MY FAVORITE CYCLING THINGS 2019
It’s that time of year when I try to kick back a bit, enjoy more time with family and friends, and reflect on the year. Part of that reflection is to think about my favorite things and gear from the past cycling season and look forward to the one coming up.
Here’s a diverse mix of a dozen of my favorite cycling things from 2019 inspired by John Coltrane’s approach to the musical standard.
Each time I ride, I want it to get something good out of it. Sure, at times I like to go out and cruise around with no particular place to go and to just clear my head. Mostly though, I want to be doing rides that get me closer to reaching my goals with the finite amount of time I have available in an otherwise busy life.
Riding for me has become training and, done right, I’ve found training fulfilling and exhilarating as well as amping up my speed, performance, and physical and mental health.
It became clear this year that having a training plan is key to training well and that the available plans and technology have finally reached a point where you have some great training options.
With a plan, power meter, bike computer, smart trainer, and apps that all work together, I made a ton of progress and had more fun this season than I have in any year in the past.
I used ride training plans from FasCat Coaching, yoga and strength training plans from Sufferfest, and the Training Peaks app to analyze my progress and feed my riding plan to my Wahoo Bolt (see Bolt listings and prices from stores I recommend through this link to Know’s Shop).
It’s a lot of gear but they mostly synch easily and well. Along with motivating discipline on my part, all of this made training one of my favorite things this year.
2. KNOW’S SHOP
Before I go any further, I should say a little more about Know’s Shop and tell you why it was also one of my favorite things this year.
At the top of every page of this site under the logo, you’ll see a simple phrase describing what In The Know Cycling is all about. My goal with this site is to put you in the know about what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.
The first part – what cycling gear to get next – is clearly the fun part. I and my fellow testers get to try out and compare all manner of wheels, components, electronics, clothing, helmets, shoes, etc. and share what we find with you.
The second part – where to get it – is a bit more work but no less important. I want to recommend stores you and I can trust to give us the best prices, be easy to shop at and provide first-rate customer service for the specific gear we want including the gear and kit reviewed on the site.
There are nearly 100 online stores selling road cycling gear in the US, Canada, throughout the UK and Europe, and around the world now. I’ve been tracking and ranking them for several years now and recommending those you should buy from based on their prices, service, selection, and support and those you should steer clear of for the same reasons. You can see my post The Best Online Bike Store Rankings updated quarterly for those rankings.
From the stores I recommend, I used to look up each of the products we reviewed, provided links to the ones with the best prices and then updated them weekly. Well, as the number and range of products we reviewed grew, you can imagine that I couldn’t update them often enough.
So, with the help of great developers Milan and Muhammad, we added Know’s Shop to the site this year. You can shop there for the best prices from most of the best-ranked stores I’ve recommended.
There’s a tab in the menu bar labeled Know’s Shop that takes you there. There’s also a search bar on every page of the site to the right and below the menu bar where you can enter whatever product you are shopping for. Once you are in the shop, you see the prices from recommended stores that have the product you searched for and you can click through to the store to buy it.
This saves you time going to stores individually and comparing prices on different tabs of your browser. This is often also better than using Google that comes up with stores you can and can’t trust on the same list and doesn’t show some of the best stores that don’t share their inventory and prices with Google. You can also filter by price, store, and brand in Know’s Shop, something you can’t do with a Google search.
At last look, there are nearly 70,000 products from 20 stores in Know’s Shop. These include all sorts of bikes, wheels, tires, drivetrain and cockpit components, electronics, helmets and shoes for road, gravel, mountain and CX riding. They are updated every couple of days so we’ve got the latest inventory and prices.
To make this all work, I moved the site over to a new, wicked faster server in October. (That was a b*tch!)
And now, next to the products we’ve reviewed, you’ll often see a link to Know’s Shop. These links are pre-filtered for each reviewed product. That saves you even more time searching for the product. Once those links are set up, it also saves me having to regularly update the list of stores that have the products we’ve reviewed.
And finally, when you go to Know’s Shop, you can see a daily updated list of Deals and Discounts for In The Know Cycling Readers. This list gives you links to the current store, category and brand promotions and discount codes at my recommended stores. Deals and discounts on individual products are already baked into the product pricing that is regularly updated for each of the tens of thousands of products in the shop.
So you can see why Know’s Shop became one of my favorite things in 2019. I get to do more of the fun stuff, testing gear, writing reviews, sharing recommendations, and answering your comments.
I hope it becomes one of your favorite cycling things too. You get quicker access to the best prices and deals from the best stores.
Of course, when you buy through one of the store links in the posts or through Know’s Shop, you support the site as we may earn an affiliate commission. That helps cover the expenses to bring In The Know Cycling’s independent, ad-free reviews to you and keep this totally reader-supported site going.
