Gear of the year: Tech Writer Simon Smythe's 2021 picks

My five favourite bike-related things of the year

Gear of the year 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Well, 2021 wasn't quite the return to normality we were expecting, was it? But as with 2020, if we were struggling to find a constant in the second year of weirdness, there was still the bike (and the end-of-year listicle).

Fortunately, unlike in 2020, bike events still took place and I’ve come to rely on the rhythm of the Surrey cycling year. The prospect of the East Surrey Hardriders in early March means I can’t let the cosiness of Christmas linger for too long. Of course I’m not going to win but it’s such an iconic event that you can truthfully say it’s the taking part that counts.

It also means I go into spring reasonably fit, and this year I was in fairly good shape to put in some decent test rides on the bikes in our £5K road bike grouptest. The proving ground was a loop that went over Leith Hill and Box Hill, both local to me. The winner, the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 0, was my favourite bike of the year and is the first product on my list.

Giant TCR Advanced Pro Disc 0

Giant TCR Advanced Pro Disc 0

(Image credit: Future)

I’ve lost count of the number of TCRs I’ve ridden over the last decades, starting with the bright yellow ONCE one in the Nineties, but this one is by far the best (and not quite so loud).

It still looks like a TCR with the top tube that slopes acutely. That was quite unusual in the 1990s when it came out and now it’s unusual again with most modern bikes going for a more horizontal top tube and dropped seatstays. But this latest version adds aerodynamics to the compact frame and low weight - all the tube profiles are ‘aero optimised’.

This model came with an Ultegra Di2 groupset, a set of sub-1,500g Giant SLR 1 wheels and a dual sided power meter. The spec was the best on paper, it was the lightest on test at 7.3kg and on the road the Giant was the best performer too.

When I look at my year’s fitness on Strava the little orange line peaks some time around April, coinciding with my time on the TCR. It was so much fun to ride that I got out there on it at every opportunity.

We made a video of the grouptest for our YouTube channel in the Surrey Hills (click the image above to watch it) and I think you can tell by my cheesy grins how much I was enjoying riding this bike.

Read more: Giant TCR Advanced Pro Disc 0 full review

Wattbike Atom Next Generation


(Image credit: Future)

In 2020 I spent quite a lot of time on Zwift - like most people did - and it made me realise the importance of a decent indoor setup. I had been using a vintage lo-pro with a wheel-on smart turbo and both were getting very sweat corroded. I felt especially sorry for the lo-pro, which had a nasty brown rash starting to spread across its delicate blue fade paintjob. And when I tried to use the stem for a different bike it turned out that everything that could seize, had seized.

So for 2021 I decided to sort my indoor setup.

I wasn’t one of the lucky ones at Cycling Weekly who originally tested the Wattbike Atom but I'd used one when I had my pedalling effectiveness analysed at the Boardman Centre in 2020. Normally we return products we test but I wanted to keep the Wattbike, so there was no choice but to get my credit card out.

AT £1,999 the Atom is cheaper than the Tacx Neo bike at £2,299 and the Wahoo Kickr bike at £2,999 but I couldn't spot anything those bikes offered that the Atom didn't.

I compared the two specs - 25% maximum incline matches the Tacx and is a bit better than the Wahoo. The Next Generation version has a new electromagnetic resistance - an upgrade from the mechanically driven resistance of the original Atom.

It looked great on paper and its performance is just as solid. Really solid in fact, as it weighs 44kg. I’ve heard it said it needs a rocker plate but so far I haven't found I needed one.

So weighing that much it's not going anywhere, but the Wattbike has a smaller footprint than a bike on a turbo - it's just 100cm long and 50cm wide.

I’ve only just finished paying for it now, but I am satisfied it’s going to be worth it for my fitness in the next few years. That orange Strava fitness line is starting to creep back up towards where it was when I was riding the Giant TCR - but there’s still a long way to go and I hope the Atom’s sweatproofing is up to the job...

