Another year and another boatload of new products have passed through the road.cc office to be reviewed by our experienced team of testers.
In this article, we’ve picked the standout products from all the reviews that scored 8 and above so when you’re in the market for an upgrade you know these products come with a big thumbs up from road.cc.
There’s everything from wheels to saddles, bar tape to groupsets, and all your key upgrade components. Start your scrolling to see the best kit we reviewed in the past year.
Shimano's GRX 600 groupset is an excellent way to breathe gravelly life into an old (or new) wide-tyre-clearance frame. With typical Shimano attention to detail it's delivered a groupset that works brilliantly in any weather or terrain, and evolution will no doubt sort out the current shortcomings.
Shimano claims the braking of the 600 levers is on a par with Ultegra, and I can't disagree. I never needed more than a finger, maybe two at most on really long descents. A grippier rubber hood means you feel totally connected to the lever even in rain and with muddy paws, and the deep indentation at the top of the lever gives your index finger a solid home. The lever itself has a rubberised finish that adds to finger grip.
The shift feel is typical Shimano – less positive than SRAM DoubleTap, but never found wanting. The slick inner cable and standard SP41 outer stayed smooth throughout the review, only needing the usual half-a-barrel tweak after a few hundred miles as the outer casings settled into place.
The combination of the clutch and alternating chainring tooth profile meant no matter what I tried, the chain stayed put and almost totally silent. There were a few sections where I managed to get a bit of slap going on over large rocks or roots, but this was in the 11T sprocket through silly-rough sections. On flat gravel at any speed/cadence/in any gear, the clutch worked its magic.
Shimano has hit a home run with GRX 600. It's affordable, easily upgradeable, works with many other Shimano components and most of all works out on the road or trail to deliver a flawless shifting and braking experience in the worst of weather or trail conditions. You have the option to install 'interrupter' hydraulic brake levers on the tops if you want to brake from there as well, and as with all Shimano brakes they use mineral oil – a more environment- and workshop-friendly alternative to SRAM's DOT-5.1 fluid. If you really want to push the boat out, Shimano does a dedicated left lever that can operate a cable-pull dropper post, for the tidiest step possible.
It's always exciting when a new groupset is launched but few have caused such a stir as SRAM's new Red eTap AXS, which not only goes 12-speed but takes a radical new approach to gear ratios in an attempt to better cater for the diversifying nature of cycling.
Front shifting performance has often been criticised on SRAM groupsets over the years. This new groupset is a big improvement, largely thanks to bringing the size difference between the two chainrings down from 16t to 13t. SRAM has tried to reduce the reliance on front shifting by moving the range to the cassette (so yeah you can stay in the big ring longer!) but every time I did change rings up front it was smooth, quick and quiet.
By far the most appreciable difference is the increased single-tooth jumps on the new cassette. This 10-28 cassette provides seven single-tooth jumps, compared with four on an 11-28 or 11-30 11-speed cassette. It's something you can feel straight away, and I was able to maintain a happy cadence on rolling roads. The new rear mech with its Orbit fluid damper is another bonus too, it keeps the chain taut and minimised noise and stopped the chain flapping about, with seemingly no impact at all on the shift performance.
Ergonomics are largely the same as current eTap. Some might have hoped SRAM would have reduced the size of the hoods, which are taller than Shimano Di2, but it hasn't, they are the same as they were. But SRAM has fettled with the rubber and added some texture to improve the feel and grip in the hands. It's also textured the shift paddles, which makes the shifting experience nicer.
Since Campagnolo launched Potenza back in 2016, it may not have come close to dethroning Shimano's Ultegra as the most popular groupset for competitive cyclists without an unlimited budget – but after thoroughly enjoying my time with it I would definitely consider Potenza an Ultegra competitor, despite it being fourth in Campagnolo's groupset hierarchy. It's durable, the ergonomics are great and in its disc version, you get impressively powerful braking with no discernible difference to the feel or looks of the levers. It also looks cool, and I love the snappy, definitive action of the thumb levers.
Shimano's Tiagra Disc levers and callipers are what you should look for on your next commuter or winter bike. They have one less speed than 105 but apart from that, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference without a set of scales. The setup is reasonably easy, and they're light on maintenance and easy to bleed. If you really can't live without 11 speeds at the back they won't be for you, but given the quality of the shifting and the braking, they're a great choice. As an upgrade, they're still expensive at full RRP, but you can find them a lot cheaper than that if you shop around.
You don't have many options if you want a full hydraulic system on your disc-equipped singlespeed: there's this TRP Hylex system... erm, and that's about it. The good news is that it's an excellent system: easy to fit and service, with plenty of power and modulation available. And if you're looking to build a 1x Di2 bike then you can use Shimano's climbing shifter to make the Hylex Di2 compatible.
If you're looking for a fit and forget power-measuring option for a single bike then a crank-based system is a good choice: you can swap wheels and pedals without affecting your measurements. The Rotor 2InPower DM Road system is certainly one to look at: it's nicely made, the power numbers are credible and repeatable, and you get the option of oval or round rings on an easy-to-swap direct mount interface.