3. CONTINENTAL GRAND PRIX 5000 TL
2019 was a big year for tubeless road bike tires. Continental, the company that makes what has long been recognized as the best and most popular tubed tire for everyday riding, the Grand Prix 4000S II, began widely distributing its first tubeless tire for everyday riding, the Grand Prix 5000 TL.
In my testing and those of others I trust, the Grand Prix 5000 TL handles extremely well, rides very comfortably, wears evenly, is very puncture-resistant, and has the lowest rolling resistance by a good margin of any tubeless tire with a puncture belt.
My testing also shows that the 25C size Grand Prix 5000 TL mounted on both 19C and 21C tubeless rims maintains a width relative to the width of the rim that gives you good aero performance (“rule of 105”) and well-supported. vertical rather than rounded sidewalls for improved stability and handling.
I updated my Best Tubeless Bike Tires post to recommend this new tubeless Conti as the Best Performer. With this new designation, I’ll also be doing all of my future tubeless wheelset testing with “GP5K TL” tires.
They list for USD$95 but sell for a good discount below that price. You can get them through these links to my top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist and other recommended stores at Know’s Shop (here and here).
4. FAVERO ASSIOMA POWER METER PEDALS
When I reviewed power meter pedals this year, I compared the Favero Assioma which is largely unchanged since it was introduced in 2017 alongside the Garmin Vector 3 and Powertap P2, both of which became widely available in 2019.
While we are all led to buy into the “latest and greatest” hype of new cycling product introductions, the changes that led Garmin to update their pedals from Vector 2 to Vector 3 and Powertap to go from P1 to P2 certainly made them the latest but still not the greatest.
As I wrote in my review The Best Power Meter Pedals, I recommended the Assioma over the new V3 and P2 “because of its lower price and higher reliability compared to [those] models” and including the even newer SRM EXAKT power meter pedal.
Further, I wrote that “you don’t get meaningfully better accuracy, consistency, or metrics from the other power meter pedal options – the Garmin Vector 3, Powertap P2 or SRM EXAKT – than you do from the Favero Assioma. Depending on the model, they will also cost you $100 to $650 more than the Assioma and are less reliable (Garmin, SRM), use disposable batteries (Powertap, Garmin), or require a complicated set-up (SRM).”
It’s unusual in the cycling world that new products from big-name brands with big research budgets don’t leapfrog lesser know brands with smaller investments. This time it did and it made me smile enough to become one of my favorite things in 2019.
The Assioma is not widely available but you can get it through this link from Power Meter City, one of my top-ranked online stores.
5. WINNING IN THE KITCHEN
Most true road cycling enthusiasts want to go faster. We train hard, buy gear and adopt riding techniques to help us do that.
Increasingly, I’ve also come to realize that getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep and eating well – two things I’ve historically found very difficult to do – are just as important as the training, etc. to get faster.
Weight has never been an issue for me. Once I start putting on the miles in the spring I drop the pounds I gain when I ride less through the winter. I’ve always thought that I can eat as much as I want because I ride enough to burn it off.
But, dropping weight and eating well are two different things. Eating well fuels your training better than eating poorly. And the right fuel builds the right body composition over time to enable you to ride faster. Dropping weight alone doesn’t necessarily make you ride faster if you aren’t maintaining your strength from eating well.
I started listening to a few cycling podcasts this year and one of them, the Fascat Training Tips Podcast, has run several episodes about what they’ve called “Winning in the Kitchen” that make the whole nutrition discussion simple and practical.
In a very conversational way, podcast hosts Frank and Jackson layout the food groups you should eat from and the specific go fast and go slow foods you can eat within each food group, They also describe typical meals you can put together with those foods. There’s another episode called “Winning in the Grocery Store” that suggests how to shop for the “go fast” foods. It’s fun to listen to and pretty easy to pick up.
My wife and I started winning in the kitchen this past summer and have continued doing it. I dropped another 5 lbs after about 6 weeks and then leveled off. More importantly, I feel stronger on the bike, my FTP has increased and I’ve got a much better sense of what I should eat and avoid if I’m going to remain serious about training to ride faster.
For all these reasons, winning in the kitchen became one of my favorite things in 2019.
6. CYCLING SUNGLASSES
Before this year, I’d always thought that a pair of cycling sunglasses were at best, a “nice-to-have” item. At worst, they seemed like a luxury more about looking good or making a statement on your bike rather than actually helping you ride or enjoy your riding more.
For years I wore a very basic pair of inexpensive sunglasses while riding.
