It's been another rich medley of bike bits for me this year: I've finally found a cure for my directional dyslexia, unearthed the best riding mitts on earth, and fallen in love with a folding bike. Here are my roadie picks of 2016.
- Horse for the Course: Trans Alps crossing from Bavaria to South Tyrol
- Racing a Brompton by Buckingham Palace is exhilarating… and ridiculous
- Garmin Edge Explore 1000 review
Garmin Edge Explore 1000
My sense of direction is notorious in the Beach family. No one related to me has such terrible navigation skills, and my wife has observed more than once – with a half-smile I don't quite trust – that it would be "very easy" to lose me in the local woods. So I was keen to try out the new Garmin Edge Explore 1000 bike computer, to see if its navigation improved upon the Edge 820 I'd been using for a while.
And the good news is that it's much better – there's enough processing power here to scroll smoothly around the map, and once you've planned a route it'll give you a 3D line to follow, much like a car satnav. But what I like most about it is the ability to suggest three cycle-friendly loops for you, simply by entering the distance you want to ride. It's so good that I went and bought an Edge 1000 when I returned my test unit.
Endura FS260-Pro SL rain jacket
I think I've found The One. No more short-lived dalliances that I remember for all the wrong reasons, no morning rides of squelchy shame. Here's a rain jacket that ticks every single one of my boxes. Endura's FS260-Pro SL has a fairly athletic fit, it's a nice bright green, the three-layer 'Exoshell40' fabric is waterproof and highly breathable, and it packs down small enough to slide easily into any jersey pocket.
But it's the little touches that I appreciate just as much: the high collar which can be unfolded for extra protection from the wind, the perforated energy gel pocket on the left side, the zip on the right that lets you easily access your jersey's middle and right pockets, the little loop on the collar for keeping it tightly rolled for stuffing, the soft lining on the inside of the collar and cuffs… Simply superb.
Portland Design Works Full Metal Fenders
This autumn I decided to treat my long-suffering road bike to a new set of mudguards, as the old plastic ones I'd been running were bent, misshapen and incomplete. So I asked our resident fender fan Jack Luke what he recommended. Enter the Portland Design Works Full Metal Fenders. They're made from anodised alloy and provide full-wrap coverage, with sturdy rubber mudflaps to protect riders behind you.
They also have safety release tabs in case sticks or stones get lodged between mudguard and wheel, and look great in gunmetal. I opted for the wider ones which are designed for touring and CX bikes with 700x35mm tyres maximum, and they're close to perfect for my needs.
Katusha Beyond jersey and base layer
For all that talk of rain and muck, I did ride in hot, sunny weather this year, too – honest. It was so swelteringly hot one August midsummer's day that I wondered whether I really wanted a base layer underneath the lightweight Katusha Beyond jersey you can see in the picture above. I'm glad I did, though – they worked so well together that I forgot I was wearing either, even when the sweat was dripping down me.
This is – I think – the first clothing brand born directly from a pro team. I like the race fit, the wide elastic grippers on the jersey sleeve, the cooling mesh on the rear and underarm areas, and the auto lock zipper. But, if I'm honest, it's the pattern that I like most. It reminds me very much of those stealthy paint jobs you sometimes see on prototype BMWs on Bavarian autobahns, designed to make their new shape harder to photograph. Not that anyone is trying to copy my style, of course, but you know what I mean.
Challenge Gravel Grinder tyres
Early this year I sat down with a good friend, a big pot of coffee and a map to decide where our summer's riding adventure would take us. We decided on biking from Bavaria south through the Austrian Alps and into northern Italy. A journey my mountain biking friend had made many times, but I had not. We planned a route mostly on roads and cycle paths, but with occasional diversions onto gravel tracks and logging trails.
So I wanted tyres that could cope with nearly anything I threw at them, not puncture every day, and cushion the inevitable blows. Luckily, the Ridley X-Trail I borrowed came with Challenge Gravel Grinders in 38mm width. With a fast-rolling centre, knobbly shoulders, puncture protection strip and respectable sub-400g weight per tyre, they looked good on paper. And in hard use they excelled, never losing grip or feeling overtly sluggish. I didn't suffer a single flat, and reached journey's end in the Italian flatlands with a dirty big smile on my face. Ottimo.
Apidura bikepacking bags
To carry the gear I'd need for an Alps crossing (see above), I decided to forgo my usual panniers and join the cool kids with their bike packing gear. So I dropped the pioneers at British company Apidura a line, explaining my plans and asking for a saddle pack, frame pack and handlebar pack. I requested the 'dry pack' versions, made from waterproof materials and with welded seams to keep the water out – totally unnecessary as it turns out, since it didn't rain once, though at least I was prepared.
Once I'd sorted out a system for what went where – clothes and compressibles in the saddle pack, snacks and tools in the frame pack, daily essentials in the front – and had it all strapped down good and tight, I felt ready for nearly anything. The only niggle was a snapped bungee on the handlebar pack, but that's probably my fault from tugging it too hard.
Brompton M3L bicycle
At the beginning of this year I became the proud owner of a folding bicycle. My kids are both at primary school now, so I've been doing a lot of walking every morning, getting them to school then retracing my steps and hurrying down to the train station. I started scoping out what my fellow commuters were using, and one design stood out – the Brompton. It folds down smaller than any rival – essential when it's standing room only – and I'd heard good things about the way it rides.
After reading all the Brompton reviews I could find, I spent a happy hour with the firm's online Bike Builder tool and decided on an M3L in raw lacquer. That means it's got the classic upright handlebars, three hub gears, full mudguards and an unpainted steel frame. And 10 months down the line, riding it nearly every day in all weathers, even racing it at the World Champs in London, I love it. It's small, practical, sturdy, looks good, rides well… Of course there are cheaper folding bikes out there, and faster ones, but for me this hits the sweet spot. Now if only I could get the kids dressed on time.
Sportful Bodyfit Pro mitts
Our social media manager Josh is a big fan of Sportful clothing, but in a world awash with high-end cycle clothing I never saw why this brand was special. Until I tried its Bodyfit Pro mitts, as used by Peter Sagan and the rest of (defunct) Tinkoff Saxo. And… my gosh, these are the best riding gloves I've ever used.
From the soft synthetic suede used on the palms to the stretch Lycra on the back, to the discreet bit of webbing between the middle finger and ring finger that helps you pull them off, these are summer riding gloves so comfy that I look forward to wearing them. I honestly wouldn't use anything else now.
'Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs'
My final entry on this list was a bit of a surprise to me. The first I heard of it was when it landed on my desk one day last summer with a heavy thump. Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs is a stunning coffee table book by photographer Michael Blann, in which he presents imagery of some of Europe's most famous cycling climbs.
In addition to the obvious ones like the Stelvio Pass, and Alpe d'Huez, there are also some lesser-known climbs, like Lagos de Covadonga in Asturias, northern Spain. He uses a really nice detached style for each image, and managed to coax written contributions from some of the sport's biggest names, like Lizzie Deignan, Stephen Roche and Robert Millar. Stick it on your Christmas list.