It was another cracking year for the Cyclingnews tech team and I think it shows in the diverse mix of content we've produced and curated for you, dear reader. This, of course, means we put ourselves through the wringer - riding, racing and filling our legs with lactic acid to ensure we bring you the best possible reviews and assessments on the internet. This, despite the difficulties surrounding global parts shortages and the like. That said, there were still a lot of new and very important product drops as mentioned in our Gear of the Year 2021 awards. Hopefully, 2022 heralds a new dawn and stock levels will replenish.
On a personal note, 2021 has been a year of growth - both as a journalist and cyclist. I've made a concerted effort to ride more, to ride harder and savour every moment on the bike because being healthy is a privilege. One of the positives I've taken out of post-lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic is my massive spike in form and fitness thanks to amassing over 1,600 hours in the saddle (2020 and 2021 combined) - all of which came from testing the very gear you enjoy reading about here on Cyclingnews. As a result, one of my resolutions for 2021 was to race more and be competitive - something I put on hold after relocating to the UK from South Africa in 2019. And, of the many cycling disciplines to choose from, it was the time trial scene that really made an impact on me. It was also one of the first disciplines to resume after restrictions eased in March, so it made sense to give it a go.
After playing around with various test bikes, including the Canyon Speedmax CF 8 Disc, I finally took the plunge and bought a time trial frame of my own and built it up from scratch. It wasn't easy. Not the building part, but rather the sourcing of components. As previously mentioned, the global bicycle stock and components shortage is a real thing. Brexit also curtailed my parts-sourcing progress as Germany and some other European countries neither deliver nor trade with the UK anymore, meaning certain components were pricier than expected. In the end, I built a truly awesome bike and recorded some truly awesome results including four regional championship wins, several time trial course records and a crack at National Champs, the latter of which was a humbling experience. I'm well and truly hooked.
In between all of this, I tested copious amounts of stuff including smart trainers, training programmes, all-new groupsets, helmets, skinsuits, power meters, mountain bikes, gravel shoes (yep, it's a thing), sunglasses - even a glucose-monitoring device. I also got to attend a couple of trade shows, just like the old days. Several exotic international press trips also landed in my inbox but COVID-19 had other plans and subsequently put paid to the lot of them - but that didn't stop the industry from making any of those launches happen. And there were some incredible new launches - some big, some small but each one relevant and impactful.
At the moment, I'm prepping to take on a very cold and wet northern hemisphere Rapha Festive 500, and a lot of the equipment I've tested throughout the year will be summoned yet again to help get me through the worst of it. So while I finish up prepping for that, here are some of the products that made an impact on me during 2021.
Best helmet: MET Rivale MIPS
The helmet is without a doubt the most important piece of cycling equipment yet it's not given the same kind of consideration as the best cycling shoes or even sunglasses. I've been guilty of ignoring its importance myself but recently experienced a brutal crash during a mountain bike race which has since changed my views on the helmet altogether. The helmet in question was the Met Rivale MIPS, which is more of a road than MTB-specific helmet but one with enough coverage and protection to double up for use across both disciplines.
The incident happened during a cross-country race, the Pippingford Park leg of the Southern XC series. While it wasn't my plan to crash-test the Rivale MIPS, somewhere on the course during a testosterone-fuelled jostle for a narrow wooden bridge, another rider collided with me at high speed, sending me over the bars head first into terra firma. Upon examining the helmet, it was clear it had done its job. The entire front right side was split in half and held together by the polycarbonate shell exterior. There was grass shoehorned into some of the cracks and the MIPS liner was out of place and twisted off centre. Other than that, the retention system had unclipped from the impact and dropped out of the helmet.
My view is that you can't put a price on your life and I'm certain without the Met Rivale MIPS on my head during the crash, things could have been a whole lot worse. While many of the best road bike helmets all boast similar levels of safety and protection, I've always had an affinity for the Met brand as a whole - the helmets look superb and the after-sales service and communication levels are some of the best I've dealt with in the industry.
Read my Met Rivale MIPS helmet review.
Best road bike: Merida Scultura Team
It's hard to believe Merida, as a brand, doesn't get anywhere near the kudos it deserves. Perhaps that's partly due to the popularity of the more established marques - Specialized, Cannondale, Trek and Canyon et al. Over the past two years, Merida has put in a stellar effort when it comes to developing a comprehensive range of road bikes, and it shows - particularly when it comes to the Merida Reacto Team-E and all-new Scultura.
The build quality is world-class and everything feels solid and well put together. Sure, the bold and in-your-face Bahrain Victorious livery may not be to everyone's liking (me included) but there is a stealthy metallic black option for those who prefer to ride incognito. Dynamically, it's faultless and, no matter the terrain, it's telepathic in the way it behaves and responds to pedal and steering inputs.
