They say it isn’t the mountain ahead that’ll wear you out, but the pebble in your shoe. Well after covering thousands of miles of vertiginous and wild road cycling this year, my experience suggests both are beaten to the punch by soggy clothing.
Yes I know, MTFU and all that. But the following picks are a reflection of where I’ve been riding long stretches this year – and the northern reaches of Scotland are no place to decide you’re a fair-weather cyclist. So if you’re planning an adventure of your own somewhere wet and windy (I make it sound so appealing, don’t I?) then consider the following for your kit list…
Brooks Cambium C17 Carved
I loved the original B17 Select leather saddle, but couldn't get past its weight and aversion to rain. So when the C17 Cambium Carved came along, I had to give it a try. And I'm delighted to say it's the best saddle I've ever known – just as supportive as the B17 right out of the box (no breaking in), yet around 150g lighter thanks to the carved centre and use of vulcanised rubber. The latter means it's also weatherproof, a bonus for someone like me who doesn't want to faff with covers. Ace.
Vulpine Thermal Storm Hat
There are few things worse than a cold, wet head, am I right? So Vulpine's Thermal Storm Cap gets the big thumbs-up from me now winter's here. It's like a waterproof tea cosy for your noggin, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There's a fleecy lining with flip-down ear protectors, a water-resistant outer fabric and reflective detailing in the distinctive Vulpine style. And it fits underneath a helmet. You may not be at your most stylish, but you will have warm and dry ears. Eat that, winter.
Spurcycle bike bell
The world's best bike bell?
Ding. DING DING! Having broken more than one bike bell hammer this year trying to alert other cycle path users to my presence, I clearly needed to up my game. Enter the Spurcycle bell, designed and made in the US of A with input from renowned bell manufacturers Bevin Brothers. It isn't cheap, but the ding is loud, crystal clear and can be modulated so you can choose between a polite courtesy ring and a headphones-penetrating king ding.
Gore Bike Wear Power Jacket
This wet-weather jacket ticks all the boxes I look for – it's highly breathable, has a slim-but-sensible fit, sheds heavy rain for hours, it's light and packable, and even has an integrated pouch for my phone in the rear pocket. I'd describe it as a hardshell, but it also packs away neatly into a jersey pocket. When the rain's a-hammering at your window in the morning and you've got 100 miles of the unknown to cycle into, this is the one I'd choose. Until the new version comes out, anyway.
Kask Infinity aero helmet
The Kask Infinity was Team Sky's lid of choice for much of the 2013 season, and I can see why. It certainly is reassuring to know that this is one of the best aero road lids out there in performance terms, but I've also come to love it for its comfort and looks. And the fact that when the weather has a 'Scottish' moment, you can flip the air vents closed, like popping up the roof on a convertible.
Scicon AeroComfort 2.0 bike bag
I've flown with my bike a fair bit this year, which has given me the opportunity to fret at length about baggage handlers. Now I'll admit straight up that I'd prefer my bike to fly in a hard case, but that requires all sorts of dismantling and heavy lugging. So I've definitely been impressed by the Scicon AeroComfort 2.0 bike bag. It packs up easily, without needing anything to be removed apart from the wheels, it has plenty of padding, and glides along on casters easily enough. Once you reach your destination it can pack down surprisingly small. So far, so good.
Factor One aero road bike
Factor One – devastatingly quick
I was lucky enough to be invited out to ONE Pro Cycling’s training camp in Andalucia a few days ago, to check out their new team bikes from Factor. These UCI-legal designs include the Factor One aero road bike and the Factor O2 all-rounder, and they both definitely fall into the superbike category.
I was allowed out for a test ride on the Factor One with former pro cyclist Baden Cooke, who jointly owns Factor, and was blown away by how well it rides. It’s devastatingly quick in all situations, and looks amazing, but what really impressed me was how rideable it is too. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with this bike in 2016.
Altura Arran Expanding Seatpost Pack
Not an exciting one this, but oh-so-practical for cycle commuters like me. Hate getting a sweaty back from rucksacks? Can't (or don't want to) fit panniers? Try this. It clips onto your seatpost and can carry all the gear you probably need. Zipped side pockets help organise your phone, keys and access card, a big main compartment can hold a surprising amount of clothing, and it won't break the bank at £40. I'm surprised more people haven't cottoned on to how good a solution this is for commuting.
Muc-Off Dry Shower
If you've been commuting by bike for a while you probably dread arriving at work to find a broken shower block. While I'm yet to face that problem myself, I have used Muc-Off's excellent Dry Shower after some quick-and-dirty racing with nary a shower to be seen on-site, and it's come up trumps. The antibacterial formula lathers up nicely to kill odour-causing bacteria, and it quickly dries off leaving you feeling much fresher. One for the kit bag if I ever manage to get Glastonbury tickets.
So what were your Gear of the Year picks for 2015? Let us know in the comments below…