Well, we’ve made it. We have passed the flamme rouge and are approaching the finish line of 2020. In a year that started pretty normal with my annual pilgrimage to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under, shortly after it became abundantly clear this would be a year like no other.
Here in Australia, we have fared considerably better than many places around the globe — especially where I live in Queensland. Between lockdowns, closed borders, and obsessively washing my hands, I’m thankful that everyone around me has made it this far healthy and, for the most part, happy. I’ve found myself in an exceptionally fortunate position where I’ve been able to continue to make lemonade with the barrel of rotten citrus that 2020 has planted on my doorstep, but just like everyone else, it hasn’t been all glitter and unicorn farts.
From the postponement of my wedding to cancelling projects that had been in the works for over a year and being unable to go home to Colorado to see my father, my problems this year are small drops in the bucket compared to the hardships countless others have faced.
Luckily, thanks to some brilliant scientists, their tireless work, and of course, the one and only Dolly Parton, I am hopeful for the year to come.
I’ve spent considerably more time riding close to, or inside my home in 2020. In turn, this has influenced not only the review products that came across my desk but also what I keep coming back to before a ride or with bikes in the work stand. My picks for gear of the year are a mixture of kit I've reviewed over the past year and a few items I've bought and can't live without.
So head over to Spotify and crank up 9 to 5 or a Holly Dolly Christmas and read on for ten of my favourite products from 2020.
1. Bont Vaypor S
Bont’s shoes are one of only a few on the market that are actually shaped like feet and can be heat moulded in your oven at home to perfectly cradle your piggily wigglies. Years of ski racing have left me with a few foot and knee troubles that don't always mesh with high-end cycling shoes. With the Vaypor S, I've been able to address these issues without the need for insoles or incisions into the upper for pressure relief.
Beyond that, they are arguably the stiffest shoes on the market, and yet only have a 3.6mm-thick sole. They are also eye-wateringly expensive for shoes, but the heel and toe bumpers are replaceable, as are the BOA dials, so they are built to last.
Price: $450.00 / £325.00 / AU$550.00
2. Smoove Lube
I’ve written a few of these gear of the year articles now, and included Smoove in a previous edition when I was a staffer at a different publication. Usually, I would make extra effort not to repeat products, but I’m making an exception here because I’ve had a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment surrounding chain lube over the past 12 months.
I am a buy-in-bulk type of person and had done so with an order of Smoove. Early in the year, my supply ran dry and while picking up a few other things, saw Rock and Roll Gold on sale — the big 16oz bottle — so I bought it. RnR Gold has quite a following and is among the better lubes you can buy.
After I’d been using it for a few weeks across multiple bikes, I thought I needed to replace gear cables, or my derailleur hanger was a bit out, because the shifting just wasn’t as crisp — especially on gravel and mountain bike rides. And then, while moving house, I found a bottle of Smoove hiding at the bottom of a toolbox I rarely use.
After stripping the RnR Gold out of all my chains, I went back through and reapplied Smoove across all my bikes, and it was a night and day difference. The shifting was better, my drivetrain ran more quietly, it lasts forever and runs surprisingly clean. Now I just need to figure out what to do with this bulk bottle of chain lube I’m not going to use.
Price: $15.00 / £14.00 / AU$25.00
3. Orange Seal
Orange Seal is another product I have returned to this year and been blown away by the comparison with what I was using. As I said , I buy in bulk, and for whatever reason whenever I’m stocking up, Mariposa Caffelatex always seems to be on sale. Don’t get me wrong, Caffelatex is a great sealant that plugs holes like a champ, but in my experience, it dries up pretty quickly.
Orange Seal stays liquid for longer than Stans, Caffelatex, Slime, Joe’s NoFlats, and everything else I’ve tried. It also seems to plug holes better too, and just this year, I’ve had it close up more than one sizable sidewall tear.
Price: $21.00 16oz / £19.00 16oz / AU$25.00 8oz
4. Voile Strap
Yes, I’ve included a ski strap in my gear of the year round-up, and it's because I would argue these Voile straps are more useful than duct tape. If a zip tie and a rubber band had an offspring, a Voile strap would be the result.
I use them for everything from strapping spare tubes onto my bike, to making sure water bottles don’t get knocked out of cages mounted under the down tube, and even strapping my phone to my stem during trainer sessions. They come in lengths from six to 32in, two widths, with nylon or steel buckles and a range of colours.
