Gear of the Year - our favourite tech from 2022
After a challenging couple of years of lockdowns and vaccinations, a welcomed sense of normality returned to the cycling industry in 2022. For the first time in nearly two years, trade shows such as Eurobike and Sea Otter returned in full scale, and product launches became commonplace again, as did in-real-life meetings and face time - bye-bye Zoom. It hasn't all been smooth sailing, though, especially for distributors and manufacturers who have struggled with delays pertaining to supply chain issues - and Brexit has played its part, too. But none of that has stopped us from testing and reviewing more gear than ever before.
Public interest around bicycles is still growing positively and that has been reflected in off.road.cc’s performance this year - both in terms of new users and site traffic, and we have you, dear reader, to thank for our success. As a result, we’ve made a concerted effort to cater our content around servicing the enthusiast, answering your questions, sating your thirst for new gear and keeping you abreast of all the industry and race news. Our weekly Friday Five Cool Things and Mountain Bike Icons franchises are cases in point - designed to whet your appetite and educate, all in an effort to make off.road.cc a more rounded website and home for all things dirt related.
You’ll continue to see more features - have you had a look at our ‘Everything you need to know’ series covering cross-country mountain biking, downcountry, enduro mountain biking, freeride mountain biking, downhill mountain biking and gravel bike racing? What about our freshly updated buyer’s guides? To ensure we strike the right balance, we've also improved our coverage of the UCI MTB World Cup, and featured regular pro bike checks not forgetting our famous patent articles and tech stories. You can expect a lot more of this content next year, including even better race coverage of the cross-country, downhill, EWS and Cape Epic races.
But this is a Gear-of-the-Year feature, right? So let’s get straight into it. As you are well aware, we make a concerted effort to test as many mountain biking, gravel and e-MTB products - bikes, components, accessories, protection and clothing - as humanly possible every year. Naturally, we manage to get our hands on all sorts of kit, both of the exotic and not-so-exotic varieties and are mostly left impressed by the level of quality and strides made to ensure the goalposts are continually being shifted.
Below is a list of products spanning 12 categories that we voted for collectively as a team. Not only did each of them stand out in their respective segments, but they also represent items we’d personally purchase - and that says a lot. We hope you enjoy the read.
Aaron Borrill, Editor
Best bike: Canyon Spectral 125 CF8
As a fan of aggressively shaped short-travel 29ers, the news that Canyon was taking the Spectral platform and reducing its suspension travel was pretty exciting news for me.
And during my review of the bike, I struggled to find any faults. The Spectral 125 is every bit as confident as its bigger sibling, thanks to a near identical geometry but it's just bags of fun, due to its shrunken travel figures. I could ride the Spectral 125 just like the bigger Spectral but it makes the absolute most of every pedal stroke and its all-out hooligan characteristic is one I’m certain a huge range of people will appreciate. The colourway on the CF8 I tested is also quite the looker. - Liam Mercer, Deputy tech editor
Best item of clothing: Endura GV 500 Insulated jacket
Endura’s GV500 insulated Jacket has become a firm favourite over the course of the last 12 months. Its Primaloft Active Gold insulation has been incredibly effective for its weight and its low bulk makes it easy to stuff into a seat pack or frame bag. The hood, when up, is cosy and when not in use, doesn’t bellow and flap noticeably. The two-way front zipper works a treat to allow excess heat to escape if you are really motoring.
If it does get a little damp (on the forearms with me) it dries fast and stays warm. It’s been a constant companion for my bike packing trips and all-around cold-weather activity on and off the bike. It washes well and so far, has survived pretty much unscathed regardless of my bramble patch detour habit. The GV500 is a fantastic jacket. - Pat Joscelyne, Publisher
Best helmet: Abus Cliffhanger
The helmet market is a massively competitive sector at almost any price point, but none so more than the £170 to £230 range where we’re seeing the best mountain bike helmets feature-laden with things such as Mips, Fidlock and all of the ventilation you could ever want to the party.
When I reviewed ABUS’s latest half-shell, Cliffhanger, it quickly impressed me. It looks slick while being just as functional as helmets well north of its asking price. While with Mips, it fits a little snugly and offers everything any discerning trail rider will appreciate without costing the world. - Liam Mercer, Deputy tech editor
Best shoes: Fizik Terra Artica GTX
The Terra Artica GTX are the Fizik’s new winter boots, allowing you to keep pedalling well into the winter months. In my opinion, these are one of the best gravel cycling shoes 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 of these shoes has been an absolute life-saver on my rides.
And what’s been even better is the outer layer which is made with a Gore-Tex membrane. It is really waterproof and easy to keep clean - both qualities you want for an off-road shoe. The waterproofness is really what you want for UK winter riding (outside this unusual cold snap), when more often than not any gravel or MTB ride includes crossing some boggy surfaces and freezing streams.
