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The past twelve months have been transformative, in terms of where I’m riding and how I’m riding. Firstly, I moved counties - I’m now closer to the sea, which gives me the natural alarm clock of seagull cries that I’ve always wished for.
As with any location move, a change in habits often follows, and in my case there’s been a lot less intensity to my 2021, and more off-road graveling. That’s a trend we’ve seen across Cycling Weekly’s audience, so it’s likely not something I need to explain: there’s something about a global pandemic which encourages you to reassess your priorities, and just loving my time on the bike has been more important than FTP increases.
That’s not to say that I haven’t put plenty of miles in, and these are some of the key pieces of equipment that I’ve ridden and rated this year…
I’ll level with you: the Covid supply/demand crisis seems to have created a huge backstep in bike sizes available to review. Where in the past it’s always been fairly easy to obtain 50-52cm bikes for review, this year there have been a lot of 56’s, and thus, not very much for me. However, there’s been a wide enough crop to pick from.
Of all of the bikes I’ve tested in 2021, the Liv Langma has to be the standout best. I tested both the Ultegra equipped Advanced Pro Disc 1 and the top of the line Advanced SL Disc Red eTap build. Of course, the SL flies, but if it were my own money I'd opt for the cheaper of the two as the differences are minimal. The chassis shares its DNA with the Giant TCR, which equally impressed my colleague Simon Smythe. They're undeniably good bikes.
However, whilst Simon is a long-term fan of the TCR, the first iteration of the Langma didn’t excite me in the same way. It was light and agile, but not very stiff. With the brand upping the fork stiffness by 50% in this 2022 re-design, now, it feels like Liv has finally unveiled the race bike its livery so deserved.
Garmin Edge 830
Moving to a new area means building a completely new internal Sat Nav. For someone who is already - shall we say - geographically challenged (an A* in GCSE geography means nothing if you can’t reliably pinpoint which way is North), a cycling computer with mapping capabilities has been an essential.
In my 2020 list, I included the Garmin Edge 1030 for much the same functions (in this case, due to cancellations of club runs). However, the Edge 830 I’ve been using more recently is just so much better.
The primary reason for this is the improved touchscreen. This was the only quibble I had with the Edge1030, and on newer but smaller model, it’s infinitely better - and almost as good as a phone screen.
The battery life is excellent, too - mid-summer I completed the South Downs Way, 100 miles off-road was always going to be a long day out, but the 830 took that in its stride.
Santini Tono Sfera women's bib shorts and Delta Pietra jersey
Clearly, we’re now deep into the winter months, and I won’t be donning these any time soon. However, they’ll certainly remain within my cycling wardrobe come spring next year.
In fact, if I look over some of my favourite kit picks for the year, a range of Santini items come to my mind as being favourites. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the brand excels at creating women’s kit, with Monica and Paola Santini at the helm, as CEO and marketing director.
The Sfera bibs are more of an ‘all day’ as opposed to a race pair of shorts, they’re soft and stretchy; interestingly there’s no comfort break solution which irritates me but not enough to stop me wearing them. The jersey is lightweight, with lots of ventilation across the back panel. The stand-out feature is just the fit - it’s not a sharp race kit, but it’s close enough to feel fast.
I was conflicted when The Sufferfest announced its rebranding to the much more clinical ‘Systm’, following its takeover by Wahoo. However, as its founder David MacQuillen noted, for most ‘die hard and tattooed Sufferfest fans’ (I never did get the tattoo…), the process of grieving usually results in appreciation of the new software. And after having worked my way through a variety of sessions, I can see that, despite being a bit ‘whitewashed walls’, Wahoo Systm is a much more complete app.
Where most sessions on The Sufferfest were the kind of workout you only did on ‘peak condition’ days (or, failed miserably at on other days), now there are many more endurance-based sessions, which fits with my December/January frame of mind. Not only that, there’s now strength training as well as yoga, and those are beneficial because cyclists do need to be healthy as well as fit.
As Obree wrote somewhere, “training is bad for the body, but prepares you for the event in hand” (or, words to that effect), always Suffering is bad for the body, a systematic approach leads to a more rounded human being.
SRAM Rival AXS eTap
This one marks quite a step-change for the die-hard mechanical gearing flag bearer. However, most of my arguments against lecky gears have been regarding the cost of replacement parts. SRAM pretty much blew those out the water with new Rival eTap AXS groupset.
The grouspset’s slightly portly weight (3205g by our reckoning) raised some eyebrows. However, at £1313/$1420 - with the option to add power for £230 extra - removes much of that protestation, as does the cost of the rear mech. At £236/$255, it's still not a purchase to be sniffed at, but it may come as music to the ears of SRAM Red and Force eTap users that the part is compatible, because, within those groups, a rear mech comes in at a significantly bigger outlay.
It's often touted that less expensive groupsets are not as durable as their bigger price tag siblings, but that's not always the case - in fact, chunkier metal can mean the opposite, and Rival has served me well this year.
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
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