Christmas is a fantastic time for a round-up of the year’s most desirable products, so it’s a shame it’s not Christmas. But don't let that put you off — come with me on a magical journey through a summer wonderland of what I’m calling ‘Affordable Stuff You Can Buy Right Now And Is Really Good’. Catchy, no?
1. Wiggle’s own-brand energy gels
- From 50p each
Two things make these nutrition energy gels excellent. First, at £12.99 for 20 sachets, the price is good — especially as they’re generally discounted as low as £9.99. And second, the range of flavours is kind to stomachs and includes Lemon & Lime, as well as other dessert-worthy flavours such as Peaches & Cream, Strawberry Split and Lemon Meringue. The lack of Cheeseboard flavour has been noted.
Sadly, Wiggle no longer does the genuinely addictive Mocha flavour (though it does sell a range containing actual caffeine), and nor does it supply the useful flavour-selection boxes. Instead you have to commit to 20 of one flavour… which, obviously, should be this one.
2. DeFeet Aireator socks
- From £6.49
When it comes to cycling socks, there seems to be more choice than there are actual stars in the visible universe. But it’s not easy to find a single pair of socks that really shines out.
DeFeet’s Aireators, however, do a pretty good job. They’re well-shaped and sized for great comfort, the mesh tops really do help cool your feet, and the prices are competitive. Better still there are tons of designs available from classically muted to boldly colourful patterns, as well as plain silly designs including zombies, dancing skeletons and (my favourite) Mexican sugar skulls. They also come in a selection of lengths, from all-but-invisible to fashionably tall.
They last well, wash well, stay comfy on long rides, dry quickly after rain and look as stealthy or as loud as you fancy. What more could you want?
3. Ass Saver mudguards
- From £7.99
It’s a conundrum: mudguards are annoying and ugly, but a diesel-infused filth-stripe up your back is ugly too. What to do?
On the trails, a neoprene fork-gap filler such as RRP’s NeoGuard or a downtube-widening guard like the Crud Catcher work brilliantly to keep mud out of your eyes and face, while it’s easy to leave the rear-wheel bare and let the washing machine sort it out later. Unless you’re on a long cross-country ride, big, high-level rear guards are more trouble than they’re worth.
On the road you have the option of long, close-fitting guards that work brilliantly, but they’re heavy and can rub, scrape and sag annoyingly – unless you’re riding in a group, they may not be worth it. And while many commuters enjoy fitting huge, stupidly angled mountain-bike-style rear fenders and kicking them askew every time they get on or off, it’s worth noting even these won’t keep all the road filth off your back.
This is where tiny guards like the Ass Saver win. They take seconds to fit, weigh almost nothing (16g) and provide a good percentage of the protection of a mountain-bike-style one, thanks to being very close to your backside. No, they won’t keep you completely clean and dry, but for roads they definitely fend off enough to justify their small cost, negligible weight and microscopic inconvenience.
4. Superstar SupaGripa Lock On Grips
If you’ve ever struggled with old-fashioned grips, you’ll know the only thing harder than getting them on is keeping them on. And when you find yourself tooling up with a huge screwdriver, a knife and a can of hairspray, you know something’s wrong.
And now here's the reverse of that. SupaGripa lock-ons slip on or off with two bolts, stay firmly put, have a comfy soft-rubber cartridge, stay grippy in mud thanks to a half-waffle design, and come in tons of colours.
While there are plenty of excellent alternatives out there, the SupaGripas are just £8.99 — so there’s really no excuse to torture yourself any more. And don’t tell me how light your foam grips are, I don’t care.
5. Icebreaker Oasis glove liners
At £25, these are the most expensive things on this list, but shop around and you could be looking at less than £20 — but, whatever you pay, they’re worth it.
Cheaper liners are available, but the thin merino, accurate fit and quality seams of a pair like this are worth having. You want them to stay comfy without rucking, pinching or stiffening your grip, while merino stays warm when wet, too.
Glove liners extend the use of your favourite summer gloves into autumn, spring and even some of winter. That’s good because even with liners, regular gloves are more flexible, less bulky and more breathable than dedicated winter gloves.
The benefits are biggest of all on the trails (where constant pulling and squeezing generates lots of heat and control sensitivity is key), but they can work well for cross-country or even road, too. Combine them with windproof (but uninsulated) summer gloves and you can avoid the bulk, sweat and clumsiness of full-on winter gloves for a long time. As the years go by, you’ll find yourself coming back to them again and again.