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We close out our annual round-up of CyclingTips editors’ favourite gear from 2017 with the picks from Dave Everett. While much of the rest of the staff churns through far more product throughout each year than he does, our favourite roving reporter spent much of his youth in the back of his father’s bike shop, and then twelve years racing on the road in both Europe and the United States, so he knows how to spot quality gear. He says it was a bit of a chore to whittle the list down, and some cherished items didn’t make the cut.
Case in point: his beloved Marks & Spencers bourbon biscuits, but maybe that’s a separate article in itself.
SeaSucker Mini Bomber 2-Bike Bike Rack
Throwing the bike on the roof of a car is a necessity at times. But as I found out after using the SeaSucker Mini Bomber, having the right rack makes it an easy, convenient, and hassle-free operation. I’ve used many racks over the years, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this one is going to be making a regular appearance; it’s just brilliant.
At this year’s Tour de France, we were lent one of SeaSucker’s high-end single bike racks, the Komodo. I found it to be an excellent rack at the time, and thanks to its universal vacuum-cup attachments, it allowed me to bring my bike along on Tour for the first time in the four years I’ve covered the race. But at €1,500, it’s expensive – very expensive. For me, the cheaper Mini Bomber is where I’d happily put my money.
Both allow easy installation, portability, and do the main job well of holding bikes steady on the roof while dashing down the motorway. But the fact that the Mini Bomber 2 does it at a much lower price point and holds two bikes instead of just one is why it’s a product that has made my top-ten list.
The Mini Bomber 2 is one of those products you just don’t realise how good it is until you use it.
Price: US$440 / AU$500 / £350
Castelli Idro jacket
For the past four years, I’ve been using Castelli’s excellent Muur jacket, a packable waterproof shell made from highly breathable eVent fabric. But after multiple European winters (yes, they are worse than you get in Australia), it was time to retire and replace it. With all the hype around Castelli’s latest rain jacket, the Idro, I thought I’d give it a try, and boy, I’m glad I did.
I’d always been impressed by how well the Muur packed down, but even that is no comparison to the outrageously compact Idro. Pack it up (neatly) and it’s no bigger than even the thinnest and most basic wind jacket. But yet it’s also truly waterproof; how do they do it? James answered that question back in a great article earlier in the year detailing the Idro and other jackets that use the same Gore-Tex ShakeDry material.
What more could you want? Breathability, yes, it’s got that, too (although I’d say not quite to the extent that the Muur was). The Idro is also nicely race-cut, so it’s snug with practically zero fabric flapping in the wind.
The Idro falls into the same camp as many of the items I’ve picked for this list: simple design, quality materials, and no-fuss performance. And if you need further proof of how incredible ShakeDry is, keep in mind that James included the Gore Bike Wear jacket on his list last year, and Anne-Marije this year. Seriously, it’s amazing.
Price: US$350 / AU$445 / £260 / €290
Bontrager InForm BioDynamic insoles
I have a thing for insoles. It boils down to the simple fact that for the past ten years I’ve suffered from “achy feet” – I think that’s the official medical term, anyway.
So finding insoles that actually support the two lumps of meat on the end of my legs for the duration of a ride and allow me to return home pain-free is a godsend. Bontrager’s inForm BioDynamic insoles do just this. I was fitted up for these insoles while at the Trek Emonda SLR launch earlier in the year and have been using them ever since.
Bontrager offers three different arch supports for varying foot shapes. They’ve been developed in conjunction with Superfeet, who have been in the insole business for over 30 years. At first, they do feel slightly odd, as if they’re throwing my ankles outwards and rotating the whole foot on their sides slightly, but after one long ride, I was convinced.
It’s a very personal thing, but if you do suffer from sore feet or just want to look after your feet a little better than I have, I’d fully recommend you check the inForm insoles out. Finding a local shop who will correctly size and fit you is paramount, though.
I still don’t have completely ache-free feet, but I can’t expect that for me, and the insoles have reduced my post-ride frozen toe problem considerably: so much so that I no longer interrupt a Netflix session by the irritating clicking of my toes.
Price: US$40 / AU$50 / £25
Bontrager Velocis MIPS Helmet
It’s a top and a tail affair for me with Bontrager products this year. Along with their insoles, I’ve picked the latest incarnation of their Velocis helmet, too.
I’d used the original version and liked it, but it certainly wasn’t my favourite. It looked good and did its job well, but ultimately didn’t really stand out from a busy helmet crowd. The latest version does – or it may just be the fuchsia colour.
