10 products I loved in 2021: Abby Mickey
This year I enjoyed challenging myself with new adventures in fitness.
This year I enjoyed challenging myself with new adventures in fitness.
The 2019 and 2020 editions of my “10 products I loved” came to me a lot easier than this 2021 list. I’m not going to lie – I spent a lot more time on my feet in 2021 than in the saddle. If this was a list of products I loved in 2021 that wasn’t on a cycling website it would include various pairs of sweatpants, my Osprey Dyna 6 trail running vest, a pair of Salomon Supercross 3 shoes, and a set of seasick nausea bands that I haven’t been able to take off in four months.
Still, I spent a good portion of early 2021 on a cycling fitness journey. Specifically, I got obsessed with challenging myself. I tried new things and delved deeper into the world of virtual riding. I also got really into finding new roads and achieving monthly goals on Strava. I also continued to search for environmentally friendly alternatives to daily products such as bottled sparkling water.
As a former ski racer I love that cycling sunglasses are getting bigger and bigger. These sunglasses by POC are basically the lens of a goggle and the frame of glasses.
When I got them for the first time it was February, so I actually started wearing them on snowy adventures in the mountains as opposed to cycling. As the year went on I kept wearing them on the road, on the mountain bike, on hikes, and walks and runs. They’re extremely comfortable with an adjustable nose piece and adjustable temple arms.
One of the key features of the Devour sunglasses is that bigger means more protection. The lenses cover the entire eye area to keep out any unwanted debris, bugs, whatever. They are also super easy to change for clear lenses or something better suited to whatever environment.
Throughout the year these were my go-to sunglasses for any activity. For anyone who needs one pair of sunglasses for a year’s worth of activities, I highly recommend these.
More information: POC Sports
Without any real reason to get on a bike, I have struggled post-professional career to enjoy road cycling. I used to wake up and ride for a reason but I haven’t been able to find that drive since 2019. This year I discovered Strava Challenges.
With everything from distance, to 100 km rides, to altitude gained, it was easy to find the motivation to get out of the house and onto my bike. At one point I was even doing double days around work to make sure I could get in the kilometres.
Every month Strava has new challenges so if I couldn’t earn the badges I signed up for the month before, I could always try again. There are also a ton of challenges that partner with brands and offer discounts once the challenge is completed.
For those months when it’s just hard to find the time, there are smaller challenges like completing five hours of activity, be it walking, riding, or in the gym. If the free time is flowing there’s the distance challenge of riding 1,250 km in a month or the consistency challenge of 800 km.
While I don’t care too much about a virtual trophy case of badges there was a lovely sense of personal accomplishment with every challenge completed that kept me wanting to come back for more.
Price: Free with a Strava account.
More information: Strava.com
In 2019, when I wrote my first “10 products I loved” article, I included a set of metal water bottles that were my go-to training bottle that year. While I still love those bottles I have since discovered the brand Bivo.
Bivo makes stainless steel water bottles for an active lifestyle. There are a few different models but my favorite is the Bivo One. It is coated in silicone so it’s easier to grab and handle than a pure stainless steel bottle. Bivo has gone to extensive lengths to make sure the nozzle is easy to drink out of – no squeezing required. The silicone outer wall also keeps the bottle in most cages really well, with little to no rattling on rocky descents.
Since they are stainless steel they aren’t as susceptible to mold and post-washing soapy tastes. Even when I forget to bring my bottles in from the garage they still taste fine two days later, unlike traditional plastic bottles. They also last a heck of a lot longer than a standard plastic water bottle.
But the real reason I love this brand is their commitment to the environment. The stainless steel they use is 100% recyclable and they have offset their carbon emissions by contributing to the Cleaner, Safer Water in Cambodia project.
The Bivo One, or any bottle made by Bivo, is a water bottle I feel good about buying and using on a daily basis.
More information: Bivo
Similar to my obsession with gaining Strava Challenge badges I also fell down the rabbit hole of Zwift workouts in 2021. Honestly, I’m surprised Zwift wasn’t on my list in 2020 since I was using it daily last year as well.
(Full disclosure: Zwift is a sponsor of the Freewheeling podcast but I pay for my membership. Take from that what you will.)
In 2021 I had to learn to balance a full-time job with life. Fitness has always been important to me. Perhaps it’s an addiction, but I notice on days I don’t do some kind of active movement I am significantly more grumpy and less fun to be around. So when my free hours were cut by 80% this year and I didn’t have time for four-hour mountain bike rides and long days out on the road, I had to find a solution.
Enter Zwift structured workouts.
