Everything gravel - racing and riding: Anna Marie Abram's Gear of the Year 2022
From the start line to bikepacking epics, these are my top kit picks for 2022
This was the first year in over a decade that I didn’t compete in a single road race. Instead, I’ve committed whole-heartedly to gravel – racing the enduro formats of Gritfest and Grinduro, along with the more familiar arrangement of the Gravel National Championships. Naturally supplemented by bikepacking trips, including loops around Wales, Hungary and Slovakia.
This is all reflected in what I’ve chosen as my 2022 Gear of the Year: largely performance focused, lots of practicality and all best suited for when your tires are wider than your rims are deep.
100% S3 Peter Sagan Sunglasses
Why these over the standard 100% S3 sunglasses? Well, just take a look! They brighten up any kit combination and they somehow manage to complement the outer body of my Hammerhead Karoo 2 cycling computer rather than clash (at least I think so anyway!)
Plus a bright pink lens and a colourfully mottled frame are much easier to locate when you’re grabbing your kit together in a rush than an anonymous silver, grey and black combination.
Of course, style isn’t simply everything – and I get on with the S3 model very well in general. The clarity and contrast of the lens is great, it’s a little more true to life than Oakley’s prizm – which although excellent, can leave you thinking that the streets and countryside you’ve cycled through is rather more vibrant that is really is.
There’s still an element of that with the 100% S3, but it’s not as extreme – although it still highlights road (and trail) textures excellently. It’s a balance I prefer, but everyone will have their own opinion on where they stand. Another point on the lens I was using is that it doesn’t have the darkest tint.
I found it spot on for the riding I was doing – and despite the propaganda of eternal gloom, the British sun in full summer really is quite bright. But for latitudes much closer to the equator, I would prefer something a little darker
100% have given the lens a hydrophobic and oleophobic treatment, to repel both water and oil, as well as having additional vents to further guard against fogging. Regarding the propensity to fog, I’ve had absolutely no troubles in that department.
In terms of the resistance to oil marks, if you grab the lens with your fingers, you are still going to leave a smudge – the S3 doesn’t have that kind of next-level wizardry to ward off those. But when it comes to cleaning up the lens, those marks do come off very easily, so all good there.
Giro Sector gravel bike shoes
There are some shoes which really push the boundaries of what is materially possible, whether that’s extreme lightness or next level ventilation. But the thing with those ‘super shoes’ is that the price tag tends to be similarly boundary pushing and they also tend to be quite susceptible to damage - either that, or you are too nervous to use them and question what was the point in buying them.
The Giro Sectors, on the other hand, don’t overcomplicate things at all. They’re still lightweight – although not head turningly so – and are stiff enough for racing and chasing strava segments. The Sectors also manage to be both comfortable and durable enough for all day epics. Plus their price, although it is towards the upper end of mid market, still doesn’t come close to what the actual top-end shoes are selling for these days.
It does mean that it’s hard to find a superlative adjective with which to describe the Giro Sectors - not the lightest or the stiffest, or the fastest and so on. But all their qualities together does mean that it is a model I would actually choose to buy. For me, the balance of cost-to-performance is spot on.
Part of that comes from their versatility. If you have one shoe which you can both ride and race in, then you’ve saved yourself the outlay of a second set. From the spiky, high power efforts of Grinduro to the more sustained grinding of the National Gravel Champs, I didn’t feel any watt-wasting flex from the sole and my foot had plenty of support whilst being held firmly in place.
But even with that excellent race-y feel, the Giro Sectors still maintain a very comfortable fit. Partly this is down to the pliable upper which, although having proved very robust, conforms nicely around your feet. The other part is down to the dual Boa dials, allowing you to fine tune the tension across your foot - a significant step up from just a single Boa dial or a Boa and Velcro combination.
Although the Sectors don’t have the Li2 Boa Dials which allow you to back off the tension in millimetre increments as well as tightening it, the macro release functionality is totally fine for keeping things comfy on big days out and I don’t feel it’s worth such a significant price hike to get that functionality.
In all, the Giro Sectors are an excellent all-rounder shoe, offering a balance of comfort, performance and price that I would be prepared to pay for myself - a combination which is unfortunately getting ever less common as prices continue to rise.
Read my full review of the Giro Sectors gravel cycling shoes here.
Hammerhead Karoo 2
Now this isn’t a review - we already have one up on the site - so I won’t go into all of the details on this headunit here. There’s hardly the time to, anyway. Instead, I’ll just focus on the elements which I have been most impressed by in my time using the Hammerhead Karoo 2 and are now absolute deal breakers for me when it comes to headunits.
First there’s the climber feature. Super reliable, really clear, and so useful for really attacking the climbs. I really like how I can flick up or away so simply. Also the fact it works without a route loaded is like magic.
Then there’s just the mapping. It's so clear which way to go, even when you’re riding squiggly routes around a forest with overlapping trails, I don’t get confused about which way to go. Also, it’s really easy zooming in and out and getting a big picture sense and then zero-ing in on exactly where you are. It’s great.
