Dislocated body parts, broken bones, operations, a second child (who arrived so quickly that she interrupted a CT podcast recording), a 900 km house move, and the on/off of normal life that COVID keeps throwing up – 2021 has been a whirlwind of a year.
It’s been a year where I’ve tried to take the odd moment to exercise a mantra from that great ’80s philosopher, Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. And usually, that exercise has come in the shape of a bike ride. Not as often or as far as I’d love to, but still enough to take in where I am at the moment in life.
What’s that got to do with this year’s product picks? In some cases, I think what I have found myself reaching for or enjoying this year shows just where I am in life and how I approach cycling. OK, on with the goodies of 2021.
Muc-Off Punk Powder Bike Cleaner
Tiny in stature yet just as powerful as the big bottles.
I can hear your internal thoughts from here, “Geez, Shoddy, you’re not hooking me in with having a bike cleaner as your first product pick. It had better clean better than anything else on the market”. Nope, not at all, or a least not that I’ve noticed. It’s also not included because it has any particular bling factor. Quite simply, I’ve included it as it doesn’t include any of the usual nasty downsides that a traditional cleaner has. Muc-Off has gone down the environmentally friendly route with this one.
The good folks at Muc-Off have thought of it all. Doing away with the liquid before it even leaves the factory floor cuts down on packaging by 92%, resulting in lower CO2 emissions for delivery. Plus, with 75% natural ingredients and being all biodegradable, it sounds pretty damn good to me.
It’s super to see a brand think so deeply about sustainability and its CO2 footprint. From the product’s ingredients, right down to the packaging and the vegetable-based ink used for printing, I feel a big hats-off is in order for Muc-Off. Next is the rest of the brand’s line – I wait with bated breath for future sustainable oils, degreasers, and waxes.
Price: US$19.99/ AU$NA / £14.99 / €18.99 for a pack of two
More information: muc-off.com
Assos Terga Equipe RE rain jacket
You’ve got to give it to the Swiss – they sure know how to make a desirable piece of clothing.
I’ve only recently got my mitts on this item, but boy oh boy do I love it already. Yes, like every piece of Assos kit, it’s obscenely expensive, but after many years of using a huge amount of gear, I’ve finally concluded that good stuff should cost.
The Qhubeka team (I refuse to name the other sponsor) was kitted out by Assos this season. Obviously, next season is still very much up in the air for the squad. Still, if you go and watch the latest video from the team, you’ll see Victor Campenaerts mention that when the riders received their clothing at the start of the season, he was surprised at how little they were given compared to the previous season. He goes on to say he’s gone through less gear in 2021, not because he’s raced less but because the clothing lasts.
Just like the Muc-Off Punk cleaner, that can only be a good thing for the environment. Less kit produced equals less toll on the environment.
As for the functionality of the jacket, well, unsurprisingly, it works wonders. Assos seems to be going against the grain when it comes to high-end rain jackets and not using Gore’s Shakedry material – instead opting for a proprietary 3L Schloss Tex material. It feels, looks, and seems to work similarly to eVent, a fabric that I feel is highly underrated and under-used in cycle clothing. The fact that it’s bright orange makes it all the more suitable for my new riding terrain (by the time you read this I’ll be living in the Basque region).
Price: US$400 / AU$530 / £290 / €330
More information: assos.com
Three very different but equally compelling reads.
I couldn’t whittle my choices down to one book here, so I’m cheating. I’m throwing three at you and classing it as one of my top 10.
There was a period a few years back where there seemed to be a flurry of English-language cycling books. It seemed as if all the big publishing houses had just said yes to anything that was loosely associated with either famous riders or one of the Grand Tours. Call it what you want, band-wagon-jumping, cashing in, I don’t know! I do know that I bypassed most of them; I had zero interest in biographies about riders who were still in their 20s or writers who didn’t have cycling as a first passion.
Things have calmed down in recent years, but the books that do seem to be published are clearly passion projects. Blue Train is one publishing house that I now keep a very close eye on. Guy Andrews, the man behind Blue Train, has knocked out some stunning-looking books in the past few years. Greg LeMond’s biography is a must for any cyclist; it’s a monster of a coffee table book. And the recently released Gary Fisher biography should join it.
As one of the pioneers of the MTB scene, Gary has cemented his place in cycling folk law. The book is crammed full of wild stories from Gary’s upbringing in the Bay Area of California and his business days, with the book’s last third dedicated to a call to action. It’s also a delight to look at too; the design work is lovingly top-notch.
