This year has been my first working as a full-time bike journo and what a time I've had. My highlights from the last eight months go way beyond the material gear that I have got my hands on - although there have undoubtedly been some excellent items I’ve got to test and write about.
I think I entered the bike media industry at the right time; just when in-person meetings, group rides and events were starting to make their return after Covid. This meant I’ve got to meet some pretty awesome people and industry professionals, and ride plenty of brilliant bikes in 2022.
Although, conveniently, Strava has just reminded me of the fact that I have actually clocked in fewer kilometres this year compared to 2021. But when I look back, I feel I experienced more varied cycling than ever - and definitely, the majority of it has been on gravel. One of my most remarkable 2022 cycling experiences happened in July when I rode from London to Paris on gravel with Hotchillee. Arriving in the French capital in a motorbike convoy and witnessing the start of the first-ever women's Tour de France was a spectacular and once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will cherish forever.
The London to Paris wasn't the only highlight gravel ride of the year, though. Whenever the train strike madness allowed, I had opportunities to ride with folk in England, and I visited East Devon for a women's bikepacking weekend and rode in East Anglia on a custom steel bike. And of course, I rode plenty on my home turf in Scotland as well, racing the Dirty Reiver, Raiders Gravel and Dukes Weekender events, in addition to the regular test rides and endless loops of the Whitelee Windfarm and Cathkin Braes (these are featured in a route collection if you wish to experience them yourself). And, although I am still a solo cyclist at heart, it's evident that this year has entailed more cycling events than ever before.
Before I get even soppier with my 2022 rides recap, and you all think I've just been riding bikes all around the world and writing about them for a living, let's get to what you came here to see: my favourite tech.
Best bikes of the year
ribble belgium.jpg, by Suvi loponen
I know my colleagues have neatly narrowed down their bike of the year to one specific top performer but, for me, I cannot say that there’s been one bike that ruled them all this year. I only reviewed one bike; the Ribble Gravel SL Pro (in the pic above). It was a very impressive and capable bike on many fronts and in addition to receiving my approving nod, it kept getting those from others too on every ride I took it on, mainland Europe included.
However, I also got the privilege to ride a Canyon Grail AL 7 eTap as part of my role as a member of Team-ORCC, our very own amateur racing team. I’ve talked through the bike in this bike check video, and there is a review coming up as well, detailing everything I love (and hate) about this 650b-wheeled wee beast. Despite not being a traditional race bike, this bike has made me ride technical gravel faster than I ever thought is possible for me and nearly got me on the podium at Raiders Gravel.
And then there were the other bikes. The Liv Devote Advanced (the bike in the cover photo on a hill that I assure you, was steeper than it seems) that I rode from London to Paris and all around the UK until it squeaked and creaked from all the dust that the heatwaves left behind. And there is one very special custom steel bike in the makes for next year... so perhaps I will be able to narrow down my bike choice for 2023!
Best item of clothing - Kostüme women’s bib shorts
I got to test so many pairs of bibs this year that I have become very picky. A good pair of bibs is essential for ride comfort and once I find a pair that suits me, there's always the urge to stock up in case the brand changes something for the next season. From the moment I first pulled these Kostüme Women's bibs on, I was immediately impressed with their quality - and I started to wonder if I should, indeed, stock up right away. But that would go against the ethos behind these bibs.
Kostüme, a small Bristol-based brand, produces its clothing apparel in small batches to reduce waste and for each edition, they work in collaboration with artists who provide the stand-out colourways. The fact that these are not mass produced, that they are great quality (which means long lifespan) and that they simply look and feel good make them my go-to comfy bibs. They have very few seams, meaning they feel more like a pair of yoga shorts when on - and the raw-cut legs are excellent in avoiding that dreaded sausage leg effect.
Best shoes - Fizik Terra Artica GTX
2022 Fizik Terra Artica GTX-1.jpg, by Suvi loponen
The Terra Artica GTX are the Fizik’s new winter boots, made to keep you pedalling well into the winter months. In my opinion, these are amongst the best gravel cycling shoe options if you like to ride throughout winter.
At the time of writing this, some of the UK is colder than my home country, Finland, so the soft, breathable fleece lining in these kicks has been an absolute lifesaver whenever I've ventured out on my bike. The outer layer of these shoes is made with a Gore-Tex membrane, which is really waterproof and easy to keep clean - both qualities you want from an off-road shoe. The waterproofness has really saved my feet on numerous wet rides that included crossing some boggy terrain and freezing puddles. Unfortunately, the shoes don't help much if you duck face-first into a swamp with your bike...
And as a cherry on top, the bright colourway of these shoes is just the right amount of pop for the dark winter months, and the shoes still go well with any of my other kit. There is the black version of the boots too if you hate colours.
Best cycling accessory - Ortlieb Quick Rack
2022 Ortlieb Quick Rack-side view with mudguard.jpg, by Suvi loponen
This one was an easy pick because, despite the number of accessories I’ve tested in the last months, none came close to impressing me as much as the Ortlieb Quick Rack.
By saying that this is my favourite I've somewhat surprised myself. That's because I have never been a fan of pannier racks; the looks of them, the faff of fitting them and the way they make your bike behave like a massive windsail. The Ortlieb Quick Rack changed all of that...
It is still a pannier rack and takes those baggy, traditional pannier bags, but it can be removed from the bike in literally seconds (15, according to Ortlieb) when not needed. I have come to really appreciate the functionality and added capacity of a pannier rack for bikepacking - and enjoy that I don't have to have a pannier rack on my bike for a second longer than necessary.
And not only does this rack work brilliantly in its intended purpose of carrying plenty - no more than 20kg of things - it's also very well priced. There is another, rather well-known, lightweight rear rack system that sets you back about three times the price of the Quick Rack. And if there is something that I love more than great performance cycling gear, it is not-overpriced-and-great-performance cycling gear.
Best gravel tyre - Hutchinson Overide
2022 Hutchinson Overide 38mm gravel tyre-tread.jpg, by Suvi Loponen
This tyre was a bit of a dark horse among the gravel tyres for me. The days when I ran a non-knobbly gravel tyre are a thing of the past, so when I saw the pair of Overides I was sceptical about the lack of knobblies and grip. I even questioned whether they had the right of being called a gravel tyre, at all.
My doubts quickly vanished, as this tyre proved to be excellent for the autumn conditions with superb grip on the tarmac, and hardpacked gravel, even when it was wet. Despite the supple ride feel I had zero punctures as these just seem to roll over every piece of glass and thorns unscathed.
Available in a good range of widths, the Overide makes a perfect bikepacking and all-road tyre and I am for sure using them on my next long-distance adventure.
Object of desire - Silca titanium SPD cleats
2022 Silca ti spd cleats.jpg, by Suvi loponen
Titanium cleats, why on earth? That was my thought, too. At first glance, these Silca titanium SPD cleats are just another pair of cleats but with a hefty price tag. The cost, which is about four times that of a normal pair of steel or brass SPD cleats, can seem hard to justify, but hold your horses, as these cleats come with impressive claims.
First is the weight: these claim to shave 30g off your standard Shimano cleats. To achieve this Silca has combined 3D printing technology with the use of titanium, a material that is 1/3 lighter than steel. This includes the bolts that have a T25 interface.
Then there is durability. Silca claims these cleats last three to four times longer than your regular pair of brass cleats. If we assume that a pair of those lasts a year, these would serve you for a good long time… I’m only about four months into testing my pair, and cannot say whether they will last for another 28, but if nothing else, during these four months I’ve managed to have more conversations about cleats than ever before and I must admit - they do look cool - whenever you might look at your cleats, that is...