Included in this guide:
This year has been one crazy roller coaster ride, hasn't it? And despite all the uncertainty, it's been inspiring to watch how the global community has embraced the bicycle. Sales have naturally skyrocketed, spanning everything from the best road bikes, components and accessories to clothing and cycling protection - the industry is booming. This pedal-powered renaissance, however, has brought its own set of challenges, particularly around stock issues and a general dearth of supply, but sales are not showing any signs of slowing down which is great news for the industry and growth of the sport as a whole.
Despite the lack of in-real-life bicycle tradeshows this year - Sea Otter and Eurobike were both cancelled - the industry pulled together and made things work using Zoom and other online platforms to launch their wares. And there were a lot of new product offerings. Giant went first, launching the new TCR via a video-call presentation and courier delivery. The digital fanfare around Specialized and its new Diverge, Tarmac SL7 and Aethos bikes were pretty impressive, as were the bikes. Other manufacturers followed suit: Canyon with its new Aeroad and SpeedMax; Orbea and the all-new Orca and Ordu; Cannondale and its range of e-bike offerings, Topstone Lefty and Scalpel mountain bike; Liv launching its first women's gravel bike, the Devote; not forgetting Trek's new Emonda and Factor's Ostro and LS gravel bike.
We can't forget the indoor cycling revolution either and how the world flocked to Zwift and other indoor cycling apps to stay fit and active during lockdown. Indoor cycling or eRacing has become a cheaper and safer replacement for the local racing scene in many a corner of the world and, despite the southern hemisphere moving into summer, the trend shows indoor cycling is here to stay. In fact, the first UCI Esports World Championships held on Zwift has just come to a close with Jason Osborne and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio winning the men's and women's race respectively. The best turbo trainers have never been more popular and indoor-specific gear such as indoor cycling shoes and clothing are now actual things.
Through all of 2020's ups and downs, Cyclingnews has continued to provide its readers with all the current and pertinent news stories, reviews, buyer's guides and deal offerings. As such, our tech channel has experienced prodigious growth thanks to our team of dedicated tech experts located all around the world. It would be remiss of me not to thank them for their continued efforts in growing the website's tech offering to what it is today.
To celebrate the bicycle and highlight the standout performers of the year, we've voted collectively as a team to bring you, dear readers, our top picks covering 15 categories. Like last year, it's fair to say that all the items present here represent products we'd personally buy ourselves.
Aaron Borrill, tech editor
Gear of the year 2020
Best Bike: Specialized S-Works Aethos Dura-Ace Di2
Light, fast and as pure as any contemporary road bike
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
The Specialized Aethos belies contemporary aero road bike rhetoric eschewing airfoil tubing and cable integration in favour of more traditional styling cues. That said, the designers did stitch in some level of modernity with the inclusion of disc brakes but that just makes what Specialized has created here even more special - it weighs just 5.9kg.
We've always been evangelists for feathery proponents of speed and somehow, the Aethos manages to relay that message through its underpinnings despite lacking the slippery physique of the road bikes that underscore the WorldTour peloton. In fact, Specialized itself describes the Aethos as a bike designed for the rider, not the racer but with such racy attributes, it's hard to ride slowly. Trust us, we've tried.
The Specialized Aethos focuses on providing its custodian with sheer enjoyment and it delivers on this principle in spades. It's one of the most refreshing bikes we've ridden all year thanks to its purity, featherweight properties and communicative ride quality. - AB
The sticker-bombed helmet design that broke the internet
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
EF Pro Cycling's Rapha x Palace collaboration broke the internet when Sean Bennett rolled his Palace-adorned Cannondale SystemSix onto the Giro d'Italia presentation stage in Sicily in October. It wasn't just the bikes that got the sticker-bomb treatment but the team's kit and helmets, too.
The POC Ventral Spin pictured here is one of the very few helmets that were made available to the public. They sold out instantly owing to the playfulness of the design and what it stands for as a middle-finger salute to the rolling billboard conformity of the pro peloton.
As a helmet, the POC Ventral Spin ticks all the boxes when it comes to performance, functionality and safety - it utilises POC's very own slip-plane brain protection system called Spin. As senior tech writer Graham Cottingham so fittingly put it, 'The POC Ventral Spin is almost faultless in performance and fit, proving that aero doesn't have to come at the expense of other features.' - AB
Runner-up: HJC Ibex helmet
Runner-up: Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet
Best Turbo Trainer: Elite Direto XR
Arguably the most accurate turbo trainer currently on the market
Reasons to buy
In a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, indoor cycling has experienced rapid growth all over the world. The market has naturally become saturated with options - both of the dumb and smart kind - but it's the latter that appears to be transforming the cycling landscape in a big way.