After reviewing cycling sunglasses this year, I’ve changed my mind about them. I’m not going to say that spending USD$100 to $200 (or more) on cycling sunglasses is going to make you faster. I have concluded, however, that those of us who ride most days of the week, in varying conditions, seasons, and locations can ride better, more safely and enjoy our riding more with a pair of sunglasses that serve our cycling-specific needs.
My fellow In The Know Cycling testers Nate, Miles and I tested 9 pairs for our review of The Best Cycling Sunglasses. We looked at max coverage sunglasses for those who race, classic-style cycling sunglasses, and those that are both good on the bike and casual enough to wear off the bike.
You can read the review and our recommendations to figure out which would work best for you. But clearly, testing these out was an eye-opener for me and I’ve really enjoyed cycling more this year with the cycling sunglasses I now wear.
7. UTOPIA IN A CYCLING HELMET
I’ve been an advocate of wearing a road helmet that is both aero and comfortable since the so-called “aero road helmet” started showing up three or four years ago. Why not take advantage of reducing your aero resistance by 10-12 watts if you can wear a road helmet that fits as well and is as comfortable, cool and quiet, and nearly as normal looking as a traditional road helmet?
Kask began selling a new aero road helmet this year that per my testing does all of that better than any other that I’d previously tested in my review of The Best Aero Helmet for Road Cyclists. They named their helmet “Utopia” and it damn near is, at least as far as aero road helmets go.
From the first day I wore the Utopia, I felt the whoosh of added speed and cooling airflow. In fact, it works so well for me that I even wear it on days when there’s little aero benefit to be gained like when I’m doing thousands of feet of climbing or riding slowly off-road.
Try it for yourself. Maybe it will become one of your favorite cycling things too. You can get it at one of my top-ranked stores, Competitive Cyclist or at other stores I recommend through Know’s Shop.
8. GRAVEL RIDING
Ignore the hype. If you haven’t done so recently, go for a ride on a packed dirt road or some mild gravel. I did that in June on my road disc bike with 28C tires. It was a lot of fun. A hell of a lot of fun actually.
Getting off the road, venturing into the woods, riding in three dimensions (variable surface) is an energetic diversion and excellent complement to cranking out the miles on the road. It keeps riding fresh.
In July I jumped in and bought a $2000 Giant Revolt Advanced gravel bike. I went out with fellow club member Kenny who patiently taught me a bunch about gravel riding on a 40-mile route he had mapped with class 2, 3 and 4 gravel. Woo! Then I did the iconic D2R2 110-mile ride in August with Dave. Woohoo. It was the toughest ride I did all year. Then another more mellow 60-miler in September. Yeaaayah!
I’m now both a roadie and a “groadie”. While I still ride on paved roads most of the time, I enjoy the heck out of a gravel ride every now and then. I’ve already identified one gravel event a month to do during the spring and summer next season.
Gravel riding became one of my favorite things to do in 2019. I’ve begun testing out different gravel tires, wheels, shoes and kit and plan to do a bunch of gravel product review posts in 2020. If gravel is something you’re interested in, let me know what you’d like to see us review in the comments below.
9. ENVE SES 3.4 AR
Finding that one wheelset that does most everything well is really tough. You want it to be fast on the flats, climb well, handle precisely, stay stiff out of the saddle, and be comfortable on long rides.
Ideally, you’d also like it to look great, cost very little, and wash your bike at the end of the day. Well, maybe not that last one. Everything else? Yeah. Those are all the things we road cycling enthusiasts have looked for in a highly versatile, “all-around” wheelset.
This year I’ve added a new consideration. How well does it do on dirt and gravel roads?
A lot of roadies are getting into gravel riding. Wouldn’t it be great if we roadies and “groadies” could ride the same all-around wheelset on gravel roads and courses that have a mix of paved and unpaved surfaces? After all, it would be a shame to buy two wheelsets if we could do it all well with just one.
With few exceptions, the widest road disc wheels now have inside widths of 21mm. Rim brake road wheels are typically 19mm.
On the other hand, the best gravel wheels typically have an inside width of 25mm. That extra width helps support gravel tires that range from 32mm to 40mm wide. To optimize durability and minimize weight, the wheels are also carbon.
ENVE has been selling the SES 4.5 AR disc wheelset for a number of years now and developed a great following well before the rapid increase in the number of gravel events we’ve seen over the last couple of years. With a 25mm internal width and 50mm front, 55mm rear depth, it was designed for on and off-road use. It’s still the Best Performer in our review of The Best Carbon Disc Wheelsets I’ve reviewed.
But, ENVE introduced the SES 3.4 AR disc in 2019 and I think it’s a better all-around choice for those who ride on both road and gravel. It has the same 25mm inside and 32mm outside width as the 4.5 AR disc but is about 10mm shallower. At about 1400g, it’s also 150g lighter. That makes it excellent for climbing on or off-road without giving up too much aero performance.
