It's been a bumper year for women's cycling in 2015, with new pro teams, increasing financial support, more media coverage and, of course, more and more gear designed for women at all levels of road cycling and mountain biking.
I joined BikeRadar in the spring, shifting over from my previous role as deputy editor of Total Women's Cycling. It's been rewarding and fascinating to track how women's cycling has evolved over the year and continues to change.
It's becoming clear that bike brands, clothing companies and equipment manufacturers are sitting up and taking notice of the ever-increasing number of women riding, and the fact that we're a diverse bunch, riding at all levels, all disciplines, all ages and all around the world.
Highlights for me have included watching the cream of the female pro peloton lay it all on the line for La Course in Paris, and getting to shred the revamped Juliana Roubion on the old mining trails of California. It's been exciting to hear how brands like Bell Helmets are putting their money where their mouths are and investing in quality research to ensure they're getting it right for women, with many more brands investing in marketing, research and product development.
There's also never been more choice when it comes to women's bikes, clothing and gear – though I feel there's room for even more.
So after thinking long and hard, I've selected the products that have stood out for me over the past year. These are the items I reach for again and again, the ones I bore my friends talking at length about, and the ones I'd recommend.
Juliana Roubion 2 CC XX1 2016
I rode the 2014 version of the Juliana Roubion extensively, taking on the Megavalanche on it, and although there was a whole lot to love a few things didn't quite work for me. The geometry meant I sized up to a large to get the reach I needed, but the result was a compromise on the standover height that was just a bit too much for comfort.
Happily, those negative elements are exactly the ones that have been tweaked and adjusted for the 2015 version of the Juliana Roubion CC, plus a raft of other updates that have turned my views on the Roubion from 'like' to 'love'.
A longer top tube and shorter stem have sorted out the sizing issue, and a shorter rear end makes the bike super playful and fun.The tweaks also include a steeper seat tube angle, allowing you better power and control on the climbs, and a slacker head angle for confidence and control on technical descents, both of which will be appreciated by the enduro racers out there.
Juliana has also updated the suspension linkage, which now sits tucked away behind the bottom bracket instead of below it.
One ride on the updated Roubion had me smiling from ear to ear, and giving it back was a wrench. However, I'm currently saving my cash to buy myself one. Yes, I liked it THAT much.
It's not a cheap bike, but by god you feel like a million dollars riding it.
Five Ten Freerider Wmns
I've still not met another flat-pedal mountain bike shoe with the grip to match Five Ten's offerings, but I've also never found the fit that great for me. It's a compromise that I don't have to deal with now, as in 2015 Five Ten brought out a women's specific version of the ever-popular Freerider shoe.
Out of the box they're sticky enough that random leaves and twigs will glue themselves to your feet in addition to your actual pedals, but that tackiness does subside with use. They've had some hard wear and have coped well with dusty trails, muddy puddles, several crashes and a few spins in the washing machine.
The main differences between these and the standard Freeriders are in the internal volume and cushioning, and the fit has made a noticeable difference on long rides in particular. These are my go-to mountain biking shoe, and I'm pleased to see Five Ten has plans for more women's specific version of key models.
Giro Women's Undershort
These are officially the comfiest pair of mountain bike liner shorts I've tried, and I've tested a lot of liners over the past year.
The Lycra is firm and supportive without being restrictive, the chamois is medium thickness and feels great, the shorts are breathable enough in hot weather to prevent overheating, and they sit perfectly under all my favourite baggy shorts. All in all, I love them.
Stand by for a full review on BikeRadar in the near future.
Lululemon Ta Ta Tamer sports bra
This may not be a cycle-specific product, but as a woman with – shall we say – ample bosoms, finding a decent, supportive sports bra that doesn't chafe on long rides has always been a bit of a mission. This bra might just be the one that stops me searching.
There's lots to love about the amusingly monikered Ta Ta Tamer. It has wide, smooth shoulder straps that stay in place without pinching, and are adjustable to suit racer-back tops too. The chest band and back fastener is super-wide, giving plenty of support without cutting in uncomfortably at the back. It's also available in a pleasing array of colours.