Of the current crop of the best turbo trainers, the Elite Direto has always been a reliable option. As the Direto has evolved over the past few years, so has the technology and it's now the company's range-topping option.
The Elite Direto XR features radically improved innards which include a 5.1kg flywheel, up 20% from its predecessor. It can simulate gradients of up to 24 per cent (up from 18 on the Direto X) while the maximum power output is slated at 2,300 watts. The drawcard here is the inclusion of a pre-fitted Shimano 105 cassette which brings it more in line with the segment incumbents. - AB
Runner-up: Wahoo Kickr V5
Runner-up: Tacx Flux S Smart
Best Cycling Computer: Hammerhead Karoo 2
A serious threat to Garmin's segment dominance
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
We enjoyed the original Hammerhead Karoo but felt it could be even better if the design team made it smaller and a little lighter. Well, it appears as though our concerns made it to the right ears as the Hammerhead Karoo 2 is 40 per cent smaller and 33 per cent lighter than before and weighs 125g, attributes which bring it more in line with the best cycling computers.
Interestingly, the unit's smaller dimensions haven't done much to impact the screen's real estate - in fact, it's pretty much the same size as the outgoing model albeit slightly narrower. The high-definition touchscreen display is one of the Karoo 2's hallmark attributes. It's finished in a responsive, scratch-resistant DragonTrail glass which is fully operational, even in wet weather.
The Hammerhead Karoo 2 has a genuine shot at leapfrogging Wahoo and usurping Garmin at the top of the cycling computer tree, what with its improved aesthetics, smaller dimensions and killer touchscreen. It really is a tidy package and worthy alternative to the current crop of segment dominators. - AB
Professional-level bike photos made easy
Reasons to buy
There was a time when branches and sticks were the only way of propping up your bike in order to bag an epic road- or trail-side Instagram winner. And while there's nothing particularly wrong with said method, your photo will usually include an odd appendage protruding from your bike. Of course, you can always Photoshop it out but that's a step worth cutting altogether.
Enter the ShadowStand. It's made from Green Cast recycled acrylic and is virtually invisible to the naked eye. Two versions of the ShadowStand are available: the smaller, more portable version which slots under the crank/pedal when arranged vertically and the taller Photographer's Stand (pictured here) which provides the classic parallel crank look. - AB
Best Saddle: Fizik Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive
Divergent design resulting in outstanding performance
Reasons to buy
With its futuristic 3D-printed padding, the Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive was undoubtedly going to turn heads. With our interests well and truly piqued, we were keen to get our hands on one to find out whether Fizik’s cutting edge production method also offered revolutionary comfort.
Since its release, the Adaptive saddle technology hasn’t disappointed and it quickly became one of our go-to saddles for road and gravel riding. Based on the well-established Antares shape, the innovative Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) printed lattice offers incredible levels of support across the length of the saddle. Padding density transitioning seamlessly in what Fizik call ‘zonal cushioning’ to provide the mechanical properties required for each area of the saddle. Antares Versus Evo may not get the high module full carbon shell or Moebius Rail, instead, a compliant reinforced nylon shell is mounted to Fizik's standard carbon rails giving a little more forgiveness that will be welcomed on rougher roads or gravel tracks.
When the technology was unveiled, the Antares Versus Evo 00 Adaptive was only available in a ‘looks like it should glow in the dark’ green colour which was divisive, although we quite liked it, whereas the Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive comes in a more conventional black colour and a far more attainable price point too. - GC
Runner-up: Cadex Boost
Runner-up: Prologo Dimension 143
Campagnolo has carved its own niche into the gravel market with its brave new Ekar groupset
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
It should be pointed out that Campagnolo started with no off-road heritage which has meant that Ekar has been designed from the ground up as a complete system. The result is a groupset that is not only claimed to be the lightest gravel groupset available but also the most durable. We certainly put the durability claim to the test clocking almost 2,000km and going through three sets of brake pads.
It's clear that Campagnolo has put a lot of time and effort into understanding the requirements and expectations gravel riders have from their equipment. A wide 467-per cent range cassette covers slow-speed climbing to fast descents and because of the 13 speeds and well-considered spread of gears, there aren't any huge gaps in cadence either. Campagnolo has also done a sterling job with the rear derailleur which shrugged off impacts, kept the chain under control and reliably shifted through some torturous conditions. The third standout feature of Ekar is the brakes, they are simply the best drop bar brakes I have ever used. I have never felt road discs to really match the same quality in power and simple ergonomics as mountain bike brakes. Shimano's GRX came close but still wasn't quite right, Ekar's brakes feel incredible, offering precise modulation and excellent power even on long steep descents.