Both the Rotor 3D cranks and the direct mount chainring feel nice and stiff, with no chain rub on the front mech even on hard sprint efforts. The 2InPower cranks weigh in at 609g, and the rings (50/34 oval direct mount) were 189g. That's a total of 798g, which is about 85g heavier than the Shimano 105 chainset.
At £1,150 RRP for the cranks and another £150 for the rings, the 2InPower isn't as much as an SRM crankset or the Shimano Dura-Ace power meter, but it's a bit more than the FSA Powerbox Carbon and in the same ballpark as the Verve Infocrank, which also comes without rings.
It's on the money for the sort of thing it is: a high quality, reasonably lightweight crank-based power system that adds some pedal stroke analysis to credible headline numbers. If you're looking for a single-bike system, it's one for the list.
The Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless Easy (TLE) folding tyre is up there with the best race tyres on the market. Grippy, fast-rolling and simple to fit, with or without a tube, they're a great choice for your race bike. Compared to the standard Ones, the Pro Ones feel much quicker at the same relative tyre pressures, rolling very nicely indeed. You can use the Pro Ones with a tube if you like, but their design is aimed mostly for tubeless running.
Designed to offer off-road grip in mixed conditions and speed on the road, the Schwalbe X-One Allround is pretty much the perfect tubeless tyre for the privateer cyclo-cross rider. These provide decent grip in slick mud but roll really well when the course is dry.
The Allround sits in the middle of the X-One range. You've got the Speed for bone-dry conditions and the Bite for the worst mud. The Allround leans a little more towards the Bite in design. You've got prominent knobs that are really soft and flexible. They're spaced closer together on the Allround, and there are more of them. The central knobs are shorter than those on the Bite and all of this combines to give you a tyre that is faster on drier courses.
Overall, they're a great option for a CX bike that you want to use for more than just racing. The grip levels are good in all but the worst (best for CX) conditions, they roll very well on the road and are easy to set up tubeless.
The Compass Bon Jon Pass TC Extralight is the lightest and narrowest of its tyres that can be set up tubeless. It's good. Very good. Compass calls it its 'Goldilocks' tyre, and for going fast or far on rubbish British roads or gravel, in all weathers, it is indeed Just Right.
Compass has its handmade tyres manufactured in Japan by Panaracer, but the process and materials are unique to Compass. These tyres indeed cost a pretty penny, but if you want the pinnacle of real-world performance over varied surfaces, they're worth the cash.
Vittoria's Corsa Speed G+ Tubeless tyre is a great choice for summer and race use. The casing and tread are much softer than tubeless tyres that I've used in the past, giving these a much better feeling on the road.
With their price of £64.99, these are tyres you'll probably want to save for your fastest days and racing. The grip in the corners is very good as long as the surface is dry. If the rolling stats are to believed, these are a class above the rest for pure speed. For racing, I'd recommend these over pretty much every other tubeless tyre. Yes, they're a little delicate, but you get a really nice ride feel, great grip (in the dry) and the fastest ride.
Continental's Grand Prix 5000 tubeless tyre – or GP5000 TL – takes everything that is improved with this latest generation tyre and adds tubeless compatibility for improved puncture resistance. They're relatively painless to set up and provide excellent performance in all conditions with low rolling resistance, good grip and durability.
German tyre giant Continental revamped its long-running and hugely popular GP4000 tyre last year with the GP5000, and in the process developed its first road tubeless offering. It shares all the same features as the non-tubeless version. with updated Black Chilli rubber compound, Vectran Breaker, Active Comfort Technology and Lazer Grip. One key difference is the casing layup: three layers of 60 TPI to make Conti’s 180 TPI claim, compared to three layers of 110 TPI for a 330 TPI claim with the regular clincher GP5000.
The new tubeless tyre differs by having an inner liner that provides an airtight chamber and the bead is constructed with a softer outer material to ease installation. Fitting was mostly painless but a few combinations required a tyre lever because of the tight fit. And while a regular track pump worked with some setups, a special tubeless inflator was needed with others.
On the road, it's possible to detect a small improvement in traction, especially noticeable in tricky conditions with a bit of dampness or grime on the road surface. They feel surefooted through the corners, where you really can lean them onto the new laser-etched shoulder patterns and get the bike properly banked over.
Overall, it's an excellent all-round riding, training and race tyre. The wait for Continental to do a tubeless tyre is over – and it was worth it.
The Lark Light Road wheels from UK brand JRA (Just Riding Along) certainly live up to their name, weighing just 1,460g for the set. They're very responsive and JRA hasn't sacrificed durability to save the grams either. It's the perfect package for the rider who wants a classically styled, lightweight set of wheels for racing or training.
The JRA Light Road hubs run very, very smoothly on their stainless bearings and the pick-up on the freewheel is fast and precise, which all adds to effortless rolling whether on the flat or rolling terrain. The Larks feel as though they take the sting and buzz out of the road surface even with the pressures pumped up high as I like them. Pair this with their ability to roll smoothly and the ride feels very efficient and really changes the way the bike feels.
