Hello and welcome to my pick of favourite cycling tech from 2020. Here, you'll learn a little bit about me, why I ride, the types of cycling I enjoy, and that should all be reflected in my picks of products that I liked the most in 2020. Some will simply be the things I got the most use out of, others are included for their merit on how impressive they are at what they do, and others helped to restore a sense of purpose to what could otherwise have felt like an aimless year of cycling.
I certainly won't be alone in finding 2020 a year in which everything was a little different, however despite the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, I look back on 2020 as one of my best. This time last year, I found myself trying to figure out exactly why I enjoyed cycling. For years, it had been about performance; training and racing were my outlets and it became a huge part of my identity. However, in training for the 2019 season, I took things too seriously, had a (thankfully brief) brush with an eating disorder and burned myself out. Throughout the spring, I was going through the motions; racing because "that's who I am" and training because "that's what I do". It affected many things off-the-bike including relationships and mental health and a new job at Cyclingnews was the new focus I needed. My passion as a racer was waning, but my passion for cycling was still very much there.
As 2020 began, I knew I wasn't going to race all that much. "Perhaps the odd crit at Odd Down (the local cycle track) if I manage to find some fitness, but we'll see," I told my former teammates, purposefully alleviating any pressure. Then COVID-19 came, racing went away, and the pressure of 'who I thought I was' went with it. I didn't know it at the time, but this mental break is all I needed and today my drive to train is back, stronger and more motivated than ever, but with a much more balanced perspective of its importance in the bigger picture.
Here in the UK, lockdown never restricted outdoor exercise, but moral obligation led me to opt for indoor cycling as the mainstay of my ride time for those early months. As a result, I dabbled with the structured training that I was familiar with, then as summer arrived, I took to gravel riding purely for the fun of it. While enjoyable, it was this lack of purpose that helped me learn that there are two reasons I ride: improvement towards a goal and to clear my head.
The other thing that changed in 2020 for me is a little more personal but equally relevant to my choices below. A new relationship was fast-tracked into cohabiting by the impending COVID lockdown and the result was a new home, a new hometown, no more commuting to an office as work-from-home became the norm, and as of three months ago, an English Pointer puppy called Duke to monopolise every second of my free time.
So while I no longer spend two hours per day commuting to and from an office, my free time feels considerably more 'expensive', and any time I spend cycling needs to serve a purpose.
But enough of the life story. Without further ado, here are my picks of cycling gear that have helped me on my journey through 2020.
1. Strava Heatmaps
As mentioned above, 2020 saw me move to an altogether new area. I left the city and moved into the countryside and during the summer months, I spent a good portion of my riding time testing the Canyon Grail and the Scott Addict Gravel. The problem I faced here was knowing exactly where to ride. Komoot formed a part of my route planning, but the gamechanger I found was when Strava updated its routing by overlaying heatmaps from the billions of activities recorded on the platform.
When planning a gravel ride, I found the network of roads and bridleways on the various mapping services limiting, whereas seeing that other riders had followed a certain path suggests that it's not only rideable but popular. According to OS Maps, Komoot and others, a field near me cannot be crossed so instead of following a 100-metre straight line, they all try to reroute back around a 2km detour. Strava's heatmap shows that others have ridden across the field, and the detour can be avoided.
This has vastly simplified off-road route planning, improved the routes I've managed to create, and most importantly given me more time riding and less time planning.
Annual: £47.99 / $59.99 / €59.99 / AU$81.99
Monthly: £6.99 / $7.99 / €7.99 / AU$10.99
2. Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7
When I reviewed the Tarmac SL7, I concluded that it was a weapon of race destruction, but that it had lost some of the genetics of the Tarmac SL6. Specialized knew what they were doing it seems and they subsequently launched the Aethos, which although I'm yet to swing a leg over one, apparently perfectly captures that je ne sais quoi. This helps the Tarmac make more sense, and over the months since its launch, I've been fortunate enough to put countless miles into the bike, and I've come to realise that it's absolutely brilliant at what it's designed to do.
In every poor-man's-science test I've been able to throw at it, it's come out as the fastest bike I've ever ridden. In a 20-minute time trial loop, it beat the Canyon Aeroad by around 20 watts. In a back-to-back-to-back test against the old Tarmac and the Venge, it was fastest on flat, downhill and uphill sections of an eight-mile course I created. It's stiff, it's fast and it's fun. I'm not a wind tunnel aerodynamics engineer, nor am I the pro racer this bike was designed for, but if I were buying a bike to race next year, then the Tarmac is the bike I'd buy.
£11,500.00 / $12,000.00 / €11,499.00 / AU$18,000.00
I have long been a fan of the work that the TrainerRoad team puts in outside of its core product, the podcast is easily my most-listened-to and the forum is a great source of community feedback and advice, however until 2020, I admit I'd never used the app for my training. When lockdown first hit, the moral obligation to take my cycling indoors led to me seeking familiarity in the form of structured training.