Price: $5.50 / £7.00 / AU$14.00
5. Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37
The Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 were a pleasant surprise. They came bolted on a test bike (a Trek Emonda SLR 9 Project One), and out of curiosity, I swapped them onto a few different frames to get a better idea of how they rode. I was blown away. Light, fast, and snappy, they spin along at speed like something considerably deeper but don’t get pushed around in side winds. They are just the right amount of stiff that doesn’t sacrifice efficiency, but they also don’t rattle your fillings loose or get bounced around on rougher roads.
Weighing in at 1,360g, the Aeolus RSL 37 are pretty light and play nice with tubed and tubeless tyres. That said, they cost $2,400 / £2,000 / AU$3,800, and at that price, if they were anything short of magnificent, you’d be pretty disappointed.
Price: $2,400.00 / £2,000.00 / AU$3,800.00
6. Vittoria Martello
First a ski strap and now mountain bike tyres? Who is this guy?!
If you’re not running Vittoria mountain bike tyres, you should be. The Martello came to be as a downhill tyre but now comes in a lighter 'Trail' casing, which has been given the brand’s Graphene treatment. The results are blocky, heavily siped knobblies, made from a soft compound, running across the entire casing, providing a suction cup-like grip that is predictable across lean angles.
Normally the combination of a blocky tread pattern and soft compound would lead to something that rolls like a square, but the Martello bucks this trend. It’s definitely best used as a front tyre, paired with something faster and less aggressive on the rear, but it's proved to be a winner on my local trails.
Price: $69.99 / £54.99 / AU$79.99
7. Garmin Edge 830
I was a staunch Wahooligan until earlier this year when the Edge 830 landed on my desk. I will admit, the Wahoo computers are easier to use, but for me, it’s the mapping capability of the Edge 830 that makes it stand out. This year especially, I’ve been trying out new routes, and in this arena, the Garmin computers are still superior to Wahoo.
However, my relationship with the Edge 830 hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows. It will still occasionally forget my power meter or remind me that it has paired to my Varia Radar every 15 minutes over the course of a ride. Still, the detail in the colour maps, the trail forks integration, and things like the eat and drink reminders keep me coming back.
Price: $399.00 / £349.00 / AU$599.00
8. Fizik Vento Argo R3
My rear end typically doesn’t get along with Fizik saddles, but the Argo isn’t like anything else in the brand’s range. It’s yet another short wide saddle, but it's also a hair longer than many of the other snub-nosed saddles in this category. I could go into detail about the level 1 padding, or the way it drops off at the nose, and why the pressure relief channel is the way it is, but ultimately, I like this saddle because it fits me. The quest for a saddle that works is an ongoing journey, and for the time being, this is the one that meshes the best with my derrière.
Price: $150.00 / £130.00 / AU$250.00
9. Topeak SmartGauge D2
I’ve always been a bit fast and loose with tyre pressure, just going by what the gauge on my pump says. I know these are notoriously inaccurate, but I’d never had any issues until recently when I started noticing a bit more sidewall squirm at the pressures I typically run across each discipline.
Turns out the gauge on my pump was reading anywhere from 5-15psi low — it’s not a very nice pump. While I can't independently verify the accuracy of the Topeak SmartGauge D2, it's a hell of a lot more accurate than the dial on my pump and it seems to be consistent. Regardless of whether there is 60psi or 62psi in a tyre, as long as the gauge says 61psi every time, that's what's important, and so far, that's exactly how it's performed.
It works with both Presta and Schrader valves, and the head swivels for easy access.
Price: $34.95 / £30.00 / AU$60.00
10. Garmin inReach Mini
Many of my rides take me out of cell reception. In fact, I’ve experienced this, having to make my way back to reception to call for help after going over the bars and severely spraining my ankle a few years ago. I have also had to hike-a-bike out of the wilderness due to a derailleur that not only broke but proceeded to get sucked into a rear-wheel and took out quite a few spokes during its reign of destruction. I’ve had a PLB for years but was hesitant to bring it with me because it’s either off, or the cavalry comes out looking for you — overkill for a twisted ankle or mechanical.
Satellite messengers are the next step, with the capability to call in the cavalry, or just a ride home if you need it. Up until recently, satellite messengers have been bulky because they needed to have a keyboard. The inReach Mini solves this problem by harnessing some of the functionality from the phone you more than likely also have with you, and using the Earthmate companion app. You can also type directly on the unit, but it’s clunky. It fits comfortably in a jersey pocket, hip pack, or backpack among everything else you need.
I’m yet to push the SOS button (fingers crossed I won’t need to), but I have been able to let my partner know that I was going to miss the time window I’d given her due to slow progress and a flat tyre, and not to worry because I was still upright, just late.
Price: $350.00 / £300.00 / AU$529.00
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