The Scribe Aero Wide 50-D carbon disc wheels are all about speed according to the manufacturer, and they don't disappoint. Matching a wind-cheating 50mm-deep rim to smooth-running hubs, an instantaneous freehub engagement and plenty of stiffness make for a set of wheels that delivers for those who want to put the hammer down. The impressive weight and a sensible price finalise the deal.
A wheel weight of 1,449g (1,438g claimed) is impressive full stop, but when you consider that's including a wide and deep carbon fibre rim, plus the extra spokes needed for a disc build, it is truly awesome and something you really notice when fitting them to your bike.
Pacenti's Brevet Wheelset offers a classic look with modern features and performance. The weight is good, but this is a wheelset all about comfort and style, both of which Pacenti has got spot on.
Pacenti markets these wheels as classic style matched with modern features, intending them to be used for a retro bike build that you can take to L’Eroica. The chrome box-section alloy rims are just 15mm tall and have 28 spoke holes holding silver Sapim D-Light J-bend spokes. These attach in a two-cross lacing pattern to the high-flange hubs. Modern though is the tubeless-ready rims.
For classic styling with modern comforts, they are absolutely spot on and the performance punches well above what I was expecting.
The Parcours Grimpeur Disc wheels are light enough to excel on the tarmac while being so tough that you can smash them over rocks and tree roots with little concern for their wellbeing. They won't break the bank either.
With a 40mm-deep U-shaped carbon rim they weigh in at just 1,406g with the tubeless rim tape fitted, which ties in well with Parcours' claimed weight of 1,390g bare. The EZO bearings inside the machined aluminium alloy hubs roll smoothly even after seeing plenty of rain, mud and grit over the test period, and the 40mm-deep rim gives you a slight aero advantage over a standard profile wheel. The engagement of the pawls is fast too.
Overall, they are lightweight race wheels that are just as at home on the gravel as they are on the road.
The Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel Disc X-Wide is the UK brand's flagship gravel wheelset with a 23mm internal rim width that makes them ideal for modern gravel bikes with wide tyres, while the adaptable hubs mean your investment now is almost guaranteed to fit any future bike purchase.
All in all, the X-Wides are a very hard wheelset to go past. Yet again Hunt knocks the ball out of the park – and if you are on these wheels, you'll have no problem heading into the rough to find it. They are tough, adaptable and wide as you want, these are an excellent choice for getting seriously gravelly
Muc-Off says that its Presta Tubeless Valve Kit is a premium solution and at over £20 a pack it's not wrong, but it certainly has all the options covered to make sure these provide the perfect seal with your wheels. The anodised machined finish is absolutely spot on, too, for that added bit of colour coordinated bling.
The Fizik Vento Solocush Tacky tape is high quality and very effective bar tape aimed primarily at racing audiences and/or lightweight builds, and it's certainly lived up to the hype. Even cleaning it has proved much easier than I was expecting.
At 2.7mm thick it's slightly thicker than Lizard Skins' DSP and is available in a wealth of classic and contemporary colours, so something for every taste/colour scheme (listed below). Fluoro colours aren't everyone's thing but I've been pleasantly surprised by how the yellow has stood out on dull, overcast days.
Prime's Primavera Carbon Handlebar offers a great aero upgrade for users of both mechanical and electronic shifting. Setting it up is seriously simple and the feel on the road is very comfortable. It looks the business and costs a lot less than some rivals.
PRO's PLT Carbon Handlebar offers good stiffness and excellent comfort and is reasonably lightweight, at a price that is lower than most other carbon options. The compact drop offers a powerful sprinting position and the round tops with internal cable routing mean the tops are a super-comfy place to spend time on the climbs and flats. It does everything perfectly, offering very good stiffness and comfort with some internal routing, a respectable weight and smart, clean looks.
The Specialized Power Expert saddle provides reliable comfort and support even on all-day rides. Available in a range of widths to accommodate different sit bones, and with a cutout to relieve pressure, it's one you really can ride for hours without any issues. £105 isn't pocket change, but it's less than a lot of other saddles out there of a similar style.
With the Prologo Scratch 2 Tirox, comfort is excellent straight out of the box, and that doesn't change whether out on a five-hour road ride or a jaunt on the gravel. The Prologo has a curved shape from front to rear, dipping in the middle, the upwardly swooping tail end gives something to push against should you want to whack the power out, but for the rest of the time, the narrow nose and rounded edges offer plenty of clearance for hip rotation during the pedalling motion.
Ritchey's WCS Chicane stem is aimed purely at the road market, focusing on stiffness and a smooth finish, as we all know how important those marginal gains are, right? It does the job, looks cool and for the level of quality, I'd say it's fairly priced too.
The Genetic STV Stem does the job of holding your handlebar securely while looking good, and if you are a weight weenie then it could help drop those grams compared to a lot of the competition.
If you struggle for comfort on longer rides then adding a bit of give – bigger tyres, softer frame, comfier saddle – is always going to be on your mind. You might not have considered actual suspension but the 20mm of compliance offered up by the Cane Creek eeSilk seatpost is a revelation on long rides. Okay, £300 is some wedge for a seatpost, but it's a beautiful and functional thing that makes a real difference.
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.