It’s been another really busy year for the Cyclingnews tech team – arguably as jam packed as 2020, and while it wasn’t without its challenges (COVID-19 is still annoyingly hanging around) we’ve come out the other side a more rounded site. Of these challenges, however, the biggest fight was that of supply vs demand and a general lack of cycling-specific stock thanks to the massive boom in categories such as the best road bikes and best turbo trainers. This didn’t just affect us as cycling enthusiasts but the entire industry as manufacturers delayed launches and product shortages became the talk of the town. Things don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, but that’s a good thing. If anything, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the surge of new products that keep filling our inboxes here at Cyclingnews.
2021 also welcomed back the return of trade shows such as Eurobike, Sea Otter and Rouleur Live as well as in-real-life races – both amateur and professional – and industry launches in exotic locations. That, however, didn’t put a stop to the dreaded Zoom Meeting or Google Hangout product launch from taking place, the notion of which seems to have become a staple for manufacturers to share their news with those still unable to attend IRL events for whatever reason. I personally feel the facetime-style product reveal is here to stay.
Hydraulic disc brakes are here to stay, too, as long-time proponents of the ‘save the rim brake’ campaign – Ineos Grenadiers and Pinarello – have finally caved and given in to the many benefits of hydraulic stoppers. The technology is getting better with every new groupset iteration and Shimano’s Dura-Ace R9200 is a case in point. The company has paid special attention to this area roping in expertise from its mountain biking and gravel sectors to help iron out and refine the stopping power on road bikes using what it calls Servo Wave technology. SRAM also made a lot of noise about its Rival AXS groupset, a third-tier offering designed to bring wireless shifting to more people.
The road and gravel bike front was jam-packed, too and new launches came in thick and fast. Like last year’s Reacto Team-E, the Merida Scultura Team blew us away – both in terms of specification level and all-around performance. Pinarello’s Dogma F got us excited too, as did Orbea’s Orca Aero and Liv’s Langma. Then there was the gravel bike onslaught with contenders such as the Focus Atlas, Specialized Crux, Basso Palta 2, BMC URS, Giant Revolt, Canyon Grizl, Cervelo Aspero 5 and Orbea Terra all making meaningful impacts in the segment.
As ever, the best electric bikes space continues to grow in prominence and one manufacturer leading from the front is Specialized, a brand that revealed three new electric bikes in September, the Turbo Tero, Como and Vado. As for weapons for racing against the clock, Trek unveiled its new Speed Concept while Factor showed off its Hanzo and Cannondale made waves with a still-secret time trial bike as used by Rigoberto Uran at Volta a Catalunya.
There were lots of other new component offerings, too, including the all-new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and the return of the Speedplay pedal – now under the Wahoo Fitness umbrella, as well as its all-new Speedplay Powrlink pedal system. The pedal-based power meter system appeared to be a hot topic this year among the manufacturers with both Favero Electronics and Garmin getting in on the action launching respective Assioma-Shi and Rally RS100/RS200 Shimano SPD-SL compatible power pedals.
The indoor cycling discipline continued to define itself throughout 2021. Zwift launched a few more worlds – the Makuri Islands and eight new routes as part of update to the Makuri Islands map – but we’ll have to wait a few more months for the UCI Esports World Championships which are scheduled to take place in February 2022 and not this year. In terms of product offerings, it was Wahoo that yet again came to market with something it calls SYSTM, essentially an overhaul of the Sufferfest platform it acquired in 2019. In its quest to dominate the indoor cycling landscape, Elite launched its rebuttal to the Wahoo Kickr Climb with the Rizer but the biggest head-turner came in the form of the Muoverti indoor bike, with built-in tilt-and-balance dynamics as well as in-game free steering, Xbox compatibility, and gamification like nothing else currently on the market.
We made a concerted effort to review and cover as many breaking tech news stories and product drops as possible, and it shows in the way the Cyclingnews tech channel and team has been recognised by our readers and industry as whole. Speaking of recognition, tech writer Mildred Locke worked tirelessly on growing not only the footprint of our women’s content but also the plight of plus-size cyclists, and LGBTQ+ and racial inclusion within the cycling industry. This diverse meld of content has helped better shape and diversify the Cyclingnews site – as a whole – to be a home for cyclists of all abilities, creeds and colours.
