After a year of testing in excess of 50 bikes, countless components, helmets, shoes, kit, and whatever else gets thrown at me, whittling it down to just five is a hell of a task.
I could have gone for SRAM’s eTap HRD group that has performed flawlessly in the year I’ve been running it, with the wireless wonder now having braking to match and a lever hood shape that matches the minimal group. Or the mechanical marvel that is both the newly designed Dura-Ace, or the wide-ranging new Ultegra with its gear capacity to suit everyone from pros to gravel grinders to tourists.
Instead, I’ve chosen a few select pieces that have improved my riding, or my ride experience throughout 2017.
Giant TCR Advanced SL Disc frameset
First up is the glorious Giant TCR Advanced SL disc frameset. I’ve had this as my go-to bike for test components (as my long termer) for most of 2017, and though my ‘normal’ go-to bike wouldn’t be a slammed race-ready weapon like the TCR (I’m much more of a Defy, Roubaix, Synapse type of rider) this lightweight aero machine has massively impressed me.
That's not only for its sublime handling, but also for delivering a level of comfort this kind of fast-handling, aggressive-positioned bike has absolutely no right to be giving.
Pretty soon the SL Advanced will be heading back to the good folks at Giant, and this is one chassis I’m seriously going to miss (I’ve even bought kit to match the frameset, I’m so attached to it).
- $2,600 / AU$3,299 (2018 edition)
Garmin Edge 1030
I have to admit that when I first received the Edge 1030 I was a little nonplussed. I’ve been using the Edge 1000 since it launched — it has been my constant companion on rides all over the globe, and aside from a couple of tech-brainfarts its never been anything but reliable.
Yes, the 1030 is a little slicker-looking and the interface is a bit more 2017, but for the first couple of months it fell over often and randomly wouldn’t play ball when uploading. After a few updates and a bit more time with the 1030 though, I have to admit I’m now a convert.
The GPS pickup puts the 1000 to shame, and the ease with which it finds both ANT+ and BLE extras is a joy. Add to that a battery life that’s multiple times longer than the 1000 and I’m now convinced the 1030 is the best GPS out there if you're looking for mapping, navigation, and connectivity – and that’s even before we start talking piggyback batteries and the local network rider pickups it can handle.
- £499 / $599
- Buy Garmin Edge 1030
Bontrager Flare RT
Rear lights used to be something I consigned to a workshop drawer until the nights started drawing in, but this year after a few close calls with some idiotic drivers I started to use a rear light pretty much 24/7 and after running a few I’ve settled on the Flare.
It's bright, has a whole bunch of modes and decent length run time — but the key thing about the Flare is that it connects to a Garmin (via BLE) and so your head unit lets you know it's on, what the battery level is, and you can even change the modes.
Recommending running a rear light all the time might seem a bit ‘health and safety’, but anything that gives me an edge in being seen is all good with me. For more recommendations on rear lights and the Flare take a look at our six of the best rear lights.
- £60 / $80 / AU$110
- Buy Bontrager Flare RT
Shimano RW5 winter boots
When it comes to shoes I could have easily recommended Shimano’s glorious S-Phyres, Bont’s luxurious Vaypor+ or Northwave’s technical marvels the Extreme RR, but I’ve taken the most appreciation from Shimano’s much more modest RW5, which originally tested these back in January.
They are a pretty basic spec winter boot (nylon/carbon sole, laced upper) but have been a godsend on cold and wet days. The upper is pretty impervious to rain, and only knee deep floodwater has seen my feet get wet in these. On top of that they are tough – they’ve taken a serious kicking from the crappy wet British weather and are still performing like champions.
These are a true sleeper hit in the Shimano range and I’d recommend you get some this winter – you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with ill-fitting overshoes.
- £125 / $166 / AU$200
- Buy Shimano RW5 shoes
Bontrager Velocis MIPS helmet
The new Velocis takes Bontrager from a brand that’s made some decent value helmets into a brand that can really mix it with more established specialists. The Velocis has a minimal, aero-optimised shape that could easily come from the Giro or Kask stable.
In aero-performance terms Bontrager claims the well-vented lid is a full 10.8g of drag more efficient than a Giro Synthe Mips at 30mph, and 10.8g is a pretty big slice of effort to save (though to me a little moot as like most of us I don’t spend that much time barrelling along at 30mph).
What I do like are the lovely fit, fantastic pads and great breathability — I’m even a fan of the accessory brow pad that comes with it with an integrated cap peak… yeah I know that’s a bit hipster but still it works for me.
The MIPS integration is very well done too, with a custom MIPS liner that doesn’t interfere with the breathability. While we can always argue the validity of MIPS as a system, I’m more in the camp of, if it doesn’t interfere with my riding comfort and it might have a positive effect in the worst-case scenario of a big off, why wouldn’t you opt for it?
- £150 / $200 / AU$269
- Buy Bontrager Velocis MIPS helmet