Ten products I loved in 2020: Ronan Mc Laughlin
It seemed to me 2020 was off to a flyer and almost certain to get better. By the end of February, I had blasted around a local gravel event, been on a training camp for the first time in years, my condition was the best it had been in a long time, and our daughter was keeping us on our toes. Little did we know what lay ahead with COVID-19.
By mid-March, the domestic road season was effectively cancelled, and I was trying to juggle my personal disappointment with this as well as the disappointment of the riders I coach. I was working from home while trying to figure out how daddy daycare works and my wife was working in the hospital. I questioned my sanity every time I got on the home trainer or tried to train within the restricted area we could move.
Notions of a fitness downward spiral crept into my mind but luckily I realised I just needed a goal. Something to train for. Some focus! It had to be Everesting, the ideal endeavour for a socially distancing world unaffected by race cancellations and group size restrictions.
Long story short – Everesting went well for me. Most of the products I have listed below I either sourced for Everesting or they played a part in my training and preparation.
As crazy a year as 2020 has been, for me personally it has turned out to be as good as it seemed it might be all the way back in February. My family is healthy. Working from home, I spent more time with our daughter than I would have had the chance to otherwise. I broke some Tour de France winner’s world record, got a new job, met some fantastic people, and enjoyed some typically tech nerdy things along the way.
Favero Assioma Duo
I first heard about Favero’s dual-sided pedal-based power meter at least a year ago, but being committed to Shimano pedals for a number of reasons, I hadn’t paid much attention to them. Some positive reviews perked my interest in these again. Then with the requirement for a lighter power meter for Everesting, the seed was sown. I made the switch to the Assioma Duos, and haven’t had a moment’s bother since.
In the relatively short period I have been using the Assiomas, I have found them easy to set up and perfectly reliable. The best thing I can say about them is that it’s easy to forget you have them on your bike. I simply get on my bike, ride, and the wattage reading appears on my head unit every time. No pairing issues, no dropouts, no data spikes, easily recharged, and just as easily swapped from one bike to another. Exactly how a power meter should be.
Price: US$664 / AU$1,100
More information: cycling.favero.com
Invisiframe frame protector
With a goal as lofty as an Everesting record, I knew I would need a new and lighter frame (any excuse). My last new bike got badly chipped and scratched, and it also eventually met an untimely end, which was the real reason I needed a new frame. I was determined this wouldn’t happen again, so after some Googling for frame protectors, helicopter tape, and clear wraps, I eventually decided on trying Invisiframe.
Invisiframe transparent strips are designed to be stuck to specific locations on your frame in order to protect the paintwork from stone chips, abrasion, and other forms of paint damage (it does not protect against structural damage). Made from an automotive-grade film, Invisiframe offer both pre-cut frame-specific kits and generic kits that can be cut to fit any frame.
I was reluctant at first to apply the film to the frame myself for fear of creating a disaster. After failing to find someone else to do it for me and following the advice on the Invisiframe website, I decided to give it a go. It was remarkably easy to cut and fit with an ample amount of time to adjust and reapply before the adhesive sets. No one has ever actually mentioned the protective layer on the bike without me pointing it out, so I must have done something right.
The film has kept my frame looking like new and it’s comforting to know that should I ever want to remove it, the paintwork below should be as good as the day it was new.
Price: Generic road kit – £53.99
More information: www.invisiframe.co.uk
Campagnolo Record 12-speed
It’s Campagnolo, it’s carbon all over, and it’s 12-speed. Enough said?
Well, if I must give a bit more detail, I have been riding electronic groupsets for the past number of years and, while I do like some of the electronic options, I felt the lure of a mechanical drivetrain call me back. The Record 12-speed groupset has not disappointed one bit. The much-more-definite clunk as you shift gears, along with the option to dump the thumb shifter and drop right the way down the block, never ceases to put a smile on my face.
I love the aesthetics of the groupset (minus the rear derailleur), the ergonomics of the levers, and, of course, the heritage associated with Campagnolo.