Like last year, we’ve voted collectively as a team to bring you our top picks covering 15 categories, all of which represent products we’d personally buy ourselves. We hope you enjoy the read.
Aaron Borrill, tech editor
Gear of the year 2021
Dynamically, the Merida Scultura Team is faultless. It’s super fast no matter the terrain and is telepathic in the way it behaves and responds to pedal and steering inputs. Of course, a big reason for the way it connects with the rider stems from the new Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset. The braking is modular and feelsome and the responsive shifting coupled with the stiff frame makes for a lively performer. It’s not just about pure speed though as the Merida Scultura Team’s ride quality is nothing short of class-leading – it’s compliant and combines the best of both worlds allowing further comfort to be unlocked through the lower pressures afforded by going tubeless.
What’s more, Merida has nailed the pricing. For a bike as lavishly laden as the Merida Scultura Team, the £7,750 / €9,999 sticker price seems hard to believe, and more on par with mid-level rivals such as the Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Ultegra Di2 and Specialized Tarmac SL7 Pro Ultegra Di2. There’s nothing currently on the market that comes close to it – not just from a pricing perspective but from the way it rides. – AB
Designed by acclaimed former car designer Filippo Perini, the Met Rivale MIPS is one of the most beautiful road bike helmets in the segment. According to Perini, the similarities between cars and helmets are different in many ways but when it comes to functionality they’re the same – especially around attributes such as aerodynamics, ventilation, cooling, structure and weight reduction. And you can see these properties have played out within the design blueprint of the Rivale pictured here.
The Met Rivale MIPS is an incredibly comfortable helmet. At 240g (medium), it’s neither heavy nor bulky – instead, its svelte contours and form belie the protection measures it offers. The aerodynamically honed shape features 18 ventilation ports, so cooling is well taken care of and heat soak is not an issue.
When it comes to real-world performance, the Met Rivale MIPS does what it says on the tin and saved this writer’s life during a crash at a mountain bike race. I’m certain without the Met Rivale MIPS on my head during the crash, things could have been a whole lot worse. While many of the best road bike helmets all boast similar levels of safety and protection, I’ve always had an affinity for the Met brand as a whole – the helmets look superb and the after-sales service and communication levels are some of the best I’ve dealt with in the industry. – AB
Wahoo manages to make its second-tier Kickr Core as good as anything else on the market. What’s really special is the way that Wahoo has used its experience with building trainers to tune the software side. There’s always a balance between natural ride feel and quick resistance changes but Wahoo has it nailed. Resistance changes incredibly fast without feeling unnatural. If you ever need to use the Wahoo app to control the trainer it’s robust and free. If you need support, Wahoo is easy to reach and helpful. The biggest drawbacks have to do with packaging. There’s no handle, no way to level the unit on an uneven floor, and folding saves very little space. Once you are riding though, all that stuff melts away. The features you really care about in day-to-day use are among the best.
The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt was launched in early summer, and while we expected Wahoo to simply package everything that’s good about the Elemnt Roam into a smaller package and leave it at that, we were wrong. Instead, it took everything that’s good, made it even better, and then packaged it into a Bolt-sized unit.
Among the improvements were more tactile buttons, an eight-times-larger colour pallette, USB charging, increased memory, and maps that are just plain better. Its small screen does limit the on-device navigation, but the simple and seamless app integration solves this, along with many other bike-computer pain points, and quite honestly puts Wahoo in another league compared to its rivals. – JC
Runner-up: Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
Runner-up: Hammerhead Karoo 2
It’s not often we re-use an official marketing quote as a strapline but SRAM’s Rival is a genuine game-changer in terms of who can now afford to go wireless.
It’s not been done by compromising performance either. The electronic elements – transmitters, motors, gearboxes, batteries etc. – are exactly the same as Red and Force groups. You get a fantastic looking Flattop chain moving seamlessly across a 12-speed cassette and we reckon the simpler sprung clutch means it actually shifts even better than its more expensive siblings. Most of our testers liked the slimmer hood feel more too.
