‘Two BOA dials and an impeccable fit: I love these gravel shoes’ - Anna Marie Abram’s Gear of the Year 2023

Through much trial and error (and several new releases), I’m finally finding the gravel kit that’s up to my expectations

Anna Marie Abram riding on a gravel trail
(Image credit: Stefan Abram)

After racing on the road for over a decade, I’m pretty set in my way and know what I like when it comes to training on the tarmac.

But more recently, since getting into gravel, I’m constantly discovering new kit and new gear and figuring out what works for me.

Some of this is tech that has been around for a while in the flat-bar sphere, but which is only recently passing into my own. Others are new releases as the brands themselves hone in and reflect on how to improve their early gravel releases.

This year I’ve had the opportunity to ride in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco, the Ore mountains of Czechia (the Czech Republic), the Cambrian mountains of Wales - as well as the smaller (but steeper if anything!) hills and valleys closer to home. So, without further ado, here’s the kit which stood out to me in 2023.

Pearl Izumi Expedition Pro Shoe

Anna Abram wearing the Pearl Izumi Expedition Pro Shoe

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to saddles, shoes and helmets, a high price doesn't fully guarantee you comfort - there are range-topping models I’ve tried which I simply don’t get on with.

Pearl Izumi’s Expedition Pro Shoes, on the other hand, is a rare - but very happy - example of the polar opposite: a (relatively) accessible model which is very, very comfy.

The synthetic leather upper has a slight squidginess to it whilst still being supportive. As a result, I feel reassuringly ‘locked in’ and in full control of the bike, yet without any pressure points or hotspots whatsoever - helped in part by the dual BOA dials. These are the L6 dials which only tighten in millimetre increments and have ‘macro release’ - but that serves to keep the price down.

Rapha Explore Down Jacket

Anna Abram wearing the Rapha Explore Down Jacket

(Image credit: Future)

This is a fantastic insulated jacket, which excels in everything from bikepacking trips to car-park warm ups. 

Aside from the warmth and packability (which most insulated jackets can boast) Rapha’s jacket has a two way zip which allows for better heat management on the bike. The hood can be left in place, packed into the collar or be completely detached - great to have so much choice! 

The cut is very cycling specific, which is great for more aggressive positions, but does mean this can’t be your one-and-only insulated jacket for all occasions.

Castelli Unlimited Cargo Bib Shorts

Anna Abram wearing the Castelli Unlimited Cargo Bib Shorts

(Image credit: Stefan Abram)

I absolutely love these shorts and use them when I don’t even need the extra storage space. They’re so comfy and have such a good fit that - apart from pure performance contexts - I don’t see a strong reason not to have that extra functionality in your back pocket (so to speak).

And when you do use the pockets, Castelli’s are particularly good. The volume they hold is notably generous and the folded over flap of material at the top means you don’t have to worry about your phone falling out at the top of the pedal stroke.

SP Connect Handlebar Mount Pro MTB

SP Connect Handlebar Mount Pro MTB mounted on a bike

(Image credit: Stefan Abram)

It might say ‘MTB’, but what that really means is that there is an inbuilt damper to isolate your phone from the worst of the bumps. Given the rigid front-end of most gravel bikes, I’d say that is potentially a more useful feature for off-road drop-bar riding than for mountain bikes.

I used this mount on a 360km bikepacking loop from Marrakech, Morocco and across the High Atlas mountains. Across the full spectrum of gravel surfaces - from doubletrack dirt roads to rock-strewn singletrack - it kept my phone safe and secure. Fully recommended.

Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H

Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H tire mounted on a rim

(Image credit: Stefan Abram)

Six years on from Pirelli’s re-entering of the bike tyre market in 2017 (its first foray was back in 1893), the Italian brand has built itself a reputation in its Cinturato line for high performing tires with excellent puncture protection.

I’ve been impressed by how fast the Cinturato Gravel H rolls - both off-road and on the tarmac. In fact, actually especially on the tarmac. With the speed penalty being so relatively small, I’ve been happy riding the 40mm width on the road instead of switching to an endurance bike/tire. 

But coming back to the trails, the Cinturato Gravel H’s the file tread offers more grip than it might appear - particularly in dustier and grittier conditions (although those now feel a very distant memory!). 

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