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That’s it, 2019: you’re nearly over and done with. Personally, it’s been a bit of an odd 12 months — a rollercoaster, some would say. But you’re not here to hear about that. You’re here for the tech, to geek out on all the bike goodies I’ve loved in 2019.
There’s a story behind everything in this list. There’s the fast road stuff, the utilitarian stuff, the dad-life stuff, and stuff to keep others happy. But what it all has in common is that it’s stuff that has made my cycling life better as some point.
Burley Minnow trailer
If you’d asked me a few years back what an ideal day out on the bike looks like, I’d have replied with something along the lines of “a quality road race” or “a massive day in the mountains”. How things change! Now just over a year and a half into dad life, getting out with the little girl in tow trumps any bike race or endurance ride. The Burley Minnow has been the trailer of choice for my new favourite type of ride.
It’s not the flashiest of trailers available on the market. It doesn’t have a handle or spare front wheel for converting it into a buggy when unattached, it’s a single-seater, and there’s no fancy suspension system. It’s a pretty bare-bones affair. It’s simple in design, yet well built and not too heavy at about 11kg. Plus it seems pretty comfortable for the small one in the back.
One thing I’ve found useful is the fact you can plop your bike on the ground and the trailer doesn’t tilt over. It’s a massive help when finding a wall to prop the bike up against isn’t possible. It’s also pretty narrow, which makes it feel safer out on the road.
We’ve done some excellent rides out with this thing — pulling the thing up the lower climbs here in the French Alps makes up for the long hours in the saddle I was accustomed to before my daughter turned up.
If you’re looking for a trailer, want a quality product, and you don’t need all the whizz-bang features, I’d highly recommend the Burley Minnow. All you’ll need is to grow a set of eyes in the back of your head to keep an eye on which toys and food stay in the trailer and what ones are ejected.
Oh, and while you’re here reading about trailers, your kid will need a good lid, and I can’t recommend the Met Elfo enough. It has a neat design that kind of floats above the child’s head — a must as babies’ skulls aren’t fully formed yet. Its rear is also flattened off so they’re not being pushed forward when in a baby trailer or seat.
Price: US$299 / £359 / €350
EF Annual book
I was brought up on a plethora of DC Thomson’s most imaginative characters: Desperate Dan, Bananaman, the Bash Street Kids. They were all devoured weekly in the pages of the Beano and Dandy. Then in 1992, I had my eyes opened to Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s masterpiece, Batman: The Animated Series. That, in turn, spawned a life-long love for not just the Dark Knight but also comics in general. So when EF’s Annual dropped through my letterbox a few weeks back, along with several other books from Rapha Editions/BlueTrain publishing, I was more than a little excited to delve into it.
Yearly Annuals from comic publishers differ depending on the country’s origin, and the EF Annual is very much in the vein of a DC Thomson British ‘fun’ annual. There is, of course, comic art on offer here. A Tour of Flanders and Tour of Switzerland win are replayed in pen and ink. But there’s also interviews, stories, games, photos, and even recipes that you’d expect from a book that’s been inspired by Dandy, Beano, Viz or even Twinkle annuals of old.
I love that whoever has put this together has made it not just a homage to the world of racing and the team, but also to the annuals that you’d read Christmas morning while eating a few segments of a Terry’s chocolate orange while your mum got the turkey ready. The book’s execution is superb from the type of content to the paper stock. It’s all just so right.
There’s plenty of cycling comic art out there (especially in France and Belgium), but this is a wonderful take on a look back at EF’s year. I guarantee you’ll return to it for a quick, five-minute read time and time again.
As for the other books that turned up with this, well, I’ve got to give a big shout out to Isabel Best and her Queens of Pain. It’s an absorbing read about some of the forgotten women of cycling. I only managed to get halfway through it as my dad bloody nicked it when he returned home from visiting last week. I’ve been assured the second half is just as good as the first.
