10 products I loved in 2021: Iain Treloar
From music to mudguards, gravel tyres to $10 racks, these are the things that stuck with me this year.
From music to mudguards, gravel tyres to $10 racks, these are the things that stuck with me this year.
Some years feel longer than others, but 2021 has demonstrated the clever trick of packing about a decade’s worth of fatigue into itself. I’ve ridden less than I have in years, and been fewer places – indeed, often not beyond a 5 km bubble. It’s a paradox, then, that in spite of all that I’ve ended the year with more reasons to love cycling, rather than fewer.
My list this year continues a trend of a couple of years away from ‘performance’ cycling – a quest for vibes over VO2, a sense of wonder over wattage.
Sometimes I catch myself pondering what the younger version of myself would think of some of the products I now love the most, and whether I’d recognise myself at this wilder, woolier, wearier point of my life.
Where I usually get to, though, is this: however I ended up in this place, I have to hope there’s a certain authenticity I’d be proud of.
(For what it’s worth, many of my most loved products from past years are still making me smile: special shout-outs to the Knog PWR Road light (2018), SRAM Force 1x groupset (2020), my Road Logic (2018), and TRP’s CX 8.4 mini-vs (2019), all of which I could’ve gladly given a second run. And luxury French casserole dishes (2020). Obviously.)
Ritchey’s Outback came into my life about a year back when I got it in for the Australian Field Test. I had an inkling I’d like it, but I was surprised by the intensity of connection that developed. Within a couple of weeks, it became clear that I’d end up holding onto it, and because I didn’t just want it as a travel bike, it ended up displacing another (very nice) gravel bike I’d bought earlier that year.
As time passes, my conviction strengthens that whatever impressions you have of your bike are a combination of what it is and what you are. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Sometimes a bike is great on paper but not the right spiritual fit. Sometimes a bike is a guide onto a new pathway. If you’re lucky, sometimes a bike meets you at the exact place you are. The Ritchey Outback is a near-perfect fit for my approach to riding at the moment – shreds when it needs to, ambles when it doesn’t, comfortable and dependable, a conduit to escapism.
It could be lighter and it could be quicker; then again, so could I – and if those are the only metrics you’re looking for in a bike, dream bigger. In a hard year, this bike has brought peace, and you can’t measure that with a scale or a power meter.
Price: US$1,799 / €1,899 / AU$2,899 (frameset)
More information: ritcheylogic.com
I’ve been commutifying my old Cannondale ‘cross bike this year. The simple goal: turning it into a bike that would be an all-weather workhorse, eat up my (at the time) 40 km of daily commuting, and be low-maintenance and utilitarian.
My favourite addition was the cheapest – a little front rack that I got off AliExpress for US$9.94, including delivery. It was cheap enough to roll the dice; I didn’t know whether it would work out for me, but I wanted to give a concept a try without forking out the big bucks for something artisanal (and, objectively, better) from Velo Orange or Nitto.
I’m glad I gave it a shot, because after finding an appropriate dry-bag that could mount to the top of it, this little rack has become a permanent fixture. The combination of rack and bag is perfect for a change of clothes or a bit of shopping; if I need more capacity, I guess I can strap on a bigger bag. Or transport cucumbers like an enormous bicycle phallus. Either’s good.
The welds on the rack are pretty rough and it required a bit of persuasion to get it to fit properly, but also, it was less than $10. Until it breaks or I can convince myself to spend 10 times more for something better and more beautiful that does the same job, it’ll do just fine.
Price: Varies depending on vendor and location, but as low as US$9.94.
More information: AliExpress.com and a lot of careful browsing (if you’re in the small and shrinking niche of somebody with V-brakes or cantis that wants a small and thrifty front rack, which is, I will admit, not many of you)
2021 was the year of the lost saddle bag. First was an Arundel Dual, the velcro of which gave up somewhere along a very steep fire road. Next was the contents of an overstuffed Silca – my fault for trying to cram a 650B tube into a road saddle bag. All of those little bits and bobs add up – the CO2 heads, the tubes, the tyre levers, the emergency $10 note/tyre boot – sacrificial offerings to the tribulations of the trail.
In desperation, I turned to a Speedsleev that I had lurking at the back of my parts drawer. It was an obnoxious green that I hated, but my wife modified it with a layer of iron-on white vinyl, and then I did some illustrations with blue pen and added a reflective tab for good measure.
Now I like how it looks, and it doesn’t rattle around or seem like a flight risk. Not a bad outcome from a parts drawer find and a crafternoon.
Price: US$20 / AU$54.99
More information: speedsleev.com
You know what’s good? Not getting to places looking like you’ve soiled yourself.
For reasons that now seem insignificant (aesthetics, weight, whether I will look like a PrOpEr BiCyCliSt) I spent years resistant to the idea of installing full-length mudguards. I’m not at a point yet where I’d have them on every bike, but I no longer see a single good reason NOT to have them on the bike you’d ride in everyday clothing.
These SKS mudguards were easy to fit, are quiet, and improve the functionality of the bike they’re installed on. That’s money well spent, in my book.
Price: AU$76.99 / €42.99 (but available cheaper online)
More information: sks-germany.com
About 18 months ago I reviewed a pair of Oakleys in the hope that they’d be that rare beast: a pair of high-functioning cycling glasses that look normal off the bike. They weren’t. They slid down my nose when sweaty, looked a bit loud, and were generally a bit of a disappointment.