What usually draws me to choose one bike over another is a frame's handling or the ride quality and how it makes me feel while riding it. The Pinarello Grevil that hosted our Ekar test groupset is an excellent bike yet I found myself choosing the Ekar equipped bike because of the versatile functionality of the groupset.
Campagnolo could have played it safe, yet its new Ekar groupset has strived to not only offer a genuine alternative to the current gravel drivetrains but carve its own niche into the gravel market. The result is a groupset that is a joy to ride. - GC
Best Cycling App: Zwift
Socailising, training and World Championship racing all in one place
Reasons to buy
In a year that everyone will be in a hurry to forget, Zwift has just had its year to remember, albeit under circumstances that nobody would've hoped for. Ever since the UCI announced that it was going to run an e-sports world championships on Zwift, 2020 was always going to be Zwift's big year, however the pixelated rainbow stripes were but a cherry on the cake for Eric Min and his bright orange branding. Indoor cycling saw enormous growth during the early months of the COVID lockdown, but we have to give kudos to Zwift for not just riding the wave, but using it to improve what it offers to its community, and restoring a semblance of normality to the world.
Whether it's the simple option to remain active where outside exercise was forbidden, working with the community to organise local race leagues, or with the WorldTour to provide a Tour de France in place of the cancelled event, Zwift has been a common talking point for cyclists from all walks of life in 2020, and as long as it makes cycling accessible to more people, we're happy to see it thrive.
Moreover, thanks in huge part to Zwift Community Live and organisers like WTRL and Project Echelon, the otherwise lost local racing scene has been transformed. Where once, numbers were dwindling, Zwift racing saw grassroots participation grow at an unprecedented rate. An example of this comes from the South West of the UK - where Cyclingnews HQ is based. The area's British Cycling road race workgroup teamed up with Zwift to create a series of races. Last year, a circuit race would be lucky to see 50 participants, whereas each week, the series saw circa-300 riders jump on their turbo trainers for an hour of type-2 fun. Long may the growth continue, and if a percentage of this crop of Zwift racers make the transition to the 'real world', the future for British Cycling - and bike racing in general - might well be bright. - JC
Best Item of Clothing: Castelli Alpha RoS 2 Light jacket
The best winter cycling jacket made three-season friendly
Reasons to buy
The 'standard' Alpha RoS 2 jacket sits right at the top of our guide to the best winter cycling jackets. It's absolutely brilliant at what it does, but that's also partly its downfall, as when the temperatures rise above around eight degrees Celcius (46F), we found the going gets sweaty as soon as the effort level ramps up.
The 'Light' is - as the name suggests - a slightly lighter weight version for when the temperatures aren't quite as Baltic, and for the British wintertime we've experienced thus far where temperatures have crept down to zero on numerous occasions (albeit not too far beyond, just yet), it's been ample warm enough on everything from leisurely meanders to medium intensity training rides. It's also been wonderfully comfortable on rides up to around 15C (59F), suggesting it would be fine on even warmer days still - though we're still waiting for one of those days to arrive.
As part of the RoS layering system, it still comes with two layers, both of which zip up separately. The inner layer is made from a material Castelli calls 'ProSecco Strada', which is the same as is used on its race jerseys for its fast-wicking properties to keep you warm and sweat-free. The outer layer is made from GoreTex Infinium Windstopper 150 on the front and shoulders, which is absolutely world class at keeping the rain and wind where it belongs - outside of your jacket, and there's Nano Flex Xtra Dry on the rear, which will still keep the elements out while allowing a little more heat to escape.
As a result, it's a brilliant piece of cycling attire that you'll get to use for three quarters of the year, which in itself helps to warrant the high initial investment. - JC
Runner-up: Velocio Concept Jersey
Runner-up: Velocio Women’s Recon SS Jersey
Best Shoes: Specialized S-Works Vent
Specialized S-Works 7 pedigree with instant comfort and maximum breathability
Reasons to buy
The S-Works Vent shoes might not be suitable for everyone. If you're looking for cycling shoes that'll see you through the winter months in North Dakota or the Scottish Highlands, then look elsewhere - perhaps try our guide to the best winter cycling shoes - but when a product designed with a purpose in mind is so very good at that purpose, it's hard to ignore. Enter the S-Works Vent.