Price: US$20 / AU$27 / £15
Early Rider Charger
What’s the best bike in your garage? Because I’d happily put down some cold hard cash and bet on this thing trumping it. It oozes that cool factor, it oozes style. And it’s not even mine.
I’ve had some beautiful bikes in my garage over the years — stuff that’s got me excited about getting out on the road. But this thing has taken that excitement to a whole new level.
At only 18 months old, my daughter isn’t going to be old enough to remember her first bike, but I sure will. I may have jumped the gun on getting this for her, but after falling in love with it at this year’s Eurobike I knew that it had to be the first bike I wanted my kid to dash about on. Just look at it! It’s what we as adults would have wished for if we could roll the clock back. Admit it: you know I’m right.
Early Rider produces bikes for kids and kids alone. From the little Charger all the way through to the Hellion 24 MTB, there’s something for every age of childhood. They even had a full-suspension kids bike on show at Eurobike. It’s not in the line-up yet, but I hope it will be in the future.
The Charger has already brought so many smiles. It’s the first thing my daughter reaches for in the garage now. She’s still learning to scoot along — it’s tough in pink wellies (her footwear of choice) but she’s managing just fine. The beauty of the Charger is that it also features cable routing and a rear brake mount for when skids become a necessity in the future. It’s details like this and the build quality that I feel make it stand out.
This thing is going to see some abuse, and it seems built to take it. A brushed 6061 aluminium frame with some tough-looking wheels means this isn’t the lightest bike in this category (I think that goes to Iain’s choice last year), but it sure ain’t heavy either. You might class the Ritchey finishing kit and good quality headset as a bit of overkill, but as a geek, it’s just another thing that makes me smile. All around, there is zero crappy kit on it. It’s high quality, and I know it’s built to last.
Standover height is 31cm, so even the littlest of legs should manage. Early Rider says it should be good for my girl until she turns about 4. Two and a half years of smiles, fun, fitness and new skills for a shade under 150 quid: that’s not a bad price to pay.
There hasn’t been a piece of clothing that’s lived on my back as much as this in a good few years. The last item I can think of was a Beastie Boys T-shirt back in 1998, but that wasn’t for its versatility or comfort — it was purely for its cool factor. The Mavic gilet is from the French brand’s all-road/adventure line. I’m a bit late to the party as it’s been out a few years already, and I know Caley has had one on his back for some time. But I can tell you I’m glad I’ve got one on my back now.
It’s lightweight, has bags of warmth thanks to the PrimaLoft insulation, and shrugs off the wind, too. It even scrunches down nice and small for stuffing in a back pocket or bag. It’s not madly different from many vests that are out there, but it’s just so nicely executed — another fuss-free item on my list.
It’s even reversible, with one side a chic grey two-tone combo, and the other an eye-popping bright orange for when you want to be seen out on the road. The chest pocket is big enough for a phone or some gels, and there’s also a rear pocket on the orange side, hidden away.
It’s become one of the first items that’s slung into my bag whenever I travel. It’s become an essential item for road and work trips, or both at the same time if I’m lucky. Lastly, the unexpected upside is that if you also want to dress as Marty McFly for Halloween, it’s pretty near perfect for that too.
Price: US$176 / £145 / €160
Pirelli P Zero Velo tires
Right, I was gonna put the Exept AllRoad bike in here at one point, but as I’ve already praised it in my recent review, I thought I’d choose one item off of it that really stood out: the Pirelli P Zero tyres.
Pirelli is relatively new to the cycling game, or more precisely, Pirelli hasn’t been in the cycling game for many, many decades. But they’re obviously pretty knowledgeable about rubber and road interaction and the P-Zero Velos display this knowledge in abundance.
The casing is 127 TPI with an aramid fibre puncture-resistant belt. Weight for the 25mm tyre I used is a respectable 205 grams, and for keeping you stuck to the road, they use Pirelli’s own Smartnet silica compound.
