I’ll admit my themes are focused quite heavily on specific tasks; namely to keep me comfortable, warm, happy, and my use of time efficient but also with an usually dedicated commitment to saving money.
I think this year’s selection of diverse products truly encapsulate the standards I base my bike riding – and life – around.
Without further ado, here’s my 2022 Gear of the Year.
Park Tool PCS-9 workstand
- £284.99 (PCS-9.3)
Bought back in the late 2000s, and used almost every day since, my trusty Park Tool PCS-9 workstand is a true performer.
During the 10 or so years I spent racing downhill across Europe, the entry-level PCS-9 lived in the back of my van, travelling week-in, week-out to different, remote hillsides across the continent to perform its duty of holding my battered bikes, always without fault.
Multiple countries later, after several house moves and nearly 15 years in use, my original PCS-9 still stands strong in my garage, its jaws open and ready to dutifully clamp its next bike.
Searching for the PCS-9 online now reveals a three-generation family tree. It was first replaced by the PCS-9.2, and now the most up-to-date PCS-9.3 that BikeRadar contributor Vicky Balfour awarded four out of five stars in her review.
Each iteration has been refined, with the current 9.3 looking significantly more premium than the rather spartan 9 I still use to this date.
With that refinement, costs have also increased – the 9.3 now has a suggested RRP of £284.99. I remember paying no more than £80 for the original version, although that was a lot of cash for a budget-focused youth bike racer.
Reminiscing aside, the simple functionality of the PCS-9 is its main draw, and the reason why it’s lasted so long.
The clamping jaws fasten using a bolt and nut, a system that’s almost impossible to break, and the clamp’s rotation function is just as simple. Both are maintenance-free, although the more fastidious may apply grease to the bolt’s threads for silent operation.
Its legs and upright portion are robust, made from metal tubes akin to scaffolding poles in weight and feel.
In this sense, they’re almost impossible to break. While the stand used to support 20kg downhill bikes of old, it’s more than robust enough to stare headlong into the eyes of a 28kg electric mountain bike, all without flinching.
Whether it’s holding bikes I’m working on with my ageing set of tools, or I just need to hold a bike in place while I give it a post-ride wash, the PCS-9’s performance is steadfast.
I’m not looking to replace it, and I don’t expect it to break. In fact, so impressive is its longevity, it has an honorary slot in my list of High-Mileage Heroes.
However, if I was in the market for a new workstand, the PCS-9.3 would be high up my list, if this older, less refined version’s performance is anything to go by.
Thule VeloSpace XT3 bike rack
Before I started using Thule’s VeloSpace XT3 bike rack, my mountain bike transportation horizons were limited by the boot space in my beloved Mercedes S211 E320 CDI.
Thule’s fancy XT3 bike rack not only stopped potential damage to the immaculate low-mileage interior of my car because I didn’t have to transport bikes internally, it also expanded the number of bikes I could carry comfortably from two to three.
Fast-forward several years, a host of vehicle changes – from my Mercedes to a recession-busting K11 Nissan Micra, then a £1,500 VW 2k Caddy, and now to a ropey VW T5 – has given me extra internal space, sidelining the bike rack.
But now the wet winter weather has arrived, once again in a bid to save the interior of my ply-lined van, I’ve turned to the Thule to carry muddy bikes.
The simplicity and speed at which bikes can be attached to it is brilliant, and the fact they get a bonus post-ride wash on the drive home is just the icing on the cake.
Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s marvellously robust, and like a lot of other things I own, proves that high initial purchase prices aren’t necessarily economically imprudent, given the adage buy cheap, buy twice.
Sealskinz Waterproof All Weather MTB gloves
Although some might furrow their brow at what I’ve decided is the best use for these Sealskinz Waterproof All Weather MTB gloves, I would gladly look them in the eye and assert they’re made for their current job.
The clean-up operation after a wet ride is undeniably miserable, especially when temperatures plummet towards freezing.
Not washing your bike might be an option for some; the immediate comfort of being dry and warm could be enough to tip the scales in favour of dealing with a muddy bike moments before your next ride rather than cleaning it up right away.
But there are things you can do to mitigate against chilblains, frozen fingers and damp feet. A regimented, well-equipped post-ride clean-up operation can be efficient and thorough.
Enter the Sealskinz gloves.
While not a million miles away from their intended use, their well-insulated backs, grippy, tough-wearing palm, and the impenetrable waterproof barrier are perfectly suited to bike washing as much as bike riding.
If I’m washing bikes without them, my fingers and hands tell a tale of misery, so in the name of self-preservation, I rely on the Sealskinz to keep me warm and happy.
Topeak Pocket Shock Digital shock pump
The life of a bike and kit tester can be varied and exciting: we frequently see and ride bikes and components long before they’re released and have the opportunity to ride kit from many different manufacturers at the same time.
Of course, it’s all in the line of duty to bring you, our dear readers, the best, most accurate and independent reviews possible.
But a lot of the time there’s a significant amount of hassle involved with testing. One might imagine we head into the woods or countryside on all-day epics, skiving from emails and office work, just out there riding bikes as you do at the weekend.
Although that sounds nice, the reality is we’re frequently lurking around cold, damp, dark car parks in the back of a slightly clapped-out van (see above) swapping brakes, wheels, tyres, forks and shocks, or testing lights in the middle of the night.
Each tester at BikeRadar has their go-to products to make testing and bike set-up quicker.
Mine is the reliable, compact and user-friendly Topeak Pocket Shock Digital shock pump.
Its patinated shaft tells a tale of furious pumping, while the dings, scratches and knocks illustrate where it’s usually stored: in the belly of my hip pack.
The single on/off button and digital display make it easy to use and remove any doubts on shock and fork spring inflation accuracy, something that’s essential for a bike tester.
Rather remarkably, it has withstood several soakings, cementing it as my go-to shock pump. I couldn’t recommend this Topeak shock pump enough if you like to twiddle settings on the trail.
Brand-X G1 Outrigger goggles
“Cheap, light, strong, pick two,” as Keith Bontrager once said; a saying that has become one of the most astute mantras in cycling and mountain biking.
While Bontrager’s words are still as true today as they were when he first uttered them, advances in technology have made having our cake and eating it an ever-visceral reality.
The Brand-X G1 Outrigger goggles, while not necessarily falling within the confines of cheap, light or strong, have certainly proven to me that you don’t need to spend excessive amounts of cash to get top-performing, good-looking eyewear.
Yes, your Oakleys or Smiths may steam up slower (or not at all), but the Brand-X goggles look just as good, are almost as comfortable and perform equally as well for the most part, and all for a fraction of the cost.
Replacement lenses are cheap, too, with a pack of three (clear, yellow and dark) retailing for just £10.
Although they don’t quite have the cool-factor of a big-brand product, their discreet logo and dark colour mean they fly under-the-radar.
For the discerning spender who’s looking for impressive performance, I couldn’t recommend the G1 Outriggers enough, which is why I use them almost every time I head out to the trails.