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Oli Woodman’s Gear of the Year 2020

A remarkable ebike, practical clothing and home-office upgrades

2020 Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 electric hybrid bike

Some of us might be keen to forget 2020, but for me it’s been a year that’s well worth remembering – at least where bikes are concerned.

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Lockdown restrictions might have twisted our social lives and working routines, yet Summer 2020 allowed me to explore near traffic-free UK roads in a way that I’ll probably never be able to do again in this country.

Nearly all my miles this year were logged on roads, and so it’s going to be an aim of mine to redress that balance and get muddy again in 2021.

Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0

2020 Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 electric hybrid bike
Specialized is onto a really good thing with its Turbo Vado SL range of electrified hybrids.
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media
  • Price: £2,900 (£2,600 at time of review) / €3,299 / $3,350

As much as I think today’s ebikes are great, I also think they’re typically too expensive and often too heavy.

I’m not saying the Turbo Vado SL 4.0 isn’t expensive (its price has just risen significantly, which is a shame) – and it still weighs a touch more than an unassisted bike of its kind, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. For me, it spells out the future of electric bikes and that’s very exciting.

By using a smaller than usual battery and sticking to a very considered spec sheet, Specialized has managed to make an electric hybrid that can still be lifted up stairs, manoeuvred around a flat or placed into the back of a car.

At 15.41kg (actual weight, size large) it can be comfortably ridden unassisted, and the power delivery of Specialized’s 1.1 SL motor system makes the motor more of a reward system than a total substitute for your own power.

Its keen geometry, taut 1x drivetrain and decent brakes mean you can have a lot of fun too.

Everyone I know who has tried this bike has loved it. I want one!

Read my full review of the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0.

Bontrager NCS mudguards

Bontrager NCS front mudguard
The Bontrager NCS mudguards are available in three sizes to cover a wide range of tyre sizes.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media
  • Price: £39.99 / $49.99

Okay, nobody said my picks had to be exciting…

Bontrager’s NCS mudguards are already a well-renowned bit of kit and for very good reason.

Bontrager NCS rear mudguard
Bontrager’s NCS mudguards are quick and easy to install.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media

They’re astonishingly simple to fit and arrive with all the hardware you could possibly need for most installations.

I also really appreciated the Blendr mount at the rear guard, which gives a low, stable position for a light – in my case the Ion Flare RT.

Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket in Kelp Forest
The Nano Puff jacket is available in several colour options, including this Kelp Forest one.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media
  • Price: £195 / $249

When I first bought the Nano Puff from Patagonia I didn’t realise I would pretty much end up living in it.

This lightweight windproof jacket does such a good job of keeping me warm and comfortable that I rarely want to put on any other top layer.

It’s great to see that beneath the 100% recycled polyester shell and lining there’s now a version of PrimaLoft’s Gold insulation that uses at least 55% recycled material.

Patagonia Nano Puff jacket detail
PrimaLoft insulation means the Nano Puff keeps its wearer comfortable through a wide range of temperatures.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media

As with its other garments, Patagonia backs up the Nano Puff with an extensive warranty and aftercare service, which sees the brand repair the garment for free should it prove faulty or damaged but repairable.

The jacket is water-resistant rather than waterproof, so you won’t want to get stuck out in a downpour for too long. The hood is effective but does give a Kenny from South Park sort of look…

Yamaha R-N602 network receiver

Yamaha R-N602 network receiver in black
Yamaha’s R-N602 network receiver blends in incredibly well among separates that were produced more than two decades ago.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media

Price: £389

Like most of us, I’d not anticipated that I’d end up working from home for the majority of this year. Adapting my own bedroom into a place of work was far from ideal, but the two next picks are ones that made a huge difference.

I really enjoy listening to music while I work and one of the benefits of my own living space suddenly doubling up as an office was the ability to do so without having to use headphones. I’m no audiophile, but I’m almost always listening to music.

Yamaha R-N602 network receiver
The R-N602 combines retro looks with thoroughly modern connectivity.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media

My old hi-fi setup consisted of a Yamaha AX-396 amplifier and matching CDX-396 and TX-396 tuner. It’s a stack that’s not worth a lot and is over two decades old but still sounded brilliant to my ears.

I purchased the R-N602 network receiver to replace the ageing AX-396 and by doing so have gained the ability to stream music and digital radio/podcasts directly to my speakers (via an exceptionally cute WiFi antenna) – eradicating the need for an iPad that I was using as my source.

The logos, fonts and styling of the R-N602 all match with my existing components and even the sound is reassuringly familiar. Just imagine encountering that sort of backwards compatibility in the bike industry!

Amazon LED lamp

Amazon adjustable LED lamp in home office
This relatively inexpensive lamp from Amazon is ideal for home workers.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media
  • Price: £34.99

The pathetic single bulb in the centre of my bedroom proved ample during the summer months, but as soon as the clocks changed, I found myself really needing some extra light.

Enter this cheap LED lamp from Amazon. Clamping to a table or desk surface, the anglepoise style allows for a wide range of adjustment. Its LED head is adjustable through three colour modes (6000k/white, 4,500k/daylight and 3000k/warm) and ten brightness settings.

I’ve found this lamp has really helped relax my eyes during the dim winter afternoons and evenings, plus it makes a world of difference to the performance of my webcam during meetings.

It’s USB powered, and my iMac has no problem powering it alongside a couple of other USB devices.

It’s far from the highest quality product I’ve encountered, but it’s priced accordingly and, so far at least, has done the job just fine.

Castelli Estremo winter gloves

Castelli Estremo glove
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media
  • Price: £95 / $99

I’m quite fortunate that I don’t tend to suffer from excessively cold feet in winter, but one place where I have struggled in the past is my hands. So when temperatures are in the single digits I definitely won’t be leaving home without these.

The Estremo (that’s Italian for ‘extreme’, don’t you know) gloves have so far proved impenetrable for plenty of chilly and sodden miles, lots of casual use and even the occasional snowball fight.

These are Castelli’s warmest gloves, with a Gore-Tex water-resistant and windproof outer and fleece internal lining.

The trade-off here is feel and dexterity. They’re pretty stiff and have blunt communication at the handlebars – but for road riding that’s a price well worth paying.

The Estremos were even called in for emergency use when a friend of mine found her own gloves to be lacking at the end of a soggy winter ride.

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As you’d expect from the price, these really are a quality item. Mine still look brand new.