The Road Book (yes, I know this is the 2020 edition, and the 2021 edition is now available) has been a steadfast item on my bedside table for the past year. It’s not something you pick up and read cover to cover. Instead, it’s one of those books you’ll dip into time and time again. It’s also helped me drift off on multiple occasions. Please take that as a compliment, Ned et al! If you are a sucker for stats, pick up the 2021 edition.
The final book may be a bit tough to get for many outside Europe. “Gino Bartali – Un Champion Cycliste Parmi Les Justes”, is a biography in graphic novel form. I’m still working through it, my French is still shockingly poor, but the book by Julian Voloj and Lorena Canottiere couldn’t be any more suited to me. I’ve got a passion not just for bikes but also for comics (the “ninth art” as the French call it).
More information: Gino Bartali book; Gary Fisher; The Road Book.
Frog 40 kids bike
This thing is just rad!
Back in 2019 I included the Early Rider balance bike in my 10 Products I Loved list. The joy of seeing my daughter scoot about on a well-made bike is just the best.
This year she upgraded, just before her third birthday – during a lockdown, she learnt how to pedal a bike. Thirty minutes of dashing about the local park and she hasn’t looked back.
The bikes are not even new. Like everyone, I’ve found getting hold of bike gear a tricky prospect at times. Luckily, she has an awesome grandad who worked his magic and found this 14-inch Frog bike.
The cafe run on a Sunday morning isn’t as far now, but it’s more fun than ever. School runs are a touch more rapid and trips to skate parks, though a little more thrilling, are a tad terrifying.
My advice if you’ve got a kid who’s killing it on a balance bike is to skip the stabilisers; they’ll only hold them back. I’m not so much including this as I’ve found it a great kids bike, but more for the fact that there are great well-spec-ed kids bikes with well-thought-out geometry. It makes a huge difference when learning.
Price: US$360 / AU$710 / €415 / £340
More information: frogbikes.com
Syncros Creston 1.0 X Carbon gravel bars
A bit of plush carbon up front makes all the differance.
Syncros again. Last year Scott’s in-house parts and component brand made my list, and again a year later, they’ve made the cut. Syncros is knocking out some superb items.
The bars have changed my Trek Checkpoint ALR for the better. I’ve never been a mad fan of carbon bars on road bikes, but I’m a convert for gravel. So if you’re going to splash some cash on upgrading an alloy gravel bike to give it a bit more of a plush ride, then from my experience with these bars, I’d say it’s an area that makes a huge difference.
Wrist clearance is ample enough with the 16º flair – it isn’t anything drastic for a gravel bar, but it’s enough for me. The drop feels natural to me and is shallow enough to be usable on the road and gravel.
I’ll also give a shout-out to the matching alloy stem, the XR2.0. It’s stiff, light, and the neat GPS mount on top keeps the bars free to fit a bar bag.
Price: US$260 / £255 / AU$NA / €269
More information: syncros.com
Spatz BurnR gilet
Spatz just seems to keep on producing innovative clothing.
Two years ago, I included Spatz overshoes in my top 10. I won’t bang on here about how much I like them. Let’s just say the Alpecin-Fenix team seems to have found that the Yorkshire-based company’s kit works as advertised.
Instead, I’ll bang on about how Spatz seems again to have brought a product to market that works a treat. It’s one that has me wondering why no one else has done it before and makes me realise that there are still fresh ideas out there.
When the BurnR dropped through my letterbox last winter, I was seriously dubious about it. My first impression was that it looked like a garment with a limited function. A partially windproofed front, super close-fitting, seamless knitted construction and a regal style collar. What was this for? It just seemed to land in that “when would I use this?” category. I was very, very wrong.
This thing has been thrown on more than I care to give it credit for, especially in the winter and spring months. It’s become a very welcome addition to my cycling wardrobe.
Throw it on as a mid-layer, between a base layer and a winter jacket, and it’ll add that extra bit of warmth on an early winter morning ride (something I’ve needed living in the Alps). Then when spring rolls around, it’s an ideal gilet for dryer days. Then if you’re a racing snake, it’s seems well suited to wear below a team jersey for the early season races (just go and look closely at the Deceuninck team photos from this year’s Classics).
Again, it’s not a game-changer; it’s just a really well-thought-out, useful item.
Price: US$145 / £134 / AU$NA / €160.95
More information: spatzwear.com
No running or swimming stats here!
I can’t stand swimming; it’s bloody dull. Laps in a pool with other people’s unwashed skanky bodies floating about are a major turn-off. A dip in the ocean is OK, but only a dip. Even a splash in a lovely lake I’m not that fussed about, especially if the walk to the water’s edge is across gravel. As for running, it’s equally as tiresome; why would anyone choose that over a nice bike ride?