It's in the pricing department where Merida has really nailed it. The £7,750 / €9,999 sticker price of the Scultura Team seems hard to believe, undercutting the range-topping options from Cannondale and Specialized by thousands. There's nothing currently on the market that comes close to it - not just from a pricing perspective but from the way it rides.
For more details, check out my full review of the Merida Scultura Team.
Gamechanger: Velosock Velocities Amsterdam full bike cover
If you're anything like me, the bicycle is undoubtedly a big part of who you are and that means dirty bikes often find their way into your house, lounge and entrance hall. The Velosock is a great way of not only protecting your bike from getting knocked about but also keeps any grit, chain grease and dirt from staining your carpets, floors and walls.
The Velosock range is pretty comprehensive and has options of all varieties of bikes with detailed and vibrant designs to match. I've used the brand's indoor bike covers for a while now but recently acquired one of the full-bike covers to protect my time trial bike during storage and travel to and from events.
Unlike the regular Velosock indoor cover, the full bike cover is made from water repellent fabric and has been designed to play nicely with bicycle racks thanks to the zippers on the sides and bottom. It works really well and looks the part, too.
Best bib shorts: Nopinz Subzero indoor shorts
Do you really need indoor-specific cycling kit? Turns out you do - especially if you're taking the whole Zwift thing seriously and want to avoid nasty chafing or overheating problems that come with riding indoors. The team over at Nopinz have been working hard to improve the indoor cycling experience and the SubZero indoor cycling kit and Subzero indoor shorts pictured here are two impressive items.
So what are the benefits here? Well, the shorts are notably cooler and less restrictive than regular options. You even get two strategically positioned freezepockets - on the shoulder and lower back - which together with the gel packs help to promote heat loss. The gel packs are optional extras but worthy investments in my opinion. As mentioned in my Subzero race suit review the gel packs can take anywhere between 20-30 minutes to melt so thorough planning is required should your workout or race exceed this time limit.
The lightweight, mesh-like fabric also help with cooling and ventilation and the fit is supportive enough to supply enough comfort for longer indoor sessions. As mentioned in the verdict of my full review, at £109.99, they're competitively priced and a worthy option for both the recreational and serious e-racer.
Check out our full review of the Nopinz Subzero indoor shorts for more details.
View the Subzero indoor shorts at Nopinz (opens in new tab)
Object of Desire: Cannondale SuperSlice Disc TT bike
After spending a few months racing time trials on the Canyon Speedmax, it wasn't long before the bug bit and I began looking for something of my own - something fast, adjustable and unique. I managed to source a second-hand Cannondale SuperSlice Disc frame and personally built it up from scratch. While I managed to fit some test parts (the Rotor INspider Aldu crankset and various TT wheels), a lot of the trickier bits such as the Shimano Ultegra Di2 wiring loom, and shifters, derailleurs, hydraulic Dura-Ace brakes and satellite shifters, and Vision Metron TFA aerobar were personally purchased.
There's nothing ubiquitous about the Cannondale SuperSlice Disc. They're hard to find and they look superb. I love the graphics and the little details - including the 'pizza slice in a cape' graphic behind the fork. In terms of outright speed, it's fast. I managed to get some time in the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub wind tunnel while testing the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero Speedsuit to further tweak my setup and position and it keeps getting faster. I know there are quicker setups/bikes out there but with the current shortages I count myself quite lucky that I managed to get this built up so quickly.
In fact, I love this bike so much that I've acquired another SuperSlice Disc frame which I plan on using as a second bike - something to train on and use on the smart trainer. It will be identical in almost every way bar the shifting, which I plan on setting up mechanical.
Power meter: Rotor INSpider
I've got to test a lot of power meters over the years and, in recent times, the gap has closed among the main protagonists - even smaller companies are closing in on brands that were considered the gold standard. Of the many options I've tested, the Rotor INSpider is the standout power meter in the segment at present (I am currently testing the new SRM Power Meter 9 and Favero Assioma DUO-Shi).
The beauty of the Rotor INSpider power meter stems from its multi-discipline compatibility. It can be seamlessly switched between bikes granted they all utilise a Rotor OCP-splined (Optimum Chainring Position) crankset. In terms of compatibility the INSpider will play nicely with all crank arm lengths (150-175mm), axle standards (24 and 30mm) and carbon crank arms, not to mention both 1x and 2x chainring configurations.
