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You’ve heard from our editors in Australia and the United States, but now it’s time to hear from CyclingTips’ lone European correspondent. Although originally from the UK, I now reside in France, where cycling dreams are made once or broken annually in the grandest Grand Tour, the coffee is terrible, and restaurant service is impressively rude.
2018 has been a really different year for me. I became a dad for the first time, and as everyone who’s ever had a child and has cycling running through their veins knows, that means the cycling takes a back seat for a while. Seven months in, I’ve unsurprisingly not done anywhere near the kilometres on a bike that I’ve done in previous years, but damn, it’s been the best year of my life. Plus, I’ve not got through any tyres, I’ve not had to replace chains or brake pads, and I’ve not even used a full tub of chamois cream up.
What I can I tell you, though, is that I’ve amazed myself at how many hours I’ve spent dreaming of Thule and Burley child trailers – hell, have you seen how cool they are? I’m sure this time next year that a child carrier or cargo bike will make the top spot of my 2019 list, but let’s not get carried away just yet.
Wahoo Fitness Elemnt Bolt
I’d long been a Garmin user. I had an early Edge 500, and then an Edge 1000 ended up in my ownership a few years back. But the USB connector on that Edge 1000 bit the dust earlier this year, and the repair was going to be expensive.
Enter stage left, the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt.
If this isn’t on anyone else’s top-ten list, then I’d be seriously surprised as I know it’s a firm favourite amongst the CT staff [Ed. – most of us got on the bandwagon last year, Dave ;)]. It’s understandable why: the thing just works. I liken it to the Apple iPhone. It’s so intuitive that you just kind of instantly know how to use all the functions, and there’s little time spent reading a manual to understand how to set it up. It’s just a joy to use.
The big screen isn’t touched sensitive, and even though the Garmin Edge 1000 was, I’ve not missed the feature at all. I again put that down to the fact that all the buttons are in the right place, like the power button being offset from the navigation button on the opposite side. This small design touch helps flicking though parameters while gripping the unit that much easier; your fingers aren’t resting on the power button at all, so there’s no risk of accidentally turning the thing off.
There’s a load of other little neat touches, too. For instance, one that most of us won’t ever need is the fact that you’re able to screw the unit on to the mount. “Why’s that great?”, I hear you shout. For the select few that need to hit a UCI weight limit, that screw makes the computer “permanently mounted,” so it’s included in the overall weight when the officials are weighing your bike. Sure, that’s not going to be of use to the majority of users, but it’s those little details that show the depth of thought that’s gone into the product.
Between the easy navigation, the fact that it connects to your phone to display incoming text messages and other alerts, and even the cool little start-up bleeps, it’s just a neat product that you struggle to find a fault with. All of that quite possibly this my overall favourite product of the year. It’s just top notch.
Price: US$250 / AU$399 / €239.99
POC babygrow and Do Half Blade sunnies
Sorry, you aren’t going to be able to buy this one down at your local bike shop; this babygrow is a one-off custom job. As any cyclist with any shred of passion knows, adding a cycling logo to any ordinary everyday product improves it tenfold. This came my way after my little girl arrived a fair bit too early – while I was on-site for a tour of POC HQ in Sweden, in fact.
What also came with the babygrow were the POC Do Half Blade sunnies, which are not quite as fantastic, but pretty great nevertheless.
I’ve found both the Clarity Clear and Violet 28.4 lenses to work well in a variety of different lighting conditions, but what I’ve liked most about them is the fit and the deep coverage they offer. But yeah, they don’t touch the coolness of a POC babygrow.
Price: US$260 / AU$350 / £240 / €239 (Do Half Blade AVIP glasses); Priceless (POC babygrow)
Schwalbe G-One Allround tyres
I had the privilege of attending the launch of the Canyon Grail gravel bike at the start of the year in Nice, France. The weather was unseasonably terrible, but that certainly made the route that the good folks at Canyon chose that much better for testing a bike that definitely stood out from the crowd this year.
