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Felix Smith’s Gear of the Year 2020

Plenty of pockets, lightweight bags and a significant wheel upgrade

Felix Smith, dhb Aeron Ultra kit

This year’s Covid restrictions and an ongoing knee problem prevented me from taking on the long-distance challenges I normally enjoy. Despite this, I found some great new roads to ride in my local area, and also honed my kit choices and bikepacking setup.

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In 2019, I had an incredible experience riding the Transatlantic Way ultra-endurance event on the west coast of Ireland and I was hoping to build on that experience this year. However, 2020 certainly hasn’t been a year for travelling and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.

Although I haven’t been on many adventures to far-flung places this year, I did try out a number of products with the aim of increasing comfort and speed over longer rides.

This small selection of gear has really shone out for me in 2020 as it sums up the “fast far” kind of cycling that really gets me excited.

dhb Aeron Ultra kit

  • dhb Aeron Ultra short sleeve jersey: £80 / US$100 / AU$140 / €94
  • dhb Aeron Ultra bib shorts: £90 / US$115 / AU$140 / €105

dhb’s Aeron Ultra jersey and shorts combination has established itself as my favourite kit choice this year. It’s specifically designed for endurance riding and has a number of features to make life easier on long rides.

Looking at the jersey, normally you’d find three pockets at the back, but the Aeron Ultra has five – three large ones, as you’d expect, plus another on the left and a zipped pocket on the right. Being able to eat and access small items on the move is a great way to reduce time standing at the side of the road and frees up valuable space in frame bags.

2020 will go down in history for obvious reasons but it has also been the year of the pocket stitched into bib shorts. It’s small and unobtrusive when not in use but, as it’s made from the same stretchy fabric as the shorts, it’s surprised me how much I can fit in there. I found this pocket super-useful for stashing snacks, my phone and food wrappers.

I used the Aeron Ultra kit for the 2019 Transatlantic Way and it’s remained comfy ever since.
Richard Marshall

Pockets or not, the most important part of any cycling short has to be the chamois. The Ultra shorts use a custom-designed Elastic Interface endurance pad rated for use over seven hours.

Pad comfort is subjective but after many hours of riding I’ve found the claims to be true. These are the shorts I choose for just about any kind of ride, whether a short local spin, hill-climb race or multi-day bikepacking adventure.

I wore these shorts when I cycled 1,000km in around seven days during the 2019 Transatlantic way event in Ireland and their comfort and practicality was very appreciated along the rolling coastal roads.

Enve Foundation 45 wheelset

The deeper section carbon rim promises better aerodynamics without incurring a big weight penalty.
Felix Smith / Immediate Media
  • Price: £1,800 / $1,600 / €1,800 / AU$2,250

These beautiful Enve Foundation 45 wheels went on my Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra long-term test bike. As the name suggests, these are 45mm-deep carbon rims and come with Enve’s own hubs.

The Foundation wheels have, perhaps unsurprisingly, proved to be a significant upgrade to the Synapse’s stock wheels. Firstly, the deeper section carbon rim promises better aerodynamics without incurring a big weight penalty, and at a 1,540g claimed weight for the pair, they are also 150g lighter than the Fulcrum 600DB wheels they replaced.

Along with the improved aerodynamics and reduced weight, the tubeless rims also have a progressively modern internal width of 21mm. Compared to a narrower rim, this helps increase the amount of tyre in contact with the ground without having to use a larger tyre, resulting in more grip and comfort.

Having a fairly wide internal rim width, along with the fact the wheels are disc-only, means you can use larger, gravel-lite tyres, although only tyres up to 32mm have been approved by Enve.

I’ve been using these wheels with WTB Exposure tyres in a 32mm width, and the combination of grip, low weight and aerodynamics has resulted in a noticeable improvement in comfort and speed. It’s the winning combination I’ve been chasing since testing the Synapse and a great fit for the bike’s all-round credentials.

Albeit an expensive upgrade, the wheels have unleashed the Synapse’s endurance race pedigree and have helped get the most out of a bike that laps up long rides.

Apidura Racing Series packs

These bags are designed for riders who value low weight and riding fast above all-out capacity.
Felix Smith / Immediate Media
  • Racing frame pack: £90 / US$120 / €102
  • Racing saddle pack: £125 / US$167 / €142
  • Racing handlebar mini pack (2.5L): £72 / US$95 / €85
  • Racing top-tube pack: £45 / US$58 / €51
  • Racing long top-tube pack (2L): £72 / US$92 / €80

The Apidura Racing Series is a range of on-bike luggage designed specifically for ultra-distance races and audax events.

Bikepacking bags come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, but think of these as stripped-down, minimalist bags. They are constructed from a bespoke ultralight and waterproof laminate developed specifically for Apidura.

These bags are designed for riders who value low weight and riding fast above all-out capacity, but what I really like about them are the details.

Take the frame pack as an example. It has a semi-rigid shape, keeping it nicely within the frame, plus two zipped pockets. The one on the right is for bulky items (I have stored a Sony A6000 camera in there comfortably) and, divided by a flexible material, the smaller one on the left is for thin items like debit cards, a passport or brevet card.

It has a hidden velcro opening for cables if you need to charge a GPS computer on the move. The zips have easy-grab pulls for opening when tired or wearing gloves, and the outside has a reflective logo and graphic, providing contrast during the day and extra side-on visibility during the night.

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The well-thought-out features continue across the range and, despite their compact size, it’s impressive what you can fit across all these bags. An ultra-light bikepacking setup is right up my street and I can’t wait to get out for more adventures in 2021.