Following a very quiet 2020 where I took the ‘stay safe, stay home’ mantra a little too seriously and became a quiet hermit, when 2021 rolled around I decided I would make more of my time, in spite of all the hideousness going on in the world. The first couple of months were quiet, and I eased into the year with some gentle but fun gravel rides with my partner (now my fiancé!), and once we were allowed to start venturing out with friends, that’s immediately what I did.
For me, the biggest game changer this year was joining Steezy Collective, an inclusive cycling collective made up of women, trans and non-binary cyclists from all disciplines. My first outing with them involved doing my first solo cross-country bikepacking trip, complete with almost freezing to death in a field, and spending an unforgettable weekend with the coolest bunch of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding with. Not only did that weekend give me some newfound confidence to head out on an overnighter by myself, but the sheer excitement of making all these amazing new friends, meant that suddenly I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. As the summer came around, we were enthusiastically planning all the bikepacking trips we could think of, and I made every effort to attend as many as I could.
As a result, this year I found myself out on the bike and sleeping under the stars more than I’ve ever managed in one year, and it’s honestly been one of the best years of my life. Of course, I’m not completely oblivious to what’s going on in the world, and I’ve had my fair share of lows this year too, but the sheer amount of fresh air, spinning legs, pumping heart and waking up to sunrise birdsong with a cold nose, has more than made up for it.
Unsurprisingly, most of my picks for my gear of the year reflect the kind of riding I’ve been doing this year. Expect gravel and bikepacking-oriented items that have made my time outside this year fun and memorable.
Best bike: Stayer Groadinger UG
I’ve been lucky enough to have this beautiful Pistachio-coloured steel gravel bike in my garage for a couple of months now, and I expect to have a full review posted early next year. Believe it or not, despite having been around for seven years, and producing who-knows-how-many frames in that time, when I came to have a discussion with Stayer, it turned out that the team had never had the need to produce an extra small frame before.
This led to me essentially becoming the model for its extra small offering, with the frame and geometry custom made to my measurements. So if you’re a short cyclist with long legs and a stubby torso, you’re welcome.
The Groadinger UG is what Stayer refers to as its “Ultra Grav Grav Kitchen Sink Gravel bike”, and it’s easy to see why. Even though it’s extra small, I can easily load it up with Ortlieb’s bikepacking bags, which is saying something, considering how difficult it can be to make a traditional bikepacking setup work on such an iddy-biddy frame.
While I’ve not ridden it enough yet to write a full review, what I can tell you is that so far this is quite possibly the most fun gravel bike I’ve ridden to date. It’s nippy and springy, it does a surprisingly good job of soaking up some of the harsher bumps from the trail, and it feels incredibly capable on the rough stuff.
So far I’ve thrown myself down some gnarly-looking descents that I wouldn’t normally attempt on tyres no wider than two inches, so to take them on with 38mm tyres without a second thought, speaks volumes about the confidence and surefootedness that comes as part of the Groadinger package.
The steel frame is matched with a carbon Whisky fork and rolls on Stayer’s own 650b handbuilt adventure / gravel disc carbon wheels. The rest of the build is made up of odds and ends found about the workshop, including some lovely silver Thomson finishing kit, and a Shimano GRX groupset.
Best wheels: Parcours Ronde
Moving over to the tarmac, because I’ve also rediscovered my love of long, solo road rides during the pandemic, I had a great time testing out the Parcours Ronde wheelset, which I found to accelerate and engage as quickly as they put a smile on my face. They’re undeniably beautiful wheels, with subtle black-on-black, gloss-on-matte decals, and they’re bang on trend with their wide 22.5mm internal width.
On the road, they hit that sweet spot between stiffness and comfort. They feel exceptionally smooth, slicing through the air with ease and delivering excellent power transfer with rapid acceleration. They really come into their own on long and smooth descents, which I discovered after using them on a group everesting of Mam Tor in the Peak District. Once they hit the 40km/h mark, they maintained a gloriously smooth ride feel, while carving through any wind resistance.
Billed as all-road wheels, I put them to the test off the smooth stuff as well (though with a limited timeframe). They held up really well on rough country lanes and glided over my local byways with ease. The Rondes essentially smoothed out the bumpy surfaces, absorbing some of the chatter and enabled me to power through without feeling like my efforts were wasted.
I was remiss to return them, and definitely recommend them as a great all-rounder wheel upgrade for an all-road bike setup.
For more details, check out my Parcour Ronde wheelset review.
Best saddle: Specialized Power Pro Elaston with Mimic saddle
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love the Specialized Power saddle. The shape of it just works perfectly for me, with its stubby nose and wide wings. I included the Specialized Power with Mimic saddle in my 2020 gear of the year, and this year I’m going one step further with an updated model that delivers a double-whammy of Specialized tech. When I heard that Spesh had taken the Power with Mimic and added its Elaston technology in the mix, I did the mental equivalent of waving around a wad of cash, and eagerly awaited its arrival on my doorstep. Needless to say, I was not disappointed, and in fact I awarded it a five-star rating in my review.