A year later, I had a bit of birthday money burning a hole in my pocket and I decided to try again. I ended up buying the Oakley Foragers – a kind of rounded shape with a double bridge – and you know what? They’re absolutely superb. The Prizm Road Black lenses make the world look gorgeous, they’re grippy, and they’re (I think) stylish enough without looking full roadie-wanker.
Do I look a bit like a Tusken Raider on holiday? Yes. Do I think that look works for me? Also yes.
Price: AU$203 at time of purchase, but do some Googling, because they might be discontinued in this colour.
More information: oakley.com
Finding the right gravel tyre isn’t always the easiest task. You’ve got to thread the needle of weather conditions, local terrain, and ambition – and that’s before you even get to things like weight, how reliable a tyre is if run tubeless, and (crucially) whether it comes in a tanwall.
The Goodyear Connector Ultimate is about as close as I’ve come to “the right tyre” for my Ritchey Outback, most of the year round. I had a bit of a time getting the 650B wheelset dialled for this bike – in part a function of the very wide rim – but the Connector played along from the get-go, and I haven’t taken them off since.
It’s that elusive blend of a tyre that rolls pretty quickly, grips pretty well, and is, in my experience, pretty painless to set up tubeless. Bonus: since installing them in February, I haven’t had a single flat, they retain air well, and the tread looks almost new. Big fan.
Price: US$64 / £43 / €50 / AU$114.99
More information: goodyearbike.com
Since I bought this as a second-hand frameset for $200 four years ago, my trusty CAADX has gone through a number of changes. It has had Di2 and two mechanical groupsets on it, changed from cantis to mini V-brakes, had three saddles, and worn tyres from 28 mm up to 40 mm on a couple of different wheelsets. It’s been a pub bike, a gravel bike, a Zwift bike. I like its current commuter incarnation the best, I think: mudguards, a rack, a wide-range 1x drivetrain.
When I picked it up all those years back, it was an idle curiosity, a project to keep my hands busy, and a place to hang a groupset. It was the bike that, if it got stolen out the front of the pub one day, would be worth more in an insurance payout than it cost me to put together. With those disdainful beginnings, I never imagined it’d get much use, but in the years since I’ve seen the light. Now it’s my default bike for what’s becoming a substantial slice of my riding pie: aimless night-time rambles and ‘utility’ cycling. It just keeps going, and I will be very sad when it stops.
Price: Whatever you can find one for on your local Facebook marketplace.
More information: embarrassingly-outdated-bike-works-just-fine-still-shreds.org
In March, Rapha released its Boa-equipped Explore Powerweave shoe. For almost every ride since, they’re the ones I’ve reached for. After many kilometres of rumination, and with comparison to other high-end gravel shoes (including the S-Works Recon Lace) I’ve come to the conclusion that what the Explore Powerweaves do best isn’t efficiency or stiffness, but comfort.
The star of the show is the extremely soft, conforming upper, which molds around the lumps and bumps of the foot with sock-like forgiveness. Walkability is excellent too, with a natural rubber outsole that grips well and enough flex in the sole to allow a fluid gait.
They’re a bit heavier than their rivals (they give up almost 150 g to the Recon Lace, for instance) and the upper gets a bit tatty over time (an issue that I flagged in my review of them). But for me, those downsides do not come close to outweighing the upsides. These are my current gold standard for what a cycling shoe should be.
Price: AU$450 / US$355 / €310 / £260
More information: rapha.cc
For three or four months of this year, Melbourne was back to its lockdown schtick. There were good reasons why and the measures were correct, but you can only intellectualise that so far. After 110-odd days of it in 2020, it was, firstly, no good; and secondly, even worse than the first time around, because we knew how shit it was going to be. By the end, the cumulative tally was more than 260 days.
For me at least, those studiously kept daily ride routines soon went out the window. Totally predictably, so did my mental health (see also: here, here, here and here). Life’s returning to something like normal, but every morning felt – still feels – like trudging through treacle. Every word I write like it’s being extracted through a fog. The days manage the temporal illusion of being excruciatingly long, but also too short to get any closer to the bottom of my to-do list. It’s a hazy malaise.
One small saving grace was the narrow window between the kids going to bed and curfew at 9pm. Sometimes, all I got was 15 minutes. Sometimes less. But when you feel like you’re behind the wheel of a car that’s sinking in a lake, you snatch what breaths you can.
I wish I could be more disciplined about it. That I’d take better care of myself and ride before I need it. But then I’d miss the quiet roads, the cool night air, the self-reflection, the feeling of a day’s weight sliding off me, the sense of hope that tomorrow will feel a little less heavy.
In 2021, I turned to a handful of standout artists for distinct moods. For disappearing down rabbit holes writing, it was hour upon hour of Blanck Mass and Tim Hecker. For staring into the abyss, it was Ben Frost. For potent rage, it was King Woman. For daydreaming, the new Deafheaven. For breakdown rides, the stately sorrow of Nick Cave’s newest couple of albums. For a sugary rush, the relentless hooks of Paramore and The Jezabels. For Sunday mornings around the house, the cosy cardigan of Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Evermore.
But a single album? That honour has to go to Pinegrove’s career-spanning live recording, Amperland, NY. The band produces a kind of literate alt-country that’s shot through with gorgeous pedal steel lines, kinda punk in ethos and bookish in execution, laid atop a complicated backstory.
As a listener, that presents its challenges – trying to reconcile all of these aspects into a cohesive emotional response – but after a run through of ‘On Jet Lag’ you might begin to get it: the patient chug, the way that a choppy beat stretches into languorous strums, the seat-of-the-pants vocal line, how the song crashes in like a wave and then recedes.
More information: pinegrove.bandcamp.com