One of the best parts of being BikeRadar’s senior tech editor (aside from riding lots of great bikes) is the range of riding it offers.
This year, more than any other, I had the opportunity to ride everything from full-suspension gravel bikes, such as BMC’s URS LT One, to gorgeous lightweight race rigs including Bianchi’s impeccable Specialissima.
It’s also been a great year for kit and components, so getting my picks down to only five has been tough.
All that has informed my five best bits of kit and componentry from a packed 2022. I’m already excited about what’s on the horizon for 2023…
Shimano Ultegra R8170 Di2
As good as the previous 11-speed R8050 was, Shimano’s R8170 update improved every element.
There are now faster front shifts, hugely improved ergonomics, better braking and, finally, wireless connectivity to Shimano’s improving E-Tube app.
Add in the semi-wireless design and it’s made my Cannondale SuperSix EVO not only better riding but also better looking.
I made fairly bold claims in my coverage and testing of Ultegra Di2 about it negating the need to even consider Dura-Ace.
On further reflection, I’m absolutely prepared to double down on my conclusion. I just can’t see a reason to pay more than £1,200 on top of Ultegra Di2 just to save 411g of weight with no other performance improvements.
The 411g weight is the same as a three-quarter-full water bottle. Or, in monetary terms, that’s £2.73 (€3.16 / $3.28 / AU$4.87) per gram saved.
Smith Trace MIPS helmet
Smith’s Trace is a great-looking helmet that incorporates some interesting tech into a very comfortable lid.
The Trace combines traditional EPS foam for the main helmet structure with twin full-length sections of the honeycomb-like Koroyd material down its flanks. This helps keep the weight down to a respectable 321g for a size large.
The MIPS system is of the inner slip-plane type (rather than the latest pad-based design). The liner is cut away well so as not to hinder the 17 over-sized vents.
The Trace’s low volume and airy design make for a great-fitting and very comfortable helmet, which works well in the heat.
Meanwhile, the closed cells of the Koroyd material also provide good protection from both sun and rain.
Sportful Metro Softshell hoodie and Metro pant
- £210, £140
I’ve always liked Sportful’s technical riding kit and because this year involved plenty of commuter-bike testing, I was intrigued to try out the brand’s take on commuter clothing.
At first glance, the Metro Softshell looks like any other sporty hoodie. Examine a little closer, however, and the understated looks hide plenty of cycling-specific detail.
The core material of the hoodie is a dual-layer lined softshell with a windproof front. The arms are lightly fleeced, slim-fitting and cut long.
Even in single-digit temperatures, I was comfortable enough riding in the hoodie with just a T-shirt underneath.
Add in a baselayer and more technical mid-layer and I’ve got use out of the Metro on cold gravel rides too.
The full-length zip is baffled to shield the wind, while twin zippers mean you can operate from both top and bottom.
The rear has triple cycling-jersey-style pockets and there are two more zipped secure pockets on the flanks of the front.
The hood even has a built-in peak, although it isn’t roomy enough to stretch over a helmet. The fabric is quite bulky to fit underneath all but the most generously sized lids.
The fit is slim and Sportful’s sizing is spot on.
The matching pants are made from a middleweight polyamide fabric, which has a similar texture to the outer layer of the hoodie.
The material has been treated with a water-repellent, which works well. Road spray and light rain beading on the surface is brushed away easily.
I have machine-washed the trousers a bunch of times and while they don’t quite bead up and repel water as well as they first did, they still perform fine in all weathers.
Redshift Arclight pedals
Post-pandemic, so much more of my life has become about bikes for everything, rather than just bikes for sport. Shopping, tip runs, collections, social meet-ups, grocery runs and even dog walking have all been taken over by a bike.
It’s cheaper, better for my health and the planet’s, and let’s face it, it’s more fun than sitting in traffic or on a crowded train.
That has pushed my focus on to kit and components that make this type of riding better. Be it clothing, helmets with built-in lights for added safety (such as Bern’s Hudson) or these innovative pedals from Redshift.
The pedals are made very tidily, and rather than run sole-cutting pins (like a mountain bike flat-pedal) they use a series of bars that won’t damage your shoes or trainers.
What sets them apart is the addition of four light modules, two per pedal.
These modules feature COB LED strips that slide into hollows on the pedal body and lock magnetically into place. There’s full-length visibility forward and rear-facing, and windows for side-visibility too.
The clever part is that once the modules are in place (locating magnetically into the pedal body) they automatically turn on when they sense movement.
They also sense the orientation of the pedal and the dual-colour internals of the light units shine white for the forward-facing light and red for the rearward.
The run time is more than three hours in constant mode (or 36 hours in flash mode).
They come with a four-port USB charger so you can charge them simultaneously, and you can also buy extra mounts if you want to convert them into standard front and rear lights.
DMT GK1 gravel shoes
Most modern bike shoes are made from PU leather, and, for the most part, that’s all well and good. But, the only issue is, unlike real leather, PU doesn’t offer any meaningful stretch that conforms to the shape of your foot.
The next best thing is knitted uppers. These can offer a close sock-like fit that moves fully with you.
If you’re going to go knit, then look to DMT. This Italian shoemaker pioneered 3D knit uppers and also licenses the tech to other companies for football boots and running shoes.
The GK1 gravel shoe provides the sort of compliance I’ve only found in leather, but without the bulk.
I normally prefer a dial or Boa for shoe tensioning, but the GK1’s lacing is the next best thing. The laces anchor to 10 cords, which are bonded into the outsole. This creates a close-wrapped fit that avoids any hotspots, creasing or pinch points.
The Michelin sole is chunky and the deep blocks of the tread are soft enough to bite when bike hiking or running up slopes.
The shoes aren’t perfect for year-round use because the open weave that made them my go-to gravel shoe for the hot summer means they are a bit leaky when the weather is bad. That said, they do dry out quickly.
I know DMT is bringing an update to the GK1 for 2023, so there’s a good chance this shoe will continue to be my favourite gravel option.