Along with those bi-plane handlebars, the Schwalbe G-One Allround tyres really made an impression on me that day on the trails around Nice. The supple casings and micro-dot tread gripped on terrain I was sure they’d fail on, and they rolled surprisingly well on the road, too. That was the first time I’d used the G-One Allround, but I’ve used them on a handful of other bikes since then.
I’ve since invested in a set of 35mm G-Ones for my own gravel/winter bike, an Orro Terra. If you have a gravel bike, I’d advise chatting with your local bike shop and getting a set for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Price: From US$53 / AU69 / £36 / €42
Mavic base layers
When thinking of what I’ve used a lot this year, the Mavic undershirts – both the hot-weather version and cold-weather version – were quiet contenders. I’d used both so often that they’d just become white noise, almost going unnoticed. I’ve found a few of Mavic’s recent items to be really well executed. Long gone are the days where the clothing range seemed an afterthought.
Both undershirts are seamless in construction, with various material thickness throughout and a nice, close fit. The cold-weather version is a bit longer in cut (perfect for keeping the lower abdomen warm), while the warm version comes in a sleeveless version with a deep neckline. This I liked as sometimes you can feel a bit stifled by close-fitting collars on summer undershirts. Mavic claims the material wicks moisture five times faster than standard polyester, too.
I’m usually a Craft man when it comes to undershirts (especially the Windstopper-equipped winter versions), but for spring or autumnal weather, these Mavic undershirts have now pushed my old Craft ones aside.
Price: From £35 / €40
Milo and Tim Tams
Back in January, I was watching the Tour Down Under from the comfort of my sofa, not in Adelaide; breaking a few ribs two days before flying out had me as an DNS for the CyclingTips team in the press room. What made it all the more upsetting was that I knew I’d be missing out on my yearly Tim Tam and Milo binge.
Fast-forward to November and I had a reason to travel the 28 hrs to the land down under for work. Sure, seeing the guys in the office in Melbourne is nice, but stocking up on Tim Tams and Milo slightly pips them to the post of good reasons to visit Oz. Sorry, guys!
I could write wistfully about the crispy-yet-airy biscuit that’s smothered in tasty chocolate, or the multiple foods I’ve found Milo works with, but what I will say is if you’ve never had them, you’re missing out.
Will I be getting fat this off-season with an excess of these delicious items on hand now? I’m not going to tell you, but I will say that my suitcase on the way to Australia weighed 15kg, and on the way back bit it weighed several kilos more.
Price: Depends if you need to pay for the flight to Australia or not
Euskadi team kit by Etxeondo
Yep, it’s orange, and yep, it’s team kit. And for those two reasons alone, it should get into any top-ten list. The Basque team has been missing from the pro peloton for a few years now, but I have a more personal reason for including this kit here. You see, I have a soft spot for the Basque region, having lived there myself, so to see the bright colours of the region’s team return was enough of a reason to get my grubby paws on a set.
The fact that it’s made by Etxeondo is also a boon. I’ve included a few of their items in past top-tens and there’s a very good reason: they make some underrated yet stunningly comfortable clothing.
Etxeondo offer similar versions in “plain” colours if you’re not brave enough to don a replica team kit, but either way, you’ll find both the shorts and the jersey to be sleek, minimal, and fuss-free without being too technical. There are no flourishes to detract from the function of the items, they’re very comfortable, and the materials all seem hard wearing yet super soft.
I also love the fact that every item Etxeondo puts out is actually made in the region. It’s hard to find a company that is so loyal to the community that helped them get to were they are today.
Price: €159 (jersey); €179 (shorts)
Castelli Perfetto vest
I find that most years, something from Castelli crops up in my list. I included the short-sleeved Perfetto jersey two years ago, and this year, the Perfetto vest makes the cut. In fact, I’ve found that the vest is actually a superior item.