The Zero Velos are a tyre I found I never had to worry about. They had me dashing down alpine switchbacks without concern, sticking to the road in dry, wet, and – on a few occasions – slightly icy conditions. And they were predictable under braking, too. They just seemed to stay stuck to the tarmac impeccably well.
As for punctures, I had nada, none, zero in all the months I was aboard the Exept. And I’ll admit I threw that bike at some pretty rough surfaces, including a slightly glass-strewn bike lane early one Sunday morning.
Price: US$68 / £40 / AU$55
Abus AirBreaker helmet
This helmet turned up on my door a few months ago. I’ve had the privilege of not just using the Airbreaker, but also the aero GameChanger and the lower-tier road helmet, the Viantor. Each time, the helmets have impressed. The GameChanger is one of the most underrated aero road helmets on the market. It’s respectfully light at 260 grams, well finished, compact, and very well ventilated, too. The Airbreaker continues this trend of getting most of what you expect from a helmet right.
The Airbreaker is Abus’s top-end model, as used by Alejandro Valverde and his teammates at Movistar. It has the same comfy fit as the GameChanger, the same build quality, a lightweight build (210g), and is crazily well ventilated – so much so that I often avoid using it on chillier days. The straps, like on many lightweight helmets, are fixed into position, but I’ve found they sit well around my ears.
The only thing stopping it from being a class-leading lid is the exclusion of MIPS or some other slip-plane technology. Fingers crossed that this comes with version 2.0. It is damn pricey but if your budget can’t stretch that far, then maybe look at the Viantor. It’s a bit chunkier looking and not as light, but it fits just as well.
Price: US$195 / AU$395 / £230
Spatz Roadman 2 Overshoes
I moved to the French Alps a year ago expecting one of two types of weather: either blisteringly hot summer days or wintery snow scenes. I didn’t move here for damp, grey, and soggy autumns.
As you’ll know, kitting up for these grim days is all about keeping warm and, above all, dry. Luckily though, while at the Worlds in Yorkshire this year, I managed to get my mitts on a pair of locally designed overshoes from ex-professional Tom Barras, son of British racing legend Sid Barras.
Disclosure time, people. I first met Tom back in about 2002 when he let me crash at his house in the first weeks I spent in Belgium. I remember him not just for making my legs hurt on the bike but for the fact that he also talked about design with a passion. One standout memory is of him blabbering on about the design of the washing machine liquid laundry ball one afternoon after training.
I’d class Tom as the perfect storm when it comes to the product he peddles (pun intended). He has a uni degree in industrial design, multiple years of racing and training at a professional level, and, living in Yorkshire, he has the right conditions for testing the product he’s developed.
I’d heard good things about Spatz overshoes over the past two years they’ve been available. I’d not been in contact with Tom for years, but I’d kept a close eye on his fledgeling business. Then, last winter, things seemed to take off. There were several times while rummaging through Instagram I’d spot Spatz overshoes keeping the feet of some big-named riders warm and dry. Professional riders were choosing to buy Tom’s product over the free booties they got from the team. High praise, I thought.
And after using them on a few crappy, cold and damp days, it’s understandable why. They do what we’ve all hoped overshoes would do for years: not letting the water and the cold creep in on long rides. It seems pretty basic, but up until I used Spatz, I’d always come home with some sort of cold or damp feet.
Tom’s clearly poured a lot of time and effort into these. Where many brands may see overshoes as an accessory in their range, the Spatz are pretty much the range, and their performance shows that focusing your efforts on one product can result in a standout item.
At £84.99, they’re pretty pricey when you compare them to many other overshoes on the market. But if you’re the sort that prefers to go out mid-winter no matter the weather, and if you want to return home without the need to thaw your feet out before jumping in the shower, take a look at these. If you don’t believe me, just go ask the many northern European pros and a certain bloke who has an Olympic gold medal, who may have been spotted out and about in them.
