This has been a weird year in the world of bikes, what with a whole heap of product delays brought on by the global pandemic.
I was hoping to be talking about exciting new arrivals such as the Ultegra Di2, but as I still haven’t seen that bike in the metal it’s going to have to wait until 2022.
My Gear of the Year picks from the last 12 months are a mixture of great bike upgrades, and widgets and kit I’ve used more than anything else throughout a year that has seen lots of riding, even though most of it has been local.
Zipp 303 Firecrest
- Price: £1,600 / $1,695 / AU$2,780 / €1,790
Zipp’s 303 has always been its most versatile wheel, seen as often on the road as it is in cyclocross and gravel. The Firecrest hit all the marks for me during a year in which I’ve had the pleasure of testing some great wheels: Hunt’s Limitless, Enve’s Foundation, Boyd’s Prologue, Cadex’s 42s, Zipp’s own flagship 353 NSWs and several others.
These Firecrests are light at 1,409g including tapes, lockrings, and tubeless valves (they’re 1,352g in the raw). They’re also well suited to my road tyre width of choice (28c) with their 25mm internal width.
Some people still have an issue going hookless and tubeless on the road, but these are so simple to live with.
Fitting is easy – seating first time, every time – and they’re versatile enough to run road tyres or big gravel tyres. Plus, compatibility issues when hookless first rolled out are pretty much over. They spin superbly smoothly on the new hubs and the 66-point freehub engages quickly.
I’ve been impressed with their behaviour in high crosswinds. You do feel pressure on the front wheel, but it’s easy to counter. Not having to grapple with the steering for fear of control being snatched away is a blessing.
They also perform brilliantly in the rough, not with the same buoyant compliance of the 101s, but these are lot more forgiving than most when the going gets rough, and still feel sprint-ready stiff on the road.
The best thing about the Firecrests is the price. At £1,600, these are £700 less than their predecessors – and it’s not often you get a new and improved product in cycling that’s cheaper than what came before.
Fumpa electric pump
- Price: £149 / $210 / AU$ 320 / €200
I’ve got a couple of favourites from 2021 for gravel riding, and first up is Fumpa’s mini compressor electric pump.
Whenever I head out on a gravel bike, my seat pack, bar bag or hip pack – no matter where I’m riding – always contains the essentials. I don’t go out without some sealant, an inner tube, tough tyre levers, tubeless plugs, a multitool, and the single most vital thing – a Fumpa pump.
This pocket-sized air compressor from the Australian brand is a handy self-contained lithium polymer battery-powered pump that measures only 42x74x87mm and weighs a mere 397g.
It’s not exactly cheap at £149, but it’s got me out of plenty of jams when I’ve either split a tyre or burped one off the rim. In situations such as those, a hand pump won’t provide the consistent pressure to reseat a tyre, but the Fumpa makes short work of it, and has proven worth every penny.
The pump is charged via a micro-USB cable (550mA) and a full charge takes close to three-and-a-half hours. A fully charged unit was good for 10 inflations from zero to 95psi on a 25c tyre, and Fumpa says the battery is replaceable after a claimed six years of use.
PRO Discover gravel dropper post
- Price: £183.99 / $255 / AU$417 / €268
My second gravel highlight of the year is the PRO Discover gravel dropper post. Its smart two-way lever (£49.99), which can be operated easily from the hoods or the drops, is brilliant.
I like having the ability to drop the saddle all the way down when I’m descending steep off-road sections, and the other benefit of dropping the saddle down low when descending quickly on the road (making you far more aero) is fun too.
It’s something I really like to have on tap and miss when I’m testing gravel bikes that don’t come equipped with a dropper off-road.
When I fitted the PRO Discover, there were very few choices available, but over the last year or so we’ve seen FSA launch a gravel-specific dropper post, Crank Brothers has followed closely behind and RockShox brought the wireless electronic dropper as part of the XPLR range.
If I had an unlimited budget and an AXS-equipped gravel bike, I’d be sorely tempted to upgrade my pick of the year to the XPLR post, but it’s twice the price of the PRO post (and you’ll need an AXS-equipped bike), so I’ll happily stick with the PRO Discover for now.
DMT KR3 road shoes
Price: £235 /$299 / AU$ 331 / €225
I like road shoes made from knitted fabrics because the fit feels closer due to the material being more compliant than PU leathers. This means it’s easier to get a more comfortable fit.
DMT’s Kr3s are very similar to the shoes worn by Tadej Pogačar when riding to victory (twice) in the Tour, but Pogačar’s range-topping KR1s cost a massive £420 for a lightweight (529g pair, size 45) pair of kicks.
The more affordable KR3s have a carbon sole that’s as stiff as you need, without being overly rigid.
They come with Boa’s easy to live with IP1 dial that does a great job of closing in the supple uppers, which results in an ideal fit (for me).
They’re premium shoes at £235, but that’s nearly £200 lighter than the range-toppers, and most surprisingly they weigh in at just 499.5g (size 45) a pair – lighter than the shoes that stood on the top step of the podium.
If the KR3s were a movie, they’d be a sleeper hit.
Aftershokz Openmove headphones
- Price: £80 / $106 / AU$150 / €94
I’m what you’d call a solitary cyclist at the best of times. Testing bikes four or five days a week, when most of my mates are at work, means riding alone on quiet Wiltshire lanes, hills and trails.
So, and I know this is contentious, I tend to listen to music while I ride, even more so since the onset of social distancing brought on by the pandemic.
I have used Aftershokz headphones for years now, from their earliest wired units to the latest Bluetooth models and the bone conduction tech that allows your ears to be unblocked so you can hear the noise from vehicles approaching from behind. This is really the only safe option for listening while riding.
The range-topping Trekz Airs are the best your money can buy at £150, with better battery life and a waterproof design, but the Openmoves do a good amount of the same job for a whole lot less cash.
I’ve used these headphones seven days a week for the whole of 2021, including when I walk the dog, and they are still going strong.