Then there’s just the menus and the user interface. It’s so easy to get the setup you want and to fiddle with the settings, whether that’s connecting your sensors, loading a route, adjusting the screen brightness and battery saver mode and everything else. It’s a really straightforward headunit with a touchscreen that feels like a phone more than a head unit.
And that extends to the web application for pulling in routes - you can grab them from almost everywhere (and in all the major mapping formats) and upload them to your device in seconds. It really is so simple and easy to do.
The only downside is the battery life. Don’t get me wrong, you get a full 10 hours even with the route loaded and displayed the whole time – and the brightness not even set as low as it could be. But comparing this to the Garmin Edge 1040 Solar in real world use, the Karoo 2 give about a quarter (or maybe a third) of the battery life you get from Edge 1040 Solar. Not a problem for most rides, but when bikepacking you do have to consider the charge you have a bit more and ration things a little.
But it’s not as though the majority of my riding is really made up of 10 hour epics and multiday bikepacking! Day-to-day, the battery life is a moot point as you’re never going to drain it. And on those longer rides, I’m perfectly happy having to think ahead that little bit more about my plans for all the other benefits the Karoo 2 gives.
Fjällräven Expedition X-LATT Jacket W
Looking back on this year, I’ve realised that Fjällräven’s Expedition X-Lätt Jacket W is probably the piece of clothing that I’ve actually used most often. From warming up before racing at the British Gravel Championships to my urban rides around the city of Cardiff – as well as on a two week bikepacking trip around Central Europe, there’s a place for it on most occasions.
Essentially, the Expedition X-Lätt Jacket W is an incredibly versatile upper layer which is relaxed enough to wear over other layers, whilst still boasting a cut that I’d happily wear for long stints during a bikepacking trip. The two-way zip is a very nice touch, enabling me to access my jersey pockets without having to unzip the jacket all the way.
Plus it also looks good off the bike, which comes in handy in both urban settings away from the bike and all the times that I’m wearing it whilst riding.
Using synthetic insulation rather than any form of natural down, the jacket retains its thermal properties even after getting wet. Combined with a water-resistant outer, I’ve been perfectly happy riding through light drizzle with just this jacket – which between my home riding in Wales and the mountains of Slovakia, I’ve seen quite a lot of this year.
Overall, Fjällräven’s Expedition X-Lätt Jacket W has just been an incredibly useful layer and one that I would fully recommend.
Topeak JoeBlow Dualie
The humble floor pump. Not something that often gets called out as a top pick, but it is a very regularly used piece of equipment. A good or bad floor pump will gladen/frustrate you more than your on-the-bike multitools – but somehow those manage to be a rather cooler thing to discuss.
But let’s not let that detract from the JoeBlow Dualie, which I’ve found excellent for all my riding – on road and off.
The star (or stars) of the show are the twin pressure dials. One goes from 0-30psi / 0-2bar, enabling fine tune adjustments of pressure for gravel tyres. Depending on your weight and preferred tyre width, the 30psi cut-off might be a bit awkward for you. But for me, being around 60kg, all my off-road riding is <30 psi, so this works really well.
On the other side, the dial goes from 35 psi to just over 70 (or 2.5 to 5 bar). Again, being 60kg and with the ETRTO stands for many new wheelsets setting the pressure limit at 70 psi anyway, it covers all the pressures I’ll actually use – and not with about half the dial given over to 100+ psi, which I’d never even touch.
Yes, you can get digital pumps that cover the same range and go down to 0.1 of a psi. But with so many other things in the world all going digital, I have a soft spot for analogue – and it does exactly the job I want from it, so why pack in unnecessary electrodes?
There are other neat features too. You do get many of them on other pumps, but the combination all in one package and with those pressure dials is much appreciated. The double sided chuck for Presta and Schrader is great, as is the bleed valve for reducing the pressure. I do like how quick it is just to press on and flick the lever, rather than faffing around screwing it on – and risking unscrewing the valve core.
The high volume barrel is both a bit of a blessing and a curse. It makes it super quick to top up the pressures, only taking a couple of pumps or not even one. But it does mean that I do have to use all my body weight when putting in the higher pressures for the road. Finally, the lack of an air tank is notable in these days of tubeless tyres. But if you’ve already got some kind of compressor for seating tyres but need a new pump then there is no need to go for a model with an air tank – and this pump is great in so many other ways.
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I’ve been hooked on bikes ever since the age of 12 and my first lap of the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit in the bright yellow kit of the Hillingdon Slipstreamers. For a time, my cycling life centred around racing road and track.
But that’s since broadened to include multiday two-wheeled, one-sleeping-bag adventures over whatever terrain I happen to meet - with a two-week bikepacking trip from Budapest into the mountains of Slovakia being just the latest.
I still enjoy lining up on a start line, though, racing the British Gravel Championships and finding myself on the podium at the enduro-style gravel event, Gritfest in 2022.
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