I used the Rotor INSpider for the entirety of my first time trial season and the recordings were consistent and reliable across the board, matching up perfectly with the indoor cycling sessions and numbers I produced during training. While you could potentially buy two or three crank-based options for the same price as the INSpider power meter, the beauty of this particular setup comes in the consistency and modularity of the unit.
Read my Rotor INSpider review.
Best groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200
There's been a lot of debate around the new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset and not all of it has been positive but the difference between the new and outgoing version is pretty big. Yes, it's expensive but the Japanese brand has worked on refining everything, including the braking system and move to 12-speed wireless shifting which are some of the biggest improvements.
While the outgoing R9100 groupset is still an excellent offering, R9200 is without a doubt a more refined, more intelligent ecosystem that improves rather than revolutionises the user experience. Shimano has addressed the chief areas of concern - namely the braking system and lever/control interface ergonomics, not to mention introduced a better gearing and shifting performance. And what we get is one of - if not - the best road bike groupset currently available.
Read my Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset first ride review.
Best sunglasses: POC Elicit Clarity
I love sunglasses. Not only do they serve as a line of protection against the elements, but a stylish pair of sunglasses goes a long way in rounding off your on-the-bike look. POC is a chief proponent when it comes to combining these two attributes and the brand's new Elicit Clarity sunglasses have pushed the envelope even further.
Stylistically, the Elicit Clarity sunglasses are typically POC in execution. They are built around a completely frameless design, where truss-like arms bolt directly to the lens via snap hinges. Not only does the frameless design make it easier to keep the lens clean, but it also provides a clearer, unobstructed field of view. By binning the frames and traditional hinge design and introducing a truss structure, POC was able to reduce the total weight to 23g, which is around 9-10g lighter than the segment average.
I've been using the Elicits in combination with the POC Ventral Lite helmet for just over a month now and have nothing negative to report. They fit well, provide an impressive view ahead and have held up impressively in the rain. Full review to follow in the coming weeks.
Best wheels: South Industries RX
South Industries launched its latest wheel offering, the RX, earlier this year. Claimed to deliver a balance between weight, performance and durability, I was pretty excited to get a set sent my way - especially since many of my training roads take in sections of tarmac and gravel. The RX wheels don't pander to any particular discipline but can be used on a road or gravel bike and wrapped in a variety of tyre combinations, the choice is yours.
What they do offer is the ability to meet your requirements - they're only available in a tubeless configuration and are only compatible with disc brakes. The wheels are asymmetric in design: the front is shallower (32mm) and wider (22mm) than the deeper (40mm) and narrower (20mm) rear wheel to aid in better aerodynamics. I've used the wheels on the Specialized Aethos and Orbea Orca, and was left impressed by the manner in which they changed the character of both bikes - unlocking a level of capability I didn't think was possible.
The most notable characteristic is that of improved comfort and communication as afforded by the ability to run wider tyres and lower pressure. South Industries sent us the ultra-light Tune Prince front/Princess rear hubs build which weighs in at a scant 1,275g without tyres. The full review will follow in the coming weeks after I complete the testing period with the Rapha Festive 500.
Best tool: Ryder Luberetta
It might not be as bling as some of the other items on this list but the Ryder Luberetta is one of my favourite gadgets of 2021.
Designed to simplify the chain lubricating process, the Luberetta employs a series of fins in the lubrication channel, which help clean grit off the chain as you lube it. And it works impressively well - it's also a lot less messy and environmentally friendlier than the usual squeeze-and-spill technique we're all guilty of doing.
Designed and manufactured by parent company Omnico, the Luberetta joins a product portfolio headlined by the Nut Cracker, Slug Plug and Slyder Storage System. The lubrication device comprises a silicone dispenser and chain guide affixed to a lube container that can hold up to 15ml. The application cap be reused forty times, which should equate to roughly a year’s worth of riding and weekly maintenance.
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Aaron was the Tech Editor Cyclingnews between July 2019 and June 2022. He was born and raised in South Africa, where he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. Throughout this career, Aaron has spent almost two decades writing about bikes, cars, and anything else with wheels. Prior to joining the Cyclingnews team, his experience spanned a stint as Gear & Digital editor of Bicycling magazine, as well as a time at TopCar as Associate Editor.
Now based in the UK's Surrey Hills, Aaron's life revolves around bikes. He's a competitive racer, Stravaholic, and Zwift enthusiast. He’s twice ridden the Cape Epic, completed the Haute Route Alps, and represented South Africa in the 2022 Zwift eSports World Championships.
Rides: Cannondale SuperSlice Disc Di2 TT, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Rim, Cannondale Supersix Evo Ultegra Di2 Disc, Trek Procaliber 9.9 MTB
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