Sportful BodyFit Pro Jacket
It’s been a while since I last kitted up in Sportful clothing, but I’m happy to say I’ll be wearing a few pieces from their new winter line-up now the temperatures are plunging here in Europe.
I was going to put Sportful’s thermal shorts in my top-ten list at first, but then the mercury dropped and out came the BodyFit Pro jacket, knocking the shorts out of the top ten … just.
On initial inspection, I thought the jacket looked a bit gimmicky, a bit retro, and a bit flimsy. But after the first ride, I realised I’d been too quick to judge — it rapidly became my go-to jacket for nippier days.
I’ve left the house wearing this on a few days now when the temperature is sitting around 4°C. At first, the jacket doesn’t feel overly warm, rather just comfortable enough. But ride a bit and warm up, and it springs into life.
Matched with a long-sleeved baselayer, it’s pretty spot on — never too hot yet warm enough to keep you cosy. Breathability — a problem I often have with winter jackets — hasn’t been a problem so far, either.
The back pockets are a little different to normal. Yep, there’s three of them but they are a thin mesh material. This, I’m guessing, is to stop your back from overheating. It works.
It really is a nice jacket. It’ll be interesting to see what temperature it’s comfortable down to, so maybe stay tuned for a full Sportful winter line-up review later on. If the rest of the kit’s half as good as the jacket, I’m gonna be one comfortable bloke on the bike this winter.
Price: US$250 / £165 / €179
Unior Pro Road repair stand
I’ve never really bothered too much with fancy tools or stands when playing about at being a mechanic. Either I’ve faffed about on my own or, if I’ve needed a fancy tool, I’d swing down to my dad’s bike shop and try and work on it there, usually getting it taken off me for “doing a shit job”. But after hanging out with my colleague and resident CT tool nut Dave Rome at this year’s Eurobike show, I found myself with a new appreciation for quality workshop equipment. I’m maybe not to his level, but we all have to start somewhere.
And so the new Unior Pro repair stand is the first item of what I think could be an updated home workshop. It’s upped my home mechanic game considerably, although admittedly that wasn’t hard as my previous stand was a cheap, rickety old thing.
Unior has produced a supportive and stable stand. The three-legged design sits nicely on the ground and the space between the main two front legs is ample enough for you not to constantly be tripping over them. The weight of it, somewhere in the region of 6kg, means it’s not a flimsy thing that is easily shoved about, but also it’s not too weighty to pack up and store away if you’re short on space, as I am.
I’ve found the cradle-style clamp a lot more secure and enjoyable to use than my old seatpost clamp version. Tilting the bike this way and that way to work on it is easy and quick. And it should be as Unior has produced this after getting feedback from all its pro-team mechanics; guys who work for Trek-Segafredo, Ineos, Movistar, and Deceuninck-QuickStep.
It isn’t cheap, but it’s not crazy money either. At €360, it’s less than half the price of an Enve pump! And that money should be well spent as it certainly feels like an item that’s built to last.
Price: US$470 / €360
Specialized Angi crash sensor
Keeping loved ones from worrying about me has been at the top of the agenda when on the bike this year. Living with epilepsy can be a bit shit at times, more so for my family than me. They’re the ones that have to put up with all the nonsense during and after a seizure. And I know they worry about me even more so when I’m out on the bike.
So anything that helps keep my family that little bit more secure in the knowledge that I’m out of trouble and still upright has to get in my top ten. The Angi is one such product.
At only US$50 / £40 / €50, it’s a small price to pay for a little peace of mind. The Angi is a sensor that is available aftermarket or built into Specialized’s helmets. It tracks your ride in conjunction with your phone, and in the event of an accident, it will send a text message with your GPS coordinates to the designated contacts of your choice. It’s light, too, at only 10 grams, so it’s not going to be noticed when stuck to your helmet.
I’m a fan, as is my family, and with Specialized recently dropping the subscription needed to use the service, I’m sure more people will be fans, too.
Price: US$50 / £40 / €50