By Stefan Abram
Having only recently joined the Cycling Weekly team, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of a full 12 months to review kit and pick out some favourites. Instead, all the items here I’ve bought with my own money, after a combination of extensive (perhaps excessive) research and much trial and error.
Over the past year, these products have genuinely impressed me with their quality, function, and value. I can whole-heartedly recommend them.
January – Raceblade Pro
Mudguards might not be the sexiest way to kick off the list, but they were great last January and have proved themselves again this winter.
Other clip-on mudguards I’ve tried have offered too little coverage, been too flimsy or too much of a faff to mount. But with the Raceblade Pros, I finally found some fenders that tick all the boxes.
They do a great job at deflecting the worst of the road spray and the mounting system is quite straightforward to set up from scratch – if you’re using them on the same bike each time, then attaching and detaching takes literal seconds with the rubber straps.
Obviously, they don’t offer you – or those around you – the same degree of protection as a full-length mudguard would. But in the cases where mounting some full-length ‘guards is either impossible or impractical, the Raceblade Pros are infinitely better than nothing and much better than the competition.
Read more: SKS Raceblade Pro
February – Topeak Redlite Mega
Another item on the more practical end of the spectrum – I promise they’re not all like this! In the horrible February we had this year, I decided to start using daytime running lights. Having to constantly remember to keep a set of lights charged up was, however, beyond what I was prepared to do.
Eventually, I came across this battery-powered rear light from Topeak with claimed runtime of 50 hours run time on full blast and 100 hours on flashing. I haven’t tested this with a stopwatch, but I average around 40 hours of outdoor riding a month and it's never run flat.
I only have to make sure to top up my rechargeable triple As at the end of every month and away I go. Pure, unthinking bliss.
It is admittedly not as powerful as some of the USB rechargeable rear lights out there, but the Redlite Mega is just as bright as you need from a rear light.
Read more: Topeak Redlite Mega
March – 100% Brisker Gloves
More than anything, I think it's gloves that I have gone through the most of; ever searching for the perfect pair. Fortunately, though, this story does have a happy ending.
The Brisker gloves have a grippy and low-profile palm, so there is none of that disconnected feeling that you get from a glove which is too bulky. The back offers a surprising amount of warmth, allowing me to put off changing to a winter glove until the temperature drops below 8°C.
I end up doing quite a bit of riding at night and being seen when signalling turns is something that quite concerns me. Reassuringly, the 100% logo is one massive reflector, making these super visible. Rounding out the brilliance of these gloves are the touchscreen compatible material and a cut that fits… well, like a glove.
Read more: 100% Brisker Gloves
April – 4iiii 105 FC-R7000 Power Meter Crank
Like many people at this point of the year, I was scrabbling from something that would allow me to get set up on Zwift. I had a turbo, but it didn’t read power, so I was left with two options: Buy a turbo which does read power or buy a power meter.
The decision was actually made for me, as all the turbos had vanished from stock. That said, even if a turbo was a genuine option, the crank would still have been the better choice. Not only is the 4iiii power meter crank significantly cheaper than most power reading turbos, but it also gave me power readings when training outside – which has been great.
I don’t have any other power meters to compare its trueness against and the reading is only taken from the power exerted by my left leg. But the numbers have been consistent, making it an excellent gauge for my efforts in training and in virtual racing.
Read more: 4iiii 105 FC-R7000 Power Meter Crank
May – Rad8 504 Photochromic Lenses
Some crossover from the mountain biking world where I cut my teeth (don’t worry, it was only the South Downs – and that’s now been firmly annexed by gravel riders!)
But the qualities that make a set of glasses good for mountain bikers makes them good for roadies too. Who wouldn’t want glasses that don’t fog up, adapt to changes in light quickly and stay comfortably in place even when you’re being shaken about? (I’d argue a rutted B-road on 23mm tyres is more jarring than the majority of trail centre runs on a 160mm travel enduro rig).
They are robust too, with evidence on Rad8’s insta showing a set being run over by a car – and my own surviving a trampling by my partner’s Fizik-shod feet.
Read more: Rad8 504 Photochromic Lenses
June – Lake CX237 Carbon Road Shoes
Shoes are another item that has taken a few tries before finding a one that works for me.
It was a little while before I discovered the issue: Most brands conflate wide feet with girthy feet. I find standard cycling shoes a little too narrow, but the wide fits I had tried left my feet rattling up and down in the toebox.
Lake is one of the few brands that produces a last which is only a little wider and this suits me perfectly. On top of that, the website has a handy guide for measuring your feet and matching that to the shoe size, so you know exactly which to go for – something that other brands could certainly learn from.
The model of Boa dial specced has been great as well, with this one allowing you to both tighten and loosen the laces in 1mm increments. This has been absolutely brilliant for on the fly adjustments, easing off the pressure as the heat builds on a long summer ride and locking them down ready for all-out efforts.
Guides on the sole allow you to set up the cleats perfectly and the sole is as stiff as I could wish for.