James reviewed the helmet earlier in the year, and I got a first look back at that Emonda SLR launch in June. I think it’s fair to say that James liked it, but wasn’t 100% sold on it. I am, however, and this just goes to show that, like any contact point, helmet choice is personal.
The new Velocis has had a complete redesign and has a lot to like. It’s more aero, airier, now includes MIPS, and has a lower profile than the original. I find it’s also exceptionally well-made, with the shell wrapping pretty much every bit of the EPS foam. Sure, it carries a marginal weight penalty over lighter lids that have more exposed EPS foam (such as the Specialized S-Works Prevail II), but as I travel regularly with a helmet, that extra lick of plastic covering seems to keep the helmet a little better looking over time.
It’s become my go-to lid of choice, and with the wet, windy, and darker days of the European winter creeping in fast, the fuchsia (not pink!) colour that I have it in can only but help brighten the rides.
Price: US$200 / AU$269 / £150 / €200
I can pretty much tell you my entire history of road cycling saddles: my first proper road saddle was a Selle San Marco Turbo, and then in the mid 90’s, it was the original Selle Italia Flite. After many happy years and multiple (coloured) Flites, Fizik entered the market, and I jumped ship. For just as long, I used multiple versions of their Arione saddle. All were relatively expensive, and I thought that was the way it had to be – comfort came at a price.
Then along came a Fabric Scoop into my possession, a saddle retailing at just €80.
The chromoly-railed Scoop is cheap in comparison to what I’d used before. If you want carbon or titanium rails, there are the more expensive Race or Pro versions, but this one works for me.
The narrow nylon shell with its conventional foam padding and rubberized synthetic cover aren’t anything groundbreaking, and the shape isn’t following the growing trend for wider-and-shorter saddles such as the Specialized Power or Pro Stealth. But I find the Line to be comfortable and stable, plus the added grip of the rubberized upper feels similar to Prologo’s more expensive CPS technology. And contrary to my initial impression, the saddle’s wearing well, too. I presumed the upper would scuff and tear easily, but I’ve been pleased to have been proven wrong.
The latest steed in my stable is an alloy Orro Terra gravel bike (more of that in a moment), and I’ve topped it with Fabric’s Line saddle. It’s similar to the Scoop, but with a pressure relief channel cut into the top, and with the same €80 cost, it’s also a good value.
I’ve used a few saddles with channels in the past, but none ever really agreed with my undercarriage. The Line is different. Deeper and more defined, this channel definitely does its intended job well and it’s been a perfect match for a gravel bike.
Both the Scoop and Line will see plenty more action on my current bikes, and due to their low price point, I’m sure I’ll be topping future bikes with them, too.
Price: US$75 / AU$TBC / £55/ €80
Ritchey WCS C220 stem
It’s bright orange, and it’s a quality stem. That is all you need to know, but I suppose I should elaborate.
I’ve long been a fan of Tom Ritchey and all that he produces. There always seems to be a well-thought-out and fuss-free design factor to Ritchey products, and the C220 stem continues this trend.
Made of forged aluminium, it’s a robust and stiff. The 220 in the name refers to the number of degrees the stem’s main body wraps around the bars, and claims are that this is less likely to damage lightweight parts. Does it? I’ve not had any problems, but nor had I with older designs from Ritchey. But it certainly seems a better design when tightening the bolts of the face plate, and there seems to be slightly less hassle in getting the bolts even.
The C220 sits in the middle ground between a normal clamp design and Ritchey’s more radical C260, giving an improved stiffness but without the faff of installation that hampers the C260 stem design. Beyond the great performance, it’s that colour that I love. On wet days when my head drops, the punch of bright orange helps the morale. If you’re not a fan of the orange, there’s always the standard black. But now I just need to buy the matching bars to really ruin my retinas on a long ride.
Price: US$90 / AU$140 / €95
Orro Terra gravel bike
Orro may not be a brand you know if you’re not from the UK, and that’s perfectly understandable. It’s a relatively new brand, started and distributed by iRide. They’ve been producing a limited range of road bikes for about five years now, and in the past two years have added a string of value-oriented gravel bikes to that ever-growing catalogue. The Terra is Orro’s mid-range alloy gravel bike.
Working for CyclingTips for the past few years has had its perks, one being that many of the bikes I get to use come equipped with top-tier groupsets, and so it’s been a while since I’ve used a mid-range build. The Terra is all mid-range, and venturing out on the Shimano 105 11-speed hydraulic groupsets for the first time had me wondering why on earth the average consumer would want more. The same goes for the majority of the rest of the build: mid-range equipment that works without fault. Sure, there have been one or two items (such as the Token bottom bracket) that let the package down slightly, but overall, it’s a solid bike that allows me to just get out and enjoy more roads and routes than I’ve ever been accustomed to. That’s really what this bike is all about and what got it in my top ten.
