Nine things the Cycling Weekly tech team bought with our own money in 2021
What are our own personal favourite bits of kit that we turn to when we're riding for ourselves rather than reviewing for CW?
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We get to ride and review a lot of different bikes and kit, but everything we write about isn't necessarily what we would choose to ride ourselves, even if it's a great product.
Besides, we don't get to keep what we review: all the bikes we review are sent back, as is most of the equipment (sometimes clothing doesn't need to be returned for obvious reasons).
All of which means that if we really like something and we really want to use it for our own cycling, we just buy it like anyone else.
We thought you might like to check out the stuff we use for our own riding when we're not reviewing something, so here's a list of the best things the Cycling Weekly tech team bought with our own money in 2021.
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan, tech editor
Shokz Aeropex headphones
I tested Shokz’s (formerly AfterShokz) Open Move headphones some time ago, and once they’d gone back to their maker, I realised quite how much I missed them.
Disproportionately small ears means that absolutely no in-ear solution stays in-ear, for me, and I think that the world has agreed that we’ve moved on from wired headphones. In the end, having tried a raft of options, I returned to Shokz and purchased a pair of Aeropex headphones.
The Open Move model was good, but since I intend to put these through some sweaty indoor paces, I was swayed to the more pricey model by the improved IP67 water resistance. Were it not for that, I’d certainly have sacrificed a few grams and battery life for the entry level pair at £79.95.
Simon Smythe, tech writer
Wattbike Atom Next Generation
I've also included the Wattbike Atom in my 'gear of the year (opens in new tab)' list, but I'm so pleased with it that I'm giving a spot in this one too.
Like most people, I spent more time than usual on Zwift (opens in new tab)in 2020, so for 2021 I decided to uplevel my indoor setup. I retired the sweat-corroded 1990s ex-Castorama lo-pro that had been been my turbo bike (I know, a travesty), folded up the old Tacx Vortex wheel-on trainer (opens in new tab), took a deep breath and hit 'buy now' on the Wattbike website.
It was cheaper than the Tacx Neo Bike and the Wahoo Kickr Bike (opens in new tab) but the spec looked on a par with them, with the 25% maximum incline even beating the Wahoo.
I've only just finished paying for my Wattbike Atom but it was worth it. If you have a space measuring 100cm x 50cm (smaller than the footprint of an actual bike on a trainer) there's no better way to fill it than with an Atom.
Silca Mattone seat pack
On a clubrun in the summer I found myself riding behind the most filthy, decrepit, disintegrating seat pack (opens in new tab) (the guy wasn't from my club, of course). His bike was otherwise perfectly presentable and he is a good rider - but this horrible thing ruined everything.
Then it dawned on me that my own trusty Stella Azzurra seat pack was only in marginally better condition...
So far I've never reviewed a seat pack I've liked enough that I would actually buy it. I need it to fit just one tube (I've only double-flatted once in my entire life), patches, selected tools and a quick link and I don't like it to slide onto a plastic attachment that bolts to the rails. I have to be able to swap it between bikes easily.
After a bit of research I settled on the Silca Mattone. The Boa closure is genius - so much better than Velcro and always assuring a tight and central fit under the saddle.
Like all Silca products the quality is excellent, it looks beautiful and no matter how classy the test bike is that I'm riding, it will never be let down by the seat pack.
Rapha Merino knee and arm warmers
I bought these Rapha knee warmers (opens in new tab) in 2020 but they were still looking as good as new in 2021 so I've decided to include them here.
For comfort, warmth, durability and looks merino is the best in my books. And just like a nasty seat pack lets down a nice bike, I think leg and arm warmers have to be equal to the shorts and jersey they're complementing rather than an afterthought.
The Rapha Merino Knee Warmers are made from 97% merino and 3% Lycra so that they fit snugly and don't bag. They've been through the wash loads of times and haven't shrunk, faded or degraded in any way.
They have small Rapha labels on them, which means they can be worn alongside clothing from other brands.
I bought the matching Rapha Merino Arm Warmers at the same time and without a doubt these are the best leg and arm warmers I've ever owned. They're more expensive than most but definitely worth it.
Stefan Abram, tech writer
Elite Direto smart turbo
The Direto came as a replacement for my trusty Elite Volano direct drive ‘dumb’ turbo. Not that it had broken – after four years of service, it was still functioning as well as on the day I bought it – but the relative instability for sprinting, lack of ‘smart’ capabilities and only giving estimated power readings meant it felt best sending the Volano to a home where it would be more appreciated.
I didn’t want to spend too much, so was quite taken with this particular deal I found on the Elite Direto smart turbo trainer (opens in new tab). Half the retail price of a Wahoo Kickr (opens in new tab), it still gave the power readings, gradient changes and increased footprint size I was looking for.
