Data-loving roadie selection: Simon Smythe's Gear of the Year 2022

Forget about riding over small stones - cycling is really about producing big numbers, right? Here are 10 things that might help

GOTY
(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

We all thought the world would go back to normal in 2022 - and although the most immediate effects of the pandemic have receded, everything else is veering off in all sorts of unexpected directions.

That doesn't really include my cycling. I'm apparently one of the few people in the country who's done a time trial this year and I'm told I'm missing out on all the fun everyone else is having off-road.

Call me old school (or boring) but fun for me is tracking and comparing ride data, keeping a close eye on training metrics and hopefully getting faster, more efficient and more aerodynamic.

This year I loved comparing bikes using the Wahoo Powrlink pedals that and since I've had the Garmin Epix to tell me how I'm sleeping, what my heart rate variability is like and when I'm ready to train again I'm the fittest I've been in years. The more metrics the better.

So that's why my 10 favourite things from 2022 are mostly road and numbers orientated. And I hope I'm not in the minority when I proclaim that road riding is still great!

Racer Rosa custom carbon

Racer Rosa custom carbon bike leaning against a cafe table

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

This could be my favourite bike ever, not just of 2022.

I love a handmade Italian bike - is there anyone who doesn’t? So when Racer Rosa asked me if I’d like to review a bespoke carbon frame made by Daccordi…. well, I had to check my calendar to make sure it wasn’t suddenly December 25.

Not only does a custom bike fit you perfectly with no spacers under the stem, the saddle in the middle of its rails and the perfect amount of seatpost exposed, but you can also have the brakes and gears you want rather than what the industry tells you you need - that’s mechanical Campagnolo Chorus for me, please. But if you do want disc brakes and Di2, Racer Rosa will of course oblige. That's what custom is all about.

I even got to design the paint - a fiery sunburst with a pearly white front.

As for the ride - it has the fast, connected feel of a classic steel road bike, except it weighs 7.5kg not 9.5kg. It’s the best of all possible worlds.

This bike is for me the perfect blend of tradition and technology, it exactly suits my taste in bikes and fits me exactly too. Just stunning.

This bike cost £4,700 for the frameset but get in touch with Racer Rosa (opens in new tab) if you want more details and prices and read my review of the Racer Rosa custom carbon (opens in new tab).

Garmin Epix gen 2

Garmin Epix watch on a wrist

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

This watch is like having a second brain on my wrist - and it’s much more effective than the one in my skull.

It’s not just the stats from your ride or run that it gives you, it keeps track of your training status, giving you a number for your acute load, load focus, estimates your VO2max (superior of course), HRV status and suggests recovery time and training readiness.

There’s also sleep score, body battery, step counting and all the usual wearable data - and I use all of it.

As a lot of people report, your HRV (heart rate variability) doesn’t only get affected by training, but also by booze, late nights and general unhealthy living. So to my mind the Epix really is a force for good.

On top of that, the GPS navigation is incredibly detailed, which has meant I’ve been able to go for some ambitious runs away from home without risking getting lost.

In fact I feel like I’d generally be lost without it now.

Wahoo Powrlink Zero

Wahoo Powrlink Zero pedals

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I am a recent Speedplay convert, now full-blown evangelist. The long-awaited power meter version of the revitalised pedals, now under new management, is user friendly, reliable, durable and accurate.

Obviously it’s a basic necessity that one’s indoor and outdoor power meters read the same, and I was relieved to find that the pedals were within two watts of my Wattbike Atom for ‘Jon’s Short Mix’ on Zwift. For the steady 10-minute section the Wattbike and the pedals both averaged 220 watts. We used them to compare the new Colnago C68 against my old Colnago Master Olympic (opens in new tab) for a fun YouTube video and I also found myself slightly nerdily comparing bikes and performances in my local club time trial.

Basically an accurate, user-friendly power meter can open up far too many rabbit holes for comparing and analysing things. It’s very difficult to avoid falling in.

And if you like to keep track of every single metric about yourself - as the Garmin Epix encourages you to do (see above) - it would of course be unthinkable to go for a bike ride without knowing how many watts you produce.

Check out my review of the Wahoo Powrlink Zero dual-sided pedals (opens in new tab).

Specalized S-Works Torch

Specialized S-Works Torch shoes

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I did a bit of rock climbing when I was younger and more flexible. My grandfather was a famous mountaineer in the 1930s and was much better at it than me, which is why I am a cyclist. 

Anyway, your climbing shoes had to be as small as you could bear them so that you could stand on small holds and I took this philosophy with me when I swapped the crag for the dual carriageway, obviously thinking that the pain of pinched toes was all part of the gain. Squeeze your foot into a solid block and you can produce more power, right? Wrong.

Specialized invited me to the Dorking mothership to get fitted for the new S-Works Torches (opens in new tab) this year and it turned out I needed a whole size bigger than I’ve always worn.