When signing in to Zwift there is an option to pair your ride with a pre-constructed workout. There are workouts specifically designed to be under an hour if you’re short on time, or workouts that can last up to two hours if you’re watching the first four hours of a boring Tour de France stage and need something to keep you busy. There are also training plans, designed by professional coaches or athletes, that span months and can help you build your fitness, prepare for a race, elevate your FTP, stay active in the offseason, etc.
There are a ton of options for every level of fitness and experience and the way the workouts are shown on the screen make them extremely easy to follow. It’s also really nice to feel like you’ve made the most of your time on the bike with some specific intervals. They make the time fly by.
Price: Free seven-day trial. US$14.99 per month after the trial.
More information: What’s on Zwift.
At first glance you may say “this isn’t cycling related”, but that would be false. A cyclist’s addiction to sparkling water is real.
As the global warming crisis gets worse I have become more and more aware of my personal footprint and what I am doing that can be harmful to the environment. Buying 2-4 six packs of sparkling water every week is a clear red flag. I tried the SodaStream and found the CO2 cartridges didn’t last very long and were a pain to replace. At one point there wasn’t a single full CO2 cartridge in the city of Boulder and I’m pretty sure I still have three empty ones rolling around in my car.
Earlier this year my sister discovered a Canadian company called Spärkel that makes sparkling water without a CO2 tank. Instead, the water is pressurized with a citric acid and sodium bicarbonate powder to generate CO2 gas naturally. At the end of the process you’re left with delicious sparkling water containing none of the carbonating powder.
While there is still a degree of waste from the little plastic packets of carbonating powder, Spärkel’s website claims its product uses 97% less plastic than store-bought bottles. They also have a program to collect ocean-bound plastics from the environment to offset plastic waste. So it’s a start.
The machine has become a household staple that I use at least twice a day. No more lugging heavy liters of sparkling water up the stairs.
There are a few downsides, through. The powder builds up in the upper compartment and can make it hard to get parts of the machine opened. If you forget to empty the filtered water the machine can also explode … although their customer service is amazing and in my case they sent a new one within a week. And finally, it can only be purchased in the USA or Canada.
More information: Spärkel
Along with my on-the-bike fitness journey in 2021 I also found that I enjoyed lifting weights in the comfort of my own home.
Maybe it was the 5am wakeup calls for weight training before school throughout high school but I’ve always hated going to the gym. It was definitely one of my biggest weaknesses as an athlete. For some strange reason after retirement I started going to Rally Sport in Boulder by choice and discovered a curiosity when it came to lifting weights without a program. There were some workouts I enjoyed and some I didn’t and I got a routine going for a few months before COVID shut it all down.
When the pandemic started to close gyms I slowly built my own setup at home with the bare minimum of weights I’d need for the exercises I enjoyed. I kept up my 40-minute routine three times a week throughout most of 2021 and found it made a huge difference in my overall wellbeing and stability.
The setup I put together in Spain consisted of a weighted vest for squats and leg movements. I can also not wear it and instead just hold it for some other activities. My favorite is the ankle weights. I use them for a ton of things and when I’m feeling like I don’t want to sit down comfortably later I’ll wear them on a hike.
I’m not going to give a list of exercises but I will say there are some fun apps that can at least give you some ideas. Personally I like Peloton (yes they have more than just cycling) and the Nike app.
The best part about an at-home gym is no one is watching. You can blast your Taylor Swift all you want. It is imperative that you learn the proper way to execute each movement, however. Bad form can lead to some nasty injuries. For this reason I like finding new exercises on an app or a YouTube video rather than an article. It helps to see someone doing it.
Price: Varies. This particular setup was around $300 from Decathlon.
I will prefice the following by saying that I never in a million years thought I would enjoy wearing a helmet. Helmets are a necessary evil that always ruin my hair and in general seem not to be made for a human head. I’ve even worn POC helmets before that I didn’t love. But the Ventral Lite helmet is so light it’s easy to forget I’m even wearing it. At only 270 grams it’s nearly weightless.
When it comes to weight and cycling products I usually couldn’t be fussed. I understand the general idea that lighter means going up hills faster, or whatever, but it’s not something I think about when I’m out looking for the perfect gear. Still, when I’m getting ready to hit the road and I’m looking a stack of different helmets, there is something about the Ventral Lite that stands out.
The ventilation is great which is nice in the hot Spanish summers and it works flawlessly with the Devour sunglasses, as an added bonus.
I’ve always believed in POC helmets. For a little insight as to why, check out stage 2 of the 2017 men’s Tour of California. But it wasn’t until I tried the Ventral Lite that I found a helmet I was keen to use day after day.
More information: POC Sports
Velocio’s Luxe bibs have been my favorite bibs of all time, ever, anywhere, period, since they were launched a few years ago. A more perfect pair of bibs have never been made. At one point on a group ride, when a woman I was riding with – a stranger – asked me if they were soft I insisted she feel them (it was weird).
