Along with everyone else in the world, 2020 has been a strange year for me. There has been one benefit to the lack of any socialising, activities and general life admin though – more time to ride. I think I’ve ridden more this year than perhaps any other – and that includes a year where I quit my job just to cycle.
Having moved to Bristol in March, my bike-riding this year was very much exploring from my front door, discovering as much nearby gravel and mountain biking as I could. These are some of the products that cheered me up over the year.
- See all of the BikeRadar team’s Gear of the Year for 2020
Continental Contact Speed tyres
I got these as summer tyres to go on my gravel bike, despite them being described as ‘all-road’ rather than gravel-specific.
They have been pleasantly surprising in their versatility and capability, and although I’ve worn through this pair, I’m pretty sure I’ll choose something similar next year.
They are fast rolling, hard wearing and comfortable, which is helped by their ‘micro-diamond’ tread and improved TPI casing. I ran a 700 X 28 pair, and found they rolled fast on the road and handled most gravel with no problem.
Best of all, despite riding on some pretty awful roads and a few rocky mountain passes they’re definitely not meant for, I didn’t puncture once. Plus they saved me from hitting a sheep with a death wish on a particularly steep Welsh descent.
Before I got these socks, I admit I was sceptical of anything being described as 100 per cent waterproof.
During Storm Dennis in early 2020, I pulled them on for the first time and was amazed to find, after several hours of puddles, mud and torrential rain, my feet were completely dry and warm.
Sealskinz socks are made with three layers – a comfortable bamboo inside, stretchy nylon outside, and between them is a ‘hydrophilic membrane’, which is basically a thin layer of plastic.
These layers are fused together at the top of the sock, creating an impenetrable fortress in which your feet stay nice and dry no matter how many puddles you go through.
These socks have saved my feet from hypothermia in many a gale this year and are my favourite things to wear on a long winter mountain-bike ride. They have completely changed winter riding for me.
Jumps and Drops skills course with Katy Curd
- Full details available at Katy Curd Coaching
Since moving west, the closeness of trail centres and actual bike parks has reawakened my desire to learn how to jump. I managed to dislocate my shoulder a few years ago going over a jump, and haven’t spent much time in the air since then. But with Bike Park Wales now only an hour away, I decided it was time to get back into it.
I did a women’s-specific mountain-bike course called Jumps and Drops with Katy Curd. The course looked at jumping technique, how to ride over drops, and at trail flow.
It was a fun day, good to firstly just go back and practise features until you’ve got them perfect, but it was also useful having Katy there watching and filming and able to give you quick feedback.
She broke down the technique of jumping to us slowly, adding another movement each time around until it felt really natural to be getting into the air over a jump. This took away any fear of falling, since I felt completely in control.
By the end, I was clearing tabletops easily and felt confident and happy on the trail (and there were no dislocations either!)
Decathlon MH500 Women’s walking trousers
I got these trousers as back-up mountain-bike pair for winter – although they are advertised for walking rather than biking. And, as they only cost £24.99, I wasn’t expecting much. I have been really impressed with them though.
They are lightweight, breathable and hardwearing, with enough space for knee guards if you need it, and they have three accessible pockets at the top.
The elasticated bottom on the legs mean they can be siphoned away from the chain, and I find them genuinely warm too.
The only caution I’d suggest is to use them for drier rides only – they are only splashproof and don’t do well in anything torrential.
Not everyone has loads to spend on kit, and these cost a fraction of something like the Fox Kevlar MTB trousers. So, if you’re looking for trousers on a budget, I really recommend them.
Trek Fuel EX 8 2020
A final shoutout goes to my Trek Fuel EX 8 2020. I chose the Fuel EX because it seemed like a good bike to use for more trail-focused days, as well as for long-distance off-road ones.
It has 140mm travel up front and 130mm in the rear, and you can adjust these to give a totally different ride depending on what you’re doing.
As well as the SRAM Eagle 12-speed drive chain, it comes with Shimano Deore Hydraulic disc brakes and a Bontrager Line dropper post, which all work to make the bike feel versatile and capable.
A special mention goes to this bike as it survived falling from my car as I drove along the motorway, after my bike rack sheared in half. It bounced down the carriageway and off the road, luckily harming no one. I expected it to be wrecked, but to my surprise when I went back to rescue it an hour later, it was in one piece, barely scratched.
While this was probably the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me, I really appreciate how tough this bike is and expect to be riding it as much as possible next year.