We reviewed more components than ever before on road.cc in 2020 and here are the very best of them.
We tested everything from saddles and stems to full groupsets over the year, so how did we arrive at our selection? To begin with, we compiled a list of everything that scored very highly in reviews during 2020.
The test team then got really critical, assessing how each item matched up in terms of construction, performance, durability, and value, looking for any weaknesses.
Sometimes it was obvious that a product should make the final cut, sometimes it took a bit of debate, but we eventually made a final selection.
The products aren't ranked in a particular order but we do give out these three awards:
Bargain Buy This goes to a product that we feel gives the biggest bang for the least buck; a superb performance but with an emphasis on value for money.
Editor's Choice This goes to a product that gives the best combination of performance and value for money.
Benchmark Product This goes to a product that offers the highest level of performance outright – one that sets the technical and performance standards against which all the rest are judged, and price doesn’t even come into it. Think of it as the money-no-object award.
We've included links to our original reviews so you can easily find more information on any products that interest you.
Click on the heading and you'll be taken to either the relevant brand or a retailer where you can buy the product.
The prices given are as they were when we compiled our review, whether or not they have changed since.
Ritchey has gone wide with the XL version of its WCS Venturemax handlebar, a massive 52cm at the hoods to be precise! Designed for the bikepacker, the Venturemax XL brings extra stability and loads of hand positions – you'll need a lot of bar tape, though.
You are getting a shallow drop, with multiple, comfortable hand positions throughout. We especially liked the 'ergo bio' bend at the bottom of the drops where the bar kicks back up to create a sort of flat section to rest your hands. We used this a lot in testing, most notably during long, flat sections into the wind.
It really steadies the steering when descending and the huge 24-degree flare from hood to drop means your hand position puts a lot less stress on your wrist when steering and braking; well, it did for us anyway.
When riding on the hoods, the wide position seemed to cause less fatigue in our shoulders, too, when negotiating rough terrain – the width of the bar also allows a decent amount of flex, promoting comfort.
There is loads of room for bar bags, lights, GPS devices and so on with the 140mm central round section.
If you spend a lot of time out in the wilds with a fully loaded bike then you will definitely see the advantages of going wide. The Venturemax XL is also a very well made and comfortable handlebar.
Giant's Fleet SLR saddle is great for getting low at the front of the bike while staying comfortable at the back. The large central cutout and stubby design are very well-shaped, and the price is good too.
The shape of the Fleet SLR really works. The rear section is supportive, the cutout offers excellent pressure relief and the swooping drop from back to front is brilliant when hammering along. You feel well supported and free to push forward.
The padding is quite firm, though your sit bones are cushioned by Giant's PFT. The carbon rails give decent room for adjustment, and road buzz is pretty well damped. At the back, you also get the necessary threaded hole for Giant's UniClip accessories.
At 184g it's not exceptionally light, but it's within 10-15g of many saddles of a similar style and price.
PRO's new Vibe Carbon Stem is a very good option for stiffening up the front end of your bike. The slim design and low weight are very impressive; just watch out for the low torque setting on the top cap.
Getting our heads down and opening up a sprint or two suggested that there are no stiffness issues here. The Pro Vibe is a solid platform that we couldn't twist, even on the steepest power climbs where we really start wrenching on the bar.
Pro has redesigned its 'puzzle' clamp for the new Vibe carbon stem. The two alloy pieces that make up the faceplate hook onto protrusions on the stem, and everything is brought together by two alloy bolts. It's a clean setup that looks great and is easy to install.
The Prologo Dimension 143 CPC Tirox is a saddle for people who know exactly where they want to sit and want to be kept there. It's short, fairly wide and surprisingly comfortable, delivering an excellent, unobtrusive ride feel without fuss or gimmicks.
At 245mm long, the Dimension 143 CPC Tirox is significantly shorter than your typical performance saddle, so it won't suit riders who like to slide backwards and forwards a lot; there's basically nowhere to slide to. That's standard for short saddles, though, and the good news is that the position that the Dimension provides is really very comfortable indeed.