Price: US$1,977 / AU$3,092.14 / £1,676.46 / €1,960.06
More information: www.campagnolo.com
Silca T-Ratchet and Ti-Torque kit
There is no denying I am what is known as a “futterer”. I am constantly tinkering and adjusting my bike setup, position, cleats, saddle, etc. (I have some imbalances and weaknesses I need to address – New Year’s resolution).
With all the carbon on modern bikes, a torque wrench is an essential tool to make any adjustments. With this in mind and my tendency to futter mid-ride, I was looking for a compact and portable torque wrench to carry in my back pocket. The Silca torque kit fitted that description with a torque bar capable of reading 2-8 Nm, plenty of hex, Torx, and Philips head bits, and an extender bar, all wrapped up in a neat little pouch that I can stuff in my back pocket.
As you would expect with Silca, the whole package is well-made. The bits provide a noticeably better fit in screw and bolt heads for a more secure engagement than my previous multi-tool. The torque reading is an indicator rather than an adjustable setting, but it does the job adequately while out in the wild.
Price: US$99 / AU$TBC / £74.35 / €82.74
More information: www.silca.cc
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6
You might remember this frame from stories such as this one we ran back in the summer.
Somewhat controversially, I have a love for the “old” Tarmac frame, and yes, that includes the “old” rim-brake technology. The time came (actually, it was forced upon me) to change my frame this year, and considering I already had wheels and the groups (see above), I was in the market for an option that was compatible with a mechanical rim-brake groupset.
The Tarmac SL6 has been getting rave reviews for the past few years and I managed to find a cracking deal on a NOS 56 cm white, black, and red frame. I decided this was the frame for me.
Once assembled and out on the road, I very quickly realised what all the fuss was about. The bike felt at home on the variety of roads I train on. Rough country roads, steep climbs, swooping descents, it handled them all with a reassuring composure and sense of speed that was a breath of fresh air for my riding experiences.
The SL6 makes me feel, even if not entirely act, like a demon descender and a lightweight climber every time I head off for a ride [I suspect Ronan is being more than a little humble here – ed.]. It gave my riding a new lease on life at the heart of lockdown. Strangely, there are very few Tarmac SL6s in my area, and this makes the bike feel quite unique. I did run it with an electronic groupset for a while, but now it’s sitting decked out with the Record mechanical groupset patiently waiting for better weather to return.
More information: www.specialized.com
Wandrer is more of a service than a product, but I am going to include it here for all the extra motivation it has given me this year.
I first heard about Wandrer through an article on CyclingTips last year. Wandrer is a bike exploration game where you accumulate points for riding on roads you have never ridden before, and I find it inspiring.
Wandrer links to your Strava account to automatically pull in information from all your rides and then identifies how many unique roads you have covered. You can then set about ticking off new unique kilometres and compare your score to that of others. Wandrer provides downloadable maps for Garmin and Wahoo head units, which highlight roads you have not covered previously. These maps are great for helping you get hopelessly lost chasing new roads while out on a ride.
I found Wandrer was great for refreshing my route options to include new roads and a change of scenery. I have always been a fan of varying routes and exploring new roads, but Wandrer has taken this to a new level. It has left me amazed at the array of relatively local roads I never knew existed, but have now become regulars on my rides.
There is the competition element to it, also, with leaderboards for global, continental, country, and local roads. For example, while it seems impossible and pointless when I see I have only covered 0.037108% of the 60,879,648.9 total kilometres available worldwide, I am inspired again when I zoom down to a more local area and see I have covered more than 6% of all the roads in Ireland, 14% of Northern Irish roads, and I am currently up to more than 57% of the roads in the Derry area in which I live.
Price: US$30 (annual membership)
Lake cx403 shoes
While I only made the switch to these shoes in September, I had my eye on them for a while. I have quite a high midfoot area and quite a low-volume toe area. Previously, I have found the retention systems on cycling shoes to tighten on the high part of my foot, causing a painful pressure point, while also not providing enough tension for my forefoot. Couple that with the fact I like my shoes quite tight for the secure feel that gives, and I have never found a shoe quite right for me.
