road.cc’s 25 top cycling products of 2013-14
A roundup of the best cycling components, clothing and accessories we've reviewed over the past year, and the road.cc test team choose their individual favourites
road.cc tested more cycling products, gear and accessories than ever before in 2013, putting hundreds of items through their paces to find out which performed best. Here's our roundup of the products that have impressed us most from across the board (click on the headings and we'll spirit you over to our original reviews). With prices running from £1.25 to £1,800. Not only that we've asked the road.cc test team to tell us what their favourite products were - whether we've tested them or not. Put all that together and you've got a very eclectic list of cycling kit goodness, there's something here for everyone...
Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 groupset £1,814.92
What can you say about Shimano's new version of their top-level Dura-Ace groupset that hasn't been said before? Joining SRAM and Campagnolo in making the step from 10- to 11-speed was a significant change, but Shimano also sweated the details making an already great groupset even better. Improved shifting - most noticeably at the front thanks to a redesigned front mech - more ergonomic hoods that fit better in the hands, excellent braking performance and a stiffer chainset are the key changes that mark out a serious evolution in Shimano's top-end groupset. Of course, Shimano's flagship road groupset doesn't come cheap.
Charge Scoop saddle £39.99
Charge's new Scoop saddle has a lot to live up to, following Charge's Spoon seat which is a huge favourite across all genres of cycling. The Scoop is quite a different beast but still manages to be comfortable, light and pretty cheap. For maximum bang for your buck, the Scoop is hard to beat.
Stans NoTubes Alpha 340 Wheels £580.00
Tubeless road tyres is the Next Big Thing in road cycling*, and these Stan's NoTubes Alpha 340 Team 3.30R wheels make going tubeless a complete doddle. Their unique rim shape makes inflating tubeless tyres really easy: tyres pop up into place with a track pump, and stay inflated with minimal air loss. They're light at just 1,445g so ideal for climbers and racers, and they're durable and strong. If you want to ditch your inner tubes in 2014 and say goodbye to punctures for ever, tubeless is the way to go.
Vulpine's Merino V-neck is a comfortable, bike-specific T-shirt – but not so bike-specific that it looks out of place when you're not riding, so it's ideal for days when you're both on and off the bike and don't want to get changed in between.
Chapeau Cafe Jersey £49.99
The Chapeau Cafe Cycling jersey hits the mark, not just as a cycling top but something that could easily be worn off the bike. Yes, it does have those classic attributes you'd expect from a cycling jersey: rear pockets; a silicone hem gripper and the like, but it offers more. Chapeau have managed to combine those bike features with the look of a more relaxed off-bike piece of clothing.
Sportful supply pro team Saxo Tinkoff with clothing and while you can buy replica kit, you can also get the same kit without sponsors' logos, in a choice of three smart colourways. So you get the same fabrics, fit and performance, but without looking like a pro rider wannabe. This makes the Gruppetto a real gem of the Sportful range.
Another winning design from Rapha, not only does the Women's Long Sleeve Merino Jersey deliver everything you'd expect from Rapha in terms of a well thought out design beautifully executed that does it's job really well, it's also really good value when compared to other similar tops. The merino used is of the highest quality making this extremely soft, and comfortable against the skin. It's also available in a good range of sizes and is the sort of jersey that can be worn off the bike too without looking out of place. Not cheap but good value nonetheless.
Howies Leadout bibshorts £59.00
The Howies Leadout bibshorts are part of Howies' new technical cycling range: gear for riding, rather than for just looking cool. They're really good - comfortable, impressively hard-wearing and sensibly priced.
Ride Forza Italia 2 bibshort £40.00
The Forza Italia 2 bibshorts are very good value when you weigh up performance against price. You're getting a great pair of shorts for your money.
The dhb Ladies EQ2.5 Waterproof Jacket is female-specific, lightweight and fully waterproof. It comes in a cycling cut and it's yours for a very reasonable price.
Castelli Elemento 7x(Air) jacket £275.00
One of the most innovative - and mad-looking - jackets we've tested this year, Castelli's new Elemento 7x(Air) uses unique ridged 'Windshear inserts' of 7x(Air) fabric for about 50% of the panels. This dramatically increases breathability without any loss of wind-resistance, so you can ride really hard and not boil in the bag. At £275 it's a significant investment, but the Elemento jacket works brilliantly and is backed up with a cracking fit and lots of well thought out details that make it a joy to ride in.
The Howies Dyfi Active Shell is a lightweight windproof shell in a good fit. It comes with neat details and smart looks, and all for a very reasonable price. Great stuff!
Castelli Sanremo Thermosuit £250.00
Clothing is getting aero-focused, and one of the most aero options of all is Castelli's Speedsuit, now available for winter riding in the shape of the Sanremo Thermosuit. It might look a bit odd but it most definitely works. Taking the essence of a skinsuit and adding practicality with a full-length front zipper and three rear pockets, it's a fantastic choice for the off season. If going fast is your bag, this needs to be in your wardrobe.
