman who invented the wheel back in 3500 B.C. I mean, that Mesopotamian didn’t have any Instagram followers, but the wheel is some pretty rad shit.