Early this year came a vaccination that meant far more than some concept of safety, and as I got that first shot, I cried. Not because it hurt but because it stood for hope. The world was grappling with the science of a pandemic and the vaccine was a capstone. Along for the ride was a promise that it was more or less okay to ride my bike with people again. I naively thought it might be the beginning of a return to normality.
As it turned out, there was very little that changed in a meaningful way, and this was especially true for those of us with kids. However, the one thing that did prove to be true was that I was able to start riding my bike with people again. After the 2020 dip in fitness and exploration I was able to get outside and do the riding that helped me feel alive.
At the end of 2020 I set some goals and with the help of the people in my orbit, I was able to start making them happen. Early in the season I still wasn’t feeling ready to be a part of a large group in a gravel race but I was happy to head out with a friend. A regional gravel cycling group had pivoted from in-person rides to rides of the month during the previous year, so we tackled it. That early-season 200k set the stage for a year of high-level riding.
For the first time, I set actual ride goals in motion and leaned on previous experience to make changes. Instead of just riding to ride and tackling events that sounded interesting, I watched my fitness and built to the events I wanted to do. As I write this in early December, I still have goals on the horizon but I have been successful so far.
Near the summer solstice, I packed the most miles I’d ever packed into two days. With a ride from Portland Oregon to Seattle Washington and back, I tackled roughly 640k in a period of about 24 hours. A little over a month later I rode my bike 130k, camped, then did a 330k mixed surface race with over 4,200 metres of elevation. This was in the midst of record-breaking heat, and real safety concerns, but I did it!
Now as the year comes to a close, I still have my biggest challenge left. In 2019 I attempted the Rapha Festive 500 ride in one shot and failed. I was woefully unprepared for what it takes to ride that kind of distance in the winter through a temperate rainforest, and not only that, I tried to do it mostly alone. After a year of planning, I’m now almost ready to, hopefully, try again. I have a small team and I’m leaning on my experiences of failure. Just as I did in the summer, my goal is to ride slower and eat more.
Whatever happens, I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. I strive to always be moving forward and that’s exactly what this year looks like in retrospect. In many ways it was a very hard year but despite that, I found meaning in the things I did. So, here’s a tip of the hat to staying flexible in the face of uncertainty and setting goals we feel good about. Now, let’s get back to talking about cool tech.
Best tech: Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
A lot of people have an idea of Garmin bike computers that dates back to around 2009, but over 10 years later it’s no surprise that modern Garmin bike computers are completely different. The Garmin Edge 1030 Plus is the best cycling computer Garmin makes and it’s got everything you’d ever need. That includes things like the climbing screen that gives details about each climb as well the number of climbs left. It also includes the excellent mapping that makes it easy to move around the map when you find yourself unsure of the bigger picture. What’s different about the 1030 Plus is that it’s a bigger unit with a bigger screen and a bigger battery. The bigger, 88.9mm / 3.5in, colour touchscreen is a plus but for me, the reason this piece makes my list of my favourite gear is the battery. It’s capable of as much as 48 hours with minimal sensors and backlighting but use it like normal and you’ve easily got 24 hours on board.
Read our Garmin Edge 1030 Plus review
Best wheels: Cadex 65 Tubeless Disc
I’ve put over 11,000km on these wheels and I’ve never done anything beyond very occasionally washing them. The hubs have remained completely trouble-free and the ride is as good today as the day I first put them on the bike – although, that part is something I expect. The reason I love these wheels is because of how light they are.
I’m all in when it comes to aerodynamics. It’s free speed so why not take whatever advantage is available? Even if it’s only a small bit of extra speed it adds up when a ride is 10-12 hours long. The challenge with deep wheels is that they can start getting heavy. Cadex flips the script with its 65 tubeless disc wheels and the 1,501g weight. They are lighter than wheels most people consider climbing wheels but as deep as you can realistically run for day-to-day riding. Along with being aerodynamically efficient the wide, 22.4mm internal width puts me at 50 psi on 28mm tyres. That means a seriously cushy ride.
Read our Cadex 65 Tubeless Disc first ride introduction
Best Saddle: Ergon SR Allroad Core Pro Carbon
As I’ve spent more time on bikes, consider that a euphemism for as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot pickier about my saddle. I used to easily bounce from saddle to saddle with no issue but these days the right saddle is a challenge. For gravel riding, it’s been even more of a challenge but early this year I found the Ergon SR Allroad Core line of saddles from our list of the best gravel bike saddles. For the first time in a long time, it just felt right. I have one bike with a Pro version and one bike with the Pro Carbon version and soft tissue bruising after long rides hasn’t shown up since making the change. The two versions share the same construction other than a different rail material and 45 extra grams for the cheaper TiNox Rail. The upper starts with an Orthopedic AirCell Seat Foam and below that is a layer of Infinergy foam. Without getting too verbose here the result is excellent energy absorption that’s perfect no matter the surface you plan to cover.
