Phew what a year! 2016 involved the first ever Women's Road Bike of the Year Awards, the launch of the exciting new Liv Hail mountain bike and Specialized Ruby road bike with it's unusual suspension system, plus a whole load of bike riding and gear testing.
In terms of women's cycling products, it's been a significant one. Brands are focusing more and more attention on the women's market on both the road and mountain bike side of things. New products, new bikes, ambassador programs and more are being developed and released and it can only be a good thing — more choice and better products.
And while there's some great stuff out there, the following kit moves up the scale from great to indispensable. These are the bits of kit I find myself wearing or using time and time again. The gloves I have to wash frequently because I wear them all the time, the tyres give me the confidence to tackle slippery root-riddled chutes of doom, and the saddle has made long road miles a whole lot more comfortable.
7Mesh Revo waterproof shorts
These shorts have been a revelation — pun intended. Now, I've tried waterproof shorts and indeed waterproof trousers before, but they've always been a little lacking in the fit stakes and I've ended up feeling a little boil in the bag after several hours in the saddle. The Revo shorts change all that with the ends of the shorts cut on a fore/aft diagonal so the front hangs lower when standing. When riding, this means the front stays over the tops of the knees rather than riding up, providing good coverage and also fitting easily over knee pads.
The breathable Gore-Tex membrane makes these more than waterproof to fend off several multi-day rides in the very wet South West of England and, even wetter, Iceland in autumn. The fabric is much less stiff than other waterproof shorts, feels light and is highly breathable. Adjustable tabs at each hip allow for a comfortable fit and there are even pockets for stowing your jelly babies or snack of choice.
The Revo shorts are a premium product with a price tag to match, but if you know you're going to be doing a whole lot of exploring and riding in the rain they are worth it. Think of them more like quality outdoor kit than just another pair of bike shorts.
e*thirteen TRS 650b tyres
I like grip with my tyres, and a whole lot of it. My local trails tend to be slick and rooty for the vast majority of the year, so anything that means I'm more likely to retain traction when riding gets the thumbs up, even if the penalty is slightly greater weight and higher rolling resistance — that just increases my leg strength, right?
With a width of 2.35" and a tread that has plenty of bite at the edge, these provide ample grip on corners and off-camber sections, with a tacky compound that also sticks to slick rock. Yes, there are condition-specific tyres that would give more grip in the mud, say, but if you want a good all-rounder then these bad boys are a good bet.
The TSRr features a triple compound that gives increased tackiness and therefore better traction, making it a good front tyre choice, and on the rear a TRS+ has a double compound that is less tacky but much more durable and harder wearing.
Yeti W's Enduro Gloves
Yes, the W stands for 'women's'. I like my mountain biking gloves minimalist: no padding on the palm and the Enduro gloves from Yeti comply perfectly with my desires.
They're pull-on, so no velcro to get caught on things, with a stretch lightweight back that keeps you pleasantly cool when riding in the heat — which also means they dry quickly. I find these very comfy indeed; the palm doesn't bunch up when riding and the minimalist Terry patch on the thumbs is perfect for sorting out that mid-ride drip.
And yes, I am also rather taken with the colour.
Specialized Power Pro saddle
While saddle choice is a personal thing, I really get on with the Specialized Power saddle. I'm not the only one on BikeRadar who's a fan either, as we awarded it an impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars when we reviewed it.
Interestingly, the Power saddle isn't a women's specific saddle, but it does share some common features with many women's saddles such as a large central cutout. It's firm, has a distinctive shape thanks to its truncated nose, and is wonderfully comfy in my experience. I'm fairly flexible, I usually ride a saddle with a cut-out and often ride on the drops, and I found the Power saddle provided support where I needed it with no hotspots or pinching.
Crank Brothers Y-16 multitool
I love a good multi-tool and I appreciate kit that has an eye on aesthetics as well as functionality. The Y-16 has a pleasing rounded triangular shape and all the tools fit inside: Y-shaped Allen keys sit at the centre with the gaps filled with a chain tool, CO2 canister head and a small compartment which contains additional tools that slide on to the head of one the Allen keys — including a Philips head screwdriver, flat head screwdriver and a few other bits and pieces.
Everything is held securely in place with magnets and there's a place for everything. It's not particular light or small, but it carries pretty much everything you might need and if you're anything like me, it's big enough not to get lost among all the other stuff I carry in my trail pack. I particularly like the Y-shaped Allen keys because the shape allows you to get a better grip and therefore more leverage when in use.
Giro Montara helmet
This year, me and my Giro Montara helmet have been inseparable — at least when it comes to mountain biking. It may not be the lightest MTB helmet out there, but it's the most comfortable one I've tried. This helmet has been ridden in Iceland, Finale in Italy, Arizona in the US, and a few other places besides.
The visor is adjustable so you can push it up and out of the way if you need to and let your goggles sit in the space underneath. The foam pads are super-absorbent and keep the forehead dry, and there's plenty of ventilation which helps in hot weather.
Do take time to check the visor bolts are done up, however, especially if you've carried it on holiday and haven't realised that one has come loose in transit. It popped off halfway up a volcanic hill in Iceland and disappeared into the gravel. I had to ride the rest of the week with duct tape keeping the visor in place. Happily you can get replacement parts.
I love the fit, the feel, the coverage it provides and the colour, and I'm dreading the day it gets too damaged or old to wear. That said, there are some killer colourways coming in for 2017.
Specialized S-Works 6 shoes
Light, stiff and very comfortable, those are the words that spring to mind when I think of the new incarnation of the Specialized S-Works 6 shoe. These top-of-the-range kicks boast Specialized's patent-pending FACT Powerline carbon plate in the sole that maximises power transference, it says, plus titanium alloy cleat nuts, BOA dials for a secure fastening and a replaceable heel tread.
In practice, the shoes are exceptionally comfortable. The close fit is comfortable with no hot spots or chaffing at any point. Specialized has what it calls its PadLock one-piece heel cup and upper, which does keep the shoe secure and snug about the foot. I've quite happily ridden for long hours at a time in these shoes. The power transference is impressive, with a stiff platform that helps drive power through the crank efficiently.
Liv Tangle 3/4 Off-road Jersey
While jerseys aren't always the most technical or complicated pieces of kit, finding one that combines the right level of comfort, fit, colour, design and performance is something of a never-ending quest of mine.
The Tangle from Liv has been my go-to jersey for a few months now. I love 3/4 length sleeves both in cold and hot weather; in hot climes, my fair skin has a tendency to burn so the more coverage the better. In the cold, add a baselayer and you've got a jersey that provides coverage, but is also light enough to sit comfortably under a waterproof jacket.
The side and underarm panels are a mesh fabric, which means lots of cooling breathability that is particularly blissful in the heat — as I experienced in the Arizona desert earlier this year. The cut is slim but not tight and also nice and long in the body. It washes easily, dries quickly, and feels good, too.