There tends to be a theme that runs through each of the BikeRadar team’s Gear of the Year picks: a common strand that links each of the products, often based on the riding that’s dominated the agenda throughout the year.
For me, 2020 was mostly about gravel – or at least, riding my gravel bike. The bike I built this time last year provided the means, and the lockdown provided the motive to explore close to home during those precious hours outside.
What was your standout product for 2020? Let me know in the comments below and make sure you check out the rest of our Gear of the Year picks.
- See all of the BikeRadar team’s Gear of the Year for 2020
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The spring lockdown, combined with a long spell of unbroken sunshine, produced the perfect storm for local bike riding, if you can call it such a thing. Komoot, meanwhile, provided the inspiration to venture beyond my regular routes.
As a long-time Strava user and a rider who regularly pores over segment leaderboards (even if I now have to pay for the privilege), it took me some time to dip my toe into Komoot. Aren’t the two platforms trying to achieve the same thing?
Turns out, they’re not. Strava’s route-planning capabilities are better than ever, and I’ve regularly used the Segment Explore functionality to seek out new climbs, but, Komoot comes into its own when uncovering those hidden gems found by other riders, or riding spots that might lie off the map. Less competition, more… collaboration.
Komoot’s user-generated ‘highlights’ are ideal for picking out new places to ride, particularly if you’re on a gravel bike (Komoot’s ethos and community spirit seems to chime with gravel riders). You’re not just getting a heads-up on where to ride, but can read the tips and experiences shared by other users, and take a look at any photos posted.
Select a handful of highlights and use the excellent route-planner to do the rest. Or delve into a ‘collection’ to find tried-and-tested routes, often grouped together under a particular theme (if you’re in the South West, Katherine Moore’s ‘Bristol gravel routes’ collection is excellent).
My best riding of 2020 came through spring, exploring the local area, and that’s largely thanks to Komoot.
Continental Terra Speed gravel tyres
- £59 / $64.95 / €57.90
I could wax lyrical about my Mason Bokeh gravel bike and, in reality, it should be a shoo-in for my Gear of the Year. I had it built in December 2019 and it’s the bike I rode more than any other in 2020 – 3,600km on the road, off-road and everything in-between.
The Bokeh is the key that has unlocked my best riding through 2020, but it’s also a bike I’ve written about extensively (you can read my BikeRadar Builds piece for more).
The Shimano GRX Di2 groupset fitted to the bike has been faultless, too, but instead, I’m going to call out the unsung heroes of the current build – the Continental Terra Speed tyres.
I’d originally chosen a set of WTB Resolute tyres when I built the bike and used them extensively through winter and spring. However, as excellent as they are, I wanted something a little faster-rolling for the summer, so on went the Terra Speeds (tubeless setup is a cinch, by the way).
Generally, though, there’s a fair amount of road riding in there – and I’ve done a lot of road-only rides on the Bokeh too. The Terra Speed rolls wonderfully on tarmac for a tyre of its size (I’ve been using the 650b x 40mm tyre, but there’s also a 35mm width, and both widths again in a 700c diameter).
The low-profile tread feels at home on the road, without the drag of a more aggressive, knobbly design, and there’s enough grip to comfortably handle hardpack, loose but dry dirt, and damp ground.
And there’s a tan-wall option. What’s not to like?
Well, if it’s wet and muddy then you’ll run out of grip, and I’d like to see wider options for the 650b version.
However, if you want a fast tyre for mixed conditions, riding on rough roads, or happen to live somewhere where there are actual gravel roads, then the Terra Speed is an excellent option.
Dynaplug Air tubeless repair kit
- £59.99 / $74.99 / €64.99
I’m a tubeless convert, on gravel at least.
I’ve tried a few wheel-and-tyre combinations now and haven’t run into any major tubeless setup problems, and the combination of wide rubber and low pressures provide the confidence to venture onto ever-more adventurous terrain (or just add a bit of comfort).
Punctures do happen, though – if the sealant can’t work its magic in time or a cut is simply too big – and that’s where the Dynaplug Air comes in.
If you’re not familiar with tubeless repair kits, they work by stuffing a plug into the tyre to fill the hole. The bung is made from a rubber that bonds to the tyre to create an air-tight seal, while a brass tip allows it to penetrate the tyre in the first place and then lives harmlessly in the rim.
Dynaplug’s kit is compact, easy to use and has come to the rescue whenever I’ve punctured in 2020. It’s not cheap, though.
Specialized S-Works Aethos Dura-Ace Di2
There’s a gravel theme running through my picks, so now it’s time for something very different: the Specialized S-Works Aethos.
Or is it that different? Let’s be clear, the Aethos is no gravel bike. Although with clearance for 30mm tyres, there’s room to fit a plump road tyre in there for light off-road detours, if that’s where you want to take your £11,750 bicycle (this is a very expensive bike).
The point, however, is that the Aethos is a bike designed by Specialized “simply for the love of riding”.
That, in part, is why so many riders have found an affinity with gravel – because they’re turned off by a near-endless stream of images of suffering, and of bikes designed to be x watts faster in the wind tunnel and y per cent stiffer than the previous model.
Most of us ride our bikes for how they make us feel and where they take us, not the numbers on a piece of paper.
The Aethos is the kind of bike that makes me want to plan big days in the hills and riding holidays with friends, when we’re allowed to travel again. A bike that makes me yearn for riding, just for the hell of it.
There is something special about hoofing along on a fully dialled-in aero bike – and there’s no denying it, aero is fast – but the Aethos is a bike that chimes with how I want to ride.
Credit to Specialized for designing a flagship bike that turns its back on the wind tunnel and the latest go-fast trends, even if it is something of a U-turn after years of telling us “aero is everything” (and coming off the back of the Tarmac SL7 as “one bike to rule them all”).
The Aethos rides like a dream, too (as you’d hope, given the five-figure price): it’s supremely light, comfortable enough for long days and has a beautifully understated simplicity, both in its design and overall aesthetic. And I love it for that.