Here in the UK, we probably don't perfectly meet the demographic to which these shoes were originally pitched. We expect the Specialized marketing team was thinking more along the lines of Girona, Melbourne or Florida, but with 2020's rise in indoor cycling, there couldn't really have been a better year for these shoes to come to fruition. I personally first saw these shoes in December 2019 (well before the COVID pandemic became a worldwide consideration) at the Bora Hansgrohe training camp. By chance I might add, as it transpired I'd booked a holiday in the same hotel for the same week. A fun-to-write piece of content around Retul bike fit managed to come out of that holiday, but also the knowledge that Specialized didn't just throw together some fit-for-indoor-cycling shoes because a pandemic happened.
As I mentioned in my personal gear of the year, I've owned three pairs of S-Works 7 shoes and the first two required a large degree of bedding in, and I have a number of friends who will testify the same. For a supra-£300 pair of shoes, this wasn't good enough. The S-Works Vent had no such period of pain, they feature more padded heel and ankle contact points, but a similarly secure heel cup. They use the same vented sole from the S-Works EXOS shoes, and the same S3 Snap Boa dials that are proprietary to the brand.
They're bloomin' comfortable, and when I'm not testing another pair, they're my new go-to dancing shoes. - JC
Runner-up: Shimano S-Phyre RC901
Runner-up: Giro Regime
Best Wheels: Roval Rapide CLX
Utterly brilliant wheels that throw a spanner in the tubeless works
Reasons to buy
When the Roval CLX Rapide wheels launched, I'll admit I was the first to criticise the lack of tubeless compatibility. Roval's connection to Specialized is well known, and only last year did Specialized launch the Turbo RapidAir tyres, and trial tubeless technology beneath the likes of Fabio Jakobsen, Michael Morkov and Sam Bennett. Even today it strikes me as odd that a brand spearheading the rise of tubeless tyres would take such a seemingly backward step in an otherwise pro-tubeless direction.
However, one thing I failed to do is consider what I actually want from a road wheelset. Despite the apparent benefits of tubeless technology, I personally have never found road tubeless to be worth the hassle. Don't get me wrong, when it's simple, it's a no brainer: I've used both of Cadex's road wheelsets (42 and 65) with both of the brand's tyre options, and each time tubeless setup has needed little more than a squirt of sealant and a track pump. They've always retained air perfectly for months and the puncture tally remains squarely at zero. Great.
However, I've also ridden the Rapide CLX wheels for months with Turbo Cotton tyres using butyl inner tubes and the puncture tally also remains squarely at zero. That's in addition to a host of rides on GoodYear Eagle F1, Schwalbe Pro One, Conti GP5000 and Vittoria Rubino, all with tubes, all without punctures. The only puncture I've had in 2020 was on a tubeless Schwalbe G-One on a gravel bike and it was so catastrophic that the solution was the trusty inner tube.
The tubeless debate will rage on, but on this side of the fence, the Rapide CLX wheels are utterly brilliant wheels. The front rim is 51mm deep and radically wide at 35mm, while the rear is deeper at 60mm yet narrower at 30.7mm. This means the rear is aero and bullet fast, while the front is incredibly stable when the crosswinds hit. They weigh only 1,400 grams for the pair, which is a selling point in and of itself, and they are an audible delight. Get up to speed and you'll be treated with that 'whoosh' that define fast wheels. Then let yourself freewheel and the new Ratchet EXP freehub will buzz like a hornet on heat.
So whether you're Sam Bennett winning Tour de France sprints or an average Joe or Jane wanting wheels that are fast, light and comfortable, the Rapide CLX wheels won't leave you disappointed. - JC
Best Sunglasses: Oakley Sutro Lite
More than just a half-frame Sutro
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Oakley's Sutro has no doubt become one of the most popular riding sunnies on the market. From the pro peloton to World Cup mountain bike races, and your Sunday coffee rider, without fail, someone will be sporting a pair of Sutros. And for a good reason, they offer Oakley's tuned Prizm lens, plenty of coverage, and protection from wind and debris, all without the go-fast aesthetic that comes along with most performance-oriented sunnies. The large windshield-esque lens isn't to everyone's tastes, but it pushes the edge of the lens and frame well out of your peripheral vision.