The GripGrab Hammerhead Winter Overshoes have been rock solid in nasty weather with their coated neoprene construction doing an unbelievable job of keeping the weather on the outside, and not in your shoes.
Bont Riot shoes £100.00
Heat-mouldable, carbon-reinforced race shoes for a hundred quid? The Bont Riots certainly tick a lot of boxes. You can mould them as many times as you need to, they're hard wearing and they're comfortable. There's a lot to recommend these, especially at this price.
Garmin Edge 510 £299.99
Garmin's Edge 510 was brand new in 2013. A little larger than the old 500, it packs more features like LiveTracking - so friends and family can follow your ride progress live - and you can connect it via Bluetooth to a smartphone to instantly upload a ride to Garmin Connect (or Strava) and get live weather data. Of course, the core functions remain and it'll communicate to any ANT+ devices you have like a power meter or heart rate monitor (if you want mapping too, go for the Edge 810).
BikeCityGuide Finn £10.00
The BikeCityGuide Finn is a very clever piece of silicone that fixes your smartphone to your handlebars. Simple, effective, and 10 quid: you can't go wrong.
Stages Power meter From £599.00
It seems like every other cyclist wants to measure their power output these days, and prices for power meters are slowly falling (at last!). The Stages crank-based system is pretty new to the market and we've been hugely impressed. It's lightweight, easy to fit and, according to our tests, gives results that are comparable with those of systems costing twice as much. A game changer!
Ortlieb Front Roller City panniers lack a few features of Ortlieb's spendier bags, but they're still waterproof, convenient and tough as old boots.
Tortec Expedition rear rack £39.99
The Tortec Expedition rack is a good value option if you want your bike, rather than your back, to take the strain. Strong enough for a big load and and neatly constructed, it'll turn its hand to everything from the commute to a full-on tour.
OTE Energy Drink £1.25
OTE is the new kid on the busy nutrition block. Each sachet of OTE Energy Drink provides 40g of carbohydrates, and features two tear points: a small opening and a large one, for different bottle neck sizes - to help avoid sticky powder going where you don't want it. With natural flavouring and maltodextrin and fructose as carbohydrate sources, it's a very clean blackcurrant flavour with no sickly sweetness to it.
Blackburn's Mars 4.0 rear light is a clever little LED that comes with three different mount options. It offers 50hrs runtime on full and a whopping 150 hrs in flashing mode. We like it a lot.
Cateye Volt 1200 front light £149.99
Cateye have nailed this new Volt. It's a brilliant (ahem!) bit of kit, and with a 1200 lumen output it's a serious light for any cyclist wanting to get out in the dark. We've seen lights develop rapidly in recent years and a 1200 lumen light like this is bright enough to enable you to ride safely on long winter evenings, even on unlit roads in the back of beyond.
Muc-Off's C3 Ceramic lube is great stuff, excelling during the wetter months. This has become one of our favourite wet lubes.
GT Corsa Helmet £29.99
Thirty quid helmets tend to have a few compromises over their more expensive cousins. Fewer vents, more weight, basic adjustment systems are just some of the sacrifices usually made, but GT's Corsa helmet turns this rule on its head. It's a great lid for the cash.
And a good book to finish with...
In The Race Against Time Edward Pickering takes us back 20 years to find out just how success began for British riders and also Uncle Chris's bike empire.
road.cc Team picks
Here are some of the products that individual members of the road.cc team have most enjoyed using this year. Some we've reviewed here on road.cc and some are our own…
TRP Hy/Rd disc brakes Discs are the future, folks. And while the top dogs will be packing electronic shifting and hydraulic stoppers, the rest of us will still be cabled. The Hy/Rd brakes pack the good stuff from hydraulic callipers – good power and modulation, self centring pads, minimal maintenance – into a cable-operated package. More like this, please.
Anthony Oram mugs Okay, we didn’t exactly ‘test’ them but Mr Oram’s mugs are mighty fine and they’re the go-to mug at road.cc towers. Plus his prints and stuff are ace, too. Check them out.
Birzman Zacoo Tiny Tanker Small enough to hide in a drawer, powerful enough to properly pump up any tyre you throw at it. It’s pleasingly made and the Snap-It head is a thing of joy.
Motorex Bike Grease 2000 Not exactly sexy, but this synthetic grease, which is designed to withstand the rigours of lubricating cable car rollers halfway up an Alp, is the best bike grease I’ve ever used.
Bont Riot shoes Properly heat-mouldable, stiff, low-stack, lightweight racing shoes... for 100 quid. That’s some achievement and puts many other shoes in this price bracket to shame.
Shimano Sora Considering that you can pick it up on bikes costing less than £500, Shimano’s fifth-tier groupset is little less than a mechanical marvel.
Howies Dyfi Active Shell jacket An affordable jacket that performs brilliantly on the bike, and looks good too, especially in the orange. Pretty useful off the bike too and for a spot of mountain biking. Really versatile.
Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tubeless tyres I'm a tubeless convert. Schwalbe has totally won me over to the benefits of tubeless with these excellent tyres. They're easy to fit, stay inflated, ward off punctures with a dollop of sealant inside, and the speed and low rolling resistance makes them a good choice for everything from racing to commuting.
Castelli Sanremo Thermosuit Yeah, it's expensive but the comfort and feel of the onesie is just fantastic - and bear in mind that you're getting tights and a top. Winter clothing usually feels bulky and slow, not so the Thermosuit. Close fitting, aero and insulating, it's ideal for high tempo winter training rides.
Michelin Pro4 Service Course I'm a bit of a tyre nerd. Tyres influence the ride, performance and feel of a bike so much, and one of the best tyres I've tested is the latest Michelin. Fast rolling, grippy and durable tyre ideal for summer racing and training.
Scapin Style I bought a new bike this year... and this is it. The frame mixes old and new with carbon fibre main tubes and steel top tube and seatstays, in a combination that's gloriously Italian in its sharp handling, all-day comfort and striking looks. It gets 'Nice bike' comments in early morning Regent's Park posing, sorry, training sessions. I fell in love the instant I saw one, and got out the credit card even though I couldn't really afford it.
Garmin Edge 810 With this update of the hugely popular Edge 800 GPS, Garmin improved the interface, fixed a few niggling problems, and introduced Bluetooth so it could talk to your phone, adding a capability I'm glad I've not yet needed. Crash on a solo ride and someone following you via the interwebs will be able to tell where to come and look for you. Much as I'm a long-time fan of Garmin's bike GPSes, I'd still like to see one with a bigger screen for navigational uses.
2013 was the year that women’s kit really genuinely started to outshine men’s in terms of both choice available and the effort put into the designs.
The best technical clothing definitely came from Morvelo, who deserve a special mention for creative use of polka dots, while more casual cafe style was captured most effectively by Cafe du Cycliste, Ana Nichoola and Vulpine. Vulpine get extra plaudits for producing cycling trousers that successfully manage to be both effective and actually fit female riders’ thighs!
The choice and quality of women’s bikes has broadened, even if it does still lag behind unisex/men’s but it’s good to see that there are some top notch bikes now dedicated to the vagaries of the female form with or without the input of a quality bike fit.
Exposure Strada mk5 The best light I've used for pure road riding due to the flat beam putting the rather meagre (by todays standards) 800 lumen exactly where you want it rather than irritating low flying aircraft. The battery life is impressive for a small self contained unit and reliability is second to none.
Cafe du Cycliste Josette jersey Now in its third season of use and still going strong. On its own through the summer rain, paired with some arm warmers for the autumn and now tackling the December storms with Castelli's Nano-flex arm warmers and a decent base layer. Looks cool to.
Rapha Deep Winter Overshoes Quite simply the best overshoes I've used for warmth and water resistance. The Rapha overshoes are the only ones I've used that last me more than one winter.
Stages Power Meter The Stages Power Meter is the standout product of the year for me. It has loads to recommend it, not least the price. Okay, they're not exactly giving it away at £599 (up to £799 depending on the model), but that's cheap compared to most other power meters offering this level of performance.
Garmin Edge 510 The 510 provides all of the training features I'd ever want to use and plenty more besides. I use it on every single ride. It just makes cycling... better.
Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 groupset It's a matter of personal preference, of course, but I think this is the best groupset money can buy.
Kinesis Aithein Kinesis showed that aluminium hasn’t been bludgeoned to death as an affordable performance frame material by the rampaging hordes of cheap carbon with the Aithein. Pushing the limits of the alloy and being clever in it’s application have produced a frame that’s light enough, stiff enough, racey enough and priced more than competitively enough to show a decent fist to any bargain bucket plastic-and-string job.
Gore Oxygen GT AS This jacket continues to save me all too regularly. Packs up small enough to fit into a rear pocket for emergency use but good enough to put on confidently at the start of a long wet ride. Incredibly waterproof, totally breathable, fits like a snug thing giving you a cuddle. I just wish I didn’t have to use it so much, it’s more than earned its price.
TRP HY/RD Brakes Like Dave I'm a fan of the Hy/Rd - hydraulic road and cyclo-cross disc braking without the need to buy into a whole new expensive integrated system or for an ungainly converter box. Still not the most elegant thing to bolt onto your bike but you do get light-action rub-free predictable-in-all-weathers stopping. Their only downside is being affected by poor or dirty cables.
The Tech Tee Hardly something to get the heart racing but a genuinely useful thing that makes life that little bit nicer. Commute, run errands on the bike or simply ride to the pub without having to dress up like A Cyclist and without arriving an unsightly sweaty mess needing to change clothes. Handy for other funk inducing environments too, overheated offices, traveling, Ikea. There’s a lot to chose from now, pick two.
That's our roundup of the best performance road cycling gear. Anything on our list that you've been impressed with in 2013, let's hear about it in the comments section below.