As well as limiting your freedom to move around by its shape, this version of the Dimension saddle is topped with sections of Prologo's Connect Power Control (CPC) material. Prologo claims CPC provides 'vibration absorbing, grip and position stability' and a whole lot more, but it's obvious when you use a CPC saddle that the main thing it does is grab you by the Lycra and keep you in place.
All the Dimension saddles sport a central cutaway to relieve pressure on the perineum and genital areas. Sometimes you can feel the edges of a saddle cutaway or pressure-relieving channel, but that's not the case here. It just does its job and helps keep you comfortable, which is very welcome on a saddle that keeps you in place as firmly as this one.
The Genetic STV Road Bar delivers a good balance of stiffness, comfort and weight at a decent price. It also has a compact shape that can be used by less flexible riders.
The STV does pretty much everything a handlebar needs to. Made from 6061 series aluminium alloy, it offers loads of stiffness, something that we weren't too sure it was going to have, considering how narrow the profile is on the tops. Either side of the 31.8mm diameter clamping area it tapers down to a little over 20mm, which is a lot smaller than most.
It does leave plenty of room for the cable and hose routing, though, which is good as there are no specific grooves to run them through. You can run thicker bar tape too for extra comfort without adding too much to the bulk.
The drops themselves are pretty shallow at just 120mm and the reach is only 70mm, which makes everything quite compact: perfect for those riders with small hands or who still like to hunker down for the fast sections but maybe aren't the most flexible.
On the whole, the STV bar delivers across the board, with a much higher performance than its price point would have you expect.
The Selle Italia SP-01 Boost Tekno Superflow is the ultimate statement saddle. Engineered in partnership with an F1 constructor, it's a carbon fibre chassis for your sit bones that's jaw-droppingly expensive, breathtakingly light, beautifully finished and actually surprisingly comfortable.
It looks a million dollars, and certainly the SP-01 Boost Tekno Superflow could be the most expensive saddle we've ever seen. Costing £439.99, its weight of 119g makes it £3.70 a gram. Not only is it gloriously expensive, but Selle Italia also claims it is "the most futuristic full carbon saddle of all time." Teaming up with Dallara, an Italian company that makes composite products for F1 cars, the saddle features Suspension Link Movement technology for a more comfortable ride and a ridiculously low weight.
Selle Italia gives the SP-01 Boost Tekno Superflow five stars for 'medio fondo', two for 'granfondo' and none for endurance or cycle touring. By its own admission that suggests it's not a saddle for huge mileage, and we'd go along with that. It's a racing saddle designed for short, sharp efforts, and works best when you're going fast and pedalling hard for up to three hours.
Obviously, for someone building an ultimate, no-expense-spared hill-climb bike it would be perfect whether it fitted your sit bones or not, since you would hardly be sitting on it!
The Maxxis High Road SL is currently the fastest road tyre Maxxis offers, and is designed purely for speed and grip. It feels really sprightly thanks to a ridiculously low weight, while both wet and dry weather grip is excellent. Limited tread depth means they just don't last as long as other road tyres, though.
Despite plenty of studies showing that wide tyres are just as fast – if not faster – than their skinny counterparts, we sometimes find wide rubber feels a little sluggish. This is certainly not the case with the High Road SL, probably thanks to the amazingly low weight.
At just 177g on our scales these 28mm versions are actually 2g lighter than claimed, and they're ideal for hill climbs where every gram counts. A lot of tyres we've reviewed recently are tubeless compatible, which makes them heavier, but even against non-tubeless offerings there are a fair few grams to be shaved. For example, the Wolfpack Road Race Cotton weighs 233g in 26mm, while a Specialized Turbo Cotton weighs 240g – also in the narrower 26mm.
Dry grip is on a par with the highly-regarded Vittoria Corsa Speed, while the new HYPR-S compound is similarly impressive in the wet.
The Goodyear Vector 4Seasons Tubeless Complete tyre is surprisingly quick and supple for something that is also robust enough to deal with all grit and flint washed out of the verges. Its new design makes it a step above the rest too when it comes to tubeless capability.
Using the recommended 40ml of sealant for this tyre size before the initial inflation didn't see any bubbling through the sidewall, and the tyre had lost about 10% of the 80psi pressure the following morning. Throughout testing, we were probably topping them up once a week, similar to a clincher with an inner tube.
