‘This is the one aero bike I would actually buy’ - Stefan Abram’s Gear of the Year 2023

From supremely comfortable bib shorts to bombproof tires for bikepacking - and the best value race bike on test - these are Stefan’s top picks from 2023

Stefan Abram riding Giant Propel race bike
(Image credit: Future)

I think it's fair to characterize my Gear of the Year picks as centering around reliability and functionality. Lessons I've learnt on bikepacking epics in the Cambrian, Atlas and Carpathian mountains (in Wales, Morocco and Slovakia, respectively) have really instilled an appreciation of kit which does it job, does it well, and does it consistently. 

Sometimes that kit comes hand-in-hand with a premium price tag, as is the case with Assos' excellent - but expensive - Mille GTC Kiespanzer Bib Shorts or Tailfin's uniquely well designed top tube bag. 

But more often than not, the kit which is most functional and most reliable, sits somewhere in the mid tier. Schwalbe's G-One Overland tires are one example of that, Topeak's Mini PT30 Multi-Tool is another. 

Capping it all is the Giant Propel Advanced Pro 1 - the bike which, to my mind, delivered the best balance between performance out of nine I tested for our Race Bike of the Year grouptest.

Giant Propel Advanced Pro 1

Giant Propel Advanced Pro 1 on an orange background

(Image credit: Future )

The Giant Propel Advanced Pro didn’t claim the top spot of our 2023 Race Bike of the Year Awards - that accolade went to the Cervélo S5, which went on to victory (again) in the 2023, under the stewardship of Jonas Vingegaard.

However, the Giant Propel topped out our ‘Best Value’ category which is arguably (and I would argue it!) the most important of the grouptest - after all, the winner of this category is the one which I would recommend the overwhelming majority of people to buy.

It is much slimmed down compared to the previous Propel and has been given an aerodynamic upgrade. I can tell you: it really barrels along on the flat and is excellent on punchy climbs, particularly those which require some momentum and a hard push - my favorite sort of climb, and the sort which we’re blessed with in most parts of the UK. (At least those in East Anglia can double down on the aero!).

What is particularly notable about the Giant Propel platform as a whole is that it starts at such a (comparatively) accessible price point. You can pick up a frameset equipped with Shimano 105 11-speed mechanical groupset for £2,999 in the UK or SRAM Rival 12-speed for $6,000 in US. The S5 range, in contrast, starts at $9,000 / £9,200 - over triple the price of the cheapest UK offering.

Assos Mille GTC Kiespanzer Bib Shorts C2

Male cyclist wearing the Assos Mille GTC Kiespanzer Bib Shorts C2

(Image credit: Future )

Aside from the usual bombproof build quality and excellent wear-life which Assos has built its reputation upon, the Kiespanzer has a variety of ‘gravel specific’ features which I’ve greatly appreciated. 

Assos’ chamois are excellent in general, but Kiespanzer takes the high-density cushioning up another notch. The cargo pockets are very generously sized - and the folded over flap of material at the top meant I was fully confident riding anywhere with my phone stowed away. From the Atlas mountains of Morocco to the Cambrian mountains of Wales, these have been my go-to shorts.

Schwalbe G-One Overland

Schwalbe G-One Overland tire mounted on a Hunt rim

(Image credit: Stefan Abram)

I think we’re reaching a point of maturity for tubeless tech - a point where evangelical ideologues on both sides are beginning to fall away. Whenever there’s a performance element, be it road or gravel, tubeless usually makes sense.

But for more relaxed gravel riding, the simplicity and absence of mucky sealant makes inner tubes quite a draw - you just need a tire which provides sufficient puncture protection, but without deadening the ride. I’ve found the G-One Overlands the perfect balance, I just wish there was a greater range of tread patterns with this carcass.

Topeak Mini PT30 Multi-Tool

Topeak Mini PT30 Multi-Tool amongst other essentials

(Image credit: Future)

Some the best multi-tools for cycling are made so compact that actually using any of the tools is a pure exercise in frustration. Other multitools are exquisitely designed but cost far too much. Others, and this applies to most tools, simply don’t have a sufficiently large number of functions.

Personally, I think that Topeak’s Mini PT30 Multi-Tool is the model which best balances those three criteria. It has Allen keys from 2mm up to 10mm, T10, T15 and T25 Torx keys, a chain tool, various spoke keys, flat and cross head screwdrivers and, particularly useful in this tubeless age: a plug insertion tool and a knife to trim down the plug with. It is fairly expensive, but for that variety of tools, I think it’s worth it.

Tailfin Top Tube Pack - Zip 0.8l

Tailfin Top Tube Pack - Zip 0.8l attached to a top tube

(Image credit: Future)

I usually won’t use a top tube or frame bag if I can possibly avoid it. Sometimes I do really need that extra storage space, but my knees track quite closely inward and I don’t like the feeling of rubbing on the fabric.

Tailfin’s smallest Top Tube Pack is the first I’ve used which obviates that issue. Its unique shape -  tapered from both front to back and top to bottom - and strongly supported sides means that it stays out of the way whilst still providing a useful amount of additional and accessible storage.

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