Having only joined the Cyclingnews team this week, my Gear of the Year will be more reminiscent of the kind of riding I’ve been doing while freelancing throughout 2020. I spent most of the year writing opinion pieces and buyers’ guides rather than reviewing the latest and greatest tech, so you’ll see that reflected in my choices as well.
One of the main things you’ll notice is how few road-specific products there are, since I used the UK lockdown to explore my backyard, almost in a literal sense. Living a stone’s throw from the woods, and a very manageable mileage from the countryside, this year for me has mostly been about gravel tracks, bridleways, forest paths and lots of mud.
Having said that, I do like to dabble in a variety of disciplines, so there should be something here for everyone. Failing that, I’m pretty confident that a particular thing I’ve included will steal the show anyway, and I challenge you to not take an interest.
1. Liv Devote Advanced Pro
Fortunately I did spend some of my time reviewing products, for Cyclingnews no less, and I was among the first women in the world to test ride the Liv Devote Advanced Pro. This was Liv’s first foray into the gravel market, building it from the ground up specifically for women’s unique physiology.
Kitted out for gravel racing, the Devote Advanced Pro is lightweight, versatile and sleek, thanks to the Advanced-Grade carbon layup specifically tuned for women, the wide tyre clearance and mounts aplenty, and the fact that it’s pretty easy on the eyes with that gorgeous blue-purple finish.
Out of the box, the Devote Advanced Pro comes setup tubeless with SRAM Force eTap AXS electronic shifting, and it feels supremely comfortable to ride. It really shines off-road, tackling rough stuff with confidence, while also rolling smoothly on tarmac. Since much of the UK gravel scene involves joining the dots between various dirt tracks, you need something that doubles as a road bike in between, and that’s exactly what this bike can do.
RRP: £4,699.00 / $5,700.00
2. Specialized Women’s S-Works Power with MIMIC
The Women’s S-Works Power saddle with MIMIC isn’t new anymore but this year it has become by far one of my most used and loved items on this list. Admittedly when I first tried it, I was already in a loving relationship with the original Power Expert and felt that I didn’t need any extra padding. However I’ll now metaphorically eat my words because it’s become the saddle I want to do all of my riding on. Specialized made bold claims about MIMIC technology adapting to the body, and by Jove they’ve only gone and done it. I’m officially a convert.
In terms of how it works, Specialized has taken its Body Geometry design for the original Power saddle, incorporated multiple layers of foam in varying density and combined them with the original flex-tuned FACT carbon shell that feels very supportive while retaining a level of compliance for comfort. What results is the most comfortable saddle I now have the joy to ride on.
As I said, I was already a Power fangirl, thanks to the stubby nose, central cut-out and wide coverage; I’ve tried many saddle shapes over the years and this is the one I always come back to. Throw in Specialized’s MIMC technology - multi-layer cushioning that mimics the soft tissues of the female genitalia - and I’ve got a very happy vulva.
RRP: £240.00 / $300.00
3. Liv Rev Pro MIPS helmet
Despite having a peanut for a head and a set of ovaries, the Liv Rev Pro MIPS is the first women-specific helmet I’ve tried. Not for any particular reason, I just tend to always end up with unisex models, and I was curious to see if I’d notice any kind of difference.
While for me the difference hasn’t been staggering, I can say with absolute certainty that this is one of the most comfortable helmets I’ve worn, because it just fits.
The Liv Rev Pro MIPS is a female version of Giant’s own helmet of the same name, and serves as both brands’ top-end road, gravel and cross-country model. The design was based on Computational Fluid Dynamics and it has proven itself in the ACE Wind Tunnel.
For me, anything with MIPS or similar rotational impact protection is a bonus, particularly having witnessed some terrible head injuries out on the road. While I primarily use the Rev Pro for road and urban cycling, the fact that it’s also marketed for XC means it provides good coverage around the back of the head as well.
Weighing 283g in a size small, it won’t win any medals for being the most lightweight but it also doesn’t feel heavy and fits snugly over a cap with some room for adjustment still. The fit is precise, thanks to the Giant Cinch Pro MIPS fit system that wraps around your head for even pressure distribution. The system’s also ponytail-friendly, for those who need it (I don’t).
