Getting to ride the latest and greatest product on the market is a big perk of this job — WorldTour level race bikes, beautiful custom steeds, zippy wheels and all sorts of dream gear. But at the end of the reviewing period, these products sadly go back to the brands. And so, looking back at the year, I would rather talk to you about items that I continue to use day in, day out and won't break the bank, either!
While not as sexy as fast, shiny bikes, my Gear of the Year picks center around reliable accessories and everyday items. These items may not make you ooh or aah but they make my daily cycling life better.
Tifosi Rail XC Sunglasses
In cycling, sunglasses are often seen as an item of fashion. An extension of the rider’s personality or style, if you will. But whether you’re reliving the 80s by rocking some Pit Vipers or going for that Peter Sagan bad-boy look with some 100% shades, fundamentally, these sunglasses are there to protect your eyes. Quality sunglasses are meant to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays, dust and debris while also preventing eye strain and fatigue and enhancing visibility.
I’ve got a rather painful eye condition called Recurrent Corneal Erosion (RCE), and have to protect my eyes at all times. This is especially important on the bike where one is constantly exposed to wind, dust, bugs and other irritants. Since wearing sunglasses is now a health concern, style comes second to performance and comfort.
The Tifosi Rail XC sunnies have all the features one has come to expect of a quality pair of cycling sunglasses –bendable nose pad and arms for a customized fit; good airflow to prevent lens fog; rim-free lens for a clear field of vision; a lightweight 31-gram package– but comes with the added benefit of a ‘Fototec’ photochromic lens.
In limited light, the lenses are pretty clear – not quite clear enough for night rides but good for even the greyest of wet days. In full sun, the lenses darken significantly. The transition is gradual and only noticeable in that you’re not squinting into the gleaming light. Yet according to Tifosi, the light transmission range is impressively broad, ranging from 14%-74%. This means that I haven’t had to swap lenses all year and my eyes have stayed well protected.
Dovetail Hadley LS Coveralls
I spend a lot of time in my home bike shop maintaining my bikes and setting up review products. After ruining too many clothes with grease stains and tubeless sealant, I decided it was time for coveralls.
Made for and by women, Dovetail Workwear’s Hadley coveralls have quickly become my go-to. While most coveralls will ‘do the job’ and keep you from staining your clothes, I’ve come to appreciate Dovetail’s products for their fit and durability. These aren’t your average unisex Dickies, Dovetail has gained a reputation for making durable, functional yet stylish workwear tailored for women who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty.
Popular among women in the physically demanding professions of carpentry, mechanics, farming, construction and bike building, the Dovetail coveralls sport durable yet flexible materials; a tailored fit that still allows for freedom of movement and ample pockets and gear loops.
The Hadley coveralls are feature-packed with a flattering straight leg; an internal, cinch-able waistband as well as belt loops; crutch gussets for mobility and reinforcement; reinforced pockets, tool loops, articulated and reinforced knees and elastic cuffs. They are admittedly more than one would need to tinker on bikes alone but I’m now wearing them for every home improvement project.
I like the strechy yet substantial fabric, the many pockets of a variety of shapes and sizes and the comfortable fit. Overall, it's a well-thought-out and designed product that I enjoy wearing.
Lead Out's collection of Racelite bags
The relatively young Los Angeles brand Lead Out! is making a name for itself for offering high-quality and durable bike bags that are not only ethically made but also easier on the wallet than most of its competitors.
And in a sea of increasingly voluminous adventure-oriented gear, Lead Out! stays in the lane it knows best: serving the everyday rider who wants to carry only the essentials and nothing more.
Having tried a number of the brand's bags, I’m most impressed with the brand’s line of Dyneema ‘Racelite’ bags. They’re lightweight, minimalist, weather resistant and highly durable.
The saddle bag, in particular, has become a staple on my bike. Cleverly designed around a Voile strap, the bag efficiently carries all your fix-a-flat necessities while keeping them easily accessible and protected from the elements. What’s more: it doesn’t budge an inch and weighs just 65 grams.
The bag has survived nearly a year of the roughest gravel, relentless downpours and mud baths and still looks good as new. Most importantly, my tools and spare eTap battery remain clean and rust-free!
