I’ve been lucky enough to use some outstanding kit and ride some wonderful bikes in the last 12 months.
Here’s what stood out in 2018, a year in which I declared my love of direct-mount rim brakes, moaned about bike design, and set pulses racing with a little help from saucy Sagan.
Best bikes and gear 2018
Specialized Tarmac Pro
The Tarmac Pro has been an all-round delight Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
Something about this thing got under my skin. It’s incredibly lovely to look at and an utter delight to ride. I don’t naturally cleave to carbon clinchers and electronic groupsets, but it’s hard to argue with the Tarmac’s spec.
For 2019 there’s no rim brake Tarmac Pro, but the £4,500 Expert with mechanical Ultegra looks to be its spiritual successor, and it’s rather lovely too.
Giant Trance 1
The Trance isn’t super progressive and it’s not from a boutique brand, it’s just a bloody good bike Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m a mediocre mountain biker, but I do enjoy myself, and this year I’ve enjoyed myself a great deal riding the Giant Trance 1. The Trance fits with my long-term project to rehabilitate aluminium as a bike frame material — it’s another example of a bike that seems very good value compared to it’s far less well-specced carbon sibling.
The 2018 Trance 1 came with SRAM GX Eagle (which I like very much), smart Fox suspension, and Giant’s own carbon wheels. It’s a spec that doesn’t really cry out for upgrades and indeed the only thing I’ve swapped on it has been the tyres, and that was more for reasons of vanity.
How much do I like it? Well, Giant asked for the bike back and I decided to buy it rather than stick it in a box. Full disclosure: Giant offered me a healthy discount as it’s effectively a used bike, but I still forked out my own money, something I haven’t done with any bike since I took this job over four years ago.
The 2018 Trance 1 is sold out and, despite my alloy evangelising, I’d be very tempted by the deals available on the outgoing carbon Trance Advanced. Failing that, the 2019 Trance 1 is actually cheaper than my bike was, but loses the carbon rims.
It’s hard to get excited about a bike rack, but the Highroad is very good indeed Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
The best bike racks are boring, it’s a fact. If they’re not boring, it’s because they’re badly designed and they force you to actually think about them.
The Yakima Highroad is very boring and very good at its job. Loading up a bike takes no more than 30 seconds and my only complaints are that the standard wheel strap is too long for skinny road wheels (unless you shim it) and the rack doesn’t work with front mudguards at all.
The mudguard thing is annoying, but it’s so inherent to the design that I can’t really complain. If you need to carry a bike with mudguards around, you need to buy a different rack, it’s as simple as that. If you don’t, the Highroad is about as good as a roof rack gets.
Seatylock Foldylock Compact
The Foldylock isn’t the most substantial on the market, but it’s very easy to live with Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
Locks are boring too, until someone smashes yours and makes off with your bike. Luckily that fate has yet to befall the Foldylock I’ve been using this year.
It’s Sold Secure Silver rated, like many mid-range D-locks, and while I remain slightly sceptical about it’s resistance to professional thievery, it’s the most convenient bike lock I’ve ever used.
It folds up really small and the bike mount is actually well designed and usable, unlike the horrible brackets that come with many traditional locks.
Park Tool DSD-2 screwdriver
Fancy screwdrivers are the best screwdrivers Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
I love well-made tools, especially those that are thoughtfully designed to fulfil a specific need. Park Tool’s DSD-2 righted a historic wrong by offering a tip perfectly sized for derailleur screws.
Yes, you could make do with lesser screwdrivers or you could buy one of the existing “JIS” offerings on the market, but I’m glad Park made this lovely thing because it shows the brand cares about bike tool nerds.
2009 Triumph Street Triple R
This is one hell of an e-bike Matthew Allen
Every time we write about e-bikes, someone complains that they didn’t come to this free website to read about motorcycles. If you are that person, this entry is here specifically to troll you.
I got my motorcycle licence earlier this year and I’ve since covered about 3,000 miles on this thing, mostly commuting to and from Bristol.
It’s been interesting to find out how transferable my pushbike skills actually are. I did wonder if the different brake configuration would mess with my head (on a motorcycle your rear brake is operated by your right foot while the left lever on the bar controls the clutch and the right lever controls the front brake), but the reality is that the whole machine is so different that it’s not an issue.
The handling skills I’ve learned on bicycles definitely do help, but a full size motorbike weighs a hell of a lot more than a bicycle, so there are significant differences. My Street Triple R is light for its class at 180-something kg fully fuelled, which is approximately 25 Specialized Tarmac Pros.
The Triumph is fearsomely rapid and quite loud, everything a leg-powered bicycle isn’t. A brand new one costs about us much as a high-end enduro bike but includes a screaming engine and a whole lot more parts. Much as I love bicycles, I can’t help feeling that motorbikes are incredible value for money.