During the summer it really shone, thanks to the 21-vent configuration that did an astounding job of keeping my noggin feeling cool and dry.
Finally, I’ll be honest, I like this helmet because it looks good, which is an important consideration for me.
RRP: £N/A / $260.00
4. SON Delux Dynamo Front Hub
As a fully-committed year-round cyclist I will often brave whatever the elements throw at me, however the one thing I hate most about winter cycling is the darkness. More specifically, the range anxiety that comes with running battery-powered lights on a long winter evening ride. I’ve been known to cut a ride or three short because of fears that I’d be caught out in the middle of nowhere with a blinking red light, and while the more sensible among you have probably already thought ‘just carry a spare’, the fact is that would be too simple a solution. I like to throw tech at a problem, and that’s how I’ve ended up with the SON Delux front dynamo hub on my touring bike (more on that later).
Having a dynamo hub that uses a magnet-powered generator to provide me with ‘free’ light has been an absolute game-changer this winter. And if you’re hearing ‘dynamo’ and imagining those old-school gadgets that used to rub against the tyre to generate power, I assure you this is not what I’m on about. The German brand Schmidt Original Nabendynamo (SON), I would argue, represents the gold standard of dynamo hubs, and in fact, the SON was the first of its kind developed to meet the requirements of modern LED headlights.
The hub itself is a small thing of beauty, with its orb-like shape, high-quality finish and smooth-as-butter rotation.
Of course, the light it gives off isn’t actually ‘free’, in that you have to work for it somewhat. According to SON, the Delux creates a drag between 1.8 and 6.1 watts as it powers the light through speeds of 10-30km/h. Having said that, I personally don’t notice a huge difference when I pedal, and find that never having to worry about draining batteries is so incredibly worth it.
RRP £199.99 / $250.00
5. Supernova E3 Pro 2 dynamo lights
Supernova E3 Pro 2 front light
Supernova E3 Pro 2 rear light
Of course, I’d be remiss to sing the praises of the dynamo hub without acknowledging the very lights that are leading me through my wintry evenings. I opted for the award-winning Supernova E3 Pro 2 lights, which deliver a brilliant and wide continuous beam, even when I’m trundling along at low speed.
The headlight puts out 205 lumens, creating a veritable carpet of light, while at each side the ‘Supernova’ logo emits its own beam to provide sideways visibility. This is packed away inside a rugged, yet sleek 6061 CNC-machined aluminium housing and weighs 110g without the bracket.
There’s a mechanical on/off switch which is useful in some situations, and it's also compatible with USB charge modules so you can use the power generated during the day to charge up your phone and other devices, though I haven’t yet tried this out.
At the back of the bike, I’ve got the E3 Tail Light 2 which may look small but it packs a surprising amount of brightness for its size. It uses Supernova’s Twin Beam technology, which basically equates to a full-frontal beam emitted from the centre, and two wide side beams at a 250-degree angle to provide all-round visibility in the dark.
Front RRP: £145.00 / $195.00
Rear RRP: £54.99 / $73.35
6. Garmin Venu
I have to confess that the main reason I use the Garmin Venu is for running, but I love it for cycling and swimming just as much. It’s a great all-rounder for anyone who dabbles in multiple sports, thanks to the 24 preloaded activities included with the watch, and the countless additional apps you can download from Garmin Connect IQ (I’ve added open water swimming, for example).
In addition to tracking both basic and advanced training metrics - everything from heart rate and calorie burn to VO2 Max, average respiratory rate and blood oxygen levels - you can also use it to track various aspects of your health. This includes stress levels, energy levels and menstrual cycle health. On that latter note, I really like the fact that I can track where I am in my cycle, and gain insight into how my hormone levels will impact my training that week. For female athletes, this is an invaluable training tool.
It’s not just about tracking either: when stress levels are high you can take advantage of the preloaded breathing exercises to help you calm down and focus, or work through a series of yoga poses if that’s more your thing. Plus, considering the fact that my line of work involves a lot of sedentary desk time, the hourly prompts to get up and move are very useful.