Boob support comes via some sturdy engineered panelling with a wicking mesh fabric combined with removable foam cup pads – which is particularly handy if you're partial to skintight Lycra. The result: zero jiggling, despite taking on some very rough mountain bike trails.
This bra has stayed comfortable and supportive whether worn under a rucksack and jersey, or leant forward for hours on long road rides, and I'd definitely recommend it for women looking for a good sports bra for cycling.
Rapha Women's Long Sleeve Brevet Jersey
The words 'soft' and 'snug' aren't usually ones I'd use in relation to a performance cycling jersey, but in the case of the Rapha Women's Brevet jersey, they're appropriate.
Designed for long–distance riding, the Brevet jersey is made from a wool blend stretch fabric, so it's got the feel of natural fibre on the skin, rather than the cold silkiness of Lycra. I'd generally be a little suspicious of this type of fabric, as in my experience it rarely holds its shape and can bobble and fade quickly in the wash. This hasn't happened with the Brevet jersey, despite my tendency to push the long sleeves up to my elbows.
The cut is also spot on, with a relaxed feminine shape, and the pocket storage space is immense – there's an extra-large mesh pocket that's big enough to store a jacket in, in addition to the usual three rear cargo pockets and a separate zip-fastened secure pocket.
My one real complaint about this jersey is that it's only available in a 'vibrant' pink hue, which is great if you want to be seen (you'd be hard to miss, it's that bright) or like pink. Personally, I'd prefer a more neutral shade, though it's not enough to put me off wearing it for most of my road riding.
Polaris Mica jersey
Sometimes you find pieces of kit that outperform their price tag, and the Mica jersey from Polaris is just that.
It may not be the flashiest piece of kit out there but by gum this jacket has kept me warm, including fending off some icy blasts when riding up snow-scattered mountains in the UK's Lake District.
The windproof fabric on the front of the jacket does an excellent job of keeping the breezes at bay, and the brushed-fleece-lined stretch jersey is cosy and warm. It isn't the most breathable jersey I've tried, but the positives by far outweigh the negatives with this.
The full length zip and fitted design make this a great mid-layer item as well. Polaris sizes on the generous side, so there's room for a base layer or two underneath.
I'm also a fan of the thumbholes (to keep the sleeves down over your wrists) and the nice high collar, both of which are supremely effective at keeping cold air out.
Look out for my review on BikeRadar, coming soon.
Flare Roost DH Shorts
As an above averagely tall woman with cyclist thighs, one of the things that most often frustrates me is 'baggy shorts' that aren't particularly baggy… and are too short.
With the Roost DH shorts Flare has got the cut just right for me, with the hems sitting just below the knee and thereby avoiding that annoying flesh gap between kneepad and short. They're baggy enough to fit pads underneath, yet still managing to sit right on my hips. Plus, the colours are bright and fun.
I have to confess to being a fan of Flare for reasons other than just the gear. The company itself is part of the ongoing success story that is women's cycling. Started by a female mountain biker who was frustrated at the lack of good clothing options, the brand's growth is testament to the fact that there are more and more women out there riding, and demanding decent kit. Flare has also taken care to contribute to the grassroots growth of women's cycling, sponsoring various events and race categories.
Hope F20 flat pedals
I've been using the Hope F20 pedals for a couple of years, and the pair I bought two years ago has lasted extremely well. Despite some hard crashes, bashing them off numerous rocks and a couple of shin gouging incidents, the pedals still have all their pins and are barely damaged. These are some tough cookies.
The concave surface works with the pins to give you more traction on the pedal, but it's not so marked that it bends your feet into uncomfortable forms. The downside of this is that the F20s aren't the all-out grippiest flat pedals out there – but it's a price I'm willing to pay for more comfort on longer rides.
So far, the Hope F20 pedals haven't needed much in the way of maintenance. Good seals have kept the crud at bay, meaning they've developed no looseness or play, and the bearings are still running as sweet as a nut.