I shouldn’t have been surprised when this year Velocio took their already incredible bibs and made them 100x better. They are constantly moving the bar higher when it comes to practical, comfortable, and innovative cycling clothing.
The original version of the Luxe bibs had a separate piece of fabric at the bottom with a seam running around the thigh. In this new and improved edition they got rid of it entirely, opting for a raw cut finish with little grippers instead.
The bibs still feature a fabric akin to the spider’s silk of legend. It’s soft and compressive and honestly exciting to slip into. The compressive nature and quality of the grippers make it so the bibs stay in place even for those really long rides.
I could probably live in these bibs. Thank goodness Velocio has a pair of casual tights with the same fabric.
More information: Velocio
In my time in the cycling world I have ridden a good number of bikes. Maybe not as many as James Huang or Dave Rome, but still, a few. On professional teams I, in theory, rode top-of-the-line race bikes. But I’ve never ridden a bike as fast, fun, smooth, and easy to handle as the Factor 02.
(Full disclosure: I didn’t pay for this frame, but I started working with Factor on this before I was a CyclingTips employee.)
This climbing-specific frameset is insanely light, which doesn’t really matter to me except that I can lord it over my husband whose climbing-specific bike is heavier. What I love about the bike is how responsive it is. I’ve been riding a couple other bikes for a few years and thought maybe I forgot how to descend; something I was quite good at while racing. The first day I jumped on this bike and hit a descent I said “woah!” out loud because of how smooth it was and how good it felt going around the corners.
I can’t really speak to the tech stuff, but I can say this bike is absolutely gorgeous. With the internal cable routing and Black Inc integrated carbon headset the whole thing looks really clean. I paired my Factor 02 with Shimano Durace Di2 and a Hunt 44 UD Carbon Spoke wheelset (which are also fantastic).
I would return to racing just so I could see how fast this bike could go in the peloton.
To make the bike even more special Factor gave me the opportunity to design the custom paintjob myself. Yellow has been my favorite color since birth. To me it is light and life, sunshine and long summer days. And what better way to spend a long summer day than on a bike ride?
From there I added some sunflower details; my favorite flower. As a kid my mom used to plant a garden of sunflowers with a little table and chairs in the center for tea parties, like some kind of Alice in Wonderland dream. It all came together to make a bike that I am almost afraid to ride outside but couldn’t possible leave in the house.
I’ve had many bikes. I’ve sold many bikes that I didn’t feel any attachment to. This bike is a dream come true and something I will keep for the rest of my life. I can’t actually believe it’s mine.
Price: Upwards of US$2,700
More information: Factor Bikes
Yes, this is the third year in a row that a Taylor Swift album has been on my list, and I will stop putting her music on my list when I either a) no longer work at CyclingTips or b) she stops putting out music that speaks to my soul. Sorry, but I am definitely not sorry.
In her quest to regain control of her masters Taylor Swift re-released one of her best albums of all time, Red, on November 14, 2021. I first discovered Taylor Swift while racing collegiate mountain bikes at the University of Colorado Boulder. The year was 2010, the album was Speak Now. The introduction of Taylor Swift into my life was the closest thing to love at first sight I’ve ever experienced (sorry Toms). Her songs were reflections of my emotions, my deepest fears, and my wildest dreams.
When Swift released Red two years later the album coincided with heartbreak of my own, and thus this iconic breakup album became my constant companion for many months.
As a longtime Swift fan I am all for the re-releases. I don’t compare the original albums to the new; instead I treated the release of Red (Taylor’s Version) as new music. In 2021 I am no longer heartbroken so I can’t relate as much as I did to the original, but regardless, from the moment this album hit my Apple Music account I couldn’t stop listening.
She had me at State of Grace (Taylor’s Version). By All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) I was in tears. I lost my voice from singing along to Begin Again (Taylor’s Version) but forced myself to keep singing all the way through Better Man (Taylor’s Version).
Words can’t do justice to All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault) (yes, all those brackets are in the song title). This masterpiece was on repeat for the 10-hour drive I took from California to Idaho the day after the album was released and I am currently listening to it, because I can’t shake how incredible it is. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a relationship doomed to fail and haunted from the start.
The entire album is phenomenal.
As I’ve said in my other “10 products I loved” lists, my favourite thing in the world is listening to music while riding my bike, so music will always be tethered to cycling for me. Because of this I am delighted to place Red (Taylor’s Version) on my list of favourite products in 2021.
Price: US$49.99 for the Vinyl (pictured here), US$14.99 for the CD. The album can also be found on streaming services.
More information: Taylor Swift official store