Giro Canyon SRAM edition helmet
To celebrate its seven-year partnership, Giro and Canyon-SRAM released the team edition Aries Spherical helmet to the public this year. Over the years, Canyon-SRAM has become known for its branding and bold team kits, and this year’s colorway was no different with a busy, multi-colored design that's at once chaotic and aesthetically pleasing – and this carried over onto the helmet.
The team helmet is the all-new Giro’s Aries Spherical helmet that debuted in January of this year. The Aries is claimed to be the brand’s lightest and airiest helmet in the Mips’ Spherical Technology line yet but also the safest with a #1 safety rating from the esteemed Virginia Tech University.
This new wind-tunnel tested, WorldTour-level lid unseats the Aether Spherical as Giro's top road offering in terms of performance, innovation as well as price point. Compared to the Aether, the Aries is 2.3% cooler (or, better ventilated), 4% more aerodynamic and 5% lighter.
In our review of the Aries helmet, we praised the lid for its comfortable, lightweight protection, superior safety ratings and no-fuss, performance-oriented package. This colorway is also very eye-catching – which is exactly what I want to be out on the road!
I know that it’s so uncool to wear team gear when you’re not on said team, but I really dig the pattern, get loads of compliments on the helmet and, for safety reasons, like that it stands out.
Velocio Luxe Bibs
Unbound Gravel is known for its demanding nature. Challenging weather conditions, undulating terrain, a remote location, and the infamous flint rocks — it's a true test of strength and endurance for rider and bike alike. This year, I was in the midst of it all for the 352 long miles of the Unbound XL. It took me 28 hours of riding and often carrying my bike to reach the finish line in Emporia, Kansas.
We experienced thunderstorms and downpours –resulting in the worst-imaginable mud– as well as stifling heat on the vast, exposed plains. Comfort plays a crucial role when you're spending that much time in the saddle, especially in these varying conditions, and there was only one pair of bibs I trusted for the endeavor: the Velocio Luxe bibs.
The Velocio Luxe Bibs are, as the name –and price tag– indicate, plain luxurious. The bib short's soft feel comes from the "ultra-high gauge fabric" that's both compressive for muscle support yet impressively supple at the same time. The bib-shorts feature a three-panel design with minimal seams and a next-to-skin fit. It moves with you, ensuring there is no chafing or irritation. And –perhaps my favorite feature– the shorts sport seamless microfiber bib straps and leg grippers, meaning no sausage legs!
Completing the package are a comfortable, all-day chamois and, of course, Velocio's signature snap- or zipper-free pee-break design, which allows you to simply pull down your bibs when nature calls without having to remove your top.I'm not surprised that these are Velocio's best-selling bibs because, for riders who spend long days in the saddle, few other options offer both comfort and performance to this degree.
Admittedly, they are costly, but for Black Friday through Cyber Monday you get 30% off by using the code BGCM2023 when you check out. They're still a bit of an investment, but in my nearly 15 years in the sport, they're among the bibs I've ever worn, and mine are in constant rotation. They can't come out of the laundry fast enough!
Hayes Disc Brake Rotor Alignment Tool
As someone who rides a lot of varied terrain and tests a lot of product, I’m constantly swapping between wheelsets. And when I do so, it’s rare to not experience some rubbing or ting-ting-tinging when changing between disc brake rotors.
The Hayes Feel'r Gauge Alignment Tool makes aligning the brake caliper and setting the correct pad gap remarkably quick and easy. You simply loosen the caliper bolts to wear it has some wiggle room, slide the silver metal bits of the tool in between the pad and your rotor – one each side, pump the brake a few times, tighten the bolts, remove the tool and voila! Rub-free alignment each and every time.
If you run disc brakes, you need this tool. The amount of annoyance this tool saves is tremendous.
Rapha Women's Explore Down Jacket
In recent years, insulated down coats a.k.a "puffy jackets" have gained popularity in cycling, and in bikepacking in particular. The combination of warmth, packability and versatility has made puffy jackets a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, and I, for one, won't go on a bikepacking trip or longer adventure ride without one!
I wore Rapha's Explore Down Jacket daily during the five-day Yomp Rally adventure this spring. I slept in it, cooked my camp meals in it, and wore it on the bike for the chilly morning starts and when the route disappeared into the wet mountain fog. In addition to bikepacking, I wear it on bike commutes, dog walks and all-day adventures.
What I like:
- The jacket fe