2019 was a great year for road bike tech in general, with stellar bikes arriving from the likes of Cannondale and its triple header – the new SuperSix Evo, awesome CAAD13 and radical Topstone – the brilliantly updated GT Grade and the Specialized Roubaix. We also got treated to BMC’s Roadmachine, while Cervélo got into gravel with its superb Áspero.
On the component side of things, SRAM gave us wireless transmission for less with Force AXS and Shimano’s GRX had some absolute component gems in its line-up.
Clothing seems to be stepping up too, I’ve been impressed with Endura’s ever-improving road clothing range that’s a match for the most premium of brands, but it hasn’t fallen into the over-priced trap – it’s just great quality clothing at great prices.
The emergence of recycled materials should be championed and at the forefront of this has been Isadore with its expanding Alternative line (and it always avoids plastic packaging too). Giro’s renew range looks great too, and Pearl Izumi is expanding into more and more recycled and renewable fabrics. All of these, I think, should be supported with our wallets.
My pick of the year, however, ranges from inexpensive to premium, but what unites them all is that for the most part this is stuff I’ve used day in, day out throughout the year, and they haven’t let me down.
AfterShokz Aeropex headphones don’t block out the sound around you. Immediate Media
Bike testing is quite a lonely pursuit, but don’t feel sorry for me! I’m out riding throughout pretty much all of the working week and pretty much exclusively solo, so that means I tend to ride with headphones and listen to podcasts or music as I ride.
Now that’s not the safest of pursuits when you’re anywhere near traffic, but that’s where the brilliant Aeropex phones come in.
These don’t fit over your ears, instead they sit on your cheekbones and the vibrations help project clear sound while you can still hear the environment around you – clever stuff. I’ve used AfterShokz for years now, from the original wired versions through to these latest Bluetooth offerings.
The sound is good, battery life excellent and most importantly they are seriously weatherproof. My previous AfterShokz gave up the ghost after some particularly wet rides where water got into the micro-USB port. These versions don’t have any charge ‘holes’, instead they use a Macbook-like magnetic charging port that’s sealed, and they even have moisture warning built-in, which warns you to dry them out before attaching to a charger.
They are rated to IP67 standard – tested by being submerged in a metre of water for 40 minutes and still operational.
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL 28mm tubeless tyres
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL 28mm tubeless tyres. Immediate Media
It took me quite a while to warm to the idea of tubeless on the road. For mountain bikes, they totally make sense, the same with gravel, but on the road it was always a bit of a hassle – sealing slender tyres on slim rims is pretty much a dark art with no consistency between wheels and even the same two tyres can behave differently.
There were exceptions of course; Schwalbe’s Ones are pretty consistent and Fulcrum’s undrilled rims on carbon 2-way fit wheels provide a proper seal.
Then I got my hands on Continental’s 28mm GP 5000 TL. I’ve tried it on Zipp, Hunt, Reynolds, Shimano, Roval and Bontrager wheels over the course of 2019 and they’ve always sealed, and stayed sealed.
Continental took a long time to get into the tubeless road game, but they’re worth the wait and feel as good for grip as the 4000SII, with the added ability to run a wider range of pressures. I’ve put hundreds and hundreds of miles into the set I have and they’re wearing very, very well.
So, while the nominal retail price for these is a lot, they’re paying for themselves in their longevity (and you can find them for a fraction of the RRP pretty much anywhere online).
I still think tubeless for 700c is more about volume – so 28 and above go tubeless, slimmer than that, like a 25c, then my first choice is still Vittoria’s graphene-infused Corsa in standard clincher.
SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x HRD
I’ve been impressed by SRAM’s Force eTap AXS 2x HRD group.
I was lucky enough to get plenty of time on Force AXS before it launched, and I’d just come off the back of having Red AXS for around a year. My initial thoughts were just how close Force felt in operation to Red – it’s the same mechanics, electronics and motors after all. It is a little nosier than Red, which is down to the differences in the rear cassette.
I’ve had Force AXS on my long-term Specialized S-Works Tarmac and on a slew of test bikes too and it’s just so consistently good; battery life is impressive, shifting accurate and consistent, and the gearing spread is just what I’ve been looking for – with all the gears for steep climbs while not compromising on the top end for speed.
I’ve had very little issue with anything on the group bar one update via the AXS app, which seemed to accelerate the battery drain on the right-hand shifter (getting through three CR2032 coin cells), but a further firmware update cured that.
Mechanically its kept working consistently and the shifting is simple: right hand harder, left hand easier, both together change the front. Experimenting with the automation options is fun too and I have actually settled on the compensation mode where it automatically shifts the rear mech to the next best gear when you shift the front.
With power meter: $3,648/ €3,618/ £3,349
Standard chainset: $2,678/ €2,548/ £2,274
Garmin Edge 1030
Garmin’s Edge 1030 has been a reliable companion. Immediate Media
This one’s a bit of a blast from the past because the 1030 isn’t a new unit, and arguably the latest 830 does pretty much the same job for less and in a smaller package, but bear with me.
For the last five months or so alongside my usual bike and kit testing I’ve been testing a whole heap of GPS units, and while there are some great units out there – Wahoo, Xplova, Sigma, Stages to name a few – at some point they have all let me down: lost signals, weird routing or strange behaviour. The Garmin 1030, on the other hand, while not perfect, has never let me down in the more than two years of running it.
For the first few months it wasn’t as consistent as the 1000 it replaced, but subsequent updates and improvements have made it get better and better, and with more the 15,000 miles logged on it so far the battery life hasn’t deteriorated (unlike every smartphone I’ve ever had).
Plus, despite a few drops and dings it still works brilliantly. It could just do with being a bit cheaper.
Hiplok Z LOK
Hiplok’s Z LOK is a good little deterrent when making a quick stop. Immediate Media
Coffee stops are a staple of my working/riding week and while I never stray too far from my bike – or whoever’s bike I’m testing – I need a caffeine fix now and again.
So I tend to stuff my jersey pocket with a lightweight cable lock to loop round the bike and a neat Hiplok armoured zip-tie for the front wheel to the frame.
I’ve bought a few four-packs of ZLoks (£34.99) to add a bit of extra security at home and to also secure bits of my bikes when they’re mounted on my bike rack, such as the wheels.
These are a cost effective, simple and pretty secure solution for when you just need a quick immobilizer or extra piece of mind.
Shimano GRX Di2 levers
Shimano’s GRX Di2 levers have made me rethink what I use on the road. Immediate Media
Now this isn’t a whole groupset, just the levers, but these have revolutionised my gravel riding.
Whether on SRAM or Shimano, it was always the case that when you needed the full power and control of the brakes on a gravel bike you had to get down into the drops. For the most part that’s fine when you’re on wide, open gravel roads, but it’s not quite so good when you’ve ventured into more mountain bike, singletrack trail territory, where being up on the hoods feels more natural.
Shimano’s ergonomics on the GRX Di2 lever is superb, the shift in the pivot point of the brake and its Servowave action mean total brake control from the hoods.
The GRX lever is so good in fact that I’ve changed my outlook on the SRAM/Shimano question. Up until now I’ve always favoured SRAM for off-road duties, while Shimano had the edge on the road, but now, when it comes to electronic groups, I’m all for eTap on a road bike and GRX Di2 on dirt.
If I was building a road bike from scratch I’d be sorely tempted to use the GRX Di2 lever over Ultegra Di2 for the seriously improved control of the brakes from the hoods it offers. And, if you’re thinking of building up a Di2 bike, I’d suggest you give the idea of GRX levers some serious consideration.