On the surface, the Sutro Lite may appear to be almost the exact same sunnies with the bottom of the frame removed, and for the most part they are, save for a key difference. Oakley has applied Unobtanium rubber, which gets tackier as you sweat, to the inside of the earstocks. The lack of grippers on the arms was one of the few complaints people had about the originals, and it appears Oakley has listened. The updated version stay securely planted on your face without sliding down your nose. - CL
Runner-up: Rudy Project Spinshield
Runner-up: 100% S3 x MAAP
Best Tyres: Continental GP5000 TL
The gold standard of tubeless road tyre technology
Reasons to buy
Having spent the last twenty five years testing bikes, I know just how much tyres can impact the overall performance of a bike. As I've said so many times, my bike test verdicts could easily have been different with an alternative set of tyres fitted to the bikes in question.
Since the world went tubeless, high-volume and wide-rim, things have gotten really interesting. Especially now all these claims that smoother, fatter, lower-pressure tyres are faster, are backed up by science. In most cases you think a thin and hard tyre is going faster because of the rattle and clatter it causes, compared the more lazy-feeling glide that comes from a road-hugging wide tyre.
I've tested tyres back-to-back and it's true that low-pressure, high-volume tyres - when paired with the right rim - are faster in the same way that 29ers are on mountain bikes. They feel slower, but they're going faster.
So this inevitably prompts the question: which of these tyres is best? Well, the answer from pretty much everyone I know who's ridden them, has got to be Continental GP 5000 TLs.
The latest generation that replaced Continental's all-conquering GP 4000s, the 5000 TLs are the German brand's first tubeless road tyres that also come with some other interesting tech. They're fast-rolling and grippy in all conditions thanks to the Black Chili rubber compound with laser-cut tread, and they have good puncture protection and wear life too. There's also an added damping effect, which is awesome on rougher roads or even light gravel if you opt for 32mm width (which are more accurately around 33.5mm on a wide rim). - GK
Runner-up: Schwalbe G-One Speed
Runner-up: Hutchinson Fusion 5
Best Lights: Gloworm XSV
Turn night into day with over 3,000 lumens of brightness
Reasons to buy
One of the best advances of recent years is that even relatively small self-contained lights are now powerful enough to ride fast safely on back roads or intermediate trails for over an hour.
So why do you need more powerful, separate light and battery setups like Gloworm’s XSV? I mean even the name is a contraction of eXceSsiVe as their two-LED X2 model is more than enough for most situations.
Having three LEDs in a horizontal line doesn’t just take the lumen count into 3k instant daylight territory though. It also gives multi-point overlap for much better context and 3D detail awareness compared to a single/tightly bundled light design.
Where Gloworm really shines is in the level of detailing and accessories provided with the light though. You get a neat centralising bar mount and bolt-on GoPro ‘shoe’ as standard. There’s a super easy-to-sync wireless handlebar remote to toggle through different modes in either direction. It’ll slave to a helmet light simultaneously too.
You can customise the output in each of those modes too to get your ideal run time and sequence setups. You can even swap the lenses to the different spot, wide and flood options supplied in the box to create your ideal beam pattern. You get extender cables, zip ties, rubber battery protectors and straps to keep everything secure too.
Having tracked and tested our way through the evolution of Gloworm lights for several years, we’ve also watched this small New Zealand company remove any potential reliability issues. The result is a light that we’re never worried about being left in the dark with and that’s well worth the price if you’re serious about your nocturnal riding. - GK
Runner-up: Garmin Varia
Runner-up: Bontrager ION Pro RT
Best Tool: Topeak Mini PT30
The only thing it misses is a bottle opener to celebrate its brilliance
Reasons to buy
As you can probably imagine, I get through a ton of multi-tools over the course of the year, which works well for me because I'm a bit of a fetishist for smart design that makes trailside repairs easier. And when I say I'm putting these things to the test, I mean genuine, numb-fingered misery in the dark.
Generally, most multi-tools I see are just rebranded "meh", often with something important missing, or some useless extras that help to bulk up the headline number and the overall price. Others I see are updated with whatever's on trend; right now it's some sort of tubeless tyre insert prong and a rubber plug holder. And that's fine if it's progressing what you'd expect to do with just one tool.
So Topeak has really excelled itself this year, first with the calming effect of its premium workshop level fold-out ratchet set Topeak Ratchet Rocket Lite DX+, but now with the Mini PT30.
This condensed block of genius offers an ultra comprehensive range of top quality stainless steel conventional tools, plus the new ‘must-have’ tubeless tyre weaponry, and even has a short locking blade to trim the plugs. What really pushed me over the edge into adoration though, was the split link popper. And yes, you can even use them with cold hands (just be careful with that little chain hook).
In fact the only thing it lacks is a bottle opener to celebrate its brilliance. - GK
Runner-up: Fizik Alpaca Saddle Tool
Runner-up: Merida Torque Tool
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