On the whole, I’ve been really quite happy with it – there are still a few irritants and frustrations, but considering the price bracket I set, this was always going to be the case.
Stability in sprints is still an issue – although much less than it was. The time it takes for the power meter readings to drop to zero when freewheeling is disappointing. And the fact it needs to be manually calibrated (zero-offset) after a 10 minute warm up adds an extra layer of faff to the sessions.
At the time when I bought the Elite Direto, the Saris H3 (opens in new tab) still had an RRP of £850 to £750 – and then over the Black Friday weekend it was reduced down to £550 at ProBikeKit. For an extra £51, I really wish I had waited for that heftier trainer – but that’s the way things go sometimes.
Pirelli Cinturato tyres
This is a product I reviewed this year – but it’s also one which so impressed me that I’ve gone out and bought a set myself.
When it comes to tyres (opens in new tab), it’s winter rubber (opens in new tab) that I demand the most of. With summer tyres, so long as a certain bar of suppleness, lightness, rolling resistance and puncture protection is passed, I’m really not too fussed about which model I use.
For my winter riding, though, I won’t accept anything less than the most superlative balance of these qualities. Of course, the composition of that balance is quite different – puncture protection becomes a much greater priority and those others a little less so.
But I really can’t stand the riding-through-treacle experience of a completely maxed-out puncture proof tyre – and I’m equally unhappy at the prospective of roadside repairs being a bi-weekly occurrence.
Fortunately for me, Pirelli’s Cinturatos exactly hit that sweetspot of performance and reliability that I’m after. They felt much faster than a set of Schwalbe Duranos or Continental Gatorskins – which are the models I’ve typically gone for – and so far they've kept a clean sheet in terms of puncture protection.
The Cinturatos are tubeless but they popped onto both DT Swiss and Hunt rims with hardly any fuss – on a par with what you would expect from a typical clincher winter tyre. Even though I set the tyres up with sealant, I’ve not seen any telltale globules of sealant on the inside of my mudguards, suggesting that the tyre’s robust enough that I wouldn’t have even gotten any punctures if I was running tubes.
At £56.99, they are quite expensive, around the price of a summer road tyre, but they do hit exactly what I want from a winter tyre. And, if you look around, you can generally find them at a pretty good discount.
Luke Friend, tech writer
Rapha Pro Team Thermal Base Layer
When I lived in New York it became clear during my first winter that I was wholly unprepared for cycling in the city during its coldest months. One of my park loops saw me facing the might of the East River wind and it wasn’t pleasant. There was a reason that everyone else I could see had opted for a balaclava even if they were just walking the dog.
Determined not to get wind whipped again I purchased Rapha’s Pro Team Thermal base layer (opens in new tab). Not only is it made with a fleecy grid-like fabric that traps the warm in while still allowing you to breathe but it comes with a built in snood that, when rolled up fully, pretty much covers your entire face. It was a godsend and formed the base for all my winter rides there on.
Now that I’m back in the UK it still gets plenty of use on the colder days. It also comes complete with a nod to one of my favourite races, Paris-Roubaix, which only makes me like it more.
Fizik Antares Versus Evo saddle
I can’t remember when I first switched over to Fizik saddles (opens in new tab). It’s been that long. I used the Italian brand’s Arione model for a long while, before switching to the Antares, whose shape seemed to better accommodate getting older and the loss of spine flexibility that comes with it.
I bought the Versus Evo R3 model online at a reduced price. I needed a saddle for a gravel bike I was building and opted for something tried-and-tested but with a twist.
The Versus Evo features a pressure relief channel and a carbon-reinforced nylon shell with just the right degree of flexibility. I quickly found it to be more comfortable that the regular Antares saddle, with the channel just the thing for longer rides.
The R3 model offers decent value thanks to the alloy KIUM rail - but it still only weighs in at a touch over 200 grams. My favourite Fizik saddle to date.
Defeet Woolie Boolie socks
I gravitated to the Woolie Boolie socks (opens in new tab)some years back. I’d become increasingly frustrated with socks advertised as merino that actually had a small percentage of wool compared to manmade fibres.
DeFeet’s winter sock promised 70% merino, a 6in cuff and plenty of foot padding. I bought them and haven’t looked back. They were warmer than their rivals with just the right amount of cushioning. They are now an annual or bi-annual purchase, getting me through the autumn and winter months in comfort.
The same can pretty much be said for DeFeet’s wool or wool-blend Dura Glove. While they don’t carry quite the wool content of the socks, and they won’t cut it during cold winter days, they are the perfect spring/autumn glove. The reason for this? You hardly know you have them on, which for someone who doesn’t wear gloves if he doesn’t have, is just what’s needed.
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Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor following an MA in online journalism. In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends most of his time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.
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