I’ve only had it a short while, but it’s so well suited to a variety of weather conditions that it’s hardly been off my back. The Windstopper fabric has kept the autumn and early winter chill off of my chest, the high neck eliminates the need to wear a buff, and the fit keeps things snug and well-fitted over a long-sleeved jersey.
It’s pretty packable, too, for when the weather catches you out and gets on the warmer side.
Sure, there are plenty of other brands doing similar clothing, but Castelli were the pioneers in wet-weather race gear with the Gabba, and this item builds on that heritage. Bonus points for the bright yellow colour: Be safe, be seen.
Price: US$130 /£130 / €130
Campagnolo Record 12-speed groupset
This one snuck in under the radar for me. While sat about racking my brain at the items that I’ve loved using this year, I had no intention of including something so expensive, but it sprang to mind immediately. I only rode the groupset for a few days back in June at the launch event held on the sunny island of Gran Canaria, but on those few rides, I came to appreciate the twelve gears that are now available out back.
I’ve never really used Campag that much in the past; I’ve been a SRAM man for many years. I started my racing days on Shimano, switched to SRAM, and have stayed there ever since. A few test bikes and loaners have had a mix of Campag on them, but I’ve never really gone out of my way to use the Italian components. But jumping on the Orbea Orca Aero in Gran Canaria, kitted out with the all-new Campagnolo Record 12 speed had me rethinking my options.
That extra sprocket and the way that Campagnolo have implemented its use surprised me at the launch; I was never wanting for that elusive gear that you often find yourself wanting on hilly rides. Yeah, it has the usual Campagnolo quirks, but I enjoyed using both the rim- and disc-brake versions of the groupset. The rim brakes impressed me more than the discs. We expect discs to work great, and they did, but the engineers at Campagnolo certainly haven’t skimped on improving the rim braking power.
Do you need to go all the way to Super Record? Na, not at all; Record works just perfectly. But I’m guessing if you’ve got Record money already, you’ll probably find an excuse to spend the extra for that added bling that Super Record offers.
But with SRAM set to debut a new Red eTap groupset next month, which will be the better way to go if you want to go to 12?
Price: US$2,175 / £17,50
Specialized S-Works 7 Shoes
This is another item that I didn’t initially expect to make my top-ten list, but due to the sheer amount of times I’ve reached for these over other shoes that I own, these just had to be included.
Are they expensive? Yes. Are they comfortable? Another yes. Are they worth the money? Well, that’s up to you. But as someone whose feet need that extra TLC, I’m going to say that if you can pick them up at a reduced price, then definitely take a look. As an upgrade on the previous S-Works 6 model, I feel these are superior. The new heel cup doesn’t feel like it’s suffocating the back of your foot anymore, and the toe box seems a bit roomier – both are welcome changes.
Price: US$400 / AU$500 / £325 / €360
Well, someone had to put this in their top-ten. And I’ll be bitterly disappointed if no one else has.
Fair enough, all of us at CT are VeloClub members by default, but I’m positive I’d still be a member even if I was not working for this site. Honest!
Why include it in my list? Well, for starters, the boss will be happy (won’t you Wade?). But there’s also the added extras, offers, regular Zwift group rides, the annual magazine, and regular discounts, not to mention the genuine community that VeloClub has created.
But above all, it was the private WhatsApp group at this year’s Tour that has stood out for me.
The group has been a blast to be part of, with great ideas, questions, and answers popping up multiple times a day. The chat was always entertaining; I likened it to Twitter before it got all opinionated and angry. I know the group chat changed the way Caley and myself approached a few things while on the ground at the race.
If you’re rummaging through these lists we’ve put together for Christmas present ideas, then you’ve struck gold. Get a VeloClub membership on your list or on someone else’s list. It’s truly a treat to be part of the wonderful world of CT, and there’s also that warm feeling of knowing you’re not only directly supporting everything that we do here. That’s gotta be worth the small monthly fee (starting at as little as $7.99 a month) for a VC membership. You know it makes sense.