The last two years have seen a proliferation of interesting gravelly adventures in the UK, as Covid forced us all to stay local.
My picks for our 2021 Gear of the Year series are therefore made up of what I found to be the most useful accessories for heading from the doorstep into all the joys bikepacking in England has to offer (mostly… rain).
2021 was a year of big rides for me. I completed my first century in June, a mega 135-mile dusk-til-dawn epic. Since then, I’ve achieved four other centuries, two of those off-road.
I didn’t think I was strong enough to ride a full 100 miles at the start of this year, but there is definitely something exciting about churning out such distances, and I’ll be hoping to do more of the same in 2022.
Apidura bikepacking bags
- Seat bag £118, handlebar bag £96, frame bag £76
If there’s one thing I found myself using over and over in 2021, it was these Apidura bikepacking bags. They really impressed and surprised me with how well they work.
I got them in May and they’ve accompanied me on various bikepacking trips away, not to mention all the times they’ve been up Dundry Hill on the way to the Mendips, near where I live in the South West of England.
There is a lot to like about these bags; firstly, just how well they work. They’ve proved themselves to be very waterproof, hardy and durable, and are easy to use and swap between bikes.
Unlike some bikepacking bags, these mostly forgo zips, which helps durability. The part of the bag that takes all the strain – where the straps join the main bag – has been doubly reinforced and hasn’t worn at all, despite being overloaded with stuff on occasion.
It’s great to see Apidura offering resources and tutorials for repairing bags if they do break, as well as the option to buy cheaper, repaired older bags through its Revive programme as a way of reducing environmental waste.
A particular shout-out goes to the seatbag, which fits the saddle snugly, and is balanced well enough to avoid much of the annoying sway that other bikepacking bags can bring.
It’s hard to quantify why these bags are just so good, but perhaps the main thing is how easy it is to use them.
They fit well, keep everything dry and dirt-free, and work without fuss. Because of this, they have integrated themselves into my cycling kit seamlessly, and it’s rare that I don’t reach for them when I’m heading out for a ride.
Magicshine MJ-906S front light
I got the 4,500-lumen Magicshine MJ-906S light only a month or so ago, but it’s already one of my favourite pieces of kit. I was initially unsure how I felt about the bulky battery pack strapped to the top tube, assuming it would rattle around and make holes in the paint. The setup works well though.
The light pulses out a huge 4,500 lumens at full power, which is more than enough for dark lanes and milder trails. It also has 15 alternative, less bright settings, which you can use to extend the run time. Magicshine says the light could last up to 50 hours, and though I couldn’t verify this, I have used it at full power for an evening ride without any problems.
The light has a Garmin-style mount that’s simple to take on and off without any extra rubber stays or mounts. The battery threads onto your top tube with velcro straps that are surprisingly sturdy and stable. There has been little rattling from it, and it’s waterproof too.
Some might not be keen on the 500-gram weight, but for me, it’s made night riding much more accessible, and that more than makes up for the weight.
- £4.99 a month
I use Komoot every single time I go for a ride. It’s not a perfect app by any means, but I use it anyway, which is testament to how good it is at what it does.
For route planning in unfamiliar places, great advice from other cyclists and discovering new areas around you, there is no better app. Whenever I plan to go to a new place, I pull out my phone and have a look at what Komoot recommends around there.
Komoot relies on its community to create highlights, routes and collections, which are great ways to get to know an area through its riders.
This is especially true of off-road routes, where you can get more of a taste of terrain and potential rock gardens before heading out.
I have loved riding some of the Komoot collections, such as King Alfred’s Way and West Kernow Way, finding some incredible gravel I’d have never known about otherwise.
The route creation is almost always good too, though I’ve occasionally found myself routed down what I call the “Komoot shortcut”, which is usually surprisingly technical and unexpected. I’m all for a mid-ride challenge, but just keep an eye out for it if you’re planning a route somewhere you don’t know.
After a long year of cycling, Komoot remains one of my most essential ride accessories and has given me many miles of happy riding.
Schwalbe G-One Bite
I came to love these tyres halfway across a very muddy field in January, where they somehow managed to keep rolling despite not actually being visible anymore. An impressive feat!
The G-One Bites are great gravel tyres, and manage wet and muddy conditions well, but where they really excel is on hard-pack surfaces – they’re noticeably speedy and responsive.
The Bites use the same tread pattern as their sibling Schwalbe Speed tyre, but the tread pattern on the Bites increases and spreads the knobbles. This makes the tyre better at traction in the wet, while retaining the fast-rolling properties of the Speed.
I put several months of riding on them with my long-term test bike, a Canyon Grail, before swapping to 650b wheels and Pathfinder tyres for the summer. Now it’s winter again, I’ve got some 650b G-One Bites winging their way to me, so I hope to be crossing many deep muddy fields again soon.