It comes in standard, wide range, XPLR and single ring ratio formats and you can even add a simple but very effective inside-axle power meter if you want to know watts going on. The only downsides are significantly increased weight from steel and chunkier alloy construction and the lack of satellite shifter ‘blip button’ compatibility.
The flawless cable-free, easy access battery performance, custom tuning options and deep dive ride/gear use tracking of SRAM’s Web AXS app makes it a fantastic user-friendly upgrade and a mid-priced complete bike must have everywhere from pure road to monster gravel machines. – GK
Runner-up: SRAM XPLR
Runner-up: Santini Alpha under glove
The Specialized S-Works Romin Evo with Mirror represents the second instalment in the Morgan Hill-based brand’s 3D-printed saddle portfolio. While it shares its design blueprint with the regular Romin range, there’s no mistaking it for anything but a 3D-printed saddle, what with its ornately structured lattice upper.
Unlike the S-Works Power with Mirror saddle we tested last year, the lattice is more detailed and sculptural in appearance with the outer cover used only on the main areas of contact. This measure not only reduces unnecessary material but also unlocks the visual design intricacies that would otherwise be covered up.
The saddle length and shape is geared more towards riders who like an aggressive riding position. As such, the rear section ramps upwards but the nose area still offers ample padding and support. To further improve blood flow and support – specifically around the perineum area – the 3D-printed, web-covered cut-out helps distribute weight across the cushion rather than the soft tissue around your sit bones.
At $450 / £350, the Specialized S-Works Romin Evo with Mirror saddle will set you back as much as its 3D-printed snub-nose sibling. It’s also $210 / £175 dearer than the Romin Evo Pro with Mimic saddle upon which it’s based, but for those who demand enhanced touch-point comfort, it’s a price worth paying. – AB
With Dura-Ace R9200, Shimano has taken everything that was good (and bad) with R9100 and improved it, considerably. While the outgoing groupset is still an excellent offering, the new version is without a doubt a more refined, more intelligent ecosystem that improves rather than revolutionises the user experience.
The new groupset is super-intuitive to operate. Everything functions in much the same way as the outgoing system meaning the left paddle toggles between the small and big chainring while the right takes care of movement up and down the cassette. Response time is incredibly fast with no noticeable delay from the moment you summon a cog to the actual engagement – the integrated circuit delivers rapid communication protocols throughout the system.
The big standout in terms of performance is undoubtedly when it comes to the stopping power. Shimano has radically altered the character of the braking system which, in turn, has completely transformed the way the Scott Addict behaves dynamically – late on the brakes, earlier on the power. The new Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 groupset brings just as much confidence to the descents as it does the straight-ahead or climbs. Brake fade is non-existent, as is rotor squeal and the entire process is rich in modularity and feel. The short-throw brake lever action has allowed the engineers to dial more precision and confidence into the equation, improving your connection with the bike, not to mention providing a clearer picture of what’s happening beneath you. – AB
For a long time, much of Strava’s best features, namely segments and routing, were available to everyone for free. Strava did charge a subscription for its Summit packages, but these were targeted solely at the die-hard data-philes and those who took training seriously. In May 2020 Strava introduced a far more overarching subscription fee which significantly throttled its free-mium functionality. The change of service model rocked the Strava community. Comment sections were lit up and there was a lot of apprehensions regarding the future of Strava and whether we were seeing the beginning of the end for the service.
In an honest open letter, Strava co-founders Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath outlined the reasons behind the change. Ultimately it was about money and they were stuck between a proverbial rock and hard place. For a company that hadn’t made a profit since its launch in 2009, a difficult decision had to be made in order to fund future development. In the open letter, they stated “We plan to take what we earn from these changes and reinvest straight back into building more and better features – not devising ways to fill up your feed with ads or sell your personal information. We simply want to make a product so good that you’re happy to pay for it.”