Best sunglasses: Adidas SP0041
Sunglasses are one of those pieces of gear where style is a big part of the equation. Some years I’ve felt like I really understand the trends, while this year I’m a little less clear. There does seem to be a lot of riding glasses losing the top frame bar for visibility. Wherever you might stand on the style of these glasses consider the SP0041 more of a placeholder to highlight one of the best lenses available. Only Adidas and Bolle have a photochromic lens with a mirrored finish. Both are good options but the Adidas version transitions almost all the way to clear. It doesn’t matter what the ride is like, if you’ve got these lenses, you can keep your glasses on from start to finish rain or shine. They are as useful in the winter as they are in the summer.
Gamechanger: Garmin Charge Power Pack
Bike computer options are one of those things I get asked about a lot and also something I love to talk about. It’s both tech and fitness and I find it endlessly fascinating. I can see the good and the bad in almost every option but inevitably battery life is part of the discussion. When it comes to Garmin, it has something no one else even comes close to offering, and that is a 3,100 mAh USB battery pack. Without fail the response to this is that it’s expensive and every bike computer will charge with any USB battery pack. To which I ask, “how does that work in the rain?” You can add the Charge battery pack to a variety of Garmin computers but paired with the Garmin 1030 Plus, you get at least 48 hours of rainproof battery power that sits neatly integrated on an outfront mount. If you are planning any kind of bikepacking or serious endurance ride you no longer have to plan how to charge your bike computer. It completely changes the planning equation.
Best bib shorts: Castelli Free Aero Race 4
If I’m writing an entire article about the Castelli Free Aero Race 4 bib shorts then there’s plenty to talk about. They are aero optimised and feature small dots on the thighs that help keep the air attached. Then there is the Progetto X2 Air Seamless seat pad which (as the name suggests) doesn’t have any seams to get in the way and has small, almost imperceptible, pockets of gel right under the point of the sit bones. The truth though is all that falls away in the face of the fit. When I pull the Castelli Free Aero Race 4 bib shorts on, they look good and I feel great. The fact that I’ve worn them for days at a time, only washing them in sinks, and know they perform is icing on the cake. The bibs have been on the market a long time now but they continue to be my go-to option for long hours in the saddle.
Read our Castelli Free Aero Race 4 bib shorts review
Best jersey: Castelli Aero Race 6.0 Jersey
It’s only natural that most aero jerseys are not also well suited to long-distance riding. It’s not fast to have the pockets stuffed full of gear, after all, but I would say that misses the point of aero optimisation and Castelli seems to agree, since the Castelli Aero Race 6.0 Jersey has some of the best pockets on the market. The tail is longer than many and the pockets extend to the bottom but the silicone grip sits at the waist. Stuff the pockets full and they expand down and out but leave the gripper sitting flat against the body and able to continue working. It’s not overly complex in design but rather simple and effective. On the front, you get a big plastic zipper that will never degrade from sweat. These features, paired with the long sleeves, aero neckline, and excellent fit make for a jersey that’s both aero optimised and usable for long-distance riding. It doesn’t hurt that there’s plenty of style in the mix too.
Read our Castelli Aero Race 6.0 Jersey review
Best nutrition product: SiS Beta Fuel 80
My biggest weakness on the bike is that I don’t eat enough. Over the years I’ve gained a better understanding of the subject but the action continues to fall behind – I just don’t take in the necessary calories and it only gets worse when my needs increase. If I’m chasing a fast rider or racing, I should be eating more and instead, I end up eating less. Each time I’ve failed in a cycling endeavour I can trace that failure back to a lack of calories.
After years of riding with no real change, SiS Beta fuel was the first time I found a product that made a difference. I use a 320-calorie packet in each bottle and no matter what else I do on the bike I have an extra 640 calories for every ride. I like the way it tastes and I find it easy to consume. It’s been the biggest performance boost I’ve had to my riding in years.
Read our coverage of the SiS Beta introduction
Best service: RideWithGPS route planning
For years I’ve used RideWithGPS to plot the routes I later follow on my bike computer. I look at heat maps, search RideWithGPS for routes from other users, and even search for blog descriptions of routes. Once I have an idea, I start stitching everything together using the RideWithGPS route creation tools until I have the first draft. In the past, I would then have to spend hours checking Google Maps to try and understand what road surfaces I was going to encounter. I’d zoom all the way in on the satellite view and attempt to figure out if I was looking at light coloured pavement or a dirt road. This year RideWithGPS changed everything when it introduced road surface information. Plan a route and it shows you exactly which sections lack pavement as well as what percentage of unpaved surface your ride entails.
RideWithGPS route planning service