I find the Venu pretty easy to use and customise, and have set it up in a way that suits my individual needs. I can very quickly track a run, a bike ride, or a river swim with just a few taps. Speaking of tapping, the touchscreen combined with two external buttons makes for a very user-friendly interface.
RRP: £299.99 / $359.99
7. Road Runner Burrito Supreme Bag
Road Runner Burrito Bag mounted
Here’s the thing about me. I have too many bags, and I can never have too many bags. I am a sucker for bags. My latest bag obsession comes in the form of the Road Runner Burrito Supreme Bag, which I love for many reasons, and not just because I can carry multiple burritos in it.
I love a bar bag that doesn’t take up too much precious cockpit space, and that doesn’t stop me from being able to mount a front light to my bars. Despite being the larger model in the Burrito range, the Burrito Supreme still has a compact and slick design that doesn’t feel cumbersome up front. It doesn’t get in the way of a headlight, nor does it interfere with the cables because the straps are so easy to adjust.
It’s versatile, too. If you’re not keen on a bar bag but have some unused saddle loops, then you can easily reposition the straps and mount it as a seat pack instead.
Measuring 8x3 inches, it’s large enough to carry the essentials for a road ride: snacks, a packable waterproof, a face mask, hand sanitizer, and more snacks. For a bag that’s largely affordable, it’s constructed from 1000D Cordura material that’s hard-wearing and long-lasting, and as a bonus it’s very easy to add a bit of personal flare with your favourite pin badges.
RRP: £69.99 / $75.00
8. Clandestine custom ‘Mildred’s Not-a-Banana’ Tourer
This one is pretty special for me, and it’s not just because it’s got my name in the title.
I’ve been wanting a plus-tyre touring bike for a long time, and I wanted the works. That included a front and rear rack, dynamo lights, modern 1x gravel gearing, dropper post compatibility, and most importantly, a classic diamond-shaped frame.
The truth is I’ve tried similar bikes, but being vertically challenged, I always end up with a squashed frame that’s resulted from the usual geometry compromises bike manufacturers make for the smaller sizes. That means weird head angles and proportions, and tiny seat tubes that make the overall frame resemble a banana. Plus they often restrict the number of bottle cages you can accommodate, and don’t even think about using a frame bag.
So I decided enough was enough, and I enlisted the help of my favourite local frame builder, Pi Manson of Clandestine.cc.
Pi’s utilitarian truth-to-materials approach is something that really appeals to me. He leaves his fillet-brazed joints unfiled with the maker’s marks on full display, and lets the bike speak for itself. He builds bikes that are meant to be ridden, and also creates the racks and stems to go with the framesets.
My Not-a-Banana tourer has 26-inch wheels with 2.8-inch WTB Ranger tyres, a 1x Shimano GRX groupset, Salsa Cowchipper bars, and the above-mentioned SON dynamo hub with Supernova lights.
The racks integrate the dynamo routing internally, and at the front, the lowriders are removable. All in all, it’s a veritable beast that fits me perfectly and gives me the most fun, especially when it’s muddy.
9. Lush pots
I know, I wasn’t expecting to find these in here either, but they’ve actually turned out to be one of the most surprisingly useful things I started using this year, and for a very specific reason. If you’re anything like me, you love multi-day rides with an overnight bivvy in between, or a long day out on the bike with everything you need to make an outdoor brew. Either way, something that’s absolutely crucial in both of these scenarios is the ability to store ingredients in containers that are small, lightweight and that seal properly.
Enter, Lush pots. Once you’ve washed the smell of face cream or body lotion out of them, they’re incredibly hard-wearing vessels into which you can decant your ground coffee, couscous, herbs and spices, and whatever else you need to rustle up a gourmet meal before you bed down for the night.
With screw-top lids there’s no spillage to worry about, depending on your skincare regimen you may have a variety of sizes that suit different purposes, they stack easily for precise packing, and (while I haven’t put this theory to the test) they feel like they’re indestructible.
For any bikepacker or camping enthusiast, I highly recommend these pots, and the products they come filled with aren’t bad either.
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