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I have read with interest the ‘things I loved’ lists of my colleagues, but I have a confession. I don’t own different bikes for all sorts of terrain. I have no gravel bike, no hardtail nor mountain bike. We don’t even have real mountains here. I also don’t own different brands of clothing, multiple helmets or shoes. I am not tech-savvy at all and rely completely on my friend and personal mechanic Chris for basically everything. I did, however, ride 10,000 kilometres this year which means I spent about 400 hours in the saddle.
This list is therefore about the things that made those 400 hours so pleasurable, the things that got me through the jobless first COVID-19 lockdown and kept me mentally fit throughout what has been a challenging year for us all.
Trek Domane SL7 SRAM Force eTap AXS
I own two bikes. My old Trek Domane 4-series sits permanently on the Wahoo Kickr in the attic. The other one is a Trek Domane SL7 I bought this year.
I didn’t actually need a new bike because my old Domane SL6 was only three years old, but once SRAM had given me one of its Trek Domane SL7 bikes to trial the Force eTap AXS groupset I knew after a few rides I was spoilt beyond belief and could never go back to manual shifting. The SRAM Force eTap AXS is fast, smooth and over the past 9,000km it has misshifted just once. Mechanical shifting, which I still have to do on the trainer bike, seems like a huge hassle now.
Originally, SRAM loaned that Trek to me for a month but when all test events were cancelled due to COVID-19, I got to ride it for most of the year until I convinced myself and my bank account that I absolutely and immediately needed to buy this bike for myself.
The Domane is the perfect fit for me and always has been. This is my fourth Domane, and the best so far. It’s comfortable to ride and solid enough for my 100 kilos. I must face it; I am 41 and starting to fall apart. Comfort is so much more important now than speed, aerodynamics or weight. Yes, the Domane is heavy but so am I. I love the look of it, with broad tubes creating a sturdy look that matches my own frame. In short, this bike doesn’t make me look fat. If it weren’t for my husband, the bike would be hanging on my living room wall to look at every day.
Price: US$6,000 / AU$8,500 / £5,650 / €6,400
More information: www.trekbikes.com
Wahoo Elemnt computer
I have many talents but spatial awareness is definitely not one of them. I don’t know how I ever managed to find my way back home before owning a GPS bike computer. Since I bought this Wahoo ELEMNT a few years ago, I have ridden all around Europe. Strava helps me build routes and I get to explore the prettiest of places. It has literally opened up the world to me. The ELEMNT is big, bulky and doesn’t have a colour display, but it always works and is easy to program via the iPhone.
This first ELEMNT is no longer in production, but as long as it works I see no need to upgrade. When it finally falls apart, I will most definitely stick to Wahoo for my navigation needs.
More information: www.wahoofitness.com
When I got my new bike in September, I had a completely new bike fit done resulting in a longer stem (goodbye lower back aches!) different bars (goodbye shoulder aches!) and a new saddle. Your body and flexibility changes when you get older. That’s why I think you need to do a bike fit once every few years, even though the model of your bike doesn’t change. Because you change over time.
The changes the bike fitter made were very subtle but made a huge difference. As an amateur, I had never thought that it would make a difference if my saddle went up half a centimetre but it did. I generate more power on the pedals now all of my energy actually goes into the pedals.
Had I only known a few years ago I needed one size bigger of my Bontrager Ajna Elite saddle, it would have saved me a lot of sores and pain. I still have the old one on my indoor bike and the extra 12 mm in width of the new one are so vital for the well-being of my bum and private parts. Unfortunately, I discovered when writing this piece that Ajnas are not produced anymore. The agony of finding a new saddle again awaits…
You can get good bike fits everywhere. Just ask your cycling friends for a referral.
Zipp 303 NSW Carbon Clincher Disc Brake wheels
I am fortunate enough to have my good friend Chris who knows everything about bikes. He advised me these Zipp 303 NSW carbon tubeless disc wheels and told me at length how they are tested in wind tunnels and work in crosswinds and improve watts with state-of-the-art innovations and dimples etc etc etc bla bla bla. I was already in love with how they looked, and zoned out at the tech talk. Wheels really make the bike for me.
Until there was a storm in the Netherlands and I decided to properly test them. I was flabbergasted to be honest. The science is true. They actually do amazingly well in the crosswinds. I hardly have to correct when a gust of wind hits me and theoretically, I could master riding in the storms with one hand off the bars. Don’t worry – I would never ever do that – but theoretically I could. Also, I went from 25 to 28 to 32 tires and they actually look slim on these rims.
So yes, they are expensive wheels but they are worth every euro. I have never felt so comfortable in the crosswinds on the river dikes as with these wheels. Steady as a rock. But faster.