It’s given me a new lease on life when out on the bike. It’s not the lightest nor the nippiest of bikes in my stable, but it is the bike with the biggest grin factor.
For the majority of people reading this, the bike won’t be available in their territory, but there will be similarly priced mid-range gravel bikes. And it’s these that I advise you to check out – bikes that open doors to new routes and don’t cost an arm and a leg.
FSA K-Force seatpost
My Orro Terra bike has had a few upgrades since I got it, the seatpost being one of them.
I wanted a quality carbon post to add just a touch of comfort to the Terra’s alloy frame, and the FSA K-Force SB25 (along with the Fabric saddle mentioned above) has worked wonders over what came on the original build.
Unlike with the Terra’s stock 3T seatpost, it’s a breeze to install the K-Force and get the right saddle position dialed in. Weight is a respectable 210g with a 25mm set back (it also comes in 0mm and 32mm setbacks, too).
What is there to say about a post? It works well, hasn’t slipped in the 11 months I’ve used it, and is still looking great. It’s a little on the pricey side, but if you hunt about you can pick it up for a lot less than the RRP.
Price: US$191 / AU$275 / £170
Castelli Mini saddlebag
Though predominantly known for their range of clothing, Castelli have ventured into new markets in the past few years, including luggage and saddle bags. This mini saddle bag holds enough to see most people home if they have a mechanical or a puncture. It’s roomy enough to tidily hold a single tube, a small multi-tool, a few patches, and tyre levers. What more do you need to carry?
It’s lightweight, and lives up to its claimed water resistance by keeping tools and tubes dry. It’s small and simple, a product that again performs its job just as it should.
The fact that it attaches via a single strap is also something of an upside for me. Saddlebags that need two straps (with one around the rails and another around the top of the seatpost) just seem like overkill. I find they look untidy, and over time, the second strap will scuff seatposts (and shorts). With this Castelli, there are no such problems.
Price: US$25 / AU$40 / €30.00
C-Bear ceramic bottom bracket
Ceramic bottom brackets are one item I swear by. It’s one of a few pieces of kit I’ll quickly upgrade on a bike I build up, and both my road and gravel bikes have bottom brackets from C-Bear.
C-Bear certainly is not the biggest name out there. They supply a few pro teams, including Lotto-Soudal and Wanty-Goblet, but they don’t really have much of a profile. But again, this is a product that hits a great price point and offers a benefit that outweighs its price.
C-Bear have a huge range of bottom brackets and a relatively easy guide on their site to find which one is best for your bike and chainset. I’ve ordered direct on a few occasions and found the staff a passionate and helpful lot, but I’d expect nothing less; they are Belgian, after all.
[photo courtesy of C-Bear]
Price: Varies depending on model
SRAM Red eTap HRD groupset
If James can have eleven products on his list, then why not I, right? Throughout September, I got to use and abuse a BMC Roadmachine on a month-long project. It was a fancy rig and came equipped with a full SRAM Red eTap HRD hydraulic disc groupset. For someone that gets cranky when talking about electronic shifting and even crankier when talking about disc brakes (I’m old school), I was impressed.
Previously, I’d only had a chance to play with SRAM’s eTap shifters for a short while, usually on demo bikes at product launches. Getting a full month to use the groupset gave me enough time to find out if my in-built (and admittedly biased) dislike for electronics and those newfangled discs would subside. Begrudgingly, it did.
Am I a convert to disc brakes? Hell no! I still think they look ugly; it’s just such a shame that they work so darn well.
Am I a convert to electronic shifting? Yes and no. I still struggle with Shimano Di2 no matter how much I use it. I mis-shift far too often and the lack of tactility is something I just can’t get used to. But with eTap, that’s a different matter. Adaptation time to its shifting process was quick and intuitive. It’s oddly natural, to the point where once back on my personal bike with normal cable operated gears, I was still trying to shift as if I was on eTap.
Sure, it’s not as refined or snappy as Dura-Ace Di2, but arguably only marginally so. But I love the feel, and yep, I have to admit those disc brakes work great. Will I be buying it anytime soon? No, I couldn’t dream of spending thousands on a groupset. But this is still a product I’ve loved using this year and I look forward to the tech trickling down to SRAM’s Force groupset at some point. Then maybe I’ll bite the bullet and enter the modern cycling world.
Price: US$2,070 / AU$3500