For me, 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. But there is the black version of the boots too if you want to be boring. - Suvi Loponen, Staff writer
Best saddle: Repente Artax GLM saddle
As a product and bike tester, I am used to riding with different saddles fitted, and it is
rarely a problem as I seem to have a tolerance for different shapes, widths and
styles. Because of this saddles rarely stand out, until I tested the Repente Artax GLM.
From the very start of the first test ride, it simply felt fantastic, with
a superb shape that made for a very comfortable ride. It is classed as a gravel
saddle, but following the test I purchased an extra saddle for my road bike and used
it to complete the 1525km non-stop London Edinburgh London audax ride – and
finished with no discomfort whatsoever. - Matt Page, Reviews writer
Best wheelset: Parlee Sky Ridge Carbon wheelset
Of all the components, I think wheels are the area where the term diminishing returns most applies. You can get a really nice set of wheels with alloy rims for under £500, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still appreciate a beautiful high-end pair of carbon wheels. The Parlee Sky Ridge wheels offer a brilliant mix of low weight, but good stiffness when cornering combined with Industry Nine hubs that I absolutely loved.
The hubs have instant pick-up from the six-pawl, 120-point engagement and a freehub noise that I loved. Don’t just look at the big brand offerings - if you have the budget, this is one of the best gravel wheelsets to check out. - Matt Page, Reviews writer
Best cycling computer: Garmin Edge 1040 Solar
What's the most important attribute when it comes to a cycling computer? For many, it's mapping and navigational ability or performance metric tracking but neither of those means anything without decent battery life.
And that's exactly what makes the Garmin Edge 1040 Solar such an impressive proposition. Utilising solar panels that surround the entire screen, the panels extend battery life by as much as 42 minutes per hour during daytime riding. That boosts battery life by nearly double its predecessor at 45 hours in standard mode and 100 hours in battery saver mode.
Of course, other improvements have been carried out to the Edge 1040, too - this includes USB-C charging, multi-band Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) technology
and new training metrics such as real-time stamina insights and recommended power targets. - Aaron Borrill, Editor
Best accessory: Lezyne CNC Tubeless Drive
If carrying as little as you can while you ride is just as important to you as it is to me, you won’t be complaining about what the Lezyne CNC Tubeless Drive has to offer. Yes, from the outside it looks like a regular hand pump but, as with many things, it’s on the inside where it really matters. That’s because it houses a full tubeless repair kit as well as a CO2 inflator. It really is a tubeless repair one-stop-shop, meaning that you only need to carry this one, reasonably small pump, to solve almost any tubeless tyre woe. - Liam Mercer, Deputy tech editor
Best cycling sunglasses: Smith Optics Flywheel
I never used to wear any kind of eye protection or sunglasses on the bike. Everything I had tried would steam up on climbs, get streaks on the lens when sweating and never seemed to have the right lens for the conditions. They might not be a new model, but the Flywheel glasses from Smith have become something of a go-to option for me since I reviewed them.
They fit in a way that you don’t notice them, with full coverage to protect against insects and debris, but despite not having any vents in the design, they never seem to fog up. The only downside is the lens is not swappable, but the standard lens I have fitted seems to suit a wide range of light conditions making them a fit-and-forget item to have with you. - Matt Page, Reviews writer
Best off-road tyre: Schwalbe G-One RS
I admit it, I am obsessed with tyres. I really enjoy seeing how different tyres perform over the terrain they are designed for, but some go beyond what you expect. Last year the Schwalbe G-One R was impressive, but Schwalbe has surpassed that with the RS model. I tested the tyre in 45mm size, and it felt like the fastest but also most communicative tyre that I have used on a gravel bike. It rolls very well on all surfaces and gives a level of feedback that enables you to carry confidence through the corners.
It might look slick, but the grip it provides is way more than you would expect, and the pair of tyres stayed on the bike through autumn until the heavy rain arrived in November. It probably isn’t the most durable tyre, and given it is designed for racing I think that is to be expected, but throughout testing, I didn’t suffer a puncture that didn’t seal. Simply put, it’s the best gravel bike tyre I have ever used – and I have tested quite a few! - Matt Page, Reviews writer
Best bike light: Garmin Varia RCT715 Radar Camera
How do you make Garmin's RTL515 Radar tail light better? Simple, add a rear-view camera. The previous generation was a no-brainer for any cyclists who spent time negotiating busy sections of road - both on the commute or stitching in various sections of trail - warning you of any impending road users coming from behind. It worked flawlessly but what if you were to get knocked? Well, it now does everything like before but adds a camera that shoots in 1080p or 720p at 30 frames per second.
It can also shoot stills or record continuously - or, better still, can be programmed to activate via the radar, where it records before, during, and after a potential incident. The device comes with 16GB of storage and can store 90 minutes of footage. The rear light has four modes: solid (20 Lumens), peloton (8 Lumens), night flash (29 Lumens) and day flash (65 Lumens). - Aaron Borrill, Editor
Object of desire: Silca titanium SPD cleats
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. - Suvi Loponen, Staff writer