The dust has settled and after a year and a half of subscription payments, Strava seems to be going from strength to strength. The quality of service is better than it’s ever been and there’s a constant flow of new features and fixes being released. While Local Legends, redesigned mapping and heatmaps are obvious updates, Strava has been busy introducing new tweaks big and small on a weekly basis. The result is that Strava is more user-friendly, integrated and safer for everyone. It’s not just front-facing customer features either, Strava has been busy with background functionality too, making data cataloguing more accurate and using its library of activities to further improve user experience. Ultimately the injection of subscription cash flow has had a really positive effect for the service and users alike. 2021 has been a great year for Strava and we are excited to see what it has in store from the platform in the future. – GC
The extremes of winter riding are fun to talk about. The epic days spent battling the coldest temperatures and the worst weather are days that require specialised gear and a lot of resolve, but the truth is that those days are not the norm. For the kind of riding that most people ride in most winters, a more well-rounded jacket is a better investment, and the Assos Mille GT Winter Jacket is as well-rounded as they come. It’s a softshell jacket that handles rain better than its competitors and the excellent fabric pairs with a host of other features that make it a favorite. The fit is comfortable and low bulk, the breathability is impressive, and pockets are perfect. The only times you’ll need to look elsewhere are muddy rides and exceptionally cold rides.
Runner-up: Pearl Izumi Women’s Cargo Interval Bib Short
Runner-up: Spatz Basez
This year we’ve gone with something a little different in the shoes category, eschewing the more obvious top-tier kicks for some intermediate-level shoes that really impressed us. While there is a huge number of premium footwear available, many of which you’ll find us praising in our list of the best cycling shoes and best bike gravel shoes, for those who are either new to the sport or are at a more intermediate level and looking to invest in a piece of kit to help improve their enjoyment and performance, then we found Scott’s Road Comp Boa shoes to deliver the goods. I tested the women’s specific version of the shoes – there’s a men’s version too – and was seriously impressed by the value for money they offer.
While they’re not the stiffest available, and that’s no surprise considering their mid-level status and nylon composite sole, they’re not exactly compliant either, and for folks competing at this level, they offer plenty of support and power transfer to make a difference. In fact, the power transfer capabilities of the Road Comp Boa shoe is certainly enough to satisfy all but the elite road cyclist, while that slight flex improves comfort for long hours on the saddle.
Constructed with a pliable, wraparound synthetic leather upper, and thanks to the soft padding around the ankle, these shoes are exceptionally comfortable, offer a really secure fit that cradles the foot nicely, and they contain various ventilation points that do a really great job of channelling cooling airflow across the toes. This makes them particularly well suited to indoor cycling as well as riding in hot weather.
All in all, I was truly impressed with how versatile, comfortable and well-ventilated these shoes are. They’re a great choice for daily rides, Sunday club runs, indoor cycling sessions and even the occasional criterium. All of this potential use, as well as the perfect blend of low weight, comfort and retention, not to mention their ability to improve performance for beginner and intermediate riders, for a very wallet-friendly price, makes them worthy of a strong recommendation. – ML
Unfortunately for my bank balance, the best road bike wheels to launch all year also happen to be some of the most expensive. They are tubeless-ready hookless clinchers that boast an astonishingly low weight of 1.29kg for a pair – as tested on my scales – with tubeless valves fitted.
They also come with a progressively wide internal rim width of 25mm, and Zipp’s now iconic ‘sawtooth’ undulating rim profile which is said to enable SRAM to reduce weight and increase stability whilst maintaining straight-line speed. This wide internal rim bed means they are only compatible with tyres of 28mm and up, which helps to really exaggerate their sense of comfort and stability when riding.
At launch, SRAM’s marketing aimed them at endurance riders, but I tried them in all manner of environment from road to gravel, cruising to criteriums and they never failed to shine. – JC
Runner-up: ENVE Foundation 65
Runner-up: CADEX 65 Disc
When it comes to innovation, POC has been at the forefront of tech and safety over the past few years with its category-breaking POC Aspire Solar Switch sunglasses and self-powered Omne Eternal Spin helmet. The Swedish brand also recently launched the ultra-feathery 180g Ventral Lite helmet and Devour Clarity sunglasses.