The Specialized Power Pro Elaston with Mimic saddle is quite simply the most comfortable saddle I’ve had the joy of using. It’s the perfect shape for almost any ride position, and it features not only Mimic foam, which imitates the density of soft tissues for precise and careful undercarriage support, but also boasts Elaston technology that’s basically made up of a thousand tiny pillows, and springs back after use.
I strongly recommend to anyone who experiences labial discomfort while cycling to give this saddle a try. The truncated nose helps to alleviate pressure on the vulva, while the wide rear end helps to stabilise and support the sit bones.
Find out all the reasons I gave this saddle five stars in my Specialized Power Pro Elaston with Mimic review.
Best bib shorts: Pearl Izumi Women's Expedition Cargo Bib Short
These have pretty much been my go-to bib shorts all summer, and proved to be absolutely perfect for bikepacking, or any ride where it helps to have your phone handy and extra snacks that are easy to reach. My fellow Cyclingnews team mate Graham said in his Gear of the Year that he didn’t think he could live without pockets in his bib shorts anymore, and I have to say I wholeheartedly agree.
Cargo bib shorts are just so incredibly useful, adding extra space for storing essentials (snacks and smartphone, obviously), not to mention that Pearl Izumi’s Women’s Expedition Cargo bibs also feature a droptail design at the back that makes it so much easier to stop for a nature break without having to peel off every upper layer (the bane of all cyclists who need to squat for a pee). It consists of a rear stretch panel that you simply pull down to do your business, all while your upper body can stay wrapped up and warm.
This year I’ve ridden in them countless times, causing them to become sodden with sweat, rinsing them in streams or lakes, and continuing to wear them afterwards. They’ve been through who-knows-how-many laundry loads at home, and still, they’re practically good as new.
There are plenty of other reasons I love these shorts, and you can read all about them in my Pearl Izumi Women's Expedition Cargo Bib Short review.
Best jacket: Velocio Women’s Ultralight Jacket
I have to admit that I’d never really thought of summer jackets as a thing, but this summer when Velocio sent me its Women’s Ultralight Jacket, I decided to open my mind a little and boy howdy, am I glad that I did.
This super lightweight jacket is ideal for pre-dawn and post-dusk summer riding. It packs down super small, fits beautifully and somehow does an excellent balancing act of keeping you cool and warm at the same time.
It’s got a form-fitting but relaxed cut, that makes it really comfortable on the bike, allows you to move freely, has enough room underneath for layers when the days are cooler, and maintains a streamlined look.
Made from windproof and water-resistant fabric with a DWR (Durable Water Repellency) coating, the Ultralight jacket boasts hard-wearing durability and functionality while also feeling supremely thin and lightweight. At the sides are large mesh inserts to let the cooling airflow in, while there’s a small usable pocket that doubles up as a stuff bag when you want to pack it away.
For many more reasons I love this jacket, have a read of my Velocio Women's Ultralight Jacket review.
Best shoes: Scott Road Comp Lady Boa
While these may not be the most premium shoes out there, I’ve included Scott’s Road Comp Lady Boa because I was seriously impressed with the value for money they offer. I’ll admit they’re not the stiffest road shoes, which isn’t surprising since they’re mid-range level and feature a nylon-composite outsole, but they’re not exactly soft either, especially for casual road cyclists. In fact, they offer a great deal of support and power transfer for this price point, and certainly enough to make a difference for anyone venturing into competing for the first time.
I started out at the beginning of this year using them mainly on the indoor trainer, and couldn’t get over how airy they felt. The mesh panels above the toes facilitate incredible airflow, and I was able to stay comfortable for a decent amount of time, even during the toughest efforts.
These wallet-friendly road shoes really impressed me. They’re versatile, comfortable and well-ventilated, and would be a great option for daily road rides, Sunday club runs, and indoor cycling sessions.
There’s plenty more I could say about them, but you can read it all in my Scott Road Comp Lady Boa review.
Best sunglasses: Smith Flywheel
I was really impressed with the ChromaPop lenses in Smith’s Flywheel sunglasses this summer. They offered excellent enhanced optics and a wide field of vision, not to mention protection from the wind and debris, thanks to their large size. ChromaPop lenses are designed to filter that crossover between blue and green light, and red and green light — overlapping colourwaves that the retina apparently has difficulty separating on its own. This results in really clear vision with a greater definition between natural colours, and details that pop.
As someone with a peanut for a head, finding eyewear that fits properly can be quite a challenge, so the fact that the Flywheel sunnies fit me perfectly was a real novelty. Wearing them was always a pleasure, because they felt so comfortable and stayed in place really well, whether I was riding tarmac or the rough stuff. That’s even through sweaty efforts, thanks to the hydrophilic frame material that remains grippy when wet.
For even more reasons I think these sunnies are great, check out my Smith Flywheel sunglasses review.
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