I was attracted to the Lake 403s specifically by the shoe uppers. I was intrigued by the increased distance between the Boa dials, which are mounted on an instep wrap that separates in two as it crosses the upper foot. I liked the idea that this might provide the option to vary the fit of the mid and forefoot areas independently. I also liked that the shoes are heat mouldable at home to dial in the heel cup fit. Although far from the lightest shoes available, for once I was willing to sacrifice those precious grams in the hope of some extra comfort and a better fit.
All my assumptions about the fit of these shoes have proved correct. In the relatively short time I have owned these shoes, I have been really impressed by the fit and comfort. I can get that tight fit I like with my shoes, yet I still get better comfort levels than I have had previously. I am happy to stick with the CX403s, but I have asked Santa to assign some elves to help Lake make a lighter version ASAP.
Price: US$549.99 / AU$TBC / £425 / €459.66
More information: www.lakecycling.com
Skewers? What could be so exciting about skewers?
Well, for Everesting, all areas of my bike were under intense scrutiny. For the skewers, I wanted something that would be both lighter and more aero than my standard skewers. At just 45 g for the pair and featuring a minimal profile with aero-shaped tabs, I just had to get myself a pair of Styx. Luckily, there is one retailer in the whole in the UK and Ireland that sells these and they were in stock.
I have gotten quite a few inquisitive looks at my hubs followed by the questions, “What’s up with your skewer?” or “Is that an anti-theft skewer?”. To me, they look pretty cool and provided a gain (read: loss) in both weight and aero drag that I wasn’t prepared to pass on.
Beyond that, yes, they are just skewers. They have done a good job at holding my wheels in place although, again, a torque wrench is required.
Price: US$84.99 / AU$TBC / £92 / €TBC
More information: www.tririg.com/
SiS Beta Fuel
Science in Sport describes its Beta Fuel powder as “rocket fuel” and I can attest to that. It doesn’t give you a burst of energy a la caffeine gels, but instead delivers a huge 80 g of carbohydrate per serving in a 2:1 maltodextrin and fructose combination. This combination is said to increase carbohydrate absorption rates and still be gentle on the stomach. All I know is that it helped me get in energy quickly and consistently.
Only available in lemon or orange flavours and somewhat soup-like in its consistency, it will not be to everyone’s liking. For me, though, Beta Fuel makes getting enough fuel during a race or Everesting so simple that it was a real advantage. During both my Everestings and a subsequent 555-km ultra-endurance race I did, I used a lot of Beta fuel. The fact it is a liquid (once mixed with water) meant that later in the events when the thought of chewing on another energy bar or boiled potato is not in the least bit appetising, I could still get in those all-important carbohydrates.
Price: US$45 / £92 / €40 for a box of 15 individual serving sachets, AU$55 (box of 12)
More information: www.scienceinsport.com
Handlebars and hacksaws
I’ve saved my favourite for last.
Although I only used these handlebars once in 2020, they have become a firm favourite. Of all the “hacks” I made to my bike for Everesting, the chopped handlebars got the most attention. It is something I have been tempted to do for many hill climbs in the past, but never actually went through with. The process of chopping the drops off took less than five minutes, but it was the final tick off the mental checklist I needed.
It’s debatable whether chopping off the drops made any meaningful benefit on the road, but in terms of the psychology of Everesting, it was massive. Cutting the drops was the last thing in a long list of prep I could do to make myself any faster. I had done all I could in preparing for the ride, I didn’t have any doubts in my head about gains I didn’t make, and from that point on, I just had to ride.
My only regret is that I didn’t just cut the Specialized Aerofly II bars I originally had on the bike. That might have saved so much time, both in prep work and in aero gains.
Price: I can’t decide if this was free or cost the equivalent of a set of 3T Ergosum Pro bars.