More information: www.zipp.com
The Illuminati code states one should not add a bell to the bike but HideMyBell designed a bell that you don’t see but do hear very well. Everyone should have one and stop yelling HEY! HELLO! YO!
In the Netherlands bike paths are more crowded than ever. There are e-bikes which are used by seniors but by high school students as well. That last group usually travels in packs and are notoriously deaf when riding to school. They are also very unpredictable in their behaviour and swerve all over the road. Then there are fast speed pedelecs on the road and race bikes that are now more popular than ever due to the pandemic and closed gyms.
HideMyBell integrates the bell into your bike computer mount. It was designed by a Dutch company and has mounts now for every brand of bike computer and all sorts of handlebars including aerodynamic and sprinting bars. The bell is hidden underneath the bike computer and gives a good, loud ring. It’s small but very efficient. It gives me that feeling of safety that others on the road know I am there, and I will never leave home without it.
Price: US$35 / AU$40 / £31 / €40
More information: www.closethegap.cc
Fizik Infinito R1 shoes
A few years ago, I stumbled upon a pair of Fizik shoes on sale in my local bike shop. I have big feet so I always wore Shimano. Never would I have thought that Italian brand shoes would fit me, but they did and they looked very elegant. When I needed an upgrade, I looked at the R1 Infinito by Fizik but at €350 a pair I was hesitant. Would that really be worth the money for an amateur like me?
Yes, they are gorgeous and as elegant as bike shoes can get but did I really need carbon soles? The cognitive dissonance vibe was pretty strong in this purchase. When I saw a pair with a good discount, I bought them and haven’t regretted it since. They are comfy and really solid. Having a carbon sole really does make a difference and gives me extra confidence when doing sprint intervals.
Price: US$400 / AU$600 / £350 / €350
More information: www.fizik.com
Quarq power meter
A power meter? Do I need fancy gadgets like that? I got to try one on that loaner bike by SRAM and was hooked from the start. I love numbers! In cycling everything is about power numbers now and as a journalist/commentator it’s great to have some insight in what power does.
I learned for example that with a typical Dutch headwind on an exposed and flat river dike I do the same 200+ watts as on a 5-7% hill in France. I challenge myself now in uphill sprints (read ‘viaducts’) and see what kind of values I ride to compare with the pros. It’s fun and teaches me a lot. My 450 watts last for about 30 seconds. Wout van Aert does that for 20 minutes uphill. In the Tour de France. At day 20. It makes me incredibly humble.
Price: US$599 / AU$677 / €599
More information: www.quarq.com
I like my bike to have that clean look and don’t want any extra fuss on it. That’s why I just don’t like mudguards on my bike at all. The AssSaver is a super simple piece of plastic you stick underneath your saddle to keep most of the water out and off your ass and back. You take it off in seconds when the roads are dry. For a completely non-technical person like me, it’s the best and cheapest way to well, erm, save my ass.
Price: US$10 / AU$14 / £10 / €9.50
More information: www.ass-savers.com
Apple podcast app
I found that this year I was listening less and less to music and more and more to podcasts. It’s the best way to learn new stuff for me and this year I learned so, so much. I can name more American senators, states and state voting regulations than I should. Brexit, the European Union and its politics were also a regular staple this year.
I learned that Louis the 14th’s dad wasn’t too keen on sleeping with his wife and preferred men instead. And that his mother raised Louis’ brother as a girl to minimise the risk of a coup by his little brother. Yes, really.
I learned about Napoleon and his wives and about a plethora of subjects through the excellent BBC World documentaries. The documentary about the Grenfell Tower disaster and the series on the India-Pakistan partition were ones that particularly stood out.
There was food from all over the world, some comedy and our own Freewheeling, From the Top and Weekly podcasts. There was true crime like Cutthroat Inc and many Dutch true crime podcasts. I was always looking forward to another long ride because I could catch up with the next episode of my favourite podcasts. I like to think those 400 hours of riding this year have made a bit smarter.
More information: apps.apple.com
Last but not least. Actually, this should be the first one on my list.
Health is not something you can buy but it’s the one thing that is absolutely vital to be able to use all the above-mentioned products and services. I know firsthand how precious your health is. In 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, aged 29. Although I still suffer some of the long-term effects like weight gain and mental health issues due to hormonal imbalances, I am grateful to be healthy and alive.
In this year where health was on everyone’s mind a lot, I cherish every day I have the energy and strength to ride my bike. Sometimes it’s only 40 kilometres and some days it’s much, much more. Health has no retail price but it’s by far the most valuable thing in this top ten.