The new Torches are also wider - apparently width makes shoes as well as tyres faster - so now, going a size up, combined with the BG custom footbeds, they’re not just the most comfortable pair of cycling shoes I’ve ever owned, they’re up there with the most comfortable of any type of shoe I’ve ever owned. I really owe my toes an apology.

Velocio Concept Radiator jersey

Velocio Concept Radiator jersey

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

That dangerously hot summer seems like a very long time ago now that I’m sitting shivering here in December, but on an August chaingang with the mercury skyrocketing, the Concept Radiator was the coolest thing on two wheels.

It is made of Polartec Delta Mesh Radiator fabric which is, according to Velocio, a combination of tencel and recycled polyester yarns in a 3D mesh structure that wicks and absorbs moisture, then actively cools through evaporation as you ride.

They claim it’s cooler than no jersey at all and although for the sake of decency and because my neighbours don’t like the look of me in cycling clothes let alone out of them, I didn’t test that. But I could believe it.

Plus the fit is perfect, the pockets are at the right height and it looks great no matter what the neighbours say.

Vittoria Corsa N.EXT tyres

Vittoria Corsa N.EXT tyre

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

Vittoria’s nylon-casinged answer to the Conti GP5000 costs less than the cotton Corsa, is less fragile and the TPI count is lower but I found myself ripping along on the tubeless versions - and for a cack-handed clincher user/former tub taper they were fast to set up too.

At the media presentation it took me a while to work out what the Vittora Corsa N.EXTs were fo (opens in new tab)r, but it turned out they’re to fill the gap between the super high-end Corsa, Corsa Speed etc and the lower end tyres in Vittoria’s range such as the Rubino Pro. 

It amused me that Vittoria considered its cotton Corsa to be ‘Dura-Ace’ level while the GP5000s and Schalbe Pro One TLE were ‘Ultegra’. 

Anyway, everybody knows that Ultegra is near enough on a par with Dura-Ace for everything but the price, especially the latest version, and that holds for these new tyres, too.

They felt supple, plush and fast and although I’m not riding them in the winter - they’re too nice for that - from what I’ve seen so far they’re more puncture resistant than the cotton Corsas. Which isn’t all that hard to achieve, some might say!

Le Col Pro Indoor bibshorts

Le Col Pro Indoor bib shorts

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

Don’t worry, I won’t go into the finer detail about what makes these so excellent and I won't subject you to a picture of me wearng them either. But what I can say is if you can’t get out for the Festive 500 (opens in new tab) and plan to use the turbo to help metabolise the Christmas blowout I can recommend the Pro Indoor Bibshorts.

There’s more of the string vest tech that the Velocio jersey uses so effectively. The Le Col shorts are made from a lightweight mesh that’s a bit sheer. I know - if the neighbours think standard Lycra is indecent… You need to make sure the blind is pulled down even though Le Col say they balance breathability and modesty.

They’re very lightweight, they don’t get sweatlogged and soggy and I’m going to leave it at that.

Bolle C-Shifter glasses

Bolle C-Shifter glasses

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These are lovely both to look at and to look through. There’s a hint of iconic Oakley M Frame about them - if you can manage not to visualise Lance - and the Volt high-contrast lens makes every ride a beautiful experience.

I still have two pairs of M Frames from the early Noughties and although the tiny strip-like lens from that era makes you look a bit like KITT, Knight Rider’s talking car, the design has never been bettered. And I think Bolle’s C-Shifters are more an evolution of the M Frames than any of Oakley’s current glasses.

They are stylishly plain - something Oakley doesn’t really do any more - and good quality. And the price isn’t insane either.

Knog Cobber Mid rear light

Knog Cobber Mid on a Pinarello TT bike

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

This is my daytime running, time trial and pub ride light. The curved bank of LEDs makes it bright from all angles and not just a single blinding one. I’m visible whether I’m in the zone on the G10/42 or wobbling home from the Surrey Oaks.

Two years ago I had the Lil’ Cobber in my Gear of the Year (opens in new tab). I’ve graduated to the Mid just because there’s no harm in having extra lumens (50 compared to 170), battery life is twice as long and there’s hardly any weight penalty.

It works just the same, plugging directly into a USB port with no cable required - which I think is genius.

There’s an even bigger size - the Big Cobber. Check back in 2024 to see if that’s on my list.

Rapha Pro Team Gore-Tex Insulated Rain Jacket

GOTY

(Image credit: Simon Smythe)

It has a long name but it makes short work of most types of bad weather. The insulating liner makes it warmer than your average shell, it has zips on the sleeves that seal the cuffs plus a lovely high collar. And the slightly unexpected blue/orange colour brightens up any drizzly day.

This jacket is for riders who are prepared to go out for their long rides in the rain even when the forecast says rain all day. As you might have guessed from the number of references to my Wattbike on this page, that’s not necessarily me. 

But in my younger days when indoor training meant a very basic turbo in a garage and outdoor riding in the rain was actually the pleasanter option, I would have given anything for this jacket.

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