Summer weather, Zwift racing and gravel bikes put an end to the early-year training plan, but as 2020 has progressed and the aforementioned arrival of pets has taken away from my free training time, having a plan to follow has been invaluable to my motivation and progress. As my fire for training has returned to full burn, the structure of indoor cycling has helped ensure every pedal stroke has felt productive, and for the weekend days where time permits, TrainerRoad outside workouts means I can take my training into the great outdoors.
4. Wahoo Kickr
To the same end, the product that I've used most in 2020 is undoubtedly the Wahoo Kickr, and since its launch, the Kickr V5. I'll be perfectly honest and say that if you own a Kickr V4, then the Axis Feet and auto-calibration of the V5 probably aren't worth the investment, but since they're the same price, if you're deciding between the two it's a no brainer.
The auto-calibration certainly makes for more trustworthy data on those (regular) occasions that I'd forget to calibrate pre-ride. Both the V4 and V5 are seamless in operation, they connect to every app I've used - and I've toyed with pretty much all of the big players from Zwift to TrainerRoad and RGT to Rouvy.
£999.99 / $1,199.99 / $1,799.95 / €1,199.99
5. Anker Soundcore Life P2 wireless earphones
While the Anker Soundcore earphones probably weren't designed with cycling in mind, there's no denying they've been bloomin' useful throughout 2020 - for me at least. No, they're probably not as good as AirPods, but I bought them at Amazon for just £29.99 (retail is £49.99, but they're regularly discounted at Amazon) and I'd say they've been used every single day since.
One feature that I like about these is that they can both act as the 'primary' earphone. So, you can pair the left ear to your phone, the right ear to your laptop. Then when it comes to yet another video call during the day, pick the right ear out of the case first and it will pair with your laptop, pull the left ear out next and you'll get two ears of laptop sound. However, when it comes to training time, pick out the left ear first, and both will connect to your phone. I've no idea if this is special or if every brand can do the same, but it seems perfectly designed for my 2020 earphone needs.
They've survived the onslaught of sweat that comes with indoor cycling and they've kept me sociable in my new office-for-two. When it comes to gravel riding, I'll happily use a single earphone for music and directions, and despite some questionable terrain and the occasional crash, I've not dropped one yet. Even if I do, at £29.99, it wouldn't be quite as bitter a pill to swallow than if it were an AirPod.
£49.99 / $49.99
6. S-Works Vent shoes
Another product that's here on merit for being really good at what it's designed to do. The S-Works Vent shoes have probably found favour due to my penchant for indoor cycling in 2020, but not purely for that reason.
In the three years since S-Works 7 shoes have been available, I've owned three pairs. The first two of which left me with severe pain thanks to the extremely secure (read: tight) heel cup - somehow the third pair was much more comfortable and has become my go-to shoe in 2020 for whenever the weather isn't perfect, but for a supra-£300 pair of kicks, I expect more. Enter the S-Works Vent. Designed with a more padded heel and a slightly less stiff sole, the comfort of the shoes was instantaneous.
Admittedly, the shoes I have are black, and you only need to look at the WorldTour peloton to see that the white shoes discolour easily and very quickly look worn out. We won't enter the white shoes vs black shoes debate (white is better) but for the S-Works Vent, black wins.
£360.00 / $425.00 / AU$550.00
7. Rapha Powerweave bib shorts
I received these bib shorts back in May in line with their launch, and throughout the entire year, they're the first pair I pick out of the wardrobe when the choice is available. As my esteemed colleague Colin Levitch mentioned back during a recent bib short review, the best way to gauge your opinion of cycling shorts is how frequently they end up in the washing machine. I've not kept count, but in all the bib shorts in my wardrobe, these are my favourite.
However, there's no denying they're expensive. At £275 / $375, they're some of the most expensive on the market in fact, but they're also some of the best.
Given the countless hours I've put into these shorts, the various thorn bush snags from gravel riding, and my heavy-handedness when it comes to my washing machine care (sorry mum), these shorts are, incredibly, in just as good condition as when they arrived. While the Pro Team Training short legs have shrunk in a similar time frame, the Pro Team Powerweave has remained perfect.
£275.00 / $375.00 / AU$465.00 / €325.00
8. Castelli Alpha RoS 2 Light
At the very start of this article, I touched on the reasons I ride, and one of those reasons is to clear my head. Cycling is an outlet for many, and while I don't particularly do riding for the sake of riding, during the past two months of busy schedules, I've found a 30-60 minute blast in the great outdoors is a great way to switch off at the end of the day. It probably replicates the commute of old, but it's a great way to separate work from home. In addition, not all my training rides are done indoors; many will take me up onto the Mendips here in the South West of the UK. This time of year, it's not warm in the UK, and one product that has become the go-to product in the wardrobe for any outdoor ride is the Alpha Ros 2 Light from Castelli.
As part of the RoS layering system, it comes with a built-in inner layer for warmth, and the outer layer for wind and water protection. As a result, it's plenty warm enough for medium intensity rides down to freezing temperatures, and it's waterproof enough to stave off light showers without the need for a rain shell.
£230.00 / $279.99 / €239.95 / $449.00
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