The Vectors have proved themselves to be highly durable in all sorts of horrible conditions, and punctures haven't been an issue.
The Dynamic:Silica4 compound has a tacky feel to it and grip levels are very impressive, giving loads of confidence in fast bends or when tackling roundabouts while keeping up with the flow of traffic.
It works just as well in the dry too. The Vectors have a very similar feel to some of the better summer race tyres in the corners and they aren't far off in the rolling resistance stakes either, they're just a bit weightier that's all.
SwissStop's Disc 34 RS Pads are a great upgrade for any bike facing rough conditions. They remain silent in grotty weather, wear slowly and while they're more expensive than the stock pads, they don't cost a fortune.
SwissStop has provided the upgrade of silence with its Disc 34 RS pads. It might not sound like the best upgrade, but when you've heard the howl of contaminated disc brakes, you'll pay anything for a quiet system.
The combination of silent braking, low wear rate and lack of maintenance needed makes these pads a great upgrade for a bike that is likely to see plenty of rain. There aren't many upgrade options for your brake pads but thankfully, this is a very good one.
The Challenge Strada HTLR Tubeless road tyre is up there with the most supple road tubeless tyres on the market. The excellent construction translates into very good performance on the road.
The SuperPoly casing is made from polyester with a high 300TPI (threads per inch) count. While it's not as supple as Challenge's corespun cotton, or silk casings, it's far more supple than the standard casings on most tubeless and clincher tyres. In your hands, you can even stretch the tyre slightly. There's a lot of give in these.
One thing these casings are not is impermeable. To enable the tyre to hold sealant, a latex liner has been fused to the casing in much the same way that Vittoria did with its Corsa G+ Speed. While this might not sound like the most robust system, we've been riding these tyres through what has been a particularly harsh British winter and they're still working perfectly. Once the air is in, it stays put.
What we were expecting from these tyres was a very supple ride feel, and that's exactly what we got. Once installed on rims with an 18mm internal width, these sat out at 27mm wide and we ran them at just under 70psi (62kg rider weight) for the majority of testing. This gave a nice floaty feeling over broken tarmac, plenty of grip on dry roads, and enough speed for group rides, although they don't feel as fast as some that we've ridden.
The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite Road tyre offers plenty of grip, a supple ride and decent puncture protection. Rolling resistance is impressive too, and it's not a bad price either.
Bontrager says that the R3 is one tyre that can do it all: 'Fast enough for race day, yet durable enough for every day.' That isn't too far off the mark.
The R3 has a soft and tacky compound which it calls TR Speed and it offers loads of grip out on the road.
The compound really feels like it grabs hold of the asphalt in the dry and it also works in the wet, although obviously not to the same degree.
They feel fast too. Rolling resistance seems to be minimal and the 120 TPI (threads per inch) carcass and flexible sidewalls make for a comfortable ride even when pumped up hard.
So why have we given the Bontrager R3 Hard Case Lite tyre our Bargain Buy award? We think the price of £34.99 is very good for a tyre of this quality; it's light, too, at just 207g on our scales. Overall, Bontrager has done a very good job in creating a tyre that delivers loads of performance and grip while keeping the price down.
Prime's Primavera Inline Carbon Seatpost is light in weight and in price. It features a clamp system that makes position adjustments easy while the carbon construction offers a little comfort boost over an aluminium post. At this price, it's an excellent upgrade.
Comfort is one of the main benefits when using a carbon seatpost. We're not talking about huge shock absorbing potential here, but over broken roads and coarse tarmac a good carbon seatpost can often transfer less buzz to the rider. The Primavera worked brilliantly, soaking up buzz well.
With the performance, weight, construction quality and price all taken into account, the Prime Primavera Inline Carbon seatpost is an excellent option if you're looking to upgrade from aluminium to carbon.
The Cycles Berthoud Soulor leather saddle is beautifully made and well worth the relatively modest time it takes to bed in because, once moulded, it's like it was custom made for your backside.
The Soulor is a vegetable-tanned, pre-softened cow-hide saddle, which is joined to the steel rails via Torx bolts. Theoretically this means it can be stripped and rebuilt, say in the event of damage, or if you're seeking to upgrade the rails.
