This year started with testing for the 2018 Bike of the Year shortlist, and it's finishing in much the same way. In between, I've had the pleasure of riding in Scotland, France, Italy, Wales and Canada. I've put a load of new kit to the test. I've ridden my first audax (with more planned for 2019). But, most importantly, I've had a load of fun riding bikes, meeting new people and having adventures big and small.
There have been a fair few standout pieces of kit this year, and my choices for my gear of the year include bikes, components and a few pieces of clothing. If I had to pick a theme that links them together, it would be 'protection' — protection for my head, extra visibility when on the road, and protection from the elements (after all, I do most of my riding in the UK!).
- Best women's road bikes
- Specialized reveals revolution in women's saddle design
- 6 simple tweaks to get the best bike fit
Specialized Power Saddle with Mimic
There are two reasons why I’ve included the new Specialized Power saddle with Mimic.
The first is the most important — comfort. I was already a fan of the Power saddle, with its distinctive truncated nose and flared wings.
The aforementioned Mimic technology that has been added to the saddle, refers to the fact that Specialized has added softer foam padding to the nose and within the cutout, designed to match the density of the soft tissue that rests upon it.
I’ve got more testing yet to do, but based on several short rides and a 100km audax, I’d say the difference is noticeable, and noticeably comfortable. I hopped off the bike after that audax without really having noticed the saddle at all, which is the ideal outcome.
The second reason is that it’s exciting to see resources used to develop products that will improve the riding experience for women, and saddle discomfort is one of those things that can put a lot of riders off.
It’s also worth noting that the Power saddle is popular with a lot of male riders too, and as part of our test of the new saddle, some of the male members of BikeRadar are riding it.
Look out for the full review based on a few of the different versions in the new year!
- £220 / $300 / AU$350 for S-Works model
Endura Women's MT500 Spray Trousers
Mountain bike trousers, where have you been all my life?!
To be fair, trousers for mountain biking have been around a while and I've tried them before, but they’ve tended to be made of fairly heavy fabric and weren’t particularly waterproof or breathable
But trousers are now back with a bang, with a number of companies making neat-looking, well-cut trews such as Endura, Fox, Troy Lee and Ion.
The MT500 trousers from Endura are water resistant rather than waterproof, but for mucky days on the trail they’re a revelation. They come in a men’s and women’s cut, are loose but not baggy and the fabric is stretchy so it moves well with you as you ride.
I appreciate the additional warmth they provide, the fact I don’t end up anywhere near as wet, and don’t have to hose down to get the mud off. I’m a convert.
- £109.99 / $169.99 / AU$TBC
At the start of 2018, I was riding the Juliana Joplin 29er trail bike as part of Bike of the Year, and it stole my heart.
It’s fast, fun, stable, playful — pretty much everything I look for in a bike. It had me hopping and popping all over the trails, and sneaking up to a speed that occasionally took me by surprise.
- £3,299 / $3,299
Liv Intrigue Advanced 0
At the start of the year, I was introduced to the extensively updated and re-released Liv Intrigue.
I’m a fan of capable trail bikes. With advances in suspension technology, they’re not massively limited by the length of the travel, so it’s possible to find a bike that’s fun to ride on my local, fairly flat trails, but that can still handle bigger terrain.
I can honestly say that while the Intrigue isn’t totally perfect, I’ve never got on so well with a bike. I had the best ride of my life on it, zooming down Lord of the Squirrels in Whistler.
It corners confidently, it has a pleasing level of flex at the rear that, combined with the Giant Maestro suspension system and some quality rubber, gives bags of confident grip. I felt I could properly let rip on it.
I’m still riding it, and I, if I’m honest, I don’t really want to give it back!
- $8,400 (this model is not available in the UK or Australia)
- Buy the Liv Intrigue Advanced 0 from Liv Cycling
- Other models available from Tredz and Rutland Cycling
Rapha Reflective Overshoes
I’ve got a fair bit of testing to do over the winter and that means riding in the dark and wet.
I like to try and make myself as visible as possible on the road, and I’ve been impressed with these reflective overshoes from Rapha.
I first got the overshoes because of their hi-vis properties and these are seriously bright in reflected light. The entire cover is reflective, which gives a full 360 degree coverage.
The overshoes are also practical for wet weather as they’re water resistant with a waterproof zip at the back, and have kept my feet warm and mostly dry even on some very long, wet rides.
Some of the reflectivity has come off on points where the cover has been stretched and rubbed over dials on my shoes, but otherwise they’re holding up impressively.
- £75 / €90 / $105 / AU$130
Shimano 105 R7000 groupset
Having ridden a few incarnations of the Shimano 105 groupset, I'm particularly enjoying the feel of the latest version and, in particular, the shifters and the action on the disc brakes.
Trickle down of tech means these feel as smooth and powerful to use as Ultegra in days of yore. The action is direct, immediate and deeply pleasing, and the hoods themselves are more ergonomic, particularly for smaller hands.
Braking action is controlled with good modulation giving excellent control in wet and mucky conditions.
And, while this is a lesser consideration than ease and comfort of use, they also look a whole lot better than the chunky, bulky hoods of the previous 105 model.
- From £575
Fox Proframe Mink full-face helmet
Full-face helmets are a necessity for park riding and uplift days in my local downhill zone, but even some of the lightest carbon helmets from the last couple of years feel heavy in comparison to the new crop of highly ventilated full-face helmets.
The Fox Proframe is the one that I’ve got on with the best. As well as being light, it’s got a much wider field of vision compared to a lot of traditional full-face helmets, to the extent that it almost felt like I was just wearing a trail lid.
There’s plenty of ventilation, which is great in hotter weather, but enough protection to keep your ears toasty when riding in the winter.
Strategically placed pads come supplied with different thicknesses so you can fine-tune the fit, though I did find I still ended up with hamster face from the cheek pads. Still, I’d rather hamster face than a smashed-up face any day!
- £225 / €270 / $249.95 / AU$399.94
Machines for Freedom Summerweight Sleeves
As a pale redhead, I don’t fare well with prolonged sun exposure and this summer was hot, hot, hot! So hot, in fact, that riding with bare skin, even after the liberal application of factor 50 sunblock, was deeply uncomfortable.
Enter the Summerweight Sleeves from Machines for Freedom.
These are lightweight sleeves made of tightly knitted Lycra. They’re thin, come in a range of colours, and have a UPF 50 rating.
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, a measure of how effective a fabric is at blocking ultraviolet rays. Rated fabric blocks both UVA and UVB rays, and UPF 50 means that 98% of harmful rays are blocked.
So that’s a definite plus point, but the second advantage is these sleeves are also good at wicking sweat, so while you’re riding, the breeze over the fabric acts like a cooling system. I actually felt cooler wearing these arm covers than I did having bare skin. Win!
- $45, international shipping available
Karcher OC3 portable pressure washer
I bought this earlier in 2018 as I was fed up of having to wash off dried mud once I got back from a ride or having to wait in the cold for the hose at the trailhead to become free.
It’s compact, fits easily in a small vehicle and has a rechargeable battery so you don’t need to plug it into your car to use. The 4-litre tank is just enough to get the worst of the mud off, though I also carried a spare bottle of water for extra-mucky days.
The jet isn’t particularly powerful, but it’s just right for washing off a bike, shoes, shorts and jacket.
It’s a handy wee washer that at the very least has prolonged the life of my washing machine and groupset.
- £149.99 / €169 / AU$199