So yeah, I’m no triathlete. Which begs the question, why is the Wahoo Rival watch even on my list? It’s a product aimed squarely at those who like to ruin a good ride by adding running and swimming.
Simply put, it’s a great product. I’ve found myself using it daily, even when I’ve not been able to get out on the bike.
On the bike, it gives me enough info to keep me happy and informed. It’s also not in your face, screaming all your data fields like a bar-mounted computer. That’s something I’ve found more welcome lately. Battery life seems good enough, and given I live in a house that has electricity, the fact that I need to charge it maybe once every week (if I’ve used it on the bike) isn’t a hardship.
And when synced to my phone this informs me of my messages and emails, which has me picking up that black oblong distraction way less.
Price: US$379.99 / £349.99 / AU$599.95 / €379.99
More information: Wahoofitness.com
I can’t remember the last time a song stopped me in my tracks and gave me that “f**k yeah, I’m gonna jump off my sofa and pretend I’m Vivian from the Young Ones” feeling. But that’s precisely how I felt when I first heard Chaise Longue from The Isle of the Wight band, Wet Leg. They’re just bloody fantastic.
They’ve only released two songs so far, but boy, those two songs have already crept into my imaginary Desert Island Disc list. It’s the best six minutes of music your ears will hear this year.
Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, the two lead singers behind the five-piece, know how to put together an addictive post-punk-revival, tongue-in-cheek, riff-riddled songs or two. I’m hoping and holding out for an album’s worth.
Just go and listen. Honesty, stop reading this, hunt down the tunes, and treat your ears.
How am I going to link this to the 10 products that I recommend for cycling? Well, go and play Chaise Lounge for an hour while you’re on Zwift, and I’ll guarantee you’ll have new PBs.
God damn, they’re exciting.
More information: wetlegband.com
Shimano Aerolite P Sunglasses
Shimano sure knows how to make more than just good groupsets, as I found out with the brand’s Aerolite sunnies.
I’ve quite a few sunnies stashed away in my cupboard – I’m a bit of a sunnies aficionado, or at least I like to think so, much to the annoyance of my partner. But since being sent the Aerolite P (not the most catchy name), I’ve found myself increasingly reaching for them when heading out the door. I’ve always regarded their range as some second-rate exercise in adding a brand name to a product line. But, again, I was very wrong.
The lenses are snappily called RideScape RD. Basically, they’re similar to Oakley’s Prizm Road or Smith’s Chromapop. They’re tuned for the environment with increased contrast, so you can pick out the finer details that need to be spotted while on the bike. In this case, I’d say Shimano has done a fine job in achieving this. They’re up there with what Oakley has done.
Sure the lenses aren’t interchangeable, but the price Shimano is asking for – I wouldn’t class it as a deal-breaker. Actually, if you hunt about, the price that I’ve seen some places selling them for you could easily pick two different lens options up for the same price as one pair of “cooler” brand glasses.
The fit gets a big tick – they’re big wrap-around lenses that offer an excellent level of coverage while not being too huge that they touch the bottom of my helmet, something I’ve found with bigger brand name glasses recently. Ventilation is good. The only downside I can really give them is that the logos on the arms make them look a little cheaper in quality than they actually are.
Price: US$NA / £70 / AU$170 / €59.99
More information: bike.shimano.com
Rudy Project Venger helmet
The Venger is not Rudy’s top end lid but it’s well worth a look.
Nicely finished, light, good looking, secure fit, well ventilated – the Venga helmet from Rudy Project seems to tick all the right boxes for what I’m looking for in a lid. On top of that, it isn’t silly money either. At £130, I’d argue that it sits at the lower-to-mid price point; a price point that I’ve kept a close eye on recently. Like last year when I picked the Met Rivale it just goes to show you don’t need to splash huge amounts of money to get a top-tier helmet.
Yes, there’s no MIPS, but it does exceed the WG11 rotational test, so I certainly don’t feel at all hard done by. Twenty-two well-placed vents keep the head cool. The inclusion of a removable bug net is a nice extra. I also it found it perfect at keeping my noggin a touch warmer in the winter months too.
Rudy’s RSR 10 retention system works just as well as any on the market, and the strapping system is simple to adjust. Weight is around 240 grams for a size M (55-59 cm), so not super light but certainly not something you notice once on.
Give it a look if you’re in the market for something a bit different than the regular lids you see out on the road.
Price: US$199.99 / £139.95 / AU$NA / €149.90
More information: rudyproject.com