The Soulor just seems to get better as the miles increase. It's extremely well made and fits the sportier design brief perfectly.
Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100 SPD pedals are a durable, lightweight choice, as suitable for gravel riding as they are for cross-country mountain biking.
The M8100 pedals have a cleat retention mechanism on both sides. The second binding adds a little weight over a single-sided pedal – our M8100 pedals weighed 340g versus a claimed weight of 279g for the single-sided PD-ES600 pedals mentioned above – but there's no danger of the pedal being the wrong way up because there is no wrong way up. We find a double-sided pedal that little bit easier when you don't want to take your eyes off the track/trail ahead, but that's a matter of choice.
One of the best features of the M8100 pedals is that you rarely need to worry about the internals. If/when you do need to open them up for re-greasing you'll find miles of thread between the bearing and the outside world.
We've been using the M8100 pedals mostly on gravel but also on the occasional stretch of muddy trail, and gloop tends to clear quickly. Any mud that gets onto the cleat retention mechanism usually gets pushed through and out the other side when you stamp your foot in place. We've certainly never got them gummed up in use. It could happen, as it could with any pedals, but it's going to be a rare occurrence here because there's so little for mud to stick on.
You could easily use these pedals for other types of riding too, of course. Many people like SPDs and shoes with recessed cleats for commuting and other urban use, and these would be well up to the job.
The Fabric Scoop Race Shallow is a well-made, supremely comfortable saddle, with a non-slip surface and shock-absorbing titanium rails, and comes at an excellent price.
The Scoop has been around a fair few years now and has a well-deserved reputation for being a very comfortable saddle for smashing out the miles. This titanium-railed version continues the theme, impressing with its levels of comfort, build quality and value.
From the first 50 metres riding on the Scoop, we were very taken with it. It felt just right, and this feeling continued for the next month or so and 650 miles of testing.
We found the titanium rails gave a slightly sprung effect, so that any potholes or rough surfaces felt slightly damped. At no point during testing did we feel that it had been a harsh ride.
The thing that impressed us most was that, during the whole time testing it, we didn't really have to think about it much at all – surely the sign of an excellent saddle, one that doesn't give any niggles, or uncomfortable numb feeling during the ride whatsoever.
Campagnolo has re-entered the off-road cycling market with Ekar, a 1x gravel-specific groupset that delivers a wide gear range and unique shifter style. It's an excellent mechanical drivetrain option, if not quite perfect, with precise adjustment needed, and a few quirks.
Our complete groupset came fitted to a 3T Exploro, direct from Campagnolo, with a 38-tooth chainring and 9-42T cassette. Currently Campagnolo offers the choice of 38, 40, 42 and 44-tooth chainrings, with three cassette options: 9-36, 9-42 and 10-44.
Ekar offers a great compromise, keeping a low enough gear for climbing while not having to spin too frantically on road sections.
On pure road rides, the gaps between gears are small, with the 9-tooth sprocket there for motoring along when needed. With this particular setup, the 38x9 top gear gives approximately the same ratio as a 46-tooth chainring with 11-tooth sprocket, for reference.
The short gaps in the gearing make it a joy both on the road and on faster off-road sections, enabling you to maintain a more constant cadence.
The feel of the shifting is very different to both Shimano and SRAM mechanical options, feeling more positive than both.
When set up correctly Ekar shifting is smooth, direct and rapid. Most gear changes are very clean and crisp, although we did occasionally get a rougher one.
The Ekar brakes offer modulation that gives brilliant control, with power there when it is needed. From the drops the braking is brilliant, helped by the lever's nice curved shape being easy to reach and pull.
Ekar is Campagnolo's first step back to creating off-road groupsets since the early 1990s, and it has delivered an incredible package. You get an excellent performance that really suits the wide range of riding styles that gravel falls into.
Rather than develop a specific groupset for gravel/adventure use, SRAM has created an offshoot of its second-tier drivetrain, known as Force eTap AXS Wide. It carries over the excellent shifting quality and easy use of the standard Force setup but with a wider gear range and a physically wider Q-factor which gives frame designers more scope to increase tyre clearances.
