With 2020 and 2021 setting obviously low bars, 2022 didn't really need to try particularly hard to one-up the previous years. Although if we are being honest, in the grand scheme of things 2022 wasn't exactly up there with 2019.
Rather than dwell too much on the doom and gloom, there were some definite highlights of the year. We were treated to a scorcher of a summer up in Scotland, with trails running at an all-time high I clocked up more mountain bike miles than I have done for a number of years.
I finally got to ride Rapha's Pennine Rally after a poorly timed broken ankle put pay to riding it last year and the event lived up to every expectation. Riding an Atherton downhill bike at Dyfi Bike Park with Continental, e-MTBing in the Dolomites with Thok, BMC's Fourstroke press event to Roc D'Azur, and Bosch's e-MTB Challenge were certainly highlights too. With the last of the long days, I managed to stick a quick FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the Capital Trail, an attempt that has been on my to-do list for a number of years.
I might not have made much of a dent in my riding to-do and goal lists, but that will roll over to next year and I hope that 2023 will bring increased clarity and motivation to push my riding further.
The bike industry has certainly been busy over the last 12 months and there has been a good flow of kit across my desk. Lots of it has been great as well, with the developments in bikes, components, and clothing making some proper advancements. That said, those weren't necessarily the products that stood out to me for my Gear of the Year. Keep reading for a quick list of the gear that has made my riding much better in this 'back to normal' year.
Canyon Exceed CF7
The Canyon Exceed makes it onto my list not because it was the best bike I rode this year, nor was it the most fun or the most innovative either. The reason the Exceed makes my list is that it is the perfect tool for a very specific job, as a bike that can cover off-road terrain very quickly for a long time it's superb.
That should be obvious though the clue is in the name, it's a cross-country bike after all. Well, it's not that simple anymore, the definition of cross-country has been muddied, and when I rode the Exceed on trails that would be defined as 'cross-country' these days it really struggled. Let it loose on a longer format mixed terrain off-road adventure and suddenly everything about it makes sense. I spent a good bit of time on Giant's new Anthem and while it was an incredible bike that would decimate the Exceed on the trails, the Exceed would easily be streaks ahead on the connecting sections where it's about riding 'across-country' rather than riding cross-country.
There is something very satisfying about having the perfect tool for the job and for that very reason, it's a bike that I would struggle to justify owning myself. Buy now that I have tasted the speed and efficiency though, that could change.
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar
Garmin's Instinct 2 Solar has been a favorite piece of kit for recording rides as well as tracking all sorts of health metrics throughout my day-to-day life. Its main role is documenting my rides, particularly on mountain bikes, although I have also used it to record heart rate and as a backup recording device on bikepacking trips too.
As it's the Solar edition, battery life is excellent – especially in the summer when it's getting a good dose of daylight.
For most riders, the Instinct 2 has all the features and metrics most riders or multisport users will be interested in. In fact, unless you are desperate for in-depth training metrics or really want proper routing on your wrist it's really hard to justify spending more for one of Garmin's fancier watches.
Rapha Trail Knee Pads
The move into knee pads was a big step for a brand like Rapha as they have been notoriously difficult to get right. Brands with years of experience and development in the mountain bike industry have started to figure out the recipe yet somehow Rapha has nailed it on the first go.
The fit is perfect with their long sleeve construction which stays locked in place when riding, no matter how many times you pedal to the top. They are superbly slimline as well so will work with all your favorite shorts or pants and the flexible Rheon Labs ‘active polymer’ protective inserts have so far done an excellent job of protecting my knees.
These knee pads don't just make the cut for my Gear of the Year list but are easily some of the best mountain bike knee pads around.
Apidura front bag and Accessory Pocket
Apidura are already well renowned for making some of the best bikepacking bags around and the Apidura Expedition Bar Roll is no different. Hard-wearing, simple but effective design, and plenty of space mean the Expedition bar roll is a staple of the brand's range.
Ultrasonically welded triple-layer ripstop waterproof laminate has kept our bag watertight and the straps are made from Aramid (bulletproof vest) fiber and Hypalon. Our bags are showing very little wear after a good number of trips and should anything happen to the bags, Apidura back their products up with a lifetime warranty on manufacturing defects.
The reason it makes my Gear of the Year though is the additional Accessory Pocket that attaches to the front. Securely clipping directly onto the Expedition using plastic push clips, it adds a 4.5L zipped pocket to the front of the handlebar roll. It might not sound like a lot, but it affords a significant amount of extra storage that's easily accessible for snacks, small pieces of clothing, and electronics. The Apidura front bag and Accessory Pocket have become a bikepacking essential for me.
Shokz OpenRun Pro
I'm a big fan of listening to music while riding and the Shokz (formerly known as Aftershokz) OpenRun Pro is the updated version of the Aeropex headphones (now known as OpenRun) that I included in my Gear of the Year last year.
The Open Run Pros are essentially the same albeit with better sound quality, faster charging, and longer battery life. What separates Shokz from the majority of other headphones is that it uses bone conduction as the method of delivering sound, which leaves your ears free to hear the road, trail, or birds around you.
The hook and loop fitment is secure and super comfortable and you don't need to take them off when you're not listening to anything. In fact, I once wore them all day and didn't even realize I had them on until late in the evening.
I'm still convinced the Shokz OpenRun Pros get more than the quoted 10-hour battery life and they charge super fast getting one and a half hours in just five minutes, so if they are low in juice you can give them a quick top-up before you head out the door.
Styrkr MIX90 Dual-Carb drink mix
I'm not really a sports nutrition person, even on big rides, my calorie content comes almost exclusively from a mix of Greggs baked goods (a bakery chain popular in the UK) and sweets. Other than the likely havoc such a diet plays on my insides I never felt that I was under-fuelling. I would eat when I was hungry, ride, eat more, and ride more.
For my FKT – did I mention I got an FKT? – I decided I should probably take fueling somewhat seriously and a friend suggested trying Styrkr carb drink to help get a little more carbs and stuff in on the move. I threw some MIX90 Dual-Carb drink mix in my bottles and holy moly it was rocket fuel. As 100km of hilly terrain rolled by and my legs were still feeling fresh. In fact, the only low point was in the middle when there was no Styrkr in my bottles.
Bit of a weird one, but if you have your own Gear of the Year you are probably going to want it to last for a few more years. It's great to see more and more brands standing behind their products to offer free repairs for their products. Some brands have a history of robust warranty services but that list seems to be growing as other brands follow suit.
This year I have warrantied a pair of shorts, a jersey, and some shoes plus I have a few more bits and bobs that are needing to be sent away that I haven't gotten around to yet.
Bike stuff is expensive and with the recent economical turn, so is everything else making the cost even more of an inhibitive barrier to riding bikes. It's good to know that riders are able to invest in good kit that is going to last, safe in the knowledge that the brand is going to stand by your investment if something goes wrong. It's also better for the environment as well.