The sunnies pictured here are the brand’s newest offering and weigh just 23g. Dubbed the POC Elicit Clarity, these sunglasses have been stripped to the very minimum without losing any of the functionality needed to excel at the highest level. When paired with the Ventral Light Spin helmet, the total system weight is around 200-205g (depending on helmet size), which should see it become a popular combo among the weight weenie brigade. It’s not all about weight though, and POC has placed as much emphasis on function as it has on form and weight.
The POC Elicit Clarity sunglasses can be had in six colour options (Hydrogen White, Uranium Black, Fluorescent Orange, Actinium Pink, Sapphire Purple and Lemon Calcite) and paired with three lens choices: Gold, Silver and Define (a spare clear lens is included). Like other models in the range, the lens features a Ri-Pel coating – a hydrophobic and oleophobic treatment that protects the lens from water, dirt, oil, sweat, salt and dust. It also offers complete protection from UVA and UVB rays (UV400 rated). – AB
Runner-up: Oakley Kato
Runner-up: Adidas SP0041
There are some products that get superb pre-launch PR – Cavendish winning San Remo on Specialized’s Venge the day it was announced springs to mind – and you couldn’t ask for a better pair of contrasting pre-launch wins for a new road tyre than the scalps taken by Continental’s new GP5000S TR. Not only was it fast enough to win the time trial World Championships, but it was also the first to roll over the line at this year’s particularly grim and gruelling Paris-Roubaix.
Continental already had a tubeless version of its GP5000 tyre, but the new GP5000S TR is compatible with hookless rims and only hard to fit, rather than almost impossible. The new ‘Omega’ construction also removes the air tight liner to make it light and create a lovely agile, buoyantly comfortable feel to the carcass that makes it super quick in lab tests and out on real roads. The excellent single compound Black Chilli rubber compound and laser cut tread ‘fins’ keep it totally trustworthy in all weathers, and a ‘Vectran’ puncture protection layer means we’ve not had a single puncture yet in testing. – GK
Runner-up: Pirelli P Zero Race
Runner-up: Cadex Race 28 Tubeless
More and more cyclists are starting to run rear lights no matter the time of day. If you look at the Garmin Varia RTL515 just from that perspective it’s one of the best lights available. Daytime flash mode will get you 16 hours of battery life at 65 lumens using an irregular pattern to capture the attention of motorists. There’s also an incredible variety of mounts available due to the use of the ubiquitous Garmin quarter turn mount. These features aren’t the real power of the Varia rear light though.
The real power of the Varia RTL515 light is its radar features. Vehicles that approach from the rear at a higher rate of speed pop up on a phone, compatible bike computer, or Varia display unit with visual and audible cues. You can see how fast cars are approaching and watch to see if they slow or wait to pass. It all happens without any input from you and the notifications let you worry about riding instead of listening for cars.
Runner-up: Gloworm XSV
Runner-up: Bontrager ION Pro RT
Silca makes a wide range of products, from go-faster aero socks to 3D printed Titanium shop tools, but they all share the same pursuit for perfection and a commitment to making quality products that last. The same can be said for Silca’s T-Ratchet + Ti-Torque Kit which we have been using for a few months now and it’s been making roadside repairs almost joyous.
Ratchet tools aren’t something new, we have already been very impressed with Topeak’s Ratchet Rocket Lite DX+ but Silca’s tool just takes it to the next level. At its centre is a ratchet that uses tool bits that can be switched as and when needed. From there you can mix and match different parts of the tool to create a wide range of handle and extender configurations depending on what you are working on and how fiddly the bolt access is.
The level of finish is superb, the ratchet has more teeth than most freehubs and the way every part of the tool magnetically clicks into place is incredibly satisfying. The Ti-Torque tool really takes it to the next level as well. Offering incremental Torque measurements between 2-8Nm, so there are no worries when making adjustments to delicate carbon parts mid-ride. – GC
Runner-up: Ryder Luberetta
Runner-up: Topeak Joe Blow Tubi 2stage pump