2020 has been a rubbish year for all the obvious reasons but, looking out from my cycling media-industry bubble, it’s also been a pretty wild ride.
The enormous growth in popularity of cycling paired with (what was supposed to be) an Olympic year brought launches thick and fast and, in my four-and-a-half years at BikeRadar, I cannot recall a time where I have ever been busier.
Along the way, I managed to fit in more riding than I have in years (what else is there to do?), wasted days of my life posting dumb stuff on Instagram and tested out some really great kit.
Here are my top five product highlights from the year.
- See all of the BikeRadar team’s Gear of the Year for 2020
Pro Stealth Superlight saddle
- £250 / $299
I could not write this roundup and not mention the Pro Stealth Superlight saddle.
I was so delighted to stumble upon this perfect perch for my perky peach that I was moved to write a column – no, a love letter – dedicated to the Pro Stealth Superlight.
The Stealth is just one of the many short-nose saddles now on the market but, of all of the different types I have tried, this is by far my favourite.
The overall shape suits my ride position and butt very well. This is paired with pleasingly firm padding and a fairly compliant shell.
It really is my Goldilocks saddle and I now run one across all my different bikes, including the equally good steel-railed version on my bike back home in Scotland. I cannot imagine ever wanting to use something different.
Aiguille Alpine frame wedge
I have long been an advocate of using on-bike luggage on any bike – I loathe having excessive guff in my jersey pockets and I can take as many snacks as I want if I use a bag.
Handlebar bags have been my go-to for some time but, this year, I decided to finally get a hold of a frame pack.
After some nosing around, I eventually settled on the Aiguille Alpine frame wedge.
I have long admired the brand’s legendary and delightfully simple rucksacks, and fancied trying some of their new-ish bikepacking luggage.
The frame wedge follows the same format as Aiguille’s mountaineering kit – it’s big, simple, sturdy, almost totally waterproof despite not having sealed seams, available in great colours and affordable.
If you prefer a bag with internal dividers (I do not) you may be better served by something else but, for this simple sack savant, I honestly can’t imagine significantly improving on the design of the frame wedge.
I have lost count of the number of times I have lavished praise upon my beloved Surly Steamroller flat-bar fixed-gear gravel idiot-wagon this year.
It should be clear by now that I love this bike – as I said in a column earlier this year, despite being fitted with 40mm tyres, “I still find myself hilariously under-biked when [riding] cheeky singletrack detours, keeping otherwise tame – or familiar – trails interesting”.
That has been the key appeal of the bike in this peculiar year – covid restrictions being what they are, my riding has been limited to a relatively small area around Bristol. Riding the Steamroller always puts a smile on my face, even when I’m on the same roads and trails over and over again.
When restrictions were eased in the summer, I did manage a handful of completely idiotic rides on the bike. Chief among these was a 277km (ouch) blast down to the southern tip of the Isle of Portland and back.
A fixed gear will never ever in a billion zillion years be the right bike for this kind of ride, but I can’t think of anything I would have rather used.
Paul Components canti brake lever
At $92.50 (each!), Paul Components’ cantilever brake levers are not cheap, but I would confidently argue they are the nicest brake levers out there. Nothing else feels as premium, taut and well-made as these.
The levers are a delight to use – they are incredibly stiff, the action of the double-row sealed bearings is luxuriously smooth and the barrel adjuster is addictively fun to fiddle with while riding.
Everything about them is well-designed and, paired with the Paul Racer Medium centre pull brake I use on my Steamroller, I have more than enough braking power to hand.
If you’re a flat-bar rider who uses mechanical disc brakes or rim brakes, these come highly recommended.
At last count, I have something like eight pairs of cycling sunnies in my collection (which is both unnecessary and excessive).
All are good for different reasons but, for all-day comfort, comprehensive protection and comfort, Smith Optics’ Wildcat sunglasses top my list.
The comically large goggle-like shades give uninterrupted peripheral vision and the lenses are pretty much distortion-free.
I hate glasses that squash your temples, but there are no such problems with the Wildcats. The rubber grippers on the nose and legs also hold them steady even on the sweatiest days.
The glasses feel really well-made and have a satisfying click when opening or closing the legs. Swapping lenses is also easy.
After a few seasons of carelessly wiping mud off them with gloves, the lenses on my original glasses are now totally trashed. Unwilling to give them up, I have treated myself to a new pair for 2021 and beyond.
As a side note, of all the things I regularly use, the Wildcats are the item I’m asked about most, both via my scintillating Instagram account and in real life.
In the future, whenever I’m asked what they are, I will link here to illustrate the Smith Wildcats have won the Jack Luke seal of approval.