We’ll be reviewing it for a comparison of carbon gravel wheels next year. In the meantime, it’s introduction this year made me smile. If you want to check it out, you can find it through these links to my two top-ranked stores, Competitive Cyclist and Merlin, and directly at ENVE.
10. VERMONT SIX GAPS
We all likely have two or three favorite rides or events we look forward to each year.
For me, I most look forward to the Vermont Six Gaps ride with a dozen or so of my club mates. We drive 4 hours up to the Mad River Valley area the night before, have a good dinner, turn in early, and set out for the ride close to 6 AM the next morning.
If we do it all, we’ll ride over 130 miles and climb nearly 12,500 feet.
As challenging as that might sound, it’s the individual gaps that create the real angst.
We start off with Lincoln Gap, a 4-mile climb that gains about 1,800 feet in altitude. It has the distinction of being the steepest paved mile in the US with a 15% average gradient, a half-mile stretch of 22% and a section near the top (of course) that gets to 24%. The backside of Lincoln is typically dirt with regular sections of washed-out road even in July from the combination of a hard winter and insufficient road repair funds.
The way we’ve ridden it, the gaps that follow are just as long but progressively less steep (e.g. App Gap, 4 miles with 10% average, 18% sections). By the time you’re doing some of the later gaps of 5 or 6 miles at an average 6% grade 100 miles into your day, it’s still no picnic.
This year was different as two of the gaps we’re washed out, still under repair, and closed to cars and bikes. Fortunately (I think that’s the right word), Lincoln and App Gap – the two toughest – were open and hadn’t gotten any shorter or flatter. We made a great day of it, with Chip and David adding in enough alternate routing to get me over 100 miles and 10,000 feet and ending with some great Mexican food and beverages at the Mad Taco in Waitsfield.
The training I wrote about above got me as strong for this year’s ride as I’ve ever been and made it one of my favorite cycling things for 2019
If you live in the Northeast US and are interested in learning more, you can read some good ride reports from this Google search page.
11. COMPETITIVE CYCLIST AND MERLIN
I wanted to tip my hat to my two-top rated online bike stores this year.
Competitive Cyclist continues to have the best selection of true enthusiast level gear in the US and unmatched customer support. Within the advertised pricing limitations that suppliers put on all US stores and with the exclusive discounts they provide to In The Know Cycling readers, they also offer some of the better prices of any US online or physical store.
Merlin Cycles has the best-rated pricing, customer satisfaction, selection, and support of any online store in the US or UK, where they are based. And with more and more cycling suppliers requiring stores to sell their gear only to customers living in the North American or European region where the store is based, Merlin has somehow made it work to be able to ship gear and kit from their UK location to US and Canadian road cycling enthusiasts.
12. NATE AND MILES
A lot of the reviews I wrote this year would not have happened without fellow testers Nate and Miles. The ones that did were certainly made much better by their input to me from their testing.
These two guys set a hell of a bar in their insight and candor about all manner of gear and kit. Because of what they can do on their bikes, they put the products we review to testing limits most road cycling enthusiasts, and frankly most popular cycling media reviewers, can’t.
If you’ll allow me to brag on them for a few words, you may be interested to know that Nate is a tester that sets the pace. Literally. He leads the fast group rides in our 300+ person cycling club including the Tuesday morning “Bullet Train” that moves along at 25-26 mph. He also finishes on the top step of the podiums for his busy-working-guy-with-wife-and-young-kids age group on some of the toughest hill climbs in the northeast. Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, for example. He’s also a top CX racer and likes getting dirty on gravel.
Miles is a Masters and Pro/1/2 racer. He does 20-25 races a year including crits, road races, stage races, CX and gravel grinders. He wins a bunch of them and is in the first group of finishers most of the time. This year, he finished 7th in his age group crit at USA Nationals, 2nd in the Longsjo, won the Killington stage race, 10th overall in the Vermont Overland, and won a bunch of region crits and CX races. A fast dude.
Thanks guys. You are definitely two of my favorite cycling
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I want to also thank all of you fellow road cycling enthusiasts for following, reading, and sharing your questions and comments this year. Thanks also for buying gear and kit using the links on the site. That allows me to cover the site costs, buy the gear we test, do our reviews independent of supplier influence, and keep things ad-free.
I wouldn’t have it any other way but, without you, In The Know Cycling wouldn’t happen. Please keep it up.
And please share with me and your fellow readers one of your favorite cycling things in 2019 in the comments section below. I’m interested to know what made you smile or ride faster this year.