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Smart bikepacking bags, a lightweight urban backpack, plus autumn shoes and protective MTB shorts

Plus some of the best of the week's content

First Look Friday

While we may have enjoyed a warm, calm spell of weather last week in the (bulk of the) UK, sadly this week the weather systems firmly kicked the sunlight from our skies. But that’s okay because, deep down, we all love a little bit of slithering about in the woods, don’t we?

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The nights are drawing in, too, like a curtain being closed to keep the heat in your house, but this doesn’t mean we can’t still get out and ride. So we’ve published our guide to road riding in the dark, which is full of top tips to keep you active in the darker months.

We also updated our best Gore-Tex Shakedry cycling rain jackets list, as well as our list of the best winter cycling shoes to keep your tootsies warm and dry too.

If you really don’t want to go out, Zwift has thankfully got a new route for you to ride called Neokyo, which is inspired by bustling Japanese cities and can be found in its Makuri Islands virtual world.

On the mountain bike side of things, we’ve reviewed trail/enduro wheels, including the Zipp 3ZERO MOTO and Hunt Enduro Wide V2.

Finally, everyone should drool over some of the best bikes at Bespoked 2021 – a showcase for the best independent custom frame builders.

BigxTop bar bag

Big x Top bar bag
BigxTop is back with new products for 2021.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

After a four year hiatus, BigxTop is back.

This small UK-based brand is run by Jordan Trent and is one of our favourite bag makers, offering truly well-made gear for a very reasonable price – some eight years after Jack Luke, BikeRadar’s deputy editor, bought his BigxTop saddle roll, it’s still in use.

New for 2021 is this mid-sized bar bag, which we think could be perfect for lightweight, overnight trips.

BigxTop bar bag
The bar bag is big enough to carry all of your kit for a long day in the saddle, or one cauliflower soft toy.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

The barrel-shaped bar bag measures 265mm wide, 180mm tall and 180mm deep. This is quite a bit larger than a typical ‘burrito’ bar bag, but not quite as capacious as something like a Carradice saddle bag.

The bag is built around a sturdy plastic liner that helps it hold its shape when used without a supporting front rack.

The bag attaches via two included locking straps that go around your bike’s bar and an elasticated cord that threads around the head tube (or steerer, if you have a particularly upright position).

BigxTop bar bag
The included hardware is very high quality.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

There is an internal alloy stiffening bar on the top of the bag that keeps everything feeling really solid once cinched up.

The bag is held shut with a wide strip of Velcro that runs along its edge. In addition, two eyelets allow you to thread through a length of elastic cord and hook this over the back of the stem, as is often done with traditional randonneur style bags.

A small pouch on the front keeps small items separate, while pockets on either side are useful for stuffing away used wrappers. There’s also a pair of plastic loops on either edge of the bag for attaching a shoulder strap.

Like all BigxTop bags, it’s is lined with a free-floating light coloured liner. This really improves visibility and makes it a lot easier to find stuff when rooting around in the gloaming.

BigxTop bar bag
We really like the ‘coyote’ colour option.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

The bag is available in a variety of lovely colours, including the pictured ‘coyote’, which is a perfect match for Jack’s much-loved saddle roll.

At £85, the bag is competitively priced for being handmade in the UK and, given our experience with BigxTops other bags, we have little doubt this one will last for many years to come.

Chrome Tensile Ruckpack

Chrome bag
Hit the city streets with Chrome’s latest lightweight backpack.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

Need a pack to hit the mean streets? Chrome has been the driving force behind many a cycle courier for years and has an extensive range of packs (and clothing) to suit the urban jungle.

This lightweight, 25-litre Tensile Ruckpack is built from ripstop nylon and a triple-ply laminated polyester shell, which should keep the weather at bay.

The main body is fairly simple, with a top-loading compartment into which we’ve managed to stuff plenty of, er, stuff.

There’s an internal laptop sleeve that’ll take a 15in Macbook or similar, but that’s about it. Everything is kept safe inside with a drawstring closure and a hooded top, secured with Chrome’s signature quick-release polished buckle.

On the outside, there’s a pair of side pockets that are perfectly shaped for a set of bidons, as well as a zipped sleeve pocket on the front and two straps on either side to cinch in loads.

Padding at the back is fairly minimal, keeping weight low. The shoulder straps are broad, have numerous loops and reflective details, as well as a sternum strap.

  • £160 / $175

Fizik X2 Terra Clima

Fizik shoes
Ready for the autumn… I’m hoping these shoes will keep my feet snug!
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

‘Shoulder season’ is a term I’m uncomfortable with, but neatly describes what these shoes are really designed for – chilly but not freezing, damp but not monsoon-wet conditions. As such, perfect for autumn and spring riding (yes, the shoulder seasons).

A couple of years ago, woven shoe fabrics were all the rage, and shoes with a baffle around the ankle are game-changing when it comes to keeping trail detritus out of your shoes.

The X2 Terra Clima uses this lighter weight woven construction and has a sock that extends up, to below the hem of a trouser leg.

Fizik shoes sock
This woven sock should keep crud out of your shoes.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

The shoe has a waterproof liner, to help keep feet dry, while the woven upper is said to be abrasion-resistant – ideal for scuffing through undergrowth.

At the bottom, the Vibram sole has moderately deep treads, as well as a cleat channel that extends fairly far back down the shoe. Toe protection feels stout and there’s extra reinforcement around the heel.

Keeping everything secure is a Boa dial to fine-tune fit over the foot, as well as a broad Velcro strap over the top of the foot to reduce heel slip and keep you locked in when you’re applying enough power to drag yourself out of a bog.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to inclement weather, but at least my feet will (hopefully) be in a good place.

Scott AirFlex Short Protector

Scott protector shorts
Hip and thigh protection will hopefully help ward off injuries.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

From time to time, talent runs out and I find myself sprawled on the floor in a heap. We’ve all been there, but we might not admit to quite how often it happens.

It turns out the ground is often harder than our bodies, and it can smart a bit. So, while knee protection is de-rigour with a lot of mountain bikers, hip, thigh and coccyx protection often isn’t.

This pair of shorts sits over your liners and under your baggies (unless you’re very confident with your aesthetics) and holds five well-placed soft EVA foam inserts.

As you expect, they’re there to add a little extra protection to the bits of your upper legs that often take the brunt of hits.

Scott protection shorts padding
Soft EVA foam sits within a formed Lycra pocket.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

The waistband comes up fairly high, which we rather like, and in early testing, the hip pads help keep your baggies up where they should be too.

The rest of the short is made from a thin and breathable Lycra/mesh mix, which doesn’t seem to add too much in the way of sweaty warmth, which is a good thing.

At the same time, as far as we can see, they don’t make you look weirdly lumpy underneath your shorts either.

Scott protection shorts rear
We all know the coccyx is the most painful bone to hit!
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

I’m not going to promise to test them to their maximum, as I prefer not to crash too much, but I’ll be reviewing them in the coming months, by which point I’m almost certain to have had the odd spill or two.

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  • £85