Read more: Wattbike Atom NG full review

Wahoo Speedplay Zero pedals

Wahoo Speedplay Zero

(Image credit: Simon Scarsbrook/Cycling Weekly)

I had never been a Speedplay user before and had even dismissed them as some sort of affectation - cycling is not short of those, as we all know.

But I semi-reluctantly agreed to give the new ones a go that Wahoo had redesigned and relaunched. 

The unboxing wasn’t promising - bags of screws, metal plates, strange-looking objects I couldn’t even name let alone fix to the bottom of a cycling shoe. It was literally layers of complexity. But, having remastered the lost art of reading the instructions, the cleats came together, the lollipop pedals were affixed to the cranks and after a bit of stabbing the sole of my shoe at them, hoping the pedal would find the cleat hole, they engaged with the most satisfying and positive-sounding click I’ve ever experienced.

They didn’t immediately disengage with the same click - in fact I almost fell off because I hadn’t set any float limits yet. But once I’d fettled the adjustable float so I had only the exact amount I needed I started to feel like a member of the elite (smug?) Speedplay club and suddenly understood what all the fuss was about.

Read more: Wahoo Speedplay Zero full review

Le Col x McLaren Project Aero jersey

Le Col x McLaren Project Aero

(Image credit: Matt Grayson/Le Col)

Le Col and McLaren launched their Project Aero range of clothing in 2021 off the back of their sponsorship of the Bahrain McLaren WorldTour team  with some big claims: “Tested against team issue WorldTour kit at races, in the wind tunnel and on the track. In every scenario, this kit has outperformed them all.” 

So when Le Col invited journalists to the wind tunnel at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub to test it against our own kit it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. 

My Bioracer club skinsuit is hardly WorldTour level, but I had still assumed that since it was a skinsuit it would be faster than a jersey and shorts, even if the jersey did have aero features such as ribbed tripping lines on the forearms.

How wrong I was: the Le Col x McLaren Project Aero LS jersey posted an improvement over my club skinsuit of 4.7 watts at 40kph and then 4.3 watts at 45kph.

It's not much but it was enough for me to switch immediately to using the Le Col jersey and my club shorts (Le Col boss Yanto Barker told me it's difficult to design aero shorts that deliver a real advantage, which is why there aren't any bibshorts in the new range) for the rest of the season, including the UCI Bandit closed circuit champs.

Sure it's not faster than a modern skinsuit, but I like its versatility: as well as being great for club time trials where you could easily wear it for a pint afterwards, it wouldn’t look out of place on a fast group ride or secret attempt on a Strava segment, whereas a skinsuit says you might be taking things a bit too seriously.

Read more: Le Col x McLaren Project Aero LS jersey full review

Abus GameChanger TT

Abus Gamechanger

(Image credit: CTT)

Time trialling was my first cycling love - but I hadn’t found my perfect match in pointy hats until the Abus GameChanger TT came along.

When ‘head fairings’ became protective time trial helmets after the UCI changed the rules in 2003, they became bulbous, heavy, hot and uncomfortable. Even now it’s hard to find one that doesn’t slip down your face, restrict your vision, pinch your ears or otherwise distract you from the job in hand - which is pressing on the pedals as hard as you can while keeping your body as immobile as possible.

But the Abus GameChanger is really comfortable. It stays in one place on my head, I have full vision in all directions, venting is as good as any and it’s low volume so doesn’t look like a mushroom (or a POC Tempor).

I wore it in the pre-1999 UCI Bandit Bike category at the closed circuit championships in October (screenshot from the video above) for the first time in competition so have yet to test it in summer, but I’m confident it will be good all year round.

Of course I haven’t wind tunnel tested it against others, but for me - someone for whom more training would have a bigger effect than a faster aero helmet - comfort is the most important thing.

Keep an eye out for my full review once the season kicks off again.

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