Read more: Lake CX237 Carbon Road Shoes
July – Coffee&Cols Espresso cups
Summer is the time for espresso. When it’s 28°C out, you don’t want to be ingesting a quarter litre of steaming liquid – it’s far more pleasant to keep the volume low and the concentration high.
Made in England and with far more designs than I could justify buying, these cups really are great. The handle, the wall thickness, the volume – everything is in perfect proportion. They are proving to wear really well too, having had some heavy use over the past months and still looking smart.
Read more: Coffee&Cols Espresso cups
August – Knog PWR Rider 450L
I didn’t actually plan on getting this particular light, it simply had the largest discount when I needed a replacement for my old mid-powered light. But now, I’m a complete evangelist – I’d even pay full price for it.
Attaching to the bars with an integrated rubber band, it’s so easy to swap it between bikes. There are no mounts to screw on and off every time and no rubber O-rings to inevitably lose.
The run time is great, I’d say the 90 minutes on full blast is even something of an underestimate. The beam is strong enough for riding even on dark country roads – although not at high speeds.
Party trick-wise, it can double as a power bank for USB rechargeable devices and you can customise the brightness and flash pattern settings. I didn’t appreciate just how useful this would be, I’ve been able to tailor a daytime running setting that delivers my perfect compromise between visibility and run time – and I don’t have to flick through umpteen different modes to get to it each time.
Read more: Knog PWR Rider 450L
September – Sonder Camino (frame and fork)
How do I sum up such a lovely frame in so few words? I’ll make life easier for myself by trying not to go over ground already covered in its Cycling Weekly review, where it scored a perfect 10/10.
The value for money here is just astounding. You’re fairly hard pushed to find a frame and fork for just £299.99 in general, let alone one with such sorted geometry, tyre clearance, standard standards and ride quality. I still can’t believe they are being sold for quite so little.
Likely you’d be able to convert an endurance road bike to a gravel grinding machine with just the addition of a new set of wheels and some TRP Spyre mechanical disc brake calipers (trust me, these are the best).
The world is waking up to this, though, and the Camino can be a little difficult to get hold of. I was checking the website daily for new stock and bought a size medium immediately when they came in. Incredibly, by the time I had my order confirmed, the size large had already sold out again.
Read more: Sonder Camino (frame and fork)
October – MilKit Tubeless Valves
I’ve had my eye on these ever since they first came out five years ago, but at £40 for the injector and valves, I could never quite justify the price to myself. Finally overcoming my miserly ways, I took the plunge – so to speak – and after my first time using the system, I instantly regretted all those years I had done without it.
These valves are ingenious. A one-way valve inside the main body means that the valve core can be removed but the tyre will still hold air. This makes seating tyres so much easier, as a greater volume of air can be passed more quickly through the larger hole, meaning a lot less effort is needed to get the tyre to pop onto the rim.
Then, you simply suck up 60ml of sealant with the syringe and inject it in. Screw in the valve core and away you go. So quick and simple it is, I would argue the process is actually easier than setting up a wheel with an inner tube!
Read more: MilKit Valve System
November – Salsa Cowbell 38cm 12° flare
Such narrow bars are perhaps an unconventional choice for a gravel bike – where there are specimens steadily encroaching on the width specced on my first mountain bike.
But headwinds are a big feature of my off-road rides. In order to cover any ground and actually make it to some interesting new places, I need to get narrow.
Fortunately, as I prefer to be in the drops on technical terrain and these bars feature 12° of outward flare, I do get sufficient leverage and control when descending. Also, the consensus is that the most aerodynamic position is hands on hoods with elbows bent at 90°, so being narrower up top is actually ideal.
It’s not too hard to find a narrow flared bar, but they tend to be very expensive and I wasn’t prepared to spend more on it than I did my frame, so my choice was somewhat limited.
But the Salsa Cowbell ticked all my boxes: Cheap, narrow, shallow drop and 12° of flare. That’s less than the 24° or even 45° of flare some bars offer, but I find that 12° pretty much exactly matches the angle my wrists naturally relax to and so delivers the optimum comfort.
Read more: Salsa Cowbell 38cm 12° flare
December – Mudhugger Gravelhugger
Originally designed for mountain bikers, these are arguably more useful for gravel riders. Bigger days with more saddle time means that grit (or, let's be honest, copious amounts of mud) flicked up by the tyres stands to cause significantly more discomfort and irritation than that experienced by our mountain biking cousins.
Made in the UK from 99% recycled material, the gravel huggers are sublime in their simplicity. As literally just a single piece of plastic, there is nothing to go wrong and they are incredibly robust – I think I would break before they did.
You won’t be kept spotless, and the rider behind isn’t going to gain much benefit, but the difference the Gravelhuggers make to the enjoyment of your ride is second only behind not getting punctures – and there are but few things in life you can buy that deliver such ecstasy.
Read more: Mudhugger Gravelhugger
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