By increasing the chainline to 47.5mm, the SRAM Wide chainset allows more clearance than a standard road setup, enabling an increase in tyre size while still using a 2x system. Many gravel bikes with big tyre clearance are restricted to 1x systems because of the tyres fouling the front mech. The Force Wide mech used here sits outboard by an extra 2.5mm to match the chainset, which SRAM says increases clearance to 45mm for a 700C tyre and 2.1in for a 27.5in tyre.
The Force eTap Wide has a 43/30t chainset and a 10-36t cassette, which gives you some very low gears while still enabling you to maintain a high top speed on faster sections without going too mad on the cadence front.
If you've never had to set up an electronic groupset before, you'll be pleased to know that the whole process is unbelievably easy thanks to a few YouTube tutorials from SRAM.
The gear shifts across the Wide drivetrain are just as crisp and precise as they are on the standard version. The 13-tooth gap between the two chainrings caused no issues when changing under load on a steep hill, and the front mech delivers the gear change quickly and smoothly. Added to that, the ratios on offer make the Force Wide drivetrain feel very efficient.
With all of that said, the reason that we have given the SRAM Force eTap AXS Wide groupset our Editor's Choice award is simple: it works brilliantly. The shifting is great, and it provides such usable gear ratios for the type of riding it is designed for, whether that's on or off-road. Yes, it's a big financial investment, but with it being so simple to use, we'd say it's up there with the best drivetrains on the market.
Specialized's Women's Romin Evo Pro with MIMIC is a performance-orientated saddle that offers comfort and support for any kind of road ride. Fans of the company's Oura saddle are likely to be satisfied by this replacement: it's light, stiff and looks at home on any road racing bike.
Whether we were doing longer endurance rides or shorter, more intense efforts, slipping to the nose of the saddle, we felt one hundred per cent comfortable and supported. There is a little flex in the upper, sufficient to damp heavy vibrations and big hits.
Overall, we've been seriously impressed with the Romin Evo Pro with MIMIC. Its minimal weight and decent stiffness make it a great choice for serious riders and racers.
The Continental Grand Prix 5000 is a hugely popular road tyre and, in honour of the 2020 Tour de France, it's got a stylish new look. This limited-edition 'cream' sidewall is only available in 25mm clincher though, which is sure to upset fans of both tubeless and wide tyres. It has substance as well as style, rolls and grips extremely well... and did we mention it has style?
This limited edition is extremely similar to the standard GP5000 clincher, and uses a BlackChilli compound, a Vectran Breaker puncture protection layer, and three layers of 110tpi casing. The creaminess – some would call it tan – adds a claimed 30g over the standard 25mm clincher (255g vs 225g), though the road.cc scales say 245g for a 20g increase.
Why are they heavier? They're painted. We're sure it's a lot more technical than that, but in essence, these are painted vulcanized rubber tyres rather than cotton walls, which are naturally tan coloured.
Take these out in the dry and traction is great, but more impressive is the wet weather grip. As far as rolling speed is concerned, they feel proper fast and this is backed up by strong results in independent testing.
It's the road tyre that we compare all other race tyres against; and therefore it was an easy choice for our Benchmark Product award.
SwissStop's Catalyst Rotors are superb, offering quiet stopping power and very good durability in the tough conditions of cyclo-cross and winter riding.
It says a lot about the silent performance of a test product when you forget that it's on your bike. The SwissStop Catalyst rotors have been silent through what has been an incredibly muddy cyclo-cross season, and when we've taken the CX bike out on the road they've provided plenty of stopping power on steep descents.
The only time that we could get a squeal from these was after some particularly muddy pre-race practice laps. Washing the bike off between these laps and the race start is always a bit of a rushed job and a bit of soap tends to find its way onto the rotors. It wasn't an issue for long, though – a few sharp squeezes of the brakes in the car park and the noise was gone. And while racing we've had no noise issues at all.
Resisting too much wear from the gritty combination of mud and sand is also pretty important in cyclo-cross. SwissStop has used SUS410 stainless steel for the brake track and it's holding up very well. We can see these rotors easily lasting two race seasons and possibly even stretching to three